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Black Rain
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • La-La Land Records / 2012 / 142m (score 74m)

Ridley Scott brought his trademark audiovisual panache to 1989’s Black Rain, a clash-of-culture thriller starring Michael Douglas as a New York cop transplanted to Osaka and landing himself in a world of trouble.  At the time Scott still knew that sometimes you need more than audiovisual panache and it’s an entertaining film with considerable rewatchability.  The film was an important landmark for someone who went on to become the dominant force in film music in the years ahead – many think as a direct result of his work on this film.  I can barely mention his name without being told I’m an idiot.

Yes, Hans Zimmer’s score for Black Rain is frequently cited as one of the most influential of the modern era of film scoring.  I always found this statement slightly puzzling having watched the film many times and never really noticed the music – but that’s a pretty decent return from a Zimmer score usually.  Now, La-La Land Records has released the complete score for the first time (the old album featured a 20-minute suite).  Listening to it, I’m not sure this is really the one that changed everything – that is surely Backdraft – but it does offer a kind of halfway house in between what at the time seemed the film music nadir (Harold Faltermeyer) and what has gone on to be the definitive film music nadir (later Zimmer).

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

One trick Zimmer did clearly pick up very early on was the ability to make a large symphony orchestra sound like a Casio keyboard – Shirley Walker is credited with orchestrating and conducting the music and 92 musicians are listed in the orchestra credits – but with the exception of the ethnic touches, at barely any other time over the course of the album do you hear anything which doesn’t sound like a keyboard.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with electronic scores and indeed that’s entirely appropriate for this film – I just can’t quite understand how anyone could make an orchestra so invisible (or why they’d bother to pay for one if all they’re going to do is drown it out with a guy playing the keyboard).

The music itself sounds quite silly now, more like something a teenager might knock up in their bedroom than the score for a major film, with its lack of dramatic impetus and particularly cheap sound.  There are a couple of slightly classier moments – the main theme (first appearing in “You Gonna Be Nice? / Sato Pt 2” and forming the basis of a song by Zimmer and Will Jennings, performed by Gregg Allman, called “I’ll Be Holding On”) is memorable and provides the score with its only real sense of drive or motion; parts of “Charlie Loses His Head” are pretty enjoyable, if unbelievably simplistic, action music.  In between the performances of that, the action music is a big disappointment, a far cry from the entertainment that would come a few years later in scores like Backdraft and The Rock, silly little keyboard phrases alternating with synthesised percussion hits (apparently meant to evoke the sound of gunfire, but the synthetic nature makes it just sound daft).

With no emotion and no sense of drama, I’m not entirely sure what Black Rain is trying to accomplish as a film score, but while I usually find that even when a Zimmer score does nothing for a film it tends to make an enjoyable album, in this case I can’t really see what would make anyone want to listen to the score on album.  In terms of its influence I guess it was a stepping stone up to the 90s action style that really thrust this composer forwards but really, it’s an incredibly weak piece of music which doesn’t hold up at all well almost a quarter of a century later.  Producer Stanley Jaffe reportedly told Zimmer that his score was the worst piece of music he had ever heard; while I don’t agree with that sentiment (there’s plenty of music by Zimmer’s underlings in the years since that are even worse), even by Zimmer’s standards this is weak.  He went on to write several pieces of music that I greatly enjoy on album, but this score would surely test anyone’s patience.  The album release is impeccable but sadly you just can’t polish a turd.

(Quick note to people waiting to respond: because I don’t like the music doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and doesn’t mean I don’t respect your ability to like it.)

Rating: * | |

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  1. Erik Woods (Reply) on Tuesday 5 February, 2013 at 21:51

    Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!

  2. Pawel Stroinski (Reply) on Tuesday 5 February, 2013 at 22:13

    You could get rid of that final disclaimer. Anybody with a bit of intelligence will know that you don’t want to personally attack anyone with your reviews, especially that your humor is usually in good nature, even if somehow acerbic.

    Now to the score itself, I value it higher than you, I would give it three and half stars for the album and I would actually rate the music in film five stars, there are moments when the music makes the film (Charlie Loses His Head is actually to me very memorable in the film). This score build the setup of what Hans would do later in his career. There are really good moments, except Charlie I really love stuff like Sugai, Pt. 1 and Sequins, also I love the penultimate Japanese-tingled cue. I think it’s a very decent score for an action debut, really, and many people were impressed with how the music works in the movie (Ridley, 20 years after the movie was released, was all over it in his director’s commentary).

    Now, where’s that Thin Red Line? 🙂

  3. James Southall (Reply) on Tuesday 5 February, 2013 at 22:15

    One day, Pawel… As you know it’s my favourite Zimmer score and indeed one of my favourite scores by anyone but it’s one of those I want to review very carefully because there’s so much to say about it.

  4. Martijn (Reply) on Tuesday 5 February, 2013 at 22:49

    I second Pawel’s remark about the disclaimer.
    Offering a certain diplomacy in a negative review is one thing.
    Proactively trying to placate rabidly foaming-at-the-mouth shrieking mad (as in ‘insane’, not ‘angry’) fans who resemble nothing so much as followers of certain religions happily willing to kill anything smelling even vaguely like a dissenter for their demented leaders and idols, quite another.

    Oh, and this score makes Fishy Pasta seem a culinary delight.

  5. Bernardo (Reply) on Thursday 7 February, 2013 at 10:55

    You rate this one star? My God… This is one of my favourite first scores by Zimmer and i also love the movie. I would rate it 4 stars.

  6. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 7 February, 2013 at 12:40

    I’ve only ever heard the original album and while I can see why you might find the meat of the score laughable (it does sound pretty dated), there are two moments that stand out to me; the pre-Batman Begins stuff in Charlie Loses His Head and particularly the cue Nick and Masa, which I think is actually one of the coolest early-Zimmer cues there is. Overall I think I’d give it three stars because I find it more dull than awful in between those highlights.

    In any case I’m glad to see you’ve decided to continue reviewing Zimmer, though to start out with another one-star review is pretty daring (though ultimately perhaps unsurprising).

  7. Jonathan Ammon (Reply) on Thursday 7 February, 2013 at 16:05

    I would love to see you review Beyond Rangoon. Especially since you like Snow Falling on Cedars so much.