Tuesday, 17 March 2015

CHAPPIE Score Review

Check it out... if you're an adamant fan of the retro Zimmer-age, and are elated by the prospect of another all synthetic score from the composer, despite any compositional detractors that remain due to the man's own methodology

Skip it... if you desire even a semblance or hint of intellectual composition, Zimmer discarding any notion of complexity, melodic variation, inspired instrumentation nor intelligent leitmotific conception from the moment the score initiates

"What defines the superfluous and lacking Chappie is its general lack of finesse that can't necessarily be constituted solely as an offshoot of the demands made by Blomkamp."

Visionary director Neill Blomkamp's latest attempt at providing thoughtful commentary on the modern world by utilizing science fiction as a gateway to the general population appears to have been less than appreciated, if initial responses are to be believed. Chappie is an allegory that attempts to provide commentary on racism, third-world poverty and the inhumanity of major corporations in the twenty-first century. These bold thematic premises may retain some form of distinctness about them for more casual viewers, but for fans of both Blomkamp or science fiction in general, it's hard not to draw parallels towards his previous work, these including 2013's Elysium and his most beloved contribution, 2009's District 9. The latter, his debut into mainstream cinema, felt inventive and defined, a film which presented an analogy in regards to a number of contemporary concepts that were being shunned by Hollywood's more conservative standards. Blomkamp's aesthetic propensity and tactfulness allowed him to bring to life a story of discovery, discrimination, manipulation and military ruthlessness set against the backdrop of the slums of Johannesburg. His second foray with Elysium fared far less successfully, his heavy-handed approach to the analysis of third-world medical restrictions and general class disparity proving unable to resonate with many members of the general public. The critical circles also found Elysium a jarringly less polished feature, though it was hard for many to deny the visual flair that Blomkamp still managed to infuse into the duration. Chappie retreads numerous thematic concepts that Blomkamp has explored before, though achieves little new in regards to both technicalities and narrative ventures. It is an effort that lacks the personality, originality and subtlety (given the concept's nature) that Distict 9 possessed, nor the visual characterisation and vivacious ambition of Elysium, and instead resorts to conventions and cliches one expects not from an auteur of the likes of Blomkamp. 

The director's unconventional tastes in regards to music for his features generally results in, much like their visual forms, an urban, electronica sound, infused with mannerisms distinct to those responsible for the compositions. Clinton Shorter was responsible for the offbeat, characteristically pronounced District 9; a score which garnered relatively positive reactions from fans and scoring critics alike. His subsequent effort, Elysium, abandoned the Shorter influence, and Blomkamp instead propelled Ryan Amon to the forefront of the scoring community's interests, and whilst his work was hardly original, many could adequately claim that it was most certainly an effective debut into the realm of film scoring. With his third endeavor, Blomkamp has forsaken this inclination of realizing the potential of an obscure composer, and has now moved directly towards hiring a well-known and respected Hollywood writer; the overtly prolific Hans Zimmer, of course. Zimmer recruited two primary collaborators to provide official additional compositions alongside his principal offerings, these individuals being Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynsky. As a huge follower of the man, I'm generally the first to defend any effort of his, but announced as the man responsible for the musical accompaniment to Blomkamp's latest film, I felt nothing but absolute animosity towards the decision. Despite an initial internal conflict as to the capacity of the (at that stage) hypothetical efforts, I generally possessed a very straight-forward outlook: this will be terrible. Zimmer's strength often comes in his recording size, his ability to elevate the gravity of a concept with a large orchestra and pitch-perfect recording properties admired by many. Combine this with an immensely competent mixing aptitude and you have one of the strongest twentieth and twenty-first century sound-design fundamentalists still in activity.

