RUSH – Hans Zimmer
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
I’ve been a fan of Formula One motor racing for over twenty years; my grandfather, who was also a big fan, introduced me to it in the late 1980s, and since then I’ve followed every season, cheering on a succession of great British drivers – Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jenson Button – and getting caught up in the intrigue, drama, excitement, adrenaline and masterful engineering each new season brings. It takes a certain kind of personality to hurtle down a straight towards a blind hairpin bend at 200mph with a machine as powerful as an F1 car under your right foot – the very next corner could, literally, be their last – and so the drivers who do this for a living tend to be larger-than-life themselves, prone to a certain sense of eccentricity and egotism. When I first started watching the sport, the biggest rivalry was between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, but a decade previously the two dominant personalities were the flamboyant and brilliant Englishman James Hunt, and the equally mercurial but slightly taciturn Austrian Niki Lauda.
James Hunt was a color commentator on the BBC alongside the legendary Murray Walker by the time I first came to the sport, so I never actually got to see Hunt or Lauda in action, but I know their life stories well. Ron Howard’s film Rush charts their relationship, both personal and professional, and is centered specifically on the 1976 season. Lauda, driving for Ferrari, was the reigning world champion, but the young and cocky Hunt – recently signed for the McLaren team, and in a competitive car for the first time – was posing a serious threat to Lauda’s crown, and the rivalry between the two intensified as the season unfolded. Everything came to a head at the daunting Nürburgring circuit in Germany that August when an incident that has since gone down in F1 history changed everything, for both men. The film stars Chris Hemsworth as Hunt, Daniel Brühl as Lauda, and Olivia Wilde and Natalie Dormer in supporting roles, and has a score by the ever-busy Hans Zimmer.
Zimmer and Howard first worked together on Backdraft in 1991, but the German has been the director’s exclusive composer-of-choice since The Da Vinci Code in 2006, and they have subsequently made four more films together, including this one. Interestingly, the score which Rush resembles the most is not one which Zimmer wrote for Howard, but is in fact from much further back in his filmography: the 1990 Tom Cruise NASCAR drama Days of Thunder. Rush is, basically, a rock score, featuring a small orchestra with strings and brass, but a large percussion section, and features solos for electric guitars, acoustic guitars, a drum kit, and lots of synthesizers. It doesn’t have the rousing early ‘90s power anthem that Days of Thunder had, but it certainly has a great deal of its living-on-the-edge intensity, and its brash, confident attitude.
The main theme, first heard in “1976”, is a beauty. After a few moments of atmospheric build-up, with lonely piano chords and rumbling sustains overlaid with the occasional sampled whine of a passing race car, Martin Tillman’s haunting electric cello theme emerges. Although it has a few superficial similarities to Ramin Djawadi’s Lannister theme from his Game of Thrones TV scores (a case of the master influencing the apprentice, or vice versa?), its second performance by a full brass section overlaid with the rock-and-roll style guitars and synthetic sound design elements introduces the core idea of the score: that these guys were hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-partying rock stars of the sporting world (or, at least, James Hunt was), and the music follows them.
As the score progresses, the theme disappears for long periods of time, and is replaced instead by what are effectively a series of well-written and well-composed rock instrumentals. “I Could Show You If You’d Like” showcases the swaggering attitude of Bryce Jacobs’s electric guitar, and adds a rousing string section when it explodes further into the aggressive, throbbing “Into the Red”, Zimmer’s musical depiction of taking an 18,000 RPM vehicle to its limits. This style re-occurs in subsequent racing cues like “Watkins Glen” and “For Love” to excellent effect, although “20%” is grittier and dirtier, with an almost blues beat through the introduction of a Jerry Lee Lewis style piano element.
The rock stylistics continue as the score develops, and listening to cues such as “Budgie”, “Scuderia” and “Oysters in the Pits”, with their tick-tock percussion and bass-heavy, melodic guitar riffs, I can’t help but wonder whether Zimmer was inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s seminal hit “The Chain”, the instrumental solo part of which was used by the BBC as the theme music for their coverage of Formula 1 for years and years – if so, then I applaud his choices.
