Home > Reviews > KING ARTHUR – Hans Zimmer

KING ARTHUR – Hans Zimmer

kingarthurOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

I was going to open this review by saying something along the lines of “Can Media Ventures sink any lower than this, yet another tepid regurgitation of past scores?”, but in actual fact, the more I have listened to King Arthur, it seems less terrible than it did on that first spin. It’s certainly not a great score: it’s unoriginal, clichéd, and at times quite laughably predictable in its construction and execution. But, mixed in with all the familiarity, there’s a great score trying to break out. Zimmer only lets it shine in brief, so-near-and-yet-so-far snippets, which tantalise the listener into wondering what this score could have been, if only…

A vast historical epic in the footsteps of Braveheart and Gladiator, King Arthur is directed by Antoine “Training Day” Fuqua and stars Clive Owen as the eponymous leader – re-imagined by screenwriter David Franzoni as a Roman warrior, in Britain defending Caesar’s territory from the invading Saxons. Into the mix comes Merlin (Steven Dillane), a “holy man” who, along with warrior-woman Guinevere (Keira Knightley) leads the rag-tag Britons, and who joins forces with Arthur and his knights (Ioan Gruffudd, Ray Winstone) to protect the land from their most fearsome foe yet: barbarian warrior Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgaard), who is intent on conquering the island and taking it for himself.

Despite a big budget, a competent director, and the presence of Jerry Bruckheimer marshalling the troops, King Arthur has actually taken a lot of criticism, mainly for its lack of character development, but also for its ‘stunt casting’, bad pacing, and anachronistic feel. The presence of Jerry Bruckheimer has also ensured that King Arthur features another one of his patented Media Ventures scores, with Hans Zimmer at the reins and Rupert Gregson-Williams and Nick Glennie-Smith filling in the blanks. As with The Last Samurai, Pearl Harbor before it, and Gladiator before that, Zimmer throws out historical context in favour of the “power anthem” approach that has served him well since the mid-1990s. In this case, it doesn’t quite work; not that there’s anything wrong with the music per se – it just somehow feels hollow.

Continuing 2004’s ‘summer of big drums’, “Woad to Ruin” opens with a cacophony of percussion and processed vocal effects over a strident string figure, eventually emerging into a large-scale showcase for Gregson-William’s large male voice choir. “Do You Think I’m Saxon” takes this even further: the war drums mirror those from the Isengard sequences in Lord of the Rings, all throbbing brass and heavy-handedness. “Hold The Ice” and “Another Brick in Hadrian’s Wall” continue the pattern, but here occasional glimpses of greatness shine through. Tony Pleeth’s cello solos add a certain something, as they did on The Prince of Egypt and others, while the action cue that opens ‘Budget Meeting’ does go a long way to accomplishing Zimmer’s intentions for energy and volume. The finale ‘All Of Me’, is where the score truly comes together for a few brief moments, performing a massive and emotional rendition of the main theme. The song which opens the album, “Tell Me Now”, is a popped up mystical ballad, performed by Moya Brennan in the earthy, breathy Enya/Lisa Gerrard vein.

However, quite a lot of Zimmer’s familiar techniques are now becoming tiresome. The meandering male voice choir, once so fresh and vibrant in Crimson Tide, is long past its sell-by date. His irritating habit of having every instrument play the same note at the same time gives the illusion of strength and power, but loses a lot in depth. And, even more confoundingly, Zimmer occasionally replaces live instruments with synthesised stand-ins – making the final result sound unfinished, or hurried, or both.

The major problem with King Arthur is that, for all its war drums and portentous choirs and throbbing brasses, it never really does much. The score is more about rhythm and texture and creating the illusion of grandeur than any kind of orchestral intricacy or compositional excellence. The main theme, such as it is, is one of Zimmer’s least memorable. Fans of the Media Ventures sound will love it; after all, King Arthur is another addition to the list of quintessential MV scores, and everything they stand for. I just personally feel that, as is too often the case, Zimmer is again lacking something in terms of the final execution of his work. As Shakespeare once so eloquently said in Macbeth, King Arthur is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Rating: **

Track Listing:

  • Tell Me Now (written by Hans Zimmer and Moya Brennan, performed by Moya Brennan) (4:34)
  • Woad to Ruin (11:31)
  • Do You Think I’m Saxon? (8:42)
  • Hold The Ice (5:42)
  • Another Brick in Hadrian’s Wall (7:11)
  • Budget Meeting (9:43)
  • All Of Them! (10:24)

Running Time: 57 minutes 44 seconds

Hollywood Records 2061-62461-2 (2004)

Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Additional music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Rupert Gregson-Williams. Special vocal performances by Moya Brennan. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage and Geoff Foster. Edited by Mike Higham. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by Hans Zimmer, Slamm Andrews, Bob Badami and Trevor Morris.

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