Blomkamp's rustic approach gels well with the Shorter and Amon methodologies, but lacks the compatibility with Zimmer's consistent style. What has resulted from the collaboration proves to be one of the composer's most senseless, derivative, simplistic and forthright additions into his discography in years. For critics of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, prepare to have a field day with the atrocity that is Chappie, the Crimson Tide synthetics returning to major effect, only to a far less aesthetically pleasing result. Amalgamate this with thematic material that seems as blatant as it is overbearing, and melodies which lack (weirdly) tonal consistency nor variation, and you have a product that is perhaps the most instantaneously repulsive of Zimmer's career. This is a strange occurrence, considering all the stylistic nuances of the composer's usual workload is present to a more or less extent: the synthetic reliance has been a constant throughout Zimmer's extensive and elongated career, and his more facile-inclined melodic and leitmotific tendencies are actively present within a multitudinous quantity of his works. What defines the superfluous and lacking Chappie is its general lack of finesse that can't necessarily be constituted solely as an offshoot of the demands made by Blomkamp. The dated artificial components employed to less than appetizing effect prove poorly conceived, Zimmer's reliance on mixing to increase the virtue of his work unable to rectify inherent faults with the material. It's a dull, uninspired affair that provokes little more than irritation. 

Chappie explores few more than two areas of enunciation throughout its duration, these being overt sentimentality, designed to reflect the baby-like and misunderstood personality that accompanies the titular robotic character of the film as he first becomes truly sentient; this is matched with grating and jaded action sequences, featuring some of the most abhorrent synthetic material of Zimmer's illustrious career. And whereas I would generally treat one to a discussion on the lack of volume consistency and its inadequacy in terms of the release, it's somewhat tasteful in this context, considering the brutal aggression of the nearly constant action and how insufficient the more evocative of material is. All the same, these lighter influences may nearly cause a listener to choke on such glaringly palpable sentiment; the introduction of the primary five-note innocent Chappie motif in 'A Machine That Thinks And Feels' is so layered with flagrant schmaltz that it's suffocating. Its subsequent incorporations, including within 'Firmware Update', 'The Black Sheep', 'Use Your Mind' and more, are as pathetic, the concept feeling more gimmicky than sincere throughout. The largest problem with the concept though is the lack of effort undertaken to conceive such a poorly manifested leitmotif. The origins of the melody are so clearly obvious (a music box), Zimmer and his collaborators making little effort to conceal the evident inspirations; and whilst this isn't an implicit fault with any given melody, what furthers its irritability is the shallow progression that it undertakes, little complexity nor variation integrated. 

Instrumentally, the score lacks a desired intricacy in its elements that would have greatly benefited the lacking writing. The notion of utilizing an all-synthetic barrage of components is an extreme contrivance, Zimmer looking to distract one from any pronounced melodic faults by repeatedly thumping our heads with vintage synthesizers, keyboard and guitar motifs. Bass and general artificial pulses litter the soundscape, rendering cues of the likes of 'Indestructible Robot Gangster #1' unlistenable; either that, or you're going to be forced to turn down the volume substantially manually, to prevent yourself from receiving some obscure form of brain damage. What could be considered wistful in comparison, a Vangelis-Blade Runner-inspired atmosphere, is applied to allow moments to breath in-between the more obtrusive of concoctions; following the aforementioned piece is 'Breaking The Code', which initially provides an adequate example of the style. That said, it's nothing particularly special, and really only proves worthy of mention due to the fact that the rest of the score is so overtly overbearing. Screeching sound effects amass throughout, some more disgusting than others: the most absolutely terrifying, atrocious and downright abusive is those which form the opening five seconds of 'Rudest Bad Boy In Joburg'. All that said, the composer's most aggressive mentality comes into play in regards to his repetitious, droning synthetic percussion, the impertinence and forthright employment of such an element a major detractor throughout the duration of the album. 

For fans of retro-Zimmer, Chappie presents perhaps the best opportunity for a nostalgic throwback, as the basic principles of his former compositional techniques remain intact within this here release. That said, for fans of Crimson Tide (Chappie's most obvious comparison from Zimmer's own discography), any ounce of subtlety deployed for that aforementioned title has been forfeit for the most continuously protuberant and prominent compositions imaginable. Whilst it is true that the music remains more volatile and variable within its latter stages, it never retains any form of underlying emotion, everything so obviously placed at the forefront to maintain a constant sense of overbearing force. There are portions where a sampled array of vocals are mixed alongside an effective combination of bashful higher and lower register synthetics; the action highlight of the score, both due to its at least somewhat respectable inconstant movements, as well as a pulsating and strangely enjoyable general sound that is more indulgent than the rest of the work, 'The Outside Is Temporary', serves as a fantastic illustration and example of the potential for greatness. An uncompromising display of pure energy and power, it represents the focal point for appraisal. The rest of the action material though remains either too indistinct or one-note for genuine discussion. After the preliminary, major opportunity to impress in terms of action, 'The Only Way Out Of This' (which fails miserably), every successive outing underwhelms and seems to take rhythms, patterns, progressions, ascensions, instrumental variables and other tidbits from this preceding cue to form a monotonous and recurrent feeling that tires immensely quickly. 

