Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Dec 22, 2011 at 10:55 PM

  • Movies review


    Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

    Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows reunites director, leading stars and composer for another action-packed romp that rockets through a wacky Victoriana that, this time, takes in bomb-crazy French anarchists, colourful gypsies, exploding trains, slo-mo shrapnel ravaged Euro-woodlands, and the fiendish, large-scale manipulations of a dastardly Prof. Moriarty … but the results of such a sure-fire continuation to 2009's excellent invigoration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most cherished creation are never quite as gripping, enthralling or as amusing as they should have been. And this disappointment stretches to the musical score from Hans Zimmer which may fit the film a touch better, but is a near-constant irritation on CD.

    This really isn't a review at all, folks … it is primarily a stark warning to score-fans not to waste their money on such an inept, ill-considered and emotionally bereft bass-trampled, synth sampled and virtuoso-strangled mush of musical wallpaper.

    In my opinion, this is the worst soundtrack of the year – in fact, the worst soundtrack to have come our way since the soulless Clash Of The Titans, which just happened to be the product of one of Zimmer's brainwashed pupils in Ramin Djawadi – from a composer who has brought little that is fresh to the medium since Gladiator. It arrives with a trio of downloadable bonus tracks courtesy of this enhanced CD from Sony, but with simply nothing else to commend it in the least.

    I utterly refuse to go in-depth with this travesty. My normal track-by-track coverage would be an indulgence that Zimmer's sleepwalking mixing-desk vomit simply does not deserve. No matter how many soloists and virtuosos he employs to create the mock-baroque symphony be-cloaking this Victorian/Euro-gypsy adventure, the end result is the same – a wall of anachronistic sound that drones and grates and yammers and clashes and creates not one single piece of music that is either melodic nor thematic that wasn't originally delivered considerably better in the score for the first film … or lifted, wholesale, from somebody else! Listen to the pseudo-symphonic cack that made up four Pirates Of The Caribbean outings and you'll find infinitely more “variety-on-a-theme”. Here, Zimmer takes the original – and, admittedly, awesome – Sherlock theme and gives it a modicum of new-fangled frisson in a couple of tracks, most notably the finale, but fails, quite spectacularly to ingratiate it, nor indeed any of the returning period motifs from the barnstorming deductive debut with anything other than a tired and lethargic rehash … with the addition of further percussive mud for us to wallow in, naturally. Of course we need these themes to travel beyond the first yarn and to infiltrate the next instalment, but somebody of Zimmer's prestige should be able to adapt, evolve, re-hone and exploit them to some new mode of narrative coherence.

    This time around, Zimmer journeyed to Slovakia and Vienna to find and record authentic gypsy folk music, since he realised that these were the ideas that made the last score so unexpectedly popular. Oh, there are lots of Romany fiddles, woodwinds, accordians and guitars – some interesting tomfoolery with the clarinet and cimbalom in Track 18 too – but there is precious little in the way of invention, or colloquial mood-setting or out-and-out avant-garde musical spectacle … which are the ecstatic ingredients of many a vintage Zimmer score, and especially his previous Sherlock Holmes accompaniment which I sincerely believe to a rip-roaring blind-side success that fully deserved its Oscar nod. And it is because of that prior success that this mess hurts so much.

