Monday, January 4, 2010

Hans Zimmer

YOU’VE seen this German composer’s name on the credits of countless films, many of them box office hits like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight that’s currently on heavy rotation on HBO and opening this week, Guy Ritchie’s big screen adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Hans Zimmer’s body of work pretty much speaks for his musical genius. And in 2005, I was fortunate enough to be granted a 15-minute telephone interview with him as part of the promotional efforts for Batman Begins, then a newly-rebooted comics franchise.

Since my piece came out in the i Section of the Manila Bulletin, Zimmer has done more memorable scores for films like Frost/Nixon, the Pirates of the Carribean and the Madagascar franchises and The Da Vinci Code and its sequel, Angels & Demons, either by himself or in collaboration with equally noted film composers like James Newton Howard, shown in the photo with him above.

In that 15-minute interview, Zimmer also talked about his desire to write score for videogames as well, which actually became a reality last year when he became involved in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a first-person shooter game for PC’s and gaming consoles.

Here’s a slightly-tweaked version of that 2005 article:


HIS majestic brand of film music gave life and character to soldiers, gladiators, undercover agents, samurais and knights in shining armor, among other action heroes. Now Academy-award winning musical scorer Hans Zimmer brings new life to a different kind of knight, a brooding, dark vigilante who prowls the night and protects his city from underworld figures and criminally insane elements.

In a big way, Batman Begins is not just a prequel to a successful film franchise that presented the popular DC Comics superhero in a stylishly Gothic reinvention from the extremely fertile imagination of the prodigous Tim Burton. It is also thankfully not the disappointments that the last two installments were, which were helmed by the far less imaginative Joel Schumacher.

What the new film is is an equally fresh take on the origins of the Dark Knight with no less than Christopher Nolan, the director of the now cult classic, Memento handling the reins. Nolan is probably one of the few new filmmakers that can match and perhaps someday surpass the imagination and creative juices of his peer Burton.

And it shows in the choice of musical scorer. With an already impressive credentials that include such memorable scores for Gladiator, Crimson Tide, Black Hawk Down, The Last Samurai, Mission Impossible 2, King Arthur and The Lion King, where he won his only Oscar so far, Hans Zimmer is obviously a no-brainer for the job. Zimmer's oft-evocative film music deftly swings from gritty to melancholy to ethereal to frenzied and provides just the right kind of atmosphere for any given situation.

He is also a pioneer when it comes to fusing both electronic and orchestral elements as well as the Westernized with the indigenous. In his canvas, East meets West means a compelling clash of musical cultures that works well for his film projects.

For Batman Begins, the usually intense nature of Zimmer's music is tempered by the rather laid-back style of James Newton Howard (My Best Friend's Wedding, Runaway Bride, Pretty Woman), whom he personally asked to work with him for this project.

“I love James Newton Howard,” he candidly admits during a 15-minute exclusive telephone chat with this writer. “I’m a big fan of movies and I’m particularly a big fan of his work. I thought it would be really great to do this with a friend. When we began our work, we were simply good friends. Now we’re great friends. That’s how much I enjoyed working with him on this film.”

Working with a fellow artist on a certain film project is nothing new to Zimmer, who actually prefers to work in “a collaborative way.” In an interview with Stephanie Jorgl of, he once said: “I’m not very ego-driven about being The Composer. Whoever brings in great ideas should be welcomed.” Besides, it “gets really lonely in the studio when you’re working on your own,” he admitted to us.

He has in fact worked with artists of diverse musical background. He was an assistant to fellow film composer Stanley Myers (The Deer Hunter) in his first film project, the Daniel Day Lewis-headlined indie classic, My Beautiful Laundrette. In Gladiator, which eventually spawned not one but two million-selling soundtracks, Zimmer played beautiful music with the eclectic Lisa Gerrard, she of the avant garde outfit Dead Can Dance.

His own Media Ventures music studio has also housed such composers and occasional collaborators like Mark Mancina, Trevor Jones, Steve Jablonsky, Geoff Zanelli, Trevor Horn and Klaus Badelt, among many others.

For Batman Begins, he actually invited Danny Elfman, who scored the Batman film series and a fixture of Tim Burton films. “When I started doing work on this project, Danny was in another building near my studio laying down tracks for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I told him, why don’t you come over and help me out with this. And he said, ‘I’ve done that, it’s your turn now’.”

Zimmer and Elfman are actually contemporaries, both having started as pop musicians for new wave bands back in the 80's. Elfman was actually the frontman of Oingo Boingo, a band best known for the dance hit, “Stay” and the theme song of John Hughes’ teen comedy, Weird Science. Zimmer, along with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, was a member of The Buggles, a one-hit wonder whose only hit was the chart-topping “Video Killed The Radio Star,” a song whose video earns the distinction of being the very first to be aired by MTV on its maiden broadcast.

So how does Zimmer compare his work in Batman Begins to that of Elfman’s, I asked. “I don’t,” he replied. “My job is to create and invent, not to do what he has done or revise or modify someone else’s work. What we did is Chris Nolan’s Batman, a totally new movie with a totally new approach.”

If he sounds annoyed with being compared to a fellow composer, well, he’s not. That last remark should not be taken the wrong way because the very genial Zimmer is far from disrespectful of another film composer’s work. He did say he is a big fan of movies and among his fellow musical scores, he cites Ennio Morricone, John Barry and John Williams as just a few of his favorites. “The music to Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one of the most amazing things I've ever heard,” he enthuses, “The CD soundtrack is something that I play all the time.”

And just as Danny Elfman is in his best element when he’s working with Tim Burton and James Newton Howard excels in films by Garry Marshall and M. Night Shyamalan, Zimmer’s finest work are those that he collaborated with directors like Ridley Scott, a frequent collaborator for films like Gladiator, Hannibal, Thelma and Louise, and Black Hawk Down; and James L. Brooks (Terms Of Endearment, The Simpsons) where his rather understated work in As Good As It Gets remains one of his all-time favorites. “With Ridley and James, I get to re-invent myself just like they do with every new project.”

Of course, there are also filmmakers that he prefers to not work with, given a choice. One of them ironically is a director he greatly admires, Steven Spielberg.

“Why would I ever want to work with Steven when that would mean that I won’t get to hear the beautiful music of John Williams complimenting his work?,” he argues. “In the same vein, what would be a film by Sergio Leone without music by Ennio Morricone?”

So how does a relatively new filmmaker like Christopher Nolan manage to get him to do Batman Begins? The Batman franchise is certainly the least bit that attracted him to the project. “The last thing I want to do is a Batman film,” he admits. “I don't have any particular preference as to what type of films I want to do music for. But Chris and I had a very interesting conversation about the project and the next thing I knew, I was already on board."

Asked if he is happy with his work on Batman Begins, Zimmer replied: “You know, I’m German and for us, happy is a very big word. We don’t use that word. The truth is, I always find some fault in my work and that inspires me to constantly improve and do better.”

When I told him that his work in Batman Begins pretty much approaches the grandeur and intensity of his award-winning work for The Lion King, Zimmer quips, “I guess I’m just very good with children whose parents die in their films.”

As for future endeavors, Zimmer is also a big technology buff and actually uses his own formidable arsenal of Apple-branded hardware including a PowerMac G4, a Powerbook, an iPod and Mac OS X for creating film music. I asked him if the emerging videogames medium is something where his work can be further appreciated, he said he’ll be thrilled to be a part of it in whatever way he can contribute. “But not because it’s a billion-dollar industry,” he qualifies. “I love technology so I’d like to be a big part of its exciting progress although I still don’t know how.”

Watch Hans Zimmer talk about his work on Sherlock Holmes:

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