Sunday, July 09, 2006

HIGH NOTES: Gladiator

When you think “cool guys with swords,” a film style my wife and I both love, the music to “Gladiator” might seem to fit that description but it’s actually a much more subtle score than you’d expect. That’s likely why it won an Academy Award.

The movie itself doesn’t deserve a stereotype as an action film. In many ways, I think this film feels very Shakespearean in its script, and the score reflects this. We’re given an ominous open with “Progeny.” This two-minute piece accompanies the opening credits which includes a brief setup. That opening text actually paints a positive picture of the future, promising the end of war should Rome win the film’s opening battle. The music is what cues the moviegoer that all is not well in the Roman Empire. “The Wheat” continues this ominous start to the film, and it’s not until we get to “The Battle” that we’re treated with the real fireworks for this score.

“The Battle” delivers some of the best battle music Hans Zimmer had done to date. The DVD to Gladiator included a mini-documentary on the score, and for a fan of movie scores such as myself, this was a real treat. The most fascinating thing was to learn that the battle music is actually a cleverly disguised waltz. For the purpose of editing the film, Zimmer gave the editors several variations on this waltz/battle music to let them know how the music would fit in with the other elements of the film.

Now, you do get some repetition in this score, and typically, I can just listen to the first three tracks I’ve mentioned and feel as if I’ve heard the entire score. The exception to this is the closing credit piece “Now We Are Free.” This sorrowful song does a great job of capturing the right tone for the end of the film. Yes, the ending is sad but with hope.

Other Scores by Hans Zimmer:

I think this score, more than any other, made my wife a Hans Zimmer fan. I had long ago been sold on Zimmer’s talent thanks to scores such as “Crimson Tide,” “Drop Zone” and “Broken Arrow.” Sheri still says if our book should ever find its way into film that Zimmer is the one she’d want to do the score. Can’t say I’d be upset about that either. Thankfully, we’re seeing a greater number of talented composers for Hollywood’s scores these days, and quite a few of them have ties to Zimmer.

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