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Album Review

Silva Screen Records specializes in re-recordings of film music, and the label usually employs a presumably non-union Eastern European orchestra, the City of Prague Philharmonic, to make those new versions of movie soundtracks. Then, Silva Screen generally lists the credit for the Prague on the back covers of its albums in small print, leaving the impression to the casual shopper that the discs contain actual soundtrack recordings. So, it is striking that a very different approach has been taken with the two-CD set Film Music of Hans Zimmer. Here, the Prague, along with Crouch End Festival Chorus, gets front-cover billing in the same size print as the album title. The ironic aspect to this is that the Prague doesn't actually play on all the tracks. But then, Zimmer didn't compose all of them, either. Both of these curiosities require explanation.

The German-born Zimmer was, as of 2007, along with perhaps Danny Elfman, at the top of Hollywood's A-list of film composers; this album's producer/conductor/annotator James Fitzpatrick notes that 2003's The Last Samurai represented Zimmer's 100th film score, which is remarkable for a man who was born in 1957 and thus would have been only in his mid-forties at the time. A part of Zimmer's success has been his ability to mix traditional orchestral scoring with electronic music written for and performed on synthesizers. Zimmer has that most basic of qualities in a film composer, he is versatile. When it comes to re-creating his work, however, that can make things tricky for Silva Screen, and the label has addressed the problem by commissioning purely orchestral arrangements for music originally written for synthesizers and orchestra (selections from Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, The Thin Red Line, Hannibal, The Da Vinci Code, and Batman Begins). In other cases, some synthesizers have been brought in to augment the Prague to one extent or another. And then there are cues from Days of Thunder, Rain Man, Regarding Henry, and True Romance that do not feature the orchestra at all. They were created on synthesizer either by Mark Ayres or Dan Head. (In true Silva Screen fashion, this information is buried in small print in the CD booklet.) As to the music not actually written by Zimmer, Fitzpatrick refers to a "musical 'think tank'" Zimmer maintains for younger composers, whom he sometimes hires to write parts of his assigned scores. This is not actually so remarkable in itself; Hollywood lore suggests that, with the stringent deadlines for film scoring, busy composers often have farmed out work to others. What is notable is that Zimmer appears to be vigilant about crediting his assistants.

With 100 scores from which to choose, Silva Screen succeeds in suggesting the range of Zimmer's work in these 23 selections from 18 of his films. There's a reason why he's the go-to guy for summer blockbusters, and you can hear it in his stirring music for movies like Pearl Harbor and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (although the somewhat more impressive music from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was actually written by Klaus Badelt). But Zimmer also has a feel for more intimate pictures like Driving Miss Daisy. And his rock background (he was once a member of the Buggles) can be heard in those synthesizer-only cues from Rain Man and Days of Thunder. So, the album works as a Zimmer sampler, but it does not constitute a Zimmer best-of, if only because there's so much left out, starting with his only Academy Award winner, The Lion King. Then there's As Good as It Gets, The Preacher's Wife, and on and on. It may take a while for the dust to settle and for history to decide which among Zimmer's hundred-and-counting scores are his best. For now, this album gives a sense of what he can do.

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