Where Zimmer approaches a level of partial acceptance from his audience is throughout his more atmospheric, reverb-dominated instances, the comparisons to Vangelis' less refined era steadily converging. The latter half of 'A Machine That Thinks And Feels', the first minute and a half of 'Firmware Update', portions of 'Black Sheep', 'Breaking The Code' and 'Never Break A Promise', as well as far less significant durations during other pieces, possess a softer and more ambiant quality that appears less forthright in presentation than the vast majority of the album. It still remains simplistic in its structure and constructs during these segments, cliches invariably affecting the proficiency and the satisfaction that can be extracted, but it's a worthwhile diversion from the otherwise nauseating material. Other cues of note include the song-like 'We Own This Sky', whose formulaic chord progression reminds one of a modern pop track (another welcome deviation from the norm of the score, however conventional and underwhelming the piece is), and the finale to the release, 'Illest Gangsta On The Block', is reminiscent of the classic arcade sounds that many possess a distinct nostalgia for, though it's as dull as the rest of the album. 

The most disappointing portion of the entire endeavor is perhaps Zimmer's lack of thematic continuation nor creativity for the central leitmotif for the score. After what many could easily consider the composer's most thematically adept work from the past few years, Interstellar possessing a range of easily identifiable, accessible and intelligent foremost melodies, Chappie disappoints as its title motif underwhelms in both situations of which it is used, as well as situations in which it is dismissed from representation. It makes its first statement within 'It's A Dangerous City', but makes no major reappearances until the latter half of the cue 'The Outside Is Temporary', and yet still doesn't truly evoke anything particularly impactful. It's a concept that should have been elevated a far more prominent position in the score, but is instead relegated to minor implements throughout. 

The fact that a composer of the likes of Zimmer can churn out such filth as Chappie and still retain an enviable magnitude of defenders who claim superiority in his style in comparison to other composer's who have worked far greater wonders in the same genre is bogus. Whether or not it works for the context it was intended for is irrelevant, considering Blomkamp's prior forays and their often generic musical supplement: Zimmer's work here is both derivative, simplistic, tired and dated, and the latter is not due to the use of older synthesizers. The score is a wannabe Blade Runner, only the finesse and finely-tuned mix that accompanied that work is entirely non-present in this environment. The missed opportunity in rendering a more human touch for the robotic protagonist also warrants criticism, Zimmer defiantly pursuing his synthetic approach without care as to whether or not such a methodology is best for the context. Add to these innate hindrances observed within the material itself a laughably clumsy sales technique designed to rid a collector of as much money as can be warranted, and you have what one can only assume shall be viewed as one of the year's weakest works come December. As a fan of the man's style, openly lambasting him is not something I seek to do in any of my assessment's of his scores. I more often than not acclaim Zimmer's abilities; his aspirations; his intentions; his melodic accessibility and his general enthusiasm, even in the face of major complexity concerns. Chappie ranks among the least evolved works in the composer's discography, and sits alongside Black Hawk Down as one of my least favored Zimmer releases. For those who seek accessible and even somewhat intelligent work from the composer, Chappie should be avoided at all costs. For those who frequently denigrate the work of Hans Zimmer, you have my utmost approval for expressing sheer distaste in this one instance. You can purchase Chappie through Varese Sarabande or on iTunes, here and here.        


Additional notes about release: due to a contractual agreement between Varese Sarabande and outside vendor MyPlay Direct, physical copies of the score are not available on Amazon or any other public store of that like.  

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