Pearl Harbor, the big summer blockbuster, has, of course, been greeted with storms of critical derision. Interestingly, its soundtrack recording arrives for review in a month when we are inundated, as you can see, with CDs of marvellously crafted historical scores with strong memorable themes from the so-called gold and silver ages of Hollywood. In comparison, I have to say Zimmer’s new soundtrack sounds, for much of its length, relatively impoverished in comparison. Not for the first time I rue the passing of the studio system and the studio music departments. One might imagine Alfred Newman or Ray Heindorf expressing disappointment about much of this score.
Zimmer’s score continues a fashion or pattern set by John Williams for Saving Private Ryan and his own beautiful, sensitive The Thin Red Line (once again one feels that the producers are playing safe emulating every facet of a successful formula). Both scores were relatively quiet for war films holding the barbarity at a distance and concentrating on smaller-scale personal issues, but Zimmer’s score lacked the strong emotional impact of Williams’s …. Pearl Harbor was a very significant event in 20th century history, one that is indelibly etched into the American (not to mention the rest of the world’s) psyche; accordingly it needs a big theme that ignites emotions. That is what is lacking here - instead we have low key music, mostly slow moving and introspective, and string led. (One feels that Zimmer is struggling to realise a big theme that just refuses to materialise.) His score is based on unrounded, and unresolved three and four note motifs that rely too much on simply modulated sequences. The earlier tracks have a meandering romantic/nostalgic sentimentality that by now is almost clichéd; to be blunt the music tends to caress the listener into a state of torpor. I found it very hard to maintain concentration. This sort of material may work very well with on-screen romance but as a listening experience – no!
Having aired all those grouses let’s look at the few good points of the score like the well staged and spaced soundtrack bombardment noises in the opening bars of ‘Attack’ an interesting cue that mixes strongly rhythmic primitive native music with exotic percussion and pipes, and a suggestion of an approaching oriental menace amid the whirr of aeroplane propellers as suggested by rapid tremolando strings . The cue goes on to speak quite eloquently of fortitude in a hymn-like chorale that is affecting for being relatively simple. The hymn that forms the centre-piece of the dolefully elegiac ‘December 7th’ is also nicely restrained and even more moving. ‘War’ is another complex Zimmer creation moving through slow mournful treads to a faster-paced more heroic confidence with wild insistent combative rhythms, sometimes syncopated, that recall Zimmer’s Gladiator. A crescendo presents those three/four note motifs in full heroic glory and a theme nearly, very nearly breaks through. The mood heightens through the final cue ‘Heart of a Volunteer’, with the motif appearing again in ‘Last Post’ tear-jerking dress, preceded by some Beethoven-like stoicism.
Like the curate’s egg, good in parts.