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The Rock

When you think about “influential scores”, it’s quite interesting (to me, anyway) that they tend to roll off the tongue when you think about the last quarter of a century – The Rock, Gladiator, American Beauty, The Bourne Identity, The Dark Knight – but when you think about it, they really didn’t tend to exist in the same way before that. It’s not like after Star Wars came out and was successful, all of a sudden half of all film scores sounded like Star Wars – you tended to have a load of composers who were quite distinctive and hired because the filmmakers wanted them to sound like themselves and craft music for that particular film that would suit it.

I don’t think there’s a single thing responsible for that changing and things becoming more homogenous in the last quarter-century or so. One great big contributing factor was probably digital editing – now filmmakers could tweak their films quite easily and a scene could become twenty seconds longer, or twenty seconds shorter, right at the last minute – all of a sudden, the composer writing at the computer was much better-placed than the composer writing on paper at the desk or piano.

The other thing that The Rock did was prove that a certain model could be successful – I don’t think it was ever the intention (this was meant to be a Nick Glennie-Smith score, but when it wasn’t working out it for whatever reason it became an all-hands-on-deck situation with Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams joining in a major capacity, and others helping out lower down the chain) but now it could be demonstrated that this multiple-composer situation could work, that you could write these little bits of music that could easily become interchangeable not just within a film but across films, across different composers – people realised that it didn’t seem to matter to audiences if every film score started to sound the same.

This is why The Rock was so influential, I think – though initially it was only on similar films, Gladiator went on to prove that it didn’t have to just be Bruckheimer-type movies that the model worked for. (And another thing that makes it work much more in recent times than in the past – the movies themselves have become more homogenous, with so much less content obviously directed at adults.) It does, of course, continue a style and sound already established by Zimmer – most notably in Backdraft and Crimson Tide – and the album’s opening track, on this new extended edition of the score now known as “Opening / Naval Weapons Depot” (I don’t really know what was wrong with calling it “Hummel Gets the Rockets”) we are introduced to two of the main themes, the first of which is almost like a hybrid of those two earlier scores’ main themes, the second more of a menacing bad-guy theme – but there’s no doubt that it was this one, not the earlier ones, that set the wheels in motion for essentially everything that’s happened to mainstream Hollywood film music ever since.

Apparently Zimmer disliked the original hour-long release of the score – I’m not entirely sure why, since it followed his trusted convention of building suites of material up and representing essentially everything most people would want on the album – but now everyone can be happy, since Intrada has released this greatly-expanded album which includes around 100 minutes of score plus a load of additional material on top of that.

What we get is pretty much more of the same – so anyone who loves the score will be absolutely delighted with it. Aside from those two main “action” themes, there are two others – one romantic, Celtic-tinged theme heard most notably in “Jade” and then a more celebratory theme familiar on the original album in “Fort Walton, Kansas” but here given some notable development earlier on.

There’s some great action music, of course – aside from the explosive opening cue, “Haircut – Escape: The Chase!!” makes up for its excessive collection of punctuation with some really exciting music (and another couple of cool new themes), as does “Mason Into Furnace – SEALs Tunnel / SEAL Attack” later on. These are not short cues, either (those three run 25 minutes between them) – there’s a lot going on. There is also, I have to say, a fair bit of far less interesting suspense material – it’s been probably twenty years since I listened to the original album so I can’t really remember how much of that was on there as well.

Being a film music fan in 2023, you have little choice but to accept that orchestrated keyboard music is what you’re going to get a lot of the time – this wasn’t the case in 1996 and I remember my visceral hatred of this and everything that sounded like this back then – it’s funny how time softens the responses if a bit sad that things have got so much worse that I now pine for the days when everything sounded like this (give me the adrenaline-soaked power anthems over the chugging “gritty realism” any day). I still don’t like the cheap sound (I will never in my life understand why they go to the great expense of recording these things with full orchestras and then somehow contrive to make it sound like everything is sampled) and I would much rather hear a more traditional orchestral sound and a more – but there’s no denying the effectiveness of the direct simplicity of it all, and the best of these things are the ones with decent themes, which The Rock has. I don’t think there’s enough meat on the bone for me to ever really want to listen to all two hours of it, but I know I’m in the minority when it comes to that sort of thing.

I once got into trouble when I referred to this sort of thing as McScores but – despite the risk of backlash on social media – that is what they are, functional creations which taste the same no matter where you have them – but I’ve been known to have a Big Mac a few times myself – sometimes it’s just what you want. I would rather things hadn’t become quite so interchangeable as they have, but them’s the breaks. It’s a rather silly but not unrewarding score for a rather silly but not unrewarding film, and it changed everything.

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  1. Alexander S. (Reply) on Tuesday 17 October, 2023 at 07:54

    You are absolutely right. This is the score that started it all. I remember listening to it with a friend, thinking, it ALL sounds like Zimmer, why are there two others credited as composers?! I also remember that my not-so-fond-of-orchestra-music friends who came over for a game night asked if I could play this album in the background (probably to keep me from playing another Goldsmith love theme hehe). They genuinely loved Zimmer scores. It’s what Zimmer does well. His music appeals to people who are not into intricate orchestral colors and sweeping melodies, but pounding rhythms, exciting sound effects and wired guitars in film music – lots of people obviously prefer this and Lenny Kravitz to Jerry Goldsmith and Lionel Richie.