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Days of Thunder
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • La-La Land Records / 2013 / 71m

Every motor racing movie that comes out is greeted with the marketing machine saying something along the lines of “We know every other motor racing movie that’s ever been made has been rubbish, but this one’s actually great!”  The same was true of Days of Thunder, the 1990 movie (rather improbably written by Robert Towne) that reunited Top Gun‘s star Tom Cruise with its director Tony Scott and producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson.  Unfortunately, it was rubbish, despite its impressive stuns and a characteristically strong performance by Robert Duvall as Cruise’s pit boss and mentor.  (Ron Howard’s Rush may finally mean future motor racing movies have to find something else to say in their marketing.)

Hans Zimmer was quickly climbing film music’s greasy pole in 1990, having scored the Oscar winner for Best Picture in each of the two previous years, with Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy.  He had also just established his action credentials with Black Rain but it was Days of Thunder which really staked his claim to be considered one of the masters of that genre.  High octane and full of adrenaline, it’s a breathlessly exciting score which must be ranked as one of the great electronic action scores (there’s apparently an orchestra here too, but you’d never tell).

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

Ironically, it gets going with a main theme that opens in fairly genteel territory, building into something like a rock version of Driving Miss Daisy.  But Jessica Tandy quickly gets chucked out the back of the car with the guitars and percussion and particularly the synth brass power anthem that takes over; it’s terrific.  Much of the racing music is built on the same theme and these sequences are the score’s highlight – “Darlington – Cole Wins” is a great early piece and the finale, “The Last Race”, is a brilliantly-constructed ten-minute thrill ride which is as exciting an action track as Zimmer’s ever written.  He would later explore this territory with a more mature and ultimately more rewarding score for Rush, but there’s no doubting the raw enthusiasm here which proves infectious, not to mention highly entertaining.

The other material which punctuates the action does that job well; the simple love theme for Cruise and his future wife Nicole Kidman’s characters doesn’t really stick in the memory, but there’s a certain late 80s / early 90s hair gel feel to it which is quite endearing.  There’s also some darker material for the more dramatic moments including some synth pan pipes which are closely related to Black Rain, but heard more in moderation here and effective enough.  To top everything off, Whitesnake’s David Coverdale sings a vocal version of the main theme in “The Last Note of Freedom”, co-written by Zimmer and Billy Idol.

Days of Thunder is Zimmer doing what he does best – there’s no pretension, no attempt to be something he’s not, it’s essentially a series of rock instrumentals which seem to drip with sweat and work perfectly with the Simpson/Bruckheimer/Scott machismo.  Above all, it’s just fabulously entertaining, oozing style.  La-La Land’s 2013 release is the score’s first and comes with lengthy liner notes by Tim Grieving which feature interview extracts from Cruise, Bruckheimer and Zimmer.  Fans of the composer will love it.

Rating: ****

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  1. Alexander Beach on Tuesday 26 November, 2013 at 10:31

    If this is indeed a Hans Zimmer score devoid of his usual delusions of grandeur, then I had better go look for a way to experience this one, because this sounds an awful lot like a score of similar quality to his more recent score for Rush judging by your opinions here. If there is one well known composer for films whose average work I have incredibly complicated feelings for, it is definitely Hans Zimmer. On one hand, he has written some real stand-outs in the realm of scoring that add to the experience. But on the other hand, he has spawned the creation of some insulting blandness. Simply put, I have a hard-core love-hate relationship with Zimmer’s overall musical achievements.

  2. Edmund Meinerts on Tuesday 26 November, 2013 at 11:46

    I’m glad you like this score – it’s pure fun – but it bemuses me that you can give something like this four stars and something like Broken Arrow or Speed one.

  3. Jason Farcone on Saturday 14 December, 2013 at 18:20

    Edmund, we all make mistakes. James’ awarding Broken Arrow a dignified one star is probably one of his few cardinal sins of the past. :)