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The Peacemaker
  • 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).

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

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.

Rating: ** | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 00:08

    I will be the first to say that: this score is way better than Zimmer’s Amazing Spider-Man and Man of Steel.

    Hahaha. Well, to be honest, I didn’t like much the first version of this album, I thought it was one of Zimmer’s most boring scores. However, I listened to the complete version, and I really liked it. It has a lot of bold action cues, which are very enjoyable. And, I know that the Media Ventures style from the 90s is not well regarded (although it is certainly better than the Remote Control style from the 2000s), but this score is one of the best of them.

    And, James, it’s a bit unfair to Zimmer to compare him with Jerry Goldsmith, don’t you think?

  2. James Southall (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 00:12

    He’s far more successful than Goldsmith ever was (consistently scores a number of box office hits, year after year), so not really!

  3. Juanki (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 06:13

    Jerry Goldsmith became a legend thanks to his contributions to film music. Hans Zimmer became a legend thanks to his fans.

  4. RabinJablonsky (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 08:23

    WTF?, The Peacemaker is one of the greatest action scores (and one of my favorites) ever, yeah, i’m a fan of Goldsmith, but this score is great and very entertaing

  5. Ben (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 09:07

    That’s an interesting thesis “He’s far more successful than Goldsmith …” He is certainly commercially successful, artistically it is a disaster.

    One question: I fully agree with your 2 stars review. But what is the difference between this one and ” The Winter Soldier” or “Transformers 4” or “Man of Steel” or “Amazing Spiderman 2”?
    Why is the appalling “AS2” in a 5 star series with great music as “Maleficent” or all that fantastic Williams, Goldsmith stuff? Your motives are not entirely clear to me.

  6. mastadge (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 12:51

    His motives? He’s not doing comparative studies in film scores. He reviews each release and gives a star rating not based on some objective rubric of artistry, entertainment, and originality but based on his subjective gut feeling at the time he’s writing the review, based on his enjoyment of the score’s qualities and how it performs in relation to its context and potential. Or something like that.

  7. Ben (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 13:15

    “Motive is perhaps the wrong word”, “approach” may be better. To evaluate something you need always an object to compare. That’s my question. “… his subjective good feeling” I hope this is not the standard.

  8. Michael McDaid (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 13:57

    Any chance you will review Lion King Legacy Collection? I think there is some really good stuff in it. Especially some of the pan pipes stuff in the score. Great score with lots of higlights like The Rightful King, We Are All Connected, I Was Just Trying to be Brave, Stampede, Mufasa Dies, This is My Home, and Remember Who You Are.

  9. Mikal (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 17:03

    @Ben So, you expect him to objectively evaluate a score’s “quality?”

  10. Mikal (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 17:08

    @Juanki That doesn’t even make sense. If there were no people to admire and appreciate Goldsmith’s music, it wouldn’t be as highly regarded as it is. He needs “fans” every bit as much as Zimmer does.

  11. orion_mk3 (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 17:23

    Pull out “Peacemaker” and replace it with “Amazing Spider-Man: The Deuce” and you might just about have my review of the latter 🙂

    That’s not a slam, I’m inconsistent as hell in my own ratings too. How can I give Desplat’s “Tree of Life” 5 stars but his “Harry Potter 8” 3 stars on a good day? I dunno, it’s just how I subjectively feel, and it’s hard enough to articulate that subjectivity in a one-off review, let alone across hundreds.

  12. James Southall (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 18:00

    On the specific star rating point about this and Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which I gave 4 stars to, Ben, not 5, if that is any consolation!) – I don’t really see how it is inconsistent to give one of them 2 stars and the other one 4, since they’re not really anything alike. The reason I liked one but not the other is (I had hoped, anyway) made fairly clear by the wording of the reviews. Peacemaker feels too monochrome and doesn’t have enough good ideas in it whereas Spider-Man has a clear delineation between different parts of the narrative and each one is developed very well, to my ears anyway. It comes down to personal taste as to whether you like one, the other, both or neither but they’re different beasts and so I don’t see how it is unreasonable to like one but not the other.

    On star ratings in general – I am trying to develop a complex algorithm into which I feed various parameters and a star rating is output, but so far this is proving quite complex so for now anyway they are just feelings at the time I type them. I think long and hard before going to either extreme, but am not surprised if inconsistencies do develop in the middle ranges (which used to lead to a lot of “how come you said X is better than Y but you gave it half a star less?” type questions, but it’s been a while since I’ve had any of those).

    On the Goldsmith/Zimmer thing, I don’t see that it’s possible to argue my point that Zimmer is more successful than Goldsmith. He’s dominated the field both in terms of the number of successful movies he has scored and the influence he has had over other composers’ music in a way that Goldsmith never did. Of course that is completely independent from other factors (I think Goldsmith is probably the most talented composer to have worked mainly in film and I think he’s probably the most talented film composer, too, in terms of applying music to film – Ennio Morricone and Alex North the only serious rivals – Zimmer would be unlikely to trouble my top 100 on either count, especially the latter).

  13. Jeff (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 18:59

    James, just out of curiosity, what do you rate your scores out of?

  14. Ben (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 18:59

    @James Southall
    From this perspective, it makes sense. Thank you for the explanation.

    Of course. The critical analysis of a musical work always includes technique, style, variant, variation, harmony and disharmony … In short: all the basics of composing.
    And just “how it feels”.

    You are right. The objective evaluation of a work is very difficult. For many years, I am interested in film music and read your reviews. My approach is any different. For example, Conan of 2011. First Tyler Bates, followed by Basil Poledouris original Conan, then Joel Goldsmith “Kull the conquerer”. Then I try to classify the works. That’s my way.

    Sorry, my english is not good enough to explain everything adequately.
    I hope you can handle it.

  15. tiago (Reply) on Thursday 31 July, 2014 at 19:23

    I know that to give notes to a movie score (or a film, or a book, or a tv episode) can be really hard. And it certainly changes with the time. For example, when I first listened to Man of Steel score, I really liked it, and gave it 4/5 – which led me into a fight with the people that comment on my blog. However, listening to it today, and knowing all the stories about ghost writers (I’m pretty sure that the only thing of this score that Zimmer actually wrote by himself is the “Hans Original Sketchbook” cue), I’d probably give it 3/5, mostly because of the “What Are You Going to Do…” cue.

    And, for Spider-Man, I gave it 3/5, but, after listening the album a couple of times, and watching the movie, my note today is probably 2,5/5.

    Peacemaker, in my opinion, is way better than those two. Actually, it’s probably better than all the last superhero scores by Zimmer. At least it’s a funny and bold action score, which, of course, can’t be compared to Goldsmith’s, but, regardless, it’s a very nice score by his own.

    And, after this and Lion King (have you guys heard the incredible “The Legacy Collection”? I’m still waiting for the review, James), will the other Zimmer scores from the 90s being released? I always wanted a more complete release of The Rock and The Prince of Egypt.