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Beyond Rangoon
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Milan / 1995 / 39m

A tense political thriller directed by John Boorman, Beyond Rangoon sees an American tourist (played by Patricia Arquette) forced to go on the run in Burma after becoming separated from her tour group and then witnessing various acts of violent repression by the government.  (Just in case she wasn’t miserable enough, the reason she’s there in the first place is to try to get away from it all after her husband and son were both murdered back home.)  As with many of Boorman’s films, it attracted great acclaim for its extraordinary visuals but not so much the other aspects of the film.

Much has changed since 1995.  For one thing, Burma isn’t Burma any more, it’s Myanmar.  Another thing that’s changed an awful lot is Hans Zimmer.  He was already extremely successful at the time, but it was that year (with his Oscar win for The Lion King) that he really got propelled to the forefront of Hollywood film music, and very shortly afterwards his Media Ventures model was well established and churning out film scores like nobody’s business.  It’s interesting, two decades on, to look back at how very different this score is from his more recent efforts.  I’ll leave it for others to decide whether he has truly evolved since then, or perhaps devolved – but I will say that Beyond Rangoon is an exquisitely beautiful score, notably for a deftness of touch and extremely careful construction that is full of nuance.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

The score’s main theme is a true beauty.  In the opening (gorgeously-titled) “Waters of Irrawady”, it is heard performed first by some sort of eastern-sounding wind instrument (my attention to detail is as acute as ever), then later by a wordless female vocal.  The performing ensemble is interesting – there’s a small string orchestra but much of the work is carried by keyboards, ethnic wind solos (performed by Richard Harvey) and percussion, with the female voice.  What I really like is that even though much of the music is synthesised, it doesn’t sound at all cheap – this isn’t synths being asked to perform “an orchestral role”, a problem I feel has blighted some of the composer’s higher-profile efforts of late, it’s genuine electronic music (with the aforementioned acoustic elements) with an ethereal beauty resulting that couldn’t have been achieved any other way.

“Memories of the Dead” offers another reflective arrangement of the theme before some action arrives in the lengthy “I Dreamt I Woke Up”, bass-laden synths and percussion alternating with the increasingly-frantic pipes.  It’s hugely effective at matching Boorman’s contrast between abject despair and wonderful beauty, mirroring the film very well.  At times it certainly enters territory which is uncomfortable for the listener – the requirements of the film force it to – but it’s a challenge certainly worth taking on, because detailed study reveals a surprising amount of dramatic depth.

The brief “Freedom from Fear” continues this, though here there are broader dramatic strokes coming from the dynamic keyboards.  It’s not by any means what you’d call “Media Ventures action music”, but there are familiar elements from that which are blended with a drive for atmospheric beauty that is really quite captivating.  The main theme returns in “Brother Morphine”, in more sweeping form than before, and while here the deep bass sound does sound somewhat dated, it remains very impressive music.  In “Our Ways Will Part”, while the bulk of the melodic material is familiar, Zimmer adds a new element, a sense of desperation and real anguish – it’s a suite of different cues seamlessly blended together, and while in fact it veers through various different styles, from more subtle, detached, contemplative sections to overtly dramatic ones, the way it holds together and maintains a consistency of feeling is very impressive.

“Village Under Siege” begins calmly, but soon the peace is very much shattered by the most thrilling action music of the score, the emotional anguish still underpinning it all.  The album ends with the very impressive ten-minute suite “Beyond Rangoon”, which serves as a very nice summary of the main ideas; it goes on a pretty well-defined dramatic journey itself, and is just part of the very impressive journey of the album as a whole.  The clarity of thought, the development of ideas and above all the sheer beauty of the music make this one of Zimmer’s very finest albums, probably his most contemplative and beautiful before his masterpiece The Thin Red Line.  If you think he’s a one trick pony, a listen to this will be enough to change your mind very quickly.

Rating: **** 1/2

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  1. Pawel Stroinski (Reply) on Tuesday 18 June, 2013 at 19:59

    This score is very personal for me and has a private rating of 5 stars in my book, but being a fanboy of Hans and having gone through a phase of realizing this is music being very good representation of my own personality or maybe things I am looking for in life, that was bound to happen 🙂

    Great review.

