Home > Reviews > GLADIATOR – Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard

GLADIATOR – Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard

gladiatorOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When I’m not actually sitting down and listening to a Hans Zimmer score, I like to tell myself (and anyone else within earshot) that I’m not a great fan of his work. He’s too simplistic, I say. He relies far too much on synthesisers and banks of programmers, and he has a style that virtually never differs from score to score. Every other score he writes is just another variation on the patented Crimson Tide heroic anthem. And, to some extent, each element of the above arguments have some shred of truth within them. But, when I do actually sit down and listen to a Hans Zimmer score, I usually thoroughly enjoy doing so. It’s a painful contradiction, but it proves one thing: as a composer, he has a rather limited range, but as a dramatist and as a manipulator of emotions, he has few peers.

More than any other movie, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator would seem to suit Zimmer’s style down to the ground. A blood and thunder action tale in the grand tradition of Spartacus and Ben-Hur, Gladiator has effectively re-ignited the long-forgotten genre of the Roman epic. Treachery, murder, heroism, revenge, romance, honour – these noble and evocative themes flood the film, and the result is a potent movie-going experience, a visual feast made more appetising by solid performances, good direction, intelligence in the writing and a great deal of heart.

New Zealander Russell Crowe stars as General Maximus, a respected commander in the Roman army serving the honourable but ailing Caesar, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). Aurelius’ dying wish is to rid Rome of the corruption that plagues its bureaucracy and return it to its former glories – and seeks to achieve this by passing on his mantle, not to his nefarious son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), but to Maximus. Upon hearing Caesar’s plan, Commodus kills his father, orders Maximus’ wife and son to be executed, and leaves Maximus himself a broken man – so much so that he allows himself to be sold into slavery, while Commodus returns to Rome as the new Emperor. But Maximus eventually sees a way to wreak his revenge: he will train as a gladiator and return to Rome as a fighter in the Colosseum, escape from his captors and seek out the man who ruined his life. But before he can even begin to achieve his goals, he must survive the arena itself…

It may seem anachronistic to say so, but Zimmer’s powerhouse musical style actually suits Gladiator very well indeed. It’s not that the German has actually altered his format in any way – its more to do with the way Zimmer’s “guest artists” mix their respective talents with his own unique way of writing. The centrepieces of the score are inarguably the awesome 10-minute action cues ‘The Battle’ and ‘Barbarian Horde’, both of which see Zimmer once again dusting off his mammoth synthesiser banks, and plugging them in alongside a massive orchestra to create two of the most rampant, full-blooded sonic assaults yet heard from the master of the heroic anthem. Write what you will about the merits of this style of action scoring, but the energy and power Zimmer creates is never anything less than stunning. Ascending and descending motifs for horns retain much of the thematic content, while the rest of the ensemble is content to blast out a series tumultuous rhythms and moments of high dissonance as loudly as is humanly possible, including one ostinato which was intentionally derived from Holst’s Planets Suite (a wholly appropriate choice as Mars was the Roman God of War).

The main theme itself does not appear in its fullest form until the fourth track, ‘Earth’, where it is given a mysterious, slightly sorrowful but wholly gorgeous rendition by Tony Pleeth’s cello and Maurice Murphy’s solo trumpet. Cleverly, Zimmer’s theme gets straight to the heart of film – it does not dwell on the action, or the violence that goes with it, but instead conveys the tremendous heartbreak felt by Maximus at the loss of his family, and the redemption he seeks before returning to them in the afterlife. At it’s core, Gladiator is not about a film about violence: it’s about loss – of one’s family, of one’s status, and of one’s freedom.

Zimmer’s purely orchestral talents are further highlighted in the emotionally shattering ‘Patricide’, another string elegy of such power and desperation that it almost cries out in anguish, the wonderfully dramatic ‘The Might of Rome’, the surprisingly Bolero-esque ‘Slaves to Rome’, the darkly overwhelming choral work of ‘Am I Not Merciful?’, and by further performances of the main theme during ‘Barbarian Horde’, ‘Honour Him’ and the conclusive ‘Now We Are Free’. This side of Zimmer’s writing is not heard enough, in my opinion, instead being more often than not completely obliterated by banks of samplers and electronic pulses. When he writes this way it proves that, on occasion, Zimmer can elicit a genuine audience response without having to batter them into submission.

Former Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard, who recently received critical acclaim for her work on The Insider, contributes most of the score’s more low-key, wistful moments, mixing her ethereal vocal performances with dreamy, moody passages for solo guitars, synthesisers and a variety of ethnic instruments. Cues such as ‘The Wheat’, ‘Sorrow’, ‘The Emperor Is Dead’ and the beautiful ‘Elysium’ waft evocatively to the faintly Arabic strains of her unique style of music, while Media Ventures alumnus Klaus Badelt and Armenian instrumentalist Djivan Gasparyan contribute “additional music”, most notably the latter’s superb duduk solo in ‘To Zucchabar’.

I started this review by saying that I’m not a great fan of Hans Zimmer’s work, but this is not really the case. Instead, it would probably be more correct to say that Zimmer frustrates me greatly by continually resting on his laurels and relying on his samplers when he quite obviously has the know-how to knock us sideways. Scores like Beyond Rangoon, As Good As It Gets and Nine Months are pure delights; scores like Broken Arrow, The Rock and The Peacemaker are lazy facsimiles of infinitely better works. Gladiator falls somewhere between the two in that it adheres to Zimmer’s familiar compositional style, but is still bold enough to make a few extremely powerful statements.

Rating: ****½

Track Listing:

  • Progeny (2:13)
  • The Wheat (1:03)
  • The Battle (10:02)
  • Earth (3:02)
  • Sorrow (1:26)
  • To Zucchabar (3:16)
  • Patricide (4:08)
  • The Emperor is Dead (1:21)
  • The Might of Rome (5:18)
  • Strength and Honor (2:10)
  • Reunion (1:14)
  • Slaves to Rome (1:00)
  • Barbarian Horde (10:33)
  • Am I Not Merciful? (6:33)
  • Elysium (2:41)
  • Honor Him (1:20)
  • Now We Are Free (4:14)

Running Time: 61 minutes 40 seconds

Decca 467-094-2 (2000)

Music composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Performed by The Lyndhurst Orchestra. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Yvonne S. Moriarty, Walt Fowler, Ladd McIntosh, Elizabeth Finch and Jack Smalley. Additional music by Klaus Badelt and Djivan Gasparyan. Featured musical soloists Heitor Pereira, Djivan Gasparyan, Tony Pleeth and Maurice Murphy. Special vocal performances by Lisa Gerrard. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson and Slamm Andrews. Edited by Adam Smalley. Album produced by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt.

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