Things change in the two pivotal cues, “Nürburgring” and “Inferno”, which underscore the scenes leading up to and following Lauda’s terrible crash on the Nordschleife. Zimmer uses stark synth sustains to add a level of tension and uneasy anticipation to the opening sequence of the cue, and dips into his exciting Dark Knight bag of tricks for the action-packed race sequence, before everything goes all dark as Lauda’s life is forever changed in a fiery instant, a cue full of overwhelmingly dissonant synth chords, offset by faraway, tragic restatement of the main theme on electric cello – the first time we’ve heard it since the opening cue.
From there on until the score’s conclusion, the theme becomes much more prominent. It is performed in a slightly more subdued manner and accompanied by expectant synths and guitars in “Mount Fuji”, and then takes a break while Zimmer revisits the Dark Knight action material for the energetic and entertaining “Reign”, before returning to the theme for its most stirring renditions in the final two cues. The excellent “Lost But Won”, the longest and most conventionally lyrical cue on the album, is the closest the score comes to showcasing a traditional Zimmer blockbuster theme, while the finale, “My Best Enemy”, even works in a sampled choir to give the theme a boost of emotional resonance, and rounds out the score with a real sense of drama and a final roar of the engines racing to the checkered flag.
To add to that 1970s flavor, the album also contains several period rock and pop songs, all of which are very good, especially “I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmunds, “Gimme Some Lovin’” by Steve Winwood, and the wonderfully clichéd “The Rocker” by Thin Lizzy.
I liked the Rush score much more than I expected to, probably because I have associated this sort of music with Formula 1 since the 1990s and am used to it accompanying these sorts of scenes. It also helps that Zimmer’s testosterone-fuelled compositions are fun and exciting, that the rock elements sound authentic and are well-performed, and that the main theme is really very beautiful. However, I can see how many listeners will find themselves put off entirely by the very thing that appeals to me here – the fact that it is a rock score. With the exception of the first and last two cues there are virtually no moments of real symphonic power, and anyone who needs the sound of a full orchestra in their scores will be disappointed when they realize that most of it is performed by electric guitars, synths and percussion. A cautious recommendation, for those who are absolutely sure they know what they are getting into.
Buy the Rush soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- 1976 (2:59)
- I Could Show You If You’d Like (0:44)
- I Hear You Knocking (written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, performed by Dave Edmunds) (2:47)
- Stopwatch (1:29)
- Into the Red (3:15)
- Budgie (1:28)
- Scuderia (0:53)
- Gimme Some Lovin’ (written by Steve Winwood, Spencer Davis and Muff Winwood, performed by Steve Winwood) (2:52)
- Oysters in the Pits (1:05)
- 20% (1:01)
- Dyna-Mite (written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, performed by Mud) (2:56)
- Watkins Glen (1:49)
- Loose Cannon (0:36)
- The Rocker (written by Phil Lynott, Brian Downey and Eric Bell, performed by Thin Lizzy) (5:09)
- Car Trouble (2:39)
- Glück (1:14)
- Nürburgring (5:34)
- Inferno (3:30)
- Mount Fuji (3:45)
- For Love (2:48)
- Reign (3:07)
- Fame (written by David Bowie, Carlos Alomar and John Lennon, performed by David Bowie) (4:11)
- Lost But Won (6:19)
- My Best Enemy (2:31)
Running Time: 65 minutes 08 seconds
Watertower Music 39470 (2013)
Music composed and arranged by Hans Zimmer. Additional music by Lorne Balfe, Bryce Jacobs and Jasha Klebe. Special musical performances by Martin Tillman and Bryce Jacobs. Recorded and mixed by Alan Myerson. Edited by Jack Dolman. Album produced by Hans Zimmer.