Why You Should…
If your desire to see Zimmer continue with the franchise must be met, with an outstanding new rendition of the main theme and several predictably satisfying material.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If you don’t wish for your religious and classical elegance to be muted in favour of unholy synth vitriol, a huge step down in regards to the first two scores.
Release Date: October 10th 2016 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Hans Zimmer
Recorded By/At: Jörg Mayr, at the Synchron Stage, Vienna.
Label: Sony Classical
Additional Music By: Steve Mazzaro, Andrew Kawczynski, Richard Harvey, Michael Tuller and Paul Mounsey.
Synth Programming: Hans Zimmer, Mel Wesson, Andy Page, Drew Jordan, Chas Smith & Satnam Singh Rangotra.
Performed By: Synchron Stage Orchestra
Produced By: Hans Zimmer
Conducted By: Johannes Vogel
Orchestrated By: Oscar Senen, Joan Martorell.
Concertmaster: Dimitrie Leivici
Edited By: Dan Pindler
Score and Album Mixed By: Stephen Lipson
Solo Violin: Aleksey Igudesman
Solo Cello: Tristan Schulze.
One way or the other, enough religious scandal and quasi-prophetic lunacy will eventually give reason for fictional Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon to start running relentlessly through foreign streets again, wherever a strange, occult threat arises in modern-day society. Based on Dan Brown’s fourth book, and adapted to screen in favour of The Lost Symbol instead, Ron Howard’s INFERNO is the third installment in the franchise with Tom Hanks dutifully returning to play the role of the intelligent academic. After more than enough portentous affairs to be entangled in for a lifetime, one would think retirement would be the next step in life for the character, and in that regard, it is rather amusing that a concussion and a resultant emergence in Florence, Italy is what plans have for him in store instead. At this point, it’s still unknown whether these deliriously juvenile (but admittedly entertaining) stories can still hold strongly in the screen, but that doesn’t seem to stop either of these people from trying, and this time the man finds himself (racing against time, as the old saying goes), with a potential assassin out for his head, having to contend with the potential outbreak of a deadly virus courtesy of the Consortium (another cult?! Where are the eco-terrorists by now? Will the next installment see him taking on ISIS, by any chance?), that vows to put a limit on human population. These days, very little is required to achieve monetary profit, if the critical reception is anything to go by, but at least the actor is still a damn fine lead in today’s generation, his screen presence not at all having been diminished with time. The fonder aspects of these films would also be the scores provided by Hans Zimmer, and an appealingly strong collaboration streak can be found between the composer and Howard. Combined with his prior efforts for The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, the overarching structure warrants a trilogy of sorts.
It’s interesting to observe the evolution of music across these three films, in terms of the range and output that each have to offer. You have the gratifying religious choral precision of The Da Vinci Code, with its outstanding concert theme for Professor Langdon in all its divine glory, the haunting Citrine Cross motif and an otherwise remarkable chamber orchestral score that ranks among the top tier of Zimmer’s material in his career. The instant venture into modern Gothic rock territory was well regarded in Angels and Demons, with unusual time signatures, muscular and dynamic action cues and a sheer overdose of choral gravity that was befitting of the film’s nature. And at last, we continue with Inferno, an exploration of techno-thriller, electronic chase sequences and thematic continuity, and while the composer must be commended for staying loyal to his “Chevaliers de Sangreal” piece, neither sequel has shown evidence of any form of development on that theme whatsoever. A new set of motifs are introduced in this score, but unfortunately they are inferior to the overarching tapestry that listeners of the prior two scores would be acquainted with. The Langdon theme isn’t the only theme that returns here, as “Science and Religion”, the Citrine Cross motif and even shades of the apocalyptic “160 BPM” make an appearance, at least grasping your acknowledgment of their inclusion. Their actual purpose, however, is flawed- whilst they achieve the necessary dramatic tension and intrigue, they don’t contextually fit into the new film’s proceedings, sticking out awkwardly despite their well-integrated means. The new motif here that one can take away to some form of memorable extent, if not repeat listens, is the piano melody for “Elizabeth”, a melancholic but beautiful motif for her ties to the villain, Zobrist, and her conflicted desires and turmoil with overpopulation. Often conveyed on solo piano, the new idea is occasionally complimented by a soothing bed of strings bizarrely reminiscent of a warm-pad keyboard effect. Other mentions would include an ascension motif of sorts, heard best in “The Cistern”, and “Beauty Adorns The Soul to Act.” These two cues are a pleasing, overly simplistic rendition of emulating as many prior scores as possible, including but not constrained to Interstellar, Inception, Man of Steel, The Thin Red Line, etc. based on a series of heavenly ascending notes evoking either desperation or romantic tension, oddly enough. The former cue is where the score takes a turn for the better, with rapidly descending strings in chase fashion, and enough ostinatos to formulate a marathon workout that reminds the listener that Langdon is running again, even if we hadn’t figured it out ourselves. A cathartic blast of the new motif for the virus is heard in the final moments of the cue, on horns as a 3-note descending phrase, and that should be enough for avid Zimmer admirers with its satisfying blasts of choir and brass in typical attire.
