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Blade Runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfish)

October 7, 2017


Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfish, 2017, Epic Records
24 tracks, 93:45

The wait is over.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years. The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and features a score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish.

What does it sound like? And is it any good?

Okay, we all know by now that Johann Johannsson was initially hired to write the score for Blade Runner 2049. An intriguing choice that ultimately didn’t quite work out. Villeneuve has been quoted saying that the score needed to be “closer to Vangelis” and so musical duties ended up with Zimmer and Wallfisch. I very much respect and often enjoy Johannsson’s work and was looking forward to hearing what he could bring to a film like Blade Runner. His gritty and propulsive score for Sicario proved to me that he’d be up to the task; though admittedly most of his work could be considered as too ambient and he’s not really the ‘obvious’ candidate. Still, I’d be keen to hear his ideas. There are a few other composers who reside in that same musical space – Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds and Rob Simonsen come to mind. All of those, I think, could have written a stellar score that would’ve been modern, futuristic and yet emotional.

Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch feel like the safe choice. With only a few weeks left before general release, I can imagine the filmmakers needed a safe pair of fool-proof hands. If nothing else, Zimmer and his team offer that. With Wallfisch onboard I felt optimistic that we might get a score that has Zimmer’s coolness combined with Wallfisch’s sentimentality. The Brit has had a brilliant year so far with IT, Annabelle: The Creation and the absolutely gorgeous Bitter Harvest. Sadly, I don’t believe the music for Blade Runner 2049 lives up to expectations.

This Blade Runner sequel seems to have been in the making for so long, that it seems incomprehensible to settle for a last-minute replacement score (although there are some great examples of last-minute scores). Perhaps they should’ve just gone to Zimmer at the very start. After all, wasn’t his Chappie an obvious application for the job? Both the movie and its score have seriously big footsteps to follow. Needless to say, Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is a classic; not just within the sci-fi genre, but in movie history as a whole. Personally, I believe that it’s near-perfect and has stood the test of time admirably. Even by today’s, arguably far advanced technology, the special effects and visuals of Blade Runner are still stunningly realistic. The score by Greek synthesizer guru Vangelis was, and still is, quite something too. Very futuristic; not dated too badly.

But I must confess something about Vangelis’ Blade Runner. I don’t actually like it as much as I’d want to. There are a few scenes in the movie where the score is utterly magnificent – the opening scene primarily. Vangelis presents a simple but majestic theme, which incidentally was heard in 2049‘s trailer. Then there was that love theme for saxophone and the arpeggios in that disco/techno-like end title. Most of the rest is really not that enjoyable on album. Vangelis’ score works great in context, but away from it I’ve never really enjoyed it, despite many attempts to convince myself otherwise.

Why then was I expecting so much from this one? What is it exactly that we get from Zimmer and Wallfisch? We get sound – a lot of sound. It’s like a bomb’s gone off in the Yamaha factory and all the CS-80 sounds are zooming past your head, like dodging shrapnel on a Normandy beach (…bit of a Dunkirk reference, why not). Regardless of what synths were used – the sounds are in and by themselves fantastic (although there is little variation). I’m reminded of the days when I used to go to my local music shop and go through the presets on a Korg module. It sounded out-of-this-world. I bought it. And I never used it again, because you couldn’t do much melodic with it. It’s a silly reference, I know, but that does sum up how I feel about the Blade Runner 2049 score. A lot of cool sounds, but almost literally no melody. There’s a theme in “Mesa” that sounds like a hybrid between one of Vangelis’ themes and Junkie XL’s Divergent. Incidentally, I do wonder if he had any involvement here with regards to the overall sound palette. “Joi” is the one cue that comes closest to conveying any sense of emotion. Anything else is wave after wave of synth pads. It feels like layer upon layer of synth sounds washing over you, fading in out and out, like waves crashing on a beach.

The score teases with fragments of Vangelis’ original ideas. The score opens with a big reverberating boom, akin to Vangelis’ opening. There are similar sounds, like that high-pitched pad that bends downwards like something falling from the sky. Why not go all the way and adopt Vangelis’ themes? It teases, but it never delivers. If you want it to ‘just play the Vangelis theme damnit’, it won’t! Or, if nothing else, you would settle for another Batman Begins, Inception or heck even Chappie … don’t get your hopes up.

How could this be any better than what Johannsson wrote? And to really finish it off… the album includes songs by Elvis, Sinatra and Adele. Seriously? It couldn’t feel more out-of-place if you put Chaz and Dave on there! Look, I know this isn’t much of a review. It’s a rant, the result of disappointment. I am likely being unfair to anyone involved with this score; so if you want to write me an angry email you’re entirely entitled to do so. But I honestly don’t even know what to review here. It’s 93 minutes of synth pads (and there is a 2CD release too! Marketed as ‘limited to 2,049 copies only’… until they released a second batch!). No melody, hardly anything rhythmic. There is no story-telling here, no particular structure or dramatic curve that I can pick up on. Even as ‘just’ an ambient experience it doesn’t work for me. At times it’s downright obnoxious; and overall it’s really nothing innovative. There is nothing for me to latch on to, be it emotionally or technically. Retro synth scores seem quite popular at the moment, but this doesn’t hold a candle to, say, Nerve or Stranger Things. By all accounts, the film itself is brilliant – and that is one helluva feat considering the status of the original, the long wait and everything else. To settle for a score like this, feels like such a wasted opportunity.

Review (C) 2017 Synchrotones

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