Monday, 17 November 2014


interstellar cover
Check it out... if you desire a Zimmer score which genuinely seeks to explore unmarked territory for the composer, and places a far more evident and effective emphasis on emotion and sentiment than has been seen in his prior, more recent work

Skip it... if you refuse to accept the simplistic constructs of the score and desire something something that is far more diverse in relation to general melodies and phrases, for Interstellar is driven by thematic ideas and concepts, and insists upon a slow moving pace, something that will undoubtedly not be for everyone


"I've reiterated time and time again on this site that the primary sign that I take for a brilliant score is one that can tell a story thoroughly and gracefully, without the use of a visual medium; Interstellar does such with more emotion and grandeur than one could've ever have expected"

There have been few recent releases which have amassed anywhere near the amount of anticipation and hype that director Christopher Nolan's latest cinematic endeavour, Interstellar, has. After the mind-bending Inception (which garnered Nolan considerable Oscar nominations) and the wide-reaching and highly ambitious The Dark Knight Rises, one could not be blamed for expecting great things for Interstellar; and considering the big names alongside Nolan's in relation to the production of the film, including Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Her and The Fighter cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and American theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, the hype was rightfully excessive. A sci-fi film helmed by one of the better modern directors of our time? A film that encompasses thematic material of all reaches, including that of family connections, love, transcendence, planetary destruction, black holes and beyond, etc. How could this possibly fail? Well, for many, Interstellar lived up to its near-innumerable quantity of promises, delivering grand spectacle, intimate characters, strong writing, and visuals which are surely not to be matched by any other film within the foreseeable future. And whilst the critical and commercial consensus hasn't been entirely positive, the vast majority agree that the film is one of immense aspiration and bravery, and takes risks that are seen rarely within the Hollywood blockbuster, as is something Christopher and screenwriter/brother Jonathon Nolan are often congratulation for doing. Alongside the many positives also include the score for the film, composed by frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer, whose workload has dramatically decreased from the previous years, undoubtedly due to this here film. 

Acclaimed within context, Zimmer's score encompasses a number of variables that seem distinctly non-Zimmer like, in comparison to many of his prior projects within recent years, most notably his scores for the previous Nolan undertakings, these including The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. Whereas for those scores Nolan and Zimmer sought to provide brutal and futuristic sounds and ideas, composed of numerous synthetics, loud and unflinching brass blasts, string ostinatos and a distinct lack of woodwind instruments, Interstellar is something far more harmonious and uplifting, utilizing techniques that seem unique for a modern day Zimmer to be taking advantage of. Melodies, thematic material, instrumentation; all of it seems to be in a completely different vein to that of the previous Zimmer/Nolan collaborations. Perhaps this is because of the starting point that the men began from; the composer's first composition for the film was recorded two years ago, when Nolan gave Zimmer the knowledge that he desired a main theme for an upcoming film of his. The only criteria he provided was that it should represent what it means to be a father. Taking this central idea, Zimmer crafted a piece on organ and piano, all within a day, and played it for Nolan himself the day after he was given the assignment. Impressed with the results, Nolan described the entirety of the project that he was looking to tackle to Zimmer, and informed the composer that the tone in regards to the musical component of the project would and should be centred more so an intimate theme than a bombast one, bombast being what has most categorized The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception scores. 