There is, however, a huge problem to address with the score, and its excessive synthetic capabilities. It is understandable not to expect the same levels of religious imagery through the music in this third score given the biochemical weapon as a plot device, but a great deal of the material in this score is downright inexcusable. For Zimmer to begin with a masterpiece, continue with one of the best action scores of the 21st century by leaving his stamp all over the 7/8 rhythm and other feats of complexity, only to sink back into the abrasive comfort of his synthesized banality is disappointing to say the least, and heartbreaking, especially when you consider how near-perfect the first two were. Angels and Demons showed a remarkable application of electronics into the Remote Control action method, yielding several enjoyable cues with intellectual, if not purely aural merit. With Inferno, there is a severe discrepancy of singular highlights that can be associated so readily with these scores, and that is a damn shame indeed. Credit must be given to Stephen Lipson for maintaining a degree of tolerance in the weaker, generic portions that can safely be construed as having a tantrum on the keyboard, though it’s not as insufferable as the mixing in Batman v Superman. Aside from an interesting ticking rhythm in “Maybe Pain Can Save Us”,and some curiosity being fed into “Cerca Trova”, the majority of the first ten cues on the album are poor representations of the composer’s talents. Studio meddling definitely seems likely here, but of course, that opens up another debate entirely. The semblance of intelligence that Zimmer conveys, in his distortion of sound palettes to draw out Langdon’s confusion, however, must be met with praise- he is still the best composer in handling synthetics, be it for intelligent or purely aural purposes.
It comes as cathartic, that the final seven cues are a significant improvement upon the first ten, and each present the new motivic ideas rather well. As aforementioned, “Beauty Awakens The Soul to Act” features some interactions with bitter violins that are haunting and bittersweet, to say the least, and the ascension motif is poignant enough. “Elizabeth” is rather soothing and lovely to the ears after a torrential wash of ugly synthetic dissonance and ambience. Had only Zimmer made a strong, similar impact in the first half of the score, this would have easily earned four stars, if not more. Alas, we settle for less, though not without its moments. The most distinctive aspect of Inferno is the electric manipulation of Langdon’s theme, filtered through throbbing synth bass and strings repeatedly throughout the score. It also comes of surprise that a vague techno-thriller cue such as “The Logic of Tyrants” can be so rewarding in its aggressive rhythms whilst providing the warped Langdon theme on synths. Such a move would have otherwise been considered fatal given the primary appeal of the theme being rooted in its classical elegance, but you’d be surprised how well Zimmer pulls it off. There’s something to it when control is held over your toys at play, and this cue shows. The motif for the virus returns on horns, characterized by a 4-note descending arpeggio that carries that motif in structural construct. Thankfully, we get the Langdon theme in full concert glory one final time, in “Life Must Have Its Mysteries”, proof that there is life and passion in an otherwise disillusioned work. By far the pinnacle of the score, it succeeds in winning your heart using Elizabeth’s tender motif on piano as well as the rolling 160 BPM rhythm, and here, Zimmer plays the ostinatos on wayward synths with faint choir before the orchestra eventually kicks in, with a high-register solo violin beautifully belting out the main theme amidst a fantastic, stunning reprisal of the movement. For that one cue alone, it’s worth visiting the score, though the motifs at hand are necessary to fully understand the integration heard. It’s a shame, as listeners know Zimmer is more than capable of delivering great scores for the third installment in a franchise (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and to a lesser degree, The Dark Knight Rises both being solid proof of this). Overall, whilst a major compositional step down, Inferno marginally succeeds in expanding the trilogy’s material with some pleasing but tired rhythms and cues. All this said, the penultimate track is without a doubt (though based on reprisal), one of the finest cues of the year, and raises the final rating by an extra star. Don’t find yourself being surprised if Langdon starts running again at some point, and if Zimmer decides to accompany him on his next possible adventure, but one can hope that should that occur, the prior glory of the franchise thus far can be fully restored.
(all music written by Hans Zimmer)
1) Maybe Pain Can Save Us (3:02)
2) Cerca Trova (3:17)
3) I’m Feeling A Tad Vulnerable (2:08)
4) Seek and Find (2:03)
5) Professor (4:26)
6) Venice (5:44)
7) Via Dolorosa #12 Apartment C (4:20)
8) Vayentha (4:38)
9) Remove Langdon (3:17)
10) Doing Nothing Terrifies Me (3:24)
11) A Minute To Midnight (1:52)
12) The Cistern (6:43)
13) Beauty Awakens The Soul To Act (5:58)
14) Elizabeth (4:33)
15) The Logic of Tyrants (5:07)
16) Life Must Have Its Mysteries (3:54)
17) Our Own Hell On Earth (6:19)