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Chappie (Hans Zimmer)

March 22, 2015


Hans Zimmer, 2015, Varese Sarabande
16 tracks, 63:06

For a second there I though Neill Blomkamp made a film about dogfood! Wouldn’t surprise me, considering how catfood played an important role in “District 9”.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

So, Neill Blomkamp of “District 9” and “Elysium” has made a new film in which he once again offers his commentary on society. In the near future, crime is patrolled by a mechanized police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. Reviews of the film itself have so far been… not very good. I guess that after three films, Blomkamp’s message is starting to become familiar and repetitive. After giving Clinton Shorter and Ryan Amon their big breaks, the director has now turned to a relative unknown German-born composer by the name of Hans Zimmer. We’ll have to see whether or not his career takes off after this.

What does it sound like?

Of course, following in the footsteps of Shorter and Amon is no small feat, so this Zimmer guy has teamed up with Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski. Three brains, six ears and thirty fingers should surely be enough to produce a decent score. So what do we get from three blokes with 12 limbs and approximately 96 teeth between them?

We get a shitload of noise, that’s what. Some of it is pretty cool though, don’t start sending me your angry letters just yet. One of the first things that comes to mind (after, “holy cow what is this?”) is “The Fan”, a small film Zimmer scored a couple of decades ago. “Chappie” is Zimmer in “The Fan” mode. This is him experimenting with sounds — not trying to be intellectual, not trying to win any awards (don’t worry… ).

“It’s a Dangerous City” opens fairly low-key. Dull drums and moody synths paint a picture of a dangerous city. Now, you might want to turn the volume down a wee bit before “The Only Way Out Of This” comes on, or you risk getting your brains drilled out. There are some seriously stark beats here, along with hammering synth leads. Somewhere in the middle, deep “Blade Runner”-esque synth pads swell up. Okay, that bit we like. The second half of the cue offers, amongst other things, a strident arpeggio that is to recur several times throughout the score.

“Use Your Mind” offers some much deserved respite from the drilling beats. In fact, the sound of the e-piano and the soft blips in the background are actually quite pleasant and create a genuinely interesting atmosphere. These make way for another arpeggio, which is also quite nice. And after that, the arpeggio from the previous track comes back in. It is only now that we hear Chappie’s main theme – kind of like a 5-note circular motif. It’s quite powerful.

The other main theme, representing Chappie’s ‘childhood’ for lack of a better word, is presented in “A Machine That Thinks and Feels”. During the opening moments of the cue it’s presented as a musicbox lullaby, followed by mechanical tick-tocking that was heard earlier in the album’s opening track. It’s not terribly original, but it does the trick. The dulcet tones of “Firmware Update” recall the ambient moments of “Interstellar”. The vocoder sound effects (here and throughout the score) are a pretty neat addition. The lullaby gets a reprise. “Welcome to the Real World” harkens back to “The Only Way Out of This”, but luckily doesn’t get quite so loud.

“The Black Sheep” is an ambient cue with warm synth pads and a nice rendition of the lullaby. Most of “Breaking the Code” remains ambient, though powerful beats briefly accompany a variation on the main theme. You’re not going to believe it, but in “Indestructible Robot” Zimmer actually employs those old-fashioned c64 beats and blips. Various tracks pass by, with “Mayhem Downtown” standing out for its heavy metal feel… though it’s all synth and chanting of some sort. The computer blips also still appear.

“The Outside is Temporary” offers quite an epic variation on the main theme. Beats are kept to a minimum, the melody goes through a key-change or two,  and the whole thing is genuinely quite impressive. At nearly 8-minutes long, “Never Break A Promise” has a lot to offer; some bits more appealing than others. The score comes to an end with “We Own The Sky” which offers some cleverly sampled percussion, accompanying a whistled version of the main theme. The whole idea is bonkers, but in this case it works!

The album concludes with what I assume is a bonus-track, as I cannot see how this would fit in the movie. “Illest Gangsta on the Block” is a stupendously silly tune written entirely for c64-like sounds with some heavier percussion. As a sucker for synths, I find this really quite funny.

Is it any good?

For most listeners Hans Zimmer’s “Chappie” will prove quite the challenge. Already I’ve read several reviews that frisbeed this score. I do understand where those reviewers are coming from; and there are a number of cues on the album that I can’t stomach either. However, I said earlier this is Zimmer in “The Fan” mode. Don’t take it (too) seriously and just go with the flow. If it’s not your flow, that’s fine.

Personally, I found some of the soundscapes really interesting, some of the EDM-inspired cue quite exciting and I believe the main theme works. There seem to be three central ideas: the lullaby, a grown-up theme and the mechanical tick-tock. Zimmer manages to juxtapose those on several occasions, giving the score some depth. At times I wondered if this is Zimmer applying for the “Blade Runner 2” job, though it’s a long way off that classic. So no, it didn’t entirely float my proverbial boat, but there is plenty to enjoy.

Now…, with so many beats and love for the old machines, I’m surprised Zimmer didn’t aim for track lengths of 8.08 or 9.09 minutes (though there is a 3.03 and a 4.04… but the latter could not be found!). Oh deer… don’t give up the day job, Pete!

Rating [2.5/5]


01. It’s A Dangerous City (2.09)
02. The Only Way Out Of This (4.58)
03. Use Your Mind (4.04)
04. A Machine That Thinks And Feels (3.03)
05. Firmware Update (3.52)
06. Welcome To The Real World (3.52)
07. The Black Sheep (4.28)
08. Indestructible Robot Gangster #1 (3.11)
09. Breaking The Code (4.49)
10. Rudest Bad Boy In Joburg (2.41)
11. You Lied To Me (4.06)
12. Mayhem Downtown (3.57)
13. The Outside Is Temporary (3.09)
14. Never Break A Promise (7.43)
15. We Own This Sky (4.19)
16. Illest Gangsta On The Block (2.45)


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