Music Webmaster Len Mullenger



Editor's Choice - New Score  - April 1999


1999 Academy Award Nominated Score

Hans ZIMMERThe Thin Red Line  OST RCA VICTOR 09026 63382 2 [58:56]


Crotchet (UK)

Amazon (USA)

This new Oscar-nominated, Hans Zimmer score, like that of his rival nominee John Williams, for this year’s other much-praised World War II film, Saving Private Ryan, is sensitive and quietly understated. While it has nothing to equal the impact of Williams’s "Hymn to the Fallen", taken as a whole, Zimmer’s score is the better and more interestingly varied of the two.

Like John Williams, Zimmer prefers to keep battle at a distance. He is more concerned with the human scale; more concerned with the emotions and thoughts and fears of the soldiers, and of those caught up in the war. There are no heroics, no bombast. The music of the opening track creeps in slowly and quietly with ominous bass rumblings but it is as if the battles are distant, detached, unreal even: the horror, the cruelty, the pity of war muted but, in so being, made no less effective. Some cues are of considerable and impressive complexity and length (the first three are 8, 8:36 and 9:21 mins. respectively). Many tracks run into each other to form a long seamless elegy. It is a string-dominated score.

There is much to admire. The opening cue, "The Coral Atoll" I have already mentioned but it also includes a beautifully subtle and muted reference to "Christian Race" an American folk hymn. "The Lagoon" which follows begins with deep ethnic bell tollings followed by local Pacific religious wailings and chantings before edgy string dronings intrude which uncannily suggest warring aircraft, then the music moves slowly forwards almost like a slow church processional in infinite sadness and compassion with the dronings by now becoming a very quiet ostinato and only occasionally rising above pp to suggest distant theatres of operations. The cue ends with slightly faster, warmer and more romantic music that develops into a waltz - thoughts of home? "Journey to the Line" opens most imaginatively with a quiet but persistent staccato running figure (almost Morse-code-like) with lower strings entering ominously below then gradually the music lifts itself above all conflict to reach the heavens. Here, Zimmer suddenly plucks the music from the low strings and flings it to his highest strings – it is as if the sun suddenly bursts through the clouds. It is a beatific, mystical world partly Vaughan Williams partly Bruckner but wholly Zimmer. Cleverly this ecstatic mood is sustained through the next cue,"Light" which is haltingly beautiful. It is a sort of gentle Far Eastern pastoral picture (Elysian Fields?) with delectable harp figures. The writing here echoes Ravel and Puccini. This lovely track could stand as a charming little piece on its own. "Beam" brings us back down to earth with more insistent deep bell tollings that speak directly of death. This, and the next barbaric track "Air", is the closest we get to direct confrontation with the beast of war yet even here the barbarity is contrasted with the ethereal and mystical.

"Stone in my Heart" is another stunning cue with Zimmer showing considerable skill in complex contrapuntal and cross-rhythmic writing. The advance and inexorable tread of weary battle-scarred, marching soldiers is vividly evoked and the ending violin solo adds just the right touch of pathos. "The Village" is another affecting hymn-like composition building slowly up to a passionate climax. "Silence", intensely sad mournful, continues very much in the same vein but ends with the sound of distant explosions. After an ethnic hymn sung by the choir , the final cue "Sit back and relax" is ironically named for this is music of horror and dissonance reminding us that the threat of the beast of war is ever present.

A wonderful score, to my mind Zimmer’s masterpiece to date and very deserving of its Oscar nomination.


Ian Lace

And Paul Tonks agrees:-

It is extremely difficult to recognise this score as coming from Zimmer. There’s no accusation in that statement whatsoever. I’m just stunned. What’s so very very wonderful, is that once you’ve seen the film, this score is impossible to forget. Not that there’s any whistle-worthy melody you walk away with. It is just an absolutely perfect representation of how modern scoring techniques can work flawlessly in film.

As a superb example, the third cue on the disc ("Journey To The Line") is the closest the score gets to thematics. Its first 6 minutes (all the cues are lengthy) builds from a very subtle ticking beat into an enormous crescendo of sound. For the scene in question we are following the newly landed troop make their way to the holding point on an island. The voice-overs are specific, but the looks and body language are far more subtle at explaining that at any moment the tree-line may explode with enemy fire. This piece of music creates unbearable empathy from us towards the soldiers in this situation. Not by being eerie or anticipatory, but because like the main character we follow, it is a celebration of life. It speaks directly to the heart of the wonders of being alive and the tragedy of that being cut short.

Having mentioned the length of the cues, it’s to be noted that so often an album can sequence or edit cues together and be to the detriment of the listening experience. Mr Horner’s team I mean you ! Here, the time just flies and as with the film you could easily wallow at greater length in the company of the soundscapes and characters. The opening track ("The Coral Atoll") seems to have nothing happening for almost a minute. The ear perceives a low timbre rumble, but once the effect is expanded, on you are drawn into a whole world of expression.

The comparison I offer for consideration is with the work of Christopher Franke on the TV series Babylon 5. Not with any particular sounds or emotions. What they have in common is successfully immersing the listener into a tonal landscape for varying lengths of time (longer for the film inevitably).

With such a lot to cover, it is far better to spotlight particular moments. The lovely harp figures that open "Light" develop into the score’s most ever so delicate piece. Huge crashes in "Air" are the direct opposite, but nevertheless conform to the surrounding placid textures. The bell and wailing male voice of "The Lagoon" are used to superb effect. Most delightful of all are the incorporated uses of American folk hymn "Christian Race".

It’s a minor let down to note that having written hours of material, Zimmer still had to farm out one cue ("Beam") to fellow Media Ventures writer John Powell (Face/Off). The final cue ("Sit Back & Relax") is also from collaborator Francesco Lupica. It hardly matters though. As with all such circumstances, Zimmer oversaw their inclusions and worked them into being an integral part of the whole.

This is without doubt his masterpiece to date, and absolutely has to be seen with the film to be fully appreciated. It will take a truly great director to inspire Zimmer to further heights.


Paul Tonks


Ian Lace

Paul Tonks

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