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Iconic score is not quite what it's made out to be
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1995 Hollywood Records.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Tony Scott's insanely enjoyable guilty pleasure Crimson Tide is made so much better for having actors of the calibre of Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington in it, with the tense submarine thriller going one step beyond most of the generic action films from the Simpson/Bruckheimer stable over the years, as a result. The film also launched an empire, of sorts - Hans Zimmer had been around for years, and had scored some very popular films before this, but it was Crimson Tide which really put him on the map and allowed him to create his studio of composers which is still going strong (albeit under a different name) today.
The score was very influential over many action scores which followed, not just by Zimmer and his troupe, but by plenty of other composers too - though upon first glance, it is difficult to see beyond Basil Poledouris's The Hunt for Red October as being the obvious model here. Poledouris may well have borrowed his main theme from Prokofiev, but it's not just that which is pinched by Zimmer - the electronic bleeps, the somewhat abrasive synths, the jagged action music - it all seems to have some roots in that previous score.
Anyway, Zimmer took all of that and very much made it his own. The opening cue, "Mutiny", presents the two main themes - the Prokofiev-influenced martial anthem, complete with Russian-sounding choir, and the synthetic-sounding action theme. These are both terrific, and have justly become famous - but by the time the piece is over, one might be forgiven for wondering whether it alone is responsible for this score's enduring popularity. The album only features five tracks, but plays for over an hour - presumably they are edited together rather than having been composed in this manner.
"Alabama" sums up the score's frustrating features rather well - while there's a nice little noble horn theme in it, so much of it is taken up by the electronic moans and groans, it's very hard to take much satisfaction from it. When it bursts into life, as it does in spectacular fashion, it's very good - but these moments tend to last for a few seconds before there are several more minutes of stupefying tedium. It's all very effective in the film, adding no end to its carefully-wrought tension, but not so much away from it.
Having said that - this is pretty well-considered stuff, and when it does get into its stride it is certainly not hard to see why it became so popular. I'm not sure the suite format suits it best, since it allows some excellent material to get a bit buried; but then, perhaps I shouldn't assume everyone has the attention span of a gnat like I do. The score's other main ingredient which I haven't mentioned yet is the use of "Eternal Father Strong to Save", the seafarers' hymn - it's a little odd to hear it sung by the deep male choir, but it complements Zimmer's score surprisingly well.
So, the album can be a little frustrating, but is certainly worthwile for Zimmer fans; whether it is quite as good as its reputation suggests is another thing entirely. One thing's for sure - in the film, it is extremely effective, and despite my praise for many of his albums, that is not something I say with frequency about Hans Zimmer scores. It therefore seems ironic, not to mention disappointing, that he virtually abandoned the action genre after this film, returning only periodically (and rarely to "straight" action films) - instead concentrating on "worthy" films which don't show him off at his best.