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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST
McScore with Cheese
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
(A note to the people who email to complain that I spend too much time wittering on about things other than the music - please go and visit another website if you really want to read about Pirates of the Caribbean 2.) As the years go by and I march ever onwards towards middle age, I frequently find myself wondering - if I'm so grumpy and, well, old today, what am I going to be like when I really am old? Not someone you'd want to spend much time with, in all probability. Mind you, that's almost certainly already the case. Anyway, a variety of things annoy me far more than they should, on a daily basis - people who speak on mobile phones in public (the horror!), or women who stand and wait for ages in the coffee shop but then don't start to contemplate what it might be that they actually want to buy until they've arrived at the front of the queue, with me standing behind them, or - along similar lines - women who wait for ages to buy a magazine, already in their hand, with the price clearly displayed on it, but then don't contemplate that they might actually need to provide money to the cashier in return for the magazine until they've arrived at the front of the queue, with me standing behind them, or men with earrings, or anyone with tattoos, or people who don't say a little "thank you" when I hold the door open for them - but also (you must have known I was going to reach a faintly-relevant point in the end) the move away from film music which adds something to movies, to film music which simply accompanies them. Of course, the move has been happening for so long now - over two decades, certainly - that it's just become something that must be accepted - which is a pity.
Hans Zimmer is a controversial composer for many reasons, but perhaps that's the most controversial of all. The other criticisms thrown his way - all the ghostwriters, all the synths, the lack of any particular musical depth - I'm sure they would all be ignored completely if the end product were somehow bringing some bold new way of scoring films which is just as effective as, or maybe even moreso than, the old one. Fact is - sorry, Zimmer apologists everywhere - it isn't. What Zimmer has done is really the ultimate indictment of the whole point of film music - if you can stick essentially the same score in a film about a prison break from Alcatraz as you can in a film about Arthurian legend, the same score in a submarine thriller as a swords-and-sandals Roman epic - well, you begin to wonder what the point of "original" film music is at all. Why not just use library cues? I know the standard defence of the apologists is "The only reason you can't write scores like Chinatown and To Kill a Mockingbird any more is that nobody makes movies like that any more" - of course there is truth in that - but surely there is still scope for talented composers with strong musical voices to create scores which uniquely inhabit the films they are in, do something for them that no other music could do, add something to the whole movie-going experience.
One of the most controversial scores in years was Pirates of the Caribbean, credited to Klaus Badelt, but subsequently revealed to have been composed by Zimmer (well, in as much as anything is "composed by Zimmer") but credited to Badelt for obscure contractual reasons. The fact of the matter is that, however painful it is to admit, and however much one might have longed for what Alan Silvestri may have come up with before he was fired, the music worked in the film. (It also made a highly-enjoyable album, but as with all Zimmer works, the experience on album tends to be very different from the experience with the film.) But at what point did it become OK to settle for something that "worked in the film"? Surely film music should be able to do more than that. Are we really now at the stage where a film composer's job is considered a successful one just because he managed to avoid making the film worse? Really? Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? worked in the film - but it did a damn sight more than that - it could be argued that it positively made the film. The same could be said of numerous other classic scores. Which of today's scores are so? I know, there are some - but for it to happen in a genuinely high-profile film, which dominates the box office for a few weeks? I'd say that used to happen a few times a year - and now happens once every two or three years.
Is Zimmer to blame? Of course not. He has his way of working, and the model he built with Media Ventures (and now Remote Control) serves modern filmmakers uniquely well - they get exactly what they want, ie a score written in no time at all, which plays continuously, almost inevitably, from the first frame of film to the last, and which doesn't draw undue attention to itself and thus divert attention away from the blasting sound effects, which these days are considered more likely to set the audience members' pulses racing than music would. But wouldn't it be great if some big movie producer (and I mean one of the really big ones, one big enough that what he does, others follow) happened to flick over to a movie like North by Northwest or The Sand Pebbles and see what real film music can do? I know how elitist and pompous I must sound to Zimmer's many, many devotees, but really that isn't my intention; I just see it as a sad fact that over a period of time, film music has eroded away to this.
Anyway, on to Pirates of the Caribbean 2 - it's exactly what you expect it to sound like. Of course it is - what else would it be like? The 51 minutes of music on the CD (I'm ignoring the seven-minute "bonus" track, a "Tiesto Remix" - whatever that means - of "He's a Pirate", which is so unutterably dire that even I am lost for words) were composed by eight people and orchestrated by a further five. To look in what I already know is an over-simplistic way (before anyone emails) that means that these composers (and I'm sure in reality there are many more) wrote six minutes of music each. Six minutes!
Some material from the first score is reprised - of course - there's a bit of new stuff - there's one enjoyable action track ("The Kraken") and one extremely enjoyable action track ("Wheel of Fortune") - there's a couple of dainty sea shanties - there's oodles of electric guitars - there's a deep male choir - there's a 100-piece orchestra made to sound like about eight players because of the truly banal orchestration - like I said, it's everything you would expect it to be. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that music for a film like this has to sound like The Sea Hawk or even Cutthroat Island - this is a very different kind of film - but surely there's a better way than this?
I will end in the style of Columbo (who else?), by reporting just the facts, ma'am. Does it work in the film? You bet! Is it the best possible score for the film? No way! Does it make an enjoyable album? Yeah! As good as the first one? No, probably not. Oh (says he, shuffling back into the room, trenchcoat firmly in place) - one more thing - will it be the biggest-selling film score album of the year? I'd be truly amazed if not. Says it all.