- Composed by Hans Zimmer
- Watertower Music / 2010 / 49:13
It’s fair to say that I’ve not been the biggest fan of music in Christopher Nolan’s films so far. As he moved into the big time, the bland music provided by David Julyan in his earlier films was “upgraded” to equally bland music provided by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for the Batman films. I never really understood it – a director so fine in so many ways and yet he didn’t seem to have any basic grasp of what proper music could do for his films. Those two Batman films must rank amongst the biggest musical missed opportunities in years. Because of this, I wasn’t expecting much from the score for Inception, Zimmer working by himself (well, as by himself as he gets) this time round.
My ears could scarcely believe themselves when they first heard this. Where was the bland, “atmospheric” soundscape I had expected? What was this creative, invigorating music? Surely not from a Christopher Nolan film! Yet here it is – Zimmer’s finest work in a number of years, music which is inevitably simple from a compositional point of view but which shows a rare degree of intellectual complexity. It is certainly true that Inception builds upon ideas introduced in Zimmer’s previous scores for the director, but he goes lightyears beyond anything heard there. The familiar string ostinatos, the rock-based approach to action music, multiple repetitions of the same phrase with gradual development – they’re all here, but this time pulled off in such a vibrant, energetic way.
The main theme, such that it is, sees jabbing strings over bass-heavy whole notes from the brass section. Zimmer introduces it in “Dream is Collapsing” early in the score, develops it further in “Dream Within a Dream” later on. It’s an idea he has used before (as in The Da Vinci Code‘s “Chevaliers de Sangreal”) and one he does very well. That music is certainly exciting; but the most overtly “action” music in the score comes in “Mombasa”, a percussion-lover’s dream, layers of both real and sampled percussion accompanied by strident electric guitar performed by Johnny Marr (of The Smiths).
A secondary theme, with an air of mystery and beauty, also makes its way through the score. It is highlighted in the terrific “Waiting for a Train”, where the melody is accompanied by the same kind of washing string movements that Zimmer introduced in The Thin Red Line‘s “Journey to the Line” and has used occasionally ever since. This is the track which famously features a brief burst of Edith Piaf singing “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”, which Zimmer has claimed he used as the basis for the entire score. I will leave it to the musicologists to discuss whether that’s true or not. ”Paradox” is a track rich with emotion – not a quantity I would usually associate with this composer – and real beauty, strings sounding like they’re going to go under from the strain. The score concludes with “Time”, a fuller exploration of the “Chevaliers de Sangreal”-type theme from earlier in the score, and a great way to finish.
I’ve been highly critical of Hans Zimmer in my reviews over the years – not just for the sake of it, but because I’ve believed in what I’ve been saying – almost to the point of dreading having to hear anything new he writes. It’s been a long twelve years since his only previous truly great score, The Thin Red Line – twelve years in which his domination of film music, the style used not only in scores credited to him and his associates but throughout Hollywood, has become absolute. Now, at last, the culmination of a style he has been honing for a few years has led to his second truly great score. With emotional and intellectual depth, Inception is easily his most impressive work since that 1998 masterpiece. One can only hope it doesn’t take another twelve years to hear this Hans Zimmer again, the one from which creativity rather than laziness seems to simply radiate. *****