December 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest  
Music composed by Hans Zimmer
Performed by Unnamed Orchestra, with Metro Voices, Choir of the King’s Consort, Delores Clay (vocals) and Martin Tillmann (cello)
Conducted by Pete Anthony (orchestra) and Alistair King (choir)
With additional music and orchestrations by a cast of thousands
  Available on Walt Disney Records (WDR 61447-7)
Running Time: 58:32
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Gore Verbinski’s adaptation of the Disney theme park ride Pirates of the Caribbean proved to the most unexpected mainstream pleasure of mid-2003 filmgoing. Between Johnny Depp’s consistently hilarious Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush’s equally rambunctious villain, and the deft balance of whackiness and earnest derring-do – Curse of the Black Pearl was the ultimate example of a film that made fun of itself, and managed to seem the better for it. Come 2006, its sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was not so accomplished, leaning more on physical comedy and obscure references to jokes from the first film than fresh wit. For sure it had its moments though, and you can’t hold too much against a film this wilfully silly.

    I never really had much of a problem with the production-line orchestral rock score that Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer and ten other additional composers produced for the first film. Its swift construction showed (ten days apparently), but it did much to clarify the comedy of the film – crossing the line between deadly-earnest (evoking tension) and overly-earnest (provoking laughs) at just the right points. It’s hard to say the choice of the rock idiom was a particularly astute dramatic choice on Zimmer/Badelt’s part – even though the film is filled with pirates dressed like asexual glam rockers, Zimmer seems to write this sort of music for every other film he does, so it’s hard to praise the genius that led the team formerly known as Media Ventures to do what they already do in any given dramatic situation.

    The orchestral rock anthem approach has stuck for the sequel score. Zimmer is now credited as the main composer (and a recent interview with has revealed his ‘Overproducer’ credit on the original film was a contractual bluff of sorts). Klaus Badelt is nowhere to be seen (uncredited even for themes from the first film), and an impressive team of additional composers and orchestrators round out the credits. Martin Tillmann’s ‘drunken’ cello presents a new form of the theme for Jack Sparrow in the opening suite, the mickey-mousing of the theme’s original incarnation now exaggerated further, before the cue opens up to become a large scale orchestral setpiece with all the familiar Zimmer action signatures –syncopation, unison voicing, 6/8 metres, etc. Once the boisterous opening passes, the big action setpieces that dominated the first album are largely absent here – except for the enjoyable (if repetitive) ‘Wheel of Fortune’, the mood is either more dramatic, or more overtly comedic.

    The drama scoring (befitting this ridiculous film’s supposedly darker themes) is heavy sturm-und-drung – ‘You Look Good, Jack’, ‘A Family Affair’ and the long (but very effective in the film) ‘Hello Beastie’ all delve into this well of churning strings, slow reprisals of themes, and unsettling sound effects. Probably the most interesting of the more serious cues is the theme for Bill Nighy’s surprisingly-straight faced ‘Davy Jones’ – a lullaby with the expected music box and less expected pipe organ and male chorus along for the ride. The organ also dominates the score’s single most effective new suite ‘The Kraken’. The slow churning that opens this piece raises an ominous chuckle every time as the monster from the deep is summoned. For the Kraken’s emergence from the deep, that quasi-rock dies irae melody on the organ is beautifully over-the-top. At the height of the beast’s devastation the duel between distorting electric guitar and horn trills is the most exciting action music Zimmer has written in a while.

    Elsewhere it’s all ‘funny music’. Faux cannibal music shifts into a classical circus waltz in ‘Dinner is Served’. The anthem that accompanied Depp’s memorable entry in the first film accompanies the new film’s parallel scene in ‘I’ve Got My Eye on You’. And the boisterous ‘Two Hornpipes’ works as source music for the film’s brief detour to pirate port Tortuga. It’s the sort of music that works well in the film to get a laugh, but on its own never quite feels as humorous.

    And maybe that’s the problem with this sort of film music – it feels extremely suitable for the film when it plays, but (with a couple of exceptions) feels incredibly lazy to anyone familiar with the first score, or indeed any of the main composer’s previous work. I think the rock anthem approach is as valid for pirates as it was for unruly Somalians, disgruntled US Marines-turned-terrorists, unruly Visigoths, photorealistic puppet pilots, unruly Celts, Batman (where it was used more sparingly) and many others. But I think it’s fair to call it ‘coasting’ when the same tricks are continually applied regardless of those things that make each film unique. Some people won’t care at all and count this as their greatest soundtrack purchase of the year. Others will only find this music occasionally deserves the adjective ‘interesting’. I find myself somewhere in between, and my rating hopefully indicates that.

    Oh, and there is a remix by someone called DJ Tiesto closing the album. Hopefully Mr Tiesto doesn’t walk around with a nametag on, because if he keeps up his demonstrated skill here of turning mildly interesting film music into atrocious dance music, he is likely to be a magnet for ire from fans of both musical genres.

    Michael McLennan

    Rating: 2.5

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