- Composed by Hans Zimmer
- La-La Land Records / 2014 / 152m (score 93m)
After Dreamworks SKG was launched to great fanfare, its first movie release was an escapist action thriller, 1997’s The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman trying to save the world from some rogue Russian army officers who steal some nuclear bombs. Director Mimi Leder made the step up from television for her first big feature (she had directed numerous episodes of ER, starring Clooney and executive produced by Dreamworks’s Steven Spielberg) and it received reasonable notices, though I can’t really think why (it was nowhere near as good as the other big, dumb action movie of that year, Air Force One).
Hans Zimmer wasn’t quite the dominant force in film music then that he is now, but he was certainly a popular composer for action movies and so would have seemed a natural choice to provide the score, which in some ways marks a kind of blending of styles from the big action movies he did beforehand (Crimson Tide and The Rock and the rest) with a preview of what was to come (there is much here that foreshadows what he would do in Gladiator).
You hear a lot of it in the lengthy opening sequence, 15 minutes split between two tracks (“Voice of God / Vassily’s Dilemma” and “Hijack”), first the theme heard performed by deep male choir which obviously recalls Crimson Tide and goes on to be used in various guises through the score. Its Russian stylings are used as a kind of emotional underpin to the motivation behind the violence (the villain’s family were killed) and the idea is presumably that it’s serving like a requiem for the deceased (though it sounds resolutely like a 1990s Hans Zimmer theme to me, not anything you would mistake for a moving requiem). Later on in the sequence, the main action theme is heard for the first time – this is the typical pop/rock-influenced type of action theme Zimmer was renowned for back at this stage and, as usual, the large London orchestra employed for the recording is made to sound like a set of fairly cheap samples by the recording style and the overdubbing. Despite that consistent problem, Zimmer’s action themes can be hugely entertaining, but this one’s nowhere near the top tier of them (the tune itself just doesn’t stick in the memory).
The most distinguishing feature of the score – and by far its best asset – is the classy flavour provided by the reflective theme usually performed by cimbalom over a fairly small supporting ensemble, which first appears in “Dusan’s Village” and goes on to feature in several other cues. It’s a really nice touch. The best version may be the one with added violin, “Dusan’s Confession”, though that’s frustratingly brief.
Otherwise, the bulk of the score is taken up with one action sequence after another. The first hint at Gladiator that I mentioned comes in what I would slightly inadequately describe as the balletic approach the composer takes (which he would later do more famously with the Gladiator waltz) – “balletic” implies a degree of classical elegance that I do not mean; rather it’s a kind of pretty outlandish “orchestral electronica” that puts these grandstanding anthems up front and central against the action, making those sequences seem like choreographed acts of terror. It’s OK for a few minutes and if you take the album of the shelf and just listen to a track or two then it sounds fine, but it’s so relentless it quickly makes the film seem far more ludicrous than it needed to and quickly makes my patience as an album listener run out. The other hint of things to come in later Zimmer scores is heard in “Get Me Authorised”, with a wailing woman providing a soulful feel long before it became so clichéd the effect was removed in the years after Gladiator popularised it so much.
The original 1997 soundtrack album featured almost an hour of music, divided into five very lengthy suites. It seemed like many Zimmer fans were unsatisfied by that presentation and they would have been overjoyed by this 2014 album from La-La Land (with excellent liner notes by Tim Greiving), which presents the whole 93-minute score, plus all those suites assembled for the old album, and a couple of other extras. It certainly does give the score a very different feel, hearing it in this way – but while you would expect there to be much more of a feel of real dramatic flow, that is stunted completely by the approach of scoring every scene as if it’s the biggest, most important scene in the film. Unfortunately I just don’t think there’s enough interesting music in either presentation; the cheapness of the sound wears so thin so quickly, the relentless action is very hard to connect with and the impressive parts – and there certainly are some – are just too fleeting. Crimson Tide, The Rock and Backdraft sound very dated today, but hold up much better as albums because they’ve got stronger melodic content; I’m not sure any of the other big Media Ventures action scores of the period really hold up at all. One final thought: I mentioned Air Force One earlier since it was released the same year and it’s interesting to compare the two films now. They’re both pretty silly run-of-the-mill action movies but one is made to seem so sincere by its score that as a viewer you are helped to get past the silliness and find some form of connection – even though the score is in fact absolutely routine by its composer’s standards; the other is just made to seem even sillier by the score and impossible to take seriously in any way. That’s the difference a good score can make even in daft films like these.