  2. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Tuesday 18 June, 2013 at 20:11

    THERE YOU GO. Such a lovely score; it truly holds a special place in my heart. I believe I bought the milan release at amazon when I was about 16 years old, and of course fell in love immediately. There’s just nothing to dislike here, especially at a perfect (if I remember right) 30-odd minutes. Of Zimmer’s “asian” scores, this one takes the cake, ranking higher than stuff like Black Rain, The Last Samurai, etc.

    Actually, I’ll be a little more honest. Though I bought ‘beyond rangoon’ around the age of 16, the reason this score is sooooo dear to me is, well put simply, the final, aptly titled, gargantuan final track. Which, I must say, I happened to discover when I was either 13 or 14 years old, thanks to (god damnit) Christian’s review waaaaaaay back in the day, of which the only thing I recall is his utter verbal salivation regarding this epic track. Being so young with no job and little money to buy soundtracks, I snagged the mp3 somehow (back then it wasn’t so easy, kids), and for at least a year, it became a reoccurring motif in my household. Not gonna lie, I was 14, an Italian, adolescent cockroach.. and almost EVERY, SINGLE, NIGHT I would put track 8, ‘Beyond Rangoon’ on repeat, and not only would it allow me to blissfully drift away into slumber by night’s end, I think it somehow channeled the Tao itself with its peculiar asian ambience…. let’s just say, I got a lot of “things done” with this haunting, SEXY atmosphere; again an italian (or any) teenager is probably already prone to such doings, but I swear, this was just the coolest, most erotic, sexual track I’d ever heard. Is it really sexual? No perhaps. BUT for whatever reason, it got my juices and imagination (yeah that part of the imagination) flowing like no other, and oh was it… exciting. 😛 perhaps growing up with a large group of korean friends/neighbors for most my younger life, I really had a particular weakness(fondness) when actually hearing anything remotely asian sounding that was simultaneously, excellent (it’s not that common a thing, asian music that reaches some of the heights Zimmer does here. what makes those sin-filled memories even more sentimental, is… well, for the past 10-12 years now, I’ve done 95% of my music listening on headphones. But in those days, oh the innocence, I would blast away all film music on speakers at the highest of volumes, windows open, door closed (like I said, I had to ‘get things done’ :D), clearly (beyond) audible to my parents and brother sleeping in the rooms across me, and there was never a single moment where someone told me “turn that sh*T down”. including the neighbors which never complained, and god knows the houses to both sides of us (one of which was, incidentally, an asian couple) could hear my racket. Long story short, the track ‘Beyond Rangoon’ repeated ad ad infinitum during that year basically gave me and my family something not unlike an opium high, sheer relaxation and transcendence, not unlike I’d imagine what that old brother morphine does… only without any drugs. That’s the power of (one!) Zimmer.

  3. Sean Wilson (Reply) on Tuesday 18 June, 2013 at 21:56

    I’m SO glad you’ve reviewed this, especially in light of Man of Steel. Beyond Rangoon is a fabulous score and a powerful reminder of how great Zimmer is when working in the realm of intimate drama

  4. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Wednesday 19 June, 2013 at 12:34

    Jason, I think that post is going into the dictionary as the definition of Too Much Information. :vomit:

  5. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Wednesday 19 June, 2013 at 14:47

    I swear to allah himself the thoughts “too much info?” entered my head several times typing that out, edmund. alas they never made it from my spine to my skull to my tongue to my fingers to the keyboard. yeah that’s my process. what, want to fight about it, limey son of a turd? while I won’t disagree with my post’s vomit inducing (potential), your hurling might be also be the result of, you know, living in one of the least sexually aware and liberated places on the planet. blame the queen I guess.

    btw, I don’t look like ford thaxton, if that makes it any less gross of a post. hey that almost rhymes.. and, for whatever neurotic reasons, I also find the british (oh fine ENGLISH) people quite sexy; perhaps, however, it is derived from pity, knowing their complex, rather sad state regarding the entire subject. when david bowie is your countries’ most prominent sex god of the past four decades, your country probably has some issues related to that good ol’ libido. SOMEONE CALL FREUD FOR THESE FU#@%*)YS..

  6. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Thursday 20 June, 2013 at 04:21

    Re-reading that rather vapid last post of mine, I must say the only really sad part of it is filling James’ review with irrelevant nonsense. but I still stand by some of its CLAIMS, if only because any music that is both sophisticated and erotic should be heard by as many people as possible; my original comment was bloated, maybe, but also sincere, because of the thousands of hours of film music I’ve nurtured myself with, not much of it would rank as highly as the aforementioned title track of this score. the kindly “vomit” response was enough to send me off on a shitter of a rant like that. my only other real hesitation from my comment is… well I really HOPE Edmund is a brit (somehow I got that impression or remember him posting the fact in his INFOz somewhere). otherwise I’m an idiot.

    but emma watson is hot (if a wee bit on the young side).

