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  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2015 / 64m

Set in the near future, Chappie sees the Johannesburg police department deploying robots to help tackle the high crime rate.  Since they couldn’t be called robo-cops due to copyright reasons, one of them – programmed to mimic human emotions – was named instead after a type of dog food.  Pedigree Chum’s a bit of a mouthful (I am sure we can all agree on that, especially our canine friends) they settled on Chappie.  Sentient robots fighting crime – it is hard to imagine anything going awry in that situation, but against all the odds there are indeed one or two glitches.

Hans Zimmer was a relatively late (and somewhat unexpected) addition to the film’s production team, replacing the originally-announced composing team of Ryan Amon, Chris Clark and Rich Walters.  The composer was drawn by the idea of working on a film that would allow him to go back to his roots in a way and provide an all-electronic score, one with hints (like the film itself) of Blade Runner.  With an unusually prominent credit for co-composers Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski and countless others credited with additional music etc, it’s easy to speculate about how much direct involvement Zimmer really had, but when you listen to the music you certainly hear his fingerprints all over it.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

To be honest, the fact that it’s all-electronic may have picked up the headlines but you’d be hard pressed to distinguish some of it from various other recent Zimmer scores which have had orchestras credited, with some of the action music in particular closely resembling the turgid Dark Knight Rises.  If (unlike me) you loved the action music when you heard it in that score then you’ll certainly love it in this one too because two or three tracks are so closely related.  The good news is that those sequences don’t take up too much of the running time of this album, mostly later on, but the monotonous misery of it is just as offputting here as it was in the Batman score.  Of the music’s other facets, I can’t say the electronic dance music style does anything much for me either.  In the Venn diagram up on the wall, the circle containing me is very much exclusive from the one containing people who like that kind of music.  Again – those sequences aren’t really particularly dominant.

So… having got the moaning out of the way… there’s a significant chunk of the album which falls into neither of those categories… and that chunk is by a distance much more impressive to me.  It’s when Zimmer and chums do what the press release implies the whole score is like, which is a kind of reimagining of the famous electronic sound of the 80s, heard impressively in film music of that period in music by Vangelis and a select few others.  Zimmer really knows that music and is rather an expert in it and it certainly shows, with the results far more impressive than when the orchestral guys try to write it.  It’s synths being used as synths, not as orchestra replacements, creating unique sounds and doing it in a dramatically compelling way.

The score’s softer moments come round surprisingly frequently and are dominated by that great, uniquely electronic – and still somehow “futuristic” – soundscape.  When the percussive beats are switched off, there’s some fantastic music here – evocative and emotional, dramatically potent.  It’s probably very hard to write it well which is maybe why it’s not heard very often (so much electronic film music just sounds cheap and rushed) – and in this score it’s certainly written well.  That wonderful “wash” of sound that’s heard when this type of thing is done right is all over the place – the action music may be abrasive and unpleasant but the human touch in the pieces in between is what really makes Chappie worth hearing.  The childlike melody which functions as the main theme for the central character is perhaps a simplistic and obvious idea – but sometimes they are the best ones.

Sadly you have to jump through some irritating hoops in order to legally obtain the album, which is unfortunately not that unfamiliar a situation for Zimmer fans, though at least this time you can get the whole thing digitally from the usual places without having to buy it in a dozen different ways like Interstellar, whose release couldn’t have been designed to encourage piracy any better had that been its very purpose.  It’s only the physical version of Chappie that’s had the barrier put up in front of it, being available exclusively from an obscure website (you can’t even buy it from the label).  It’s worth making the effort – the whole thing isn’t my cup of tea by any means, but most of even that which isn’t is done appreciably well; and the rest is very good.  The whole is so intricately interwoven together, you can’t just extract some tracks from it to make a playlist (well, maybe you could dump the last track, which stands alone and sounds a bit like the midi video game music of my youth), so you do have to take the rough with the smooth; and that’s worth doing because it’s an ultimately rewarding experience, one designed very intricately and with a great deal of effort.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Tuesday 31 March, 2015 at 02:33

    I couldn’t like this score, it’s far too electronic and edgy for me, but I agree with you in one thing, James: that at least in this one synths are being used as synths, and music for it is not being choppily transcribed for orchestra.

    Although my preferred Zimmer scores are his orchestral ones (Lion King, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, At World’s End), I think it would be best for film music if he goes on a full electronic mode, instead of just write electronic music for live players, like in his superhero scores. Let the good old fashioned orchestral music be written by composers who do knows the language for it and knows how to write in this style.

  2. Callum Hofler (Reply) on Tuesday 31 March, 2015 at 11:29

    “…with some of the action music in particular closely resembling the turgid Dark Knight Rises. If (unlike me) you loved the action music when you heard it in that score then you’ll certainly love it in this one too because two or three tracks are so closely related.”

    Very wrong on that point James. Whilst my love of The Dark Knight Rises has continued to decrease over time, I still hold it in high esteem as one of the finest modern guilty pleasure action scores to have ever been conceived. Chappie is the direct opposite. It’s too grating, stagnant and thematically inept to prove enjoyable for me, and the synthetics are entirely refutable. All the same, great review, despite my complete distaste for this train-wreck of a score.

  3. tiago (Reply) on Friday 17 April, 2015 at 03:55

    Just watched the movie today. Whilst I won’t be relistening to the album anytime soon, in the movie, I found the score to be surprisingly complex and well crafted. The album simply doesn’t make it justice.
    There’s a lot of themes for the characters on the movie: there’s a theme for Ninja, one for Vincent (a bizarre Hugh Jackman) and, like you said, two for Chappie, and the way they intertwine is very interesting.
    The disc only lasts for one hour, but there’s so much more music on the film that only 60 minutes are insufficient to get all the nuances of the score. Maybe on a future complete release.

  4. Eamonn (Reply) on Friday 28 October, 2016 at 11:44

    This is actually my favourite score by Zimmer. I find nothing interesting in the Dark Knight or the other batman series. I would count this as Number 1, better than Con Air, The Rock and Broken Arrow but followed closely by “Sherlock Holmes” and “Interstellar”. If you are into music like Knife Party and the Prodigy this is great stuff. What I like is that its different than the others. They all start to sound the same after a while.

    It gets annoying when you say to yourself, “Ah, that score is by Danny Elfman or James Horner”. This is why Silvestri’s (Avengers Assembble) and Brian Tylers (Iron Man 3) recent scores are so good, because they don’t sound like other stuff they’ve done before.

    Yeah we want the distinctive tone, but the almost “Few dollars more” type “musical watch” eerie tone in Chappie is what sets it apart from the other Zimmer scores.

  5. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 28 October, 2016 at 16:30

    What are you talking about? Silvestri and Tyler’s mannerisms are ALL OVER those two scores you mentioned. And I coudn’t disagree more about it being “annoying” to be able to identify a composer’s style. On the contrary, it’s what I love about those composers, that they are so distinctive.