This central theme that Zimmer originally composed is produced upon the album within the magnificent cue 'Day One', and is played at the finale of the film, during the end credits. And a brilliant theme it is; whilst it has a somewhat dark nature, it ultimately renders a thoroughly heartfelt and emotional experience, something that has been distinctly lacking in recent Zimmer work. Do not get me wrong, for I have thoroughly enjoyed the man's more recent output, especially his scores for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the much loathed Man of Steel, and Rush. But whilst these scores are certainly admirable, powerful pieces of work (in my eyes at the very least), they contain emotion that seems strained and disconnected; unable to truly breach an invisible sound barrier it seems. Much of Zimmer's work after the early 2000's has seemed thoroughly cold in relation to emotion, and whilst he most certainly can pump out an extremely satisfying, uplifting and delightful power anthem or action cue, he seems to now often lack the emotional sentiment that he was capable of tapping into within his earlier scores, most notably during his scoring of films like The Lion King, The Last Samurai and Gladiator, all highly respected pieces of work. There are exceptions to this belief, ones that contradict all I've stated; look towards the finale cue for Inception, 'Time', for one example on how the modern Zimmer has the capability to transcend his regular compositions and provide something that seems unexpectedly heart-warming and layered with tenderness. Its been four years since the score to Inception, and therefore 'Time', was released, and I've been anticipating the day when Zimmer would once again fully realise his true potential in regards to creating intimate and emotionally-resonant music. Fortunately, I needn't wait any longer, as Interstellar is that kind of a score. Despite a good deal of grand instrumentation, large in scope and range, much of Interstellar is an experience which relies fundamentally on its emotional capacity; solo pianos, low and sincere cello phrases, heartbreaking and powerful organs, slight vocals. Everything incorporated within seems to be aiming for poignant and haunting results, much of the material included within achieving as such. 

That's not to say that Interstellar is an entirely perfect score, for it is most certainly not. Where the issues enter the forefront is when you start considering the score on a technical basis, alongside other releases from this year. It still contains Zimmer's customary slow-moving pace, which sometimes, though however immensely rarely, infuriates. Repetition is a constant, and the ostinatos are very much a consistent occurrence all throughout, despite many of Nolan and Zimmer's comments prior to the release of the album. Is it disappointing to see all these faults with a score which possesses a large quantity of deeply powerful music? Partially, though for a supporter of Zimmer's who doesn't mind for the more simplistic and straight-forward of constructs within his scores, this doesn't really affect me on any groundbreaking level. For any naysayers of the composer, they shall undoubtedly be disinterested in the results of the numerous 'experiments' concocted here, as it isn't overtly unique or different from any of the other recent Zimmer projects from first glance. What is required to see something far more transcendent and uplifting from Interstellar than the other recent Zimmer assignments is either an understanding of the film's narrative and structure, or a relatively well-versed understanding of not only the film's plot, but its thematic intentions and central relationship. The film's primary relationship is the one that lies between astronaut and protagonist Cooper and his daughter, Murph. This central connection is represented by a number of key phrases throughout the score, from a 6 note leitmotif, best seen within the sensational cue 'Stay' at the 2:57 minute mark, to a 5 note leitmotif spotted at the beginning of the score within the initial offering, 'Dreaming of the Crash'. These themes all seem to have a similar, corresponding tone, one of innocence and a light atmosphere, whilst also encompassing a thoroughly stirring undercurrent of emotion and poignancy. It's simplistic writing, but Zimmer is often at his most sentimental and finest when he's writing simpler melodies and themes, and Interstellar is most certainly a keen representation of this idea, as much of the more powerful of themes are written with simplicity and clarity in mind.

Zimmer incorporates what I believe to be a Cooper theme within the next cue, 'Cornfield Chase', which represents one of the first truly compelling and noticeable uses of music within the film. Utilizing a simplistic 2 chord motif performed on an exceptional organ (specifically the incredible 1926 four-manual Harrison and Harrison organ, played within the London Temple Church), Zimmer enacts, all throughout the score, both dread, excitement and anticipation; it's perhaps one of his more versatile thematic concepts, again executed with a finely tuned air of simplicity. More aggressive and hostile themes appear within 'Dust', which first introduces the Earth theme, which is an off-key string theme, signalling both oncoming danger and despair; another danger theme, again played on organ, is introduced later on in the cue, and is reprised later on within the latter cues of the album. Fluctuating notes that represent the speed and intensity of time, a common theme throughout the film, are utilized initially within the cues 'The Wormhole' and 'Mountains', both thoroughly inventive and respectable ideas, and combined with the ticking sound of a clock and the powerful bursts of energy from the organ, we are treated to an immensely heated and intense spread of music, that whilst somewhat simplistic, is ever still effective. All the themes and melodies found within Interstellar seem to echo this quality, some more so than others, though for the majority of the running time, the atmosphere and emotion lying within the score manage to keep the listener entirely engrossed within the composition. 