  7. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 21 June, 2013 at 00:27

    I’m half-German, half-American. I do study in Wales though, so maybe that’s where you got your impression of me as a limey git.

    Believe me, I wasn’t trying to deny that your post was heartfelt. Just…perhaps, a leeeetle too much so. 😉

  8. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Friday 21 June, 2013 at 19:26

    🙂 I am large portion idiot than, as I don’t think studying in Wales would quite give you the qualification… so you’re basically just a german-american predator out to take advantage of those cute, naive young english GIT’S.

    so let’s just take everything I said about england/the british and instead assume James (limey b) suffers from said complexes.

  9. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Friday 21 June, 2013 at 19:28

    yeah I wonder how far calling an english girl a ‘git’ in wales would get you? try it for me Edmund.

  10. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Thursday 18 July, 2013 at 06:42

    Above I mentioned that Zimmer’s Rangoon score is surely some of the best asian music out there, and stand by that, as since there is so little great asian music out there, it has a certain higher priority to be heard.

    Well this piece here, by two separate artists collaborating together for a single album — both Japanese (and from Japan) –; one an individual “prodigy” who goes by the name ‘World’s End Girlfriend’ and the other a group/band of Japanese musicians (two male/two female, I believe) called ‘Mono’ (both artist and the band being in their young to mid 30’s, I believe), resides in the “post-rock” genre. It was written/composed in 2007, the album entitled “Palmless Prayer: Mass Murder Refrain”, a five track symphony, of which this track, “Trailer 4” is one.

    And I must say, it eclipses even the best asian film music I’ve heard, Beyond Rangoon included (as well as Tan Dun’s timeless;imo; ‘Crouching Tiger’ and anything by that MV-horse(#!!) Steve Jablonsky, and probably everything Joe Hisaish ever wrote… who/what else am I missing?). One benefit of straying from film music and into a few other musical realms is finding the occasional gem such as this, and though both artists are technically ‘post-rock’ as said, their music (and especially this) is much more classical sounding in nature. In fact if one comparison had to be made, I’d say it echoes some of the styling of Elliot Goldenthal. At any rate, film music aficionados should take to it pretty easily, I’d imagine. Maybe.

  11. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Thursday 18 July, 2013 at 10:08

    BSX Records ( www. buysoundtrax.com ) recently released a Basil Poledouris score that I trust will satisfy & excite you Jason. THE TOUCH is symphonic /choral and beautiful themes are embellished by an array of Asian ethnic instruments – some sampled. The CD was released about 5 months ago, although James reviewed a copy in 2002 when the music was only available in China. Incidentally, the liner notes state that THE TOUCH “was largely driven by Hong Kong action star Michelle Yeoh, who was eager to make a big English language film after starring in Ang Lee’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON – 2000”.

  12. Henry Kissinger (Reply) on Thursday 18 July, 2013 at 19:28

    Jason – like me, it looks like you’re an expert on Asia. Were you in Laos?

  13. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Friday 19 July, 2013 at 23:49

    Andre, I will look out for THE TOUCH, as I <3 basil with all my, uhm, <3. Him going 'asian' can't be a bad thing. Mr. Kissinger, I actually know nothing about Asia in general, and my conclusions on the music (or lack thereof) from that part of the world might be a case of gross ignorance, but it's just never seemed to pop up anywhere (I've checked), aside from a few occasional treasures here and there. but it is quite refreshing/reassuring when you've thought a place as big as asia has basically been musically bankrupt for most of its (modern) existence, and then find something as divine as the above track (well at least I find it bordering on angelic). oh and have you been tried for war crimes yet? :DDDDDDDD

  14. Jason Farcone (Reply) on Sunday 21 July, 2013 at 10:35

    By the way — dunno why I didn’t spam/plug this earlier — this is a short video I made some five odd years back, with one of my favorite tracks from (one of) the above mentioned/linked Japanese artists, World’s End Girlfriend. And no, there’s no anti-;NORTH;Korean sentiment here; it’s just a stupid computer game (made by New Zealand’ers no less) that was known (at the time) for its amazing graphics engine.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8835wKIRhI

    poop