Home > Reviews > THE PACIFIC – Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli and Blake Neely

THE PACIFIC – Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli and Blake Neely

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

When the TV mini-series Band of Brothers first aired in 2001 it was hailed as a great piece of television art; a thoughtful, emotional, well-produced, well-acted and well-directed look at the lives – and deaths – of the men who served in the US military in Europe during World War 2. Almost a decade later, the same group of talented individuals have come together again to make The Pacific, which tells the simultaneous story of the men and women who fought in the Pacific theater against the Japanese at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and all across the Pacific Ocean. The series stars Joseph Mazzello, Jon Seda, William Sadler and James Badge Dale, and began airing on HBO in the United States on March 14, 2010.

The late, great Michael Kamen wrote one of the finest scores of his career for the original Band of Brothers series. For The Pacific, the producers turned to the composing trifecta of Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli and Blake Neely to write almost nine hours of music for the series. It’s rare these days for this many composers to receive formal credit on any project, but when there’s this much score required for an undertaking of this size and scope, it makes sense to split up the duties. It’s unclear which composer wrote which cues, but thankfully their styles here are seamless: both Zanelli and Neely have worked for Zimmer at Remote Control in various guises, orchestrating and conducting and writing additional music, and as a result the listening experience on this extended album is an excellent one, free of jarring transitions between styles. In keeping with the tone of the series, the music plays as sort of a combination of Zimmer’s The Thin Red Line and Kamen’s Band of Brothers, with a little bit of John Williams-esque noble patriotism thrown in for good measure, as one might find in scores like Saving Private Ryan.

As one might expect, the tone of the score is generally solemn, moving and patriotic; written for a full orchestra, it emphasizes soft, engaging string writing alongside noble trumpets, augmented by steady, dramatic percussion hits which underline the gravity of the situation. The score has two main themes: “Honor”, the main theme, is restrained and sober, with a muted horn element that gives way to a mass refrain of respectful strings and lush, emotional harmonies. The second, “With the Old Breed”, which plays over the end titles, is a little more hopeful, a little more optimistic, with similar orchestrations to its sibling, but with slightly higher-register instruments leading the melodic charge to give it a little more of a positive edge. Both themes are lovely, although some of the percussion stylings do occasionally put me in mind of the more sweeping moments of Randy Edelman’s career (Gettysburg, for example), but these are just fleeting references. The oboe and string version of “Honor” in the finale is absolutely exquisite.

The rest of the score tends to be of a similar nature, albeit a little less reliant on themes and more interested in that comforting, tonal orchestral writing that over the years has become the standard way of scoring war movies; the juxtaposition of effortlessly beautiful music accompanying scenes of terrible carnage on a human scale seeks not to glorify the battle but to lament in remembrance of the lost lives on both sides of the conflict. Georges Delerue knew to write this way in Platoon, Ennio Morricone knew to write this way in Casualties of War, and every serious war movie since then has taken this approach, and Zimmer is intelligent enough and experienced enough to know not to rock the boat here.

Many of the cues feature warm, enormously appealing textures, usually emphasizing graceful strings and eloquent brass writing to excellent effect. “You Have No Idea”, “Terrible Solomons”, “Torn Souls”, the wistful “Memories of Home”, the tragedy-laden “Adagio for Peleliu”, the stunningly lyrical “Where Do We Go from Here?”, and the moving “Sledge’s Humanity” stand in stark contrast to the otherwise devastating cinematic depictions of war, and often feature subtle recapitulations or variations on one or more of the main themes. The second half of “The Peleliu Hills” is an interesting curio, especially when Zimmer works in a sampled pipe organ into his orchestral palette, giving the cue a non-too-subtle liturgical overtone.

That’s not to say that the score is all easy listening however; the second half of “Nightfall on Okinawa” is full of trepidation, “Fallen Friend” sees the massed string section crying in anguish at yet another death on the battlefield, and “Iwo Jima” uses subtle synth drones and a menacing faded brass effect to add a palpable sense of impending peril to the prologue to one of the most devastating battles of the war, before ending with a moving flute performance of the main theme to underscore one of the war’s most defining visual moments – the raising of the Stars and Stripes on Mount Surabachi. Later, cues such as “Even the Trees Hate Us”, “Get the Wounded Aboard”, “Landing Peleliu” and “The Peleliu Hills” twist the harmonious nature of the orchestral lines with dissonant synth and flute elements, lamenting harp solos, and rolling percussion hits.

However, the one notable thing absent from The Pacific is action music. Like Band of Brothers before it, the action sequences in The Pacific are largely left un-scored, with sound effects and the confused shouts and screams of the men involved the only aural accompaniment to the pandemonium on-screen. Don’t come into The Pacific expecting any kind of celebration of violence, or any of Zimmer’s familiar rousing action material, because you won’t find it. Over 300,000 men lost their lives between 1941 and 1945, and Zimmer’s music doesn’t intend on letting you forget it.

Discounting such quirky efforts as last year’s Sherlock Holmes or the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Pacific is probably Zimmer’s best straightforward orchestral score since The Thin Red Line, which many consider his masterpiece, but I found a trifle self-important. It’s welcome concentration on clean, simple orchestral writing makes it easily equal of, and perhaps even superior to, some of his better efforts of the 2000s such as Gladiator, The Last Samurai and Pearl Harbor. Where The Pacific really succeeds, however, is when it takes the reflective nature of Zimmer’s first attempt at scoring this story in The Thin Red Line, and beefs up the somber beauty, resulting in a work which is superbly enjoyable on a purely superficial level, but also has a depth and restraint that allows it to remain respectful of the tone of the project. This is the kind of Zimmer writing I love, and it makes a superb companion piece to the Michael Kamen album from almost a decade ago.

Rating: ****

Buy the Pacific soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Honor [Main Title Theme from The Pacific] (2:56)
  • With the Old Breed [End Title Theme from The Pacific] (4:05)
  • You Have No Idea (2:15)
  • Terrible Solomons (1:40)
  • Torn Souls (1:23)
  • Nightfall on Okinawa (1:41)
  • Private First Class Robert Leckie (2:40)
  • Fallen Friend (1:50)
  • We’ve Gone Respectable (3:04)
  • Iwo Jima (4:08)
  • Praying for You (3:19)
  • Even the Trees Hate Us (3:41)
  • Get the Wounded Aboard (1:55)
  • Memories of Home (2:32)
  • Landing Peleliu (3:22)
  • Adagio for Peleliu (2:07)
  • The Peleliu Hills (4:37)
  • Dear Vera (1:46)
  • Where Do We Go from Here? (1:55)
  • Men at War (2:33)
  • Sledge’s Humanity (6:08)
  • War is Hell (2:15)
  • Homecoming (4:51)
  • New Kind of Bomb (2:19)
  • Honor (for Oboe and Strings) (2:59)

Running Time: 72 minutes 01 seconds

Rhino Records 523699 (2010)

Music composed by Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli and Blake Neely. Conducted by Blake Neely. Orchestrations by Nathaniel Blume, Rick Giovinazzo, Kevin Kaska and Carl Rydlund. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by John Finklea. Album produced by Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli and Blake Neely.

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