The latter half of the album is fit with slower and more malicious music, whether it be the final few minutes of 'A Place Among the Stars' which have a sinister quality imbued within the high-pitch strings; the reprise of the Earth theme within 'I'm Going Home'; some dark uses of strings within the initial moments of 'Coward', followed by the ticking of the clock and the dangerously deceptive and low-key piano theme from 'Dust'. 'Coward' in general contains a number of the more intelligent, fast-paced and critical of experiments and phrases that Zimmer implements all throughout the score. As the cue hurtles towards its conclusion, a great variety of different ideas and themes begin to come into play, whether it be the insanely intense and invigorating piano and organ ostinatos, the slight ring of metallic percussion or the synthetic ambiance within the background which helps to form an atmosphere that is entirely engaging and riveting (It is a good thing to see ambiance used in such a way that it isn't overpowering of the organic elements at any instance). This sudden change in direction within the score echoes on into the next cue, 'Detach', which references the heartbreaking 'Stay' theme with both hope and devastating pain, before moving into possibly the most beautiful and emotion-filled segment of the score, headed by beautiful piano, strings and other uplifting instrumentation; this all occurring after the 5:33 minute mark into the piece. The rest of the score after this is more so uplifting and inspiring, with the piece 'S.T.A.Y' reprising the 2 chord organ motif from 'Cornfield Chase', before moving into a more clustered state, full of synthesizers, organs, pianos and fluctuations. The finale to the album, 'Where We're Going' begins with an absolutely riveting, extended reprise of the opening theme to the album, before the 2 note organ leitmotif returns, and we get our finale, less triumphant than one would anticipate, but more so curious, emotional and grand. This ending furthers my belief that Zimmer is one of the best in the business at ending an album at the perfect interval, and leaving us all reeling after an emotionally evocative experience.

And so ends Interstellar, a score which isn't necessarily as intricate, detailed or varied as something that, say, Alexandre Desplat, James Horner, Howard Shore or Steven Price could come up with, yet a score that is nevertheless riveting, engrossing and consistently beautiful. Whilst the thematic range is beyond outstanding and the instrumentation is a fresh experience for Zimmer fans abound, it is still composed of many of the ingredients that have made up much of Zimmer's prior projects. Simplistic connecting melodies, ostinatos; they all return in numerous quantity, all sure to irritate those whom aren't fans of the composer's recent output. My critical mind is telling me to rate Interstellar down; "Assign it a relatively poor rating for its simplicity!" this component of my personality is telling me. On the other side of the spectrum, my more emotionally-centred temperament is telling me to rate Interstellar higher; "It nearly brought you to tears, Callum! Despite its simplicity, it's a sensitive piece of music, full of instrumentation and thematic material rarely seen from the modern Zimmer project." I think the latter is a more convincing argument. Often, the most memorable and affecting music is that which reaches for our underlying feelings, taps into them, and causes us to feel tenderness and emotion for characters and landscapes of which we can not visually see. I've reiterated time and time again on this site that the primary sign that I take for a brilliant score is one that can tell a story thoroughly and gracefully, without the use of a visual medium; Interstellar does such with more emotion and grandeur than one could've ever have expected. It grips my heart in its hands, and even without the visceral content, I can engross myself fully in the plight and hardships of the main protagonists as they trek across galaxies. Zimmer's music harbours the vast and brilliant scope of the film, whilst also allowing us time to grow acquainted with the central characters and their relationships; it combines immense spectacle with intimate motifs that represent love, connection and family, all these things seemingly transcending the more overtly far-reaching of ideas. It isn't completely perfect, but what it is is something that perhaps represents the best in Zimmer; far more so than something like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Man of Steel. I rated the latter album far too high for its own good (though I still consider it a tremendously effective score), I now see, for Interstellar is superior to both these pieces. Whether you're a fan or not, you have to give credit where credit is due; at least Zimmer is attempting to branch out of his comfort zone and tackle thematic ideas, instrumental concepts and varied emotional grounds, most of which he succeeds at developing. For that, I thank him, for it's refreshing to see something so unique from my favourite composer, a man often loathed for his lack of diversity. A beautiful and inspiring piece of work; this most certainly comes recommended from myself. You can purchase Interstellar on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.


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