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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Walt Disney Records / 2011 / 77:13

It’s not that unusual that I watch a film and wonder about how much better the music could have been had a different approach been taken (or it had been written by somebody else).  It’s very unusual that I watch one and think the scoring approach was simply awful and actively harmed the film (as opposed to simply missing an opportunity to make it better).  Film music these days seems largely designed to be inoffensive in fact, at least in the blockbusters – it’s there almost constantly in most of them, but doesn’t try to do a fat lot other than simply that, be there.  Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is, on the other hand, outrageously, offensively bad.  

The film itself is, I thought, surprisingly enjoyable – a mercifully straightforward, linear narrative rather than its convoluted predecessor – and there are moments of genuine wit.  Unfortunately, the music derails the film at nearly every turn.  Sometimes one questions the thought process that went into spotting a film – on this occasion, one can only imagine there was no thought process at all.  Quite simply, the score does A when the film needs B and it does B when the film needs A.  Themes from earlier films are placed entirely at random.  All of the witty moments drawn either from the script or from Johnny Depp’s performance are bulldozed by the relentlessly incessant, self-indulgent music.  I am willing to say that never before have I seen a film which is so consistently harmed by its score; everyone involved in doing it should be thoroughly ashamed.  I’m not even of the school that thinks the Zimmer approach is fundamentally wrong for a film like this – it’s just that in this instance, he (assuming he actually had anything to do with it) certainly did get it wrong.

Hans Zimmer at the film's premiere; based on the music as heard in the film, this was the first time any of the numerous composers who wrote its music had actually seen the film

The music on the soundtrack album is literally a different matter in that barely any of it is actually in the film.  Don’t be fooled by the 77-minute running time – over half an hour of this is made up of “remixes”, and I’m sure that few readers of this site will ever listen to any of them.  Of the remaining 45 minutes, 15 minutes are composed and performed by Rodrigo y Gabriela, a Mexican guitar duo.  Their contributions are relatively inoffensive but equally bland, and so far as I could tell do not appear in the film for more than the briefest of moments.  Still, if you want to know what a Jerry Bruckheimer film might sound like if it were scored by Gustavo Santaolalla, you should now have some idea.

The twosome contribute a few guitar licks to some of the remaining half-hour of score which is credited to Zimmer on the album cover but no fewer than eleven different composers once you open the booklet.  So, that’s less than three minutes each – and much of it is adapted from music from the previous three films in the series!  There is one notable exception, the lovely “Mermaids” – its cooing delights may be a little generic but they’re like an oasis of brilliance in this context!  It and the guitar music are all pleasant to listen to and mean the album isn’t in fact a complete disaster, though it’s a far cry from the brilliantly entertaining third score in the series.  This is a flawed album – but given how astonishingly offensive the music is as heard in the film, perhaps it’s about as good as anyone could reasonably make.  **

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  1. JBlough (Reply) on Tuesday 24 May, 2011 at 18:57

    I second your complaints about the mix and lack of thematic appropriateness. The theme for Davy Jones popped up during the London chase!

    Comment near the photo is brilliant

  2. TomTallis (Reply) on Wednesday 25 May, 2011 at 08:02

    Demonstrating once again that a giraffe is a horse made by a committee.

  3. Ben (Reply) on Saturday 18 June, 2011 at 12:47

    Southall, you said:
    ” I am willing to say that never before have I seen a film which is so consistently harmed by its score; ”

    So Zimmer’s score is worse than Andrew Powell’s for “Ladyhawke” then? For me, no other film has been more harmed by an inappropriate score… I haven’t seen Pirates 4.

  4. Fannie (Reply) on Saturday 2 July, 2011 at 18:37

    Great hammer of Thor, that is poefwrully helpful!