There appears to be a fair amount of negativity aimed at Hans Zimmer in the film music fan community. In fact, the only composer I can think of that comes in for more criticism is poor old James Horner! And yet, for myself, I can’t really see what all of the fuss is about. Zimmer is a very talented, dynamic composer with a large number of fine scores to his credit, ranging way back to the propulsive Black Rain (1989) through to the inspiring, poignant Prince of Egypt (1998) right up to his award winning, powerhouse Gladiator (2000). All exceptional scores among a strong body of work. The only question I have after listening to the soundtrack for Thunderbirds is what went wrong?
To be honest, I was quite surprised that any of the A-list composers would even want to take a crack at Thunderbirds. The project looked ill-conceived from the beginning and Barry Gray’s theme and incidental music are so well regarded that it seemed something of a fool’s errand to try to compete. Even so, I would have sincerely preferred it if Zimmer had simply forgotten about Gray and came up with a brand new theme of his own rather than creating some kind of bastardised hybrid of that wonderful original signature theme and giving it an insipid pop backbeat. But that’s just what he has done and it truly is a travesty. The fact that the orchestration is pretty much identical to the original, save for the vapid percussion, gives it a trite, throwaway quality that is very irritating and this exercise in misguided homage leaves a very bad taste in the mouth (and ears!).
But this wouldn’t be so bad if Zimmer’s new compositions didn’t sound as if he was merely going through the motions and even the best cues like ‘Can’t Wait to be a Thunderbird’ and ‘TB 3 Takeoff’, which admittedly do have occasional bursts of likeable melody and energy, never mange to rise above being serviceable - the problem is that it all sounds so obvious and manipulative. The biggest single sign that all is not well is when the obligatory pop song (here performed by teen stars Busted) sounds better than anything in the actual score.
Taking a puppet series and translating it into a live action big screen adventure was never going to be an easy task. But what was needed was the same kind of vitality and innovation that the original series showed. The sad truth is that in the case of the music there is a cosmetic blandness that is far more wooden than any of the Thunderbirds puppets. Let’s hope the same can’t be said for the actors who have replaced them.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
It would seem clear the Zimmer / Media Ventures brief was to turbo charge the new Thunderbirds movie with a score which paid homage to Barry Gray’s original 1960’s scores while paying respect to a much more recent form of science fiction scoring – that employed by Don Davis and Juno Reactor for The Matrix films. The result is a like it or loath it sort of Thunderbirds / Matrix-lite hybrid which an old reactionary like me found surprisingly palatable. The final F.A.B. may be too short but it otherwise genuinely exhilarating, and while I would have preferred a full blown epic orchestral treatment of Barry Gray’s original theme the version which opens the album here is more than serviceable. The less said about Busted (whoever they are) and their song version, "Thunderbirds Are GO!" the better. The enhanced CD also features a trailer for the film.