    I could go on to unravel how he has interpreted each various scene, but his material is so lacking in anything worthy of description that it would be a thankless and totally unwarranted task. As I have said, various themes from the first film's score are revisited, but without similar passion or vigour, and the whole thing hustles and bustles along with no new direction and, worst of all, no new dynamism to aid the frequently kinetic set-piece pyrotechnics that ignite the screen. Lots of that wild-wood gypsy esoterica is revisited, but with no real flair or outrageous intoxication – fiddles simply bend and scrape against walls of industrial groaning - and at no point does the music actually transport us in time and locale. Dense walls of muscle-packed bass and synth begin and end with no musical pace nor rhythm, merely coagulating without rhyme or reason, though all come equipped with an incessantly pounding and colourless depth. The whole thing sounds like an assemblage of jettisoned off-cuts from the largely tuneless middle two Jack Sparrow outings. Where the first film was infectiously carried along with Zimmer's jaunty Romany musings, the musical ideology providing a delightfully obscure and cavalier tone, this has idiotic flurries of opera and too many inappropriate and charmless remixes that fall way short of injecting the same sense of fun as before. Last time around, Zimmer seemed able to harness the darkness of Victorian London, the occult threat of Lord Blackwood, the teeming invention and industry of a ceaseless society in the same saddlebag as the eccentric heroism and unstoppable sleuthing of Holmes and Watson. This canny and helter-skelter stew of thematic sweep and frivolity is utterly lacking from this score. The left-field gypsy flavour may be back, and with added swagger, but it fails to excite, amuse or stimulate with anything approaching the warped delight that made the previous score so unique. Gypsies now play a major part in the story yet, musically speaking, they are a bland aside.

    And the action material is tragically woeful. Last time, we had several excellent and pulse-pounding set-pieces of musical verve and mayhem, richly designed to provide an impetus and violence to a milieu not previously renowned for such things. I still love how he utilised the chimes of Big Ben during the large-scale climactic race against time … and I'm surprised that he found nothing similarly cool to decorate his sound-toolings here. A vague implication of the clickety-clack of a speeding locomotive is over and done with before you've even taken the hint that the sequence is set aboard a train. The action is dominated by enormous swathes of minor-key bass and synth that bludgeon and crush the film's momentum and conspire, despite director Guy Ritchie's fine pace and highly intricate scenes of inter-personal chaos, to bleed-out much of the excitement from the various scrapes that Holmes and Watson find themselves in. Alongside the imagery, the score is nothing but repetitive and generic, although it does also manage to get across more fresh material than we are treated to on this disc. But as an album, it is a swelling, uncoordinated bruise of a score.

    For the sequence when a horse-shy Sherlock opts to cross European mountain border via a diminutive donkey, Zimmer just nicks Ennio Morricone's main theme for 1970's Two Mules For Sister Sara, which starred Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine. But there is no playful riff upon the classic and catchy piece of off-kilter Western litany. No cutesy re-imagination. He just has the Movie Screen Orchestra play the bugger with some modern instrumental tweaking to make it sound fresher and cleaner. I sat in the cinema when I first saw a press release of the film and loved this sequence for its visual comedy … but I'm afraid I will not give Zimmer the benefit of the doubt for such a shameless steal as this. In actual fact, it doesn't fit the ambience of the era or the setting in the least and stretches out a simple one-note gag into something needlessly grand … and annoyingly pilfered. But it sounds reasonably unmolested by the typical Zimmer/Remote Control mutation, which is more than can be said for both Mozart and Schubert, who get utterly ram-raided with needless distortions and effects in To The Opera! and Die Forele, respectively. If you adore the classics, I'd suggest stabbing yourself in both ears before listening to what Zimmer has done to them.

    Not only is there a complete lack of character and invention, but the album, produced with typically egregious post-editing mush-ups, sounds simply appalling. The bass is hugely deepened and engorged, totally stifling any clarity until most tracks just become a cacophonous drudge over the top of which some desperate ethnic instruments are tortured. This is the music of a heavily-laden horse being sucked down into a bog. What may have seemed like a good, if not a quaint idea to have studio voices playing as a bridge between a couple of tracks is just wretched and, worse yet, a despicably self-indulgent trick. Hearing Jerry Goldsmith or Bernard Hermann offering a bit of choice advice to their orchestra is stimulating and worth its weight in symphonic gold … but this is just a group of back-slapping, money-grabbing programmers being nepotistic, and they should not be applauded for it.

    Track 18 is a modern remix of some of the sounds and textures that have blurred into one sludge across the rest of the album. Once again, it is nothing other than self-indulgence on Zimmer's part, for it clearly has no bearing or basis in the score proper. The CD enables you to download three bonus tracks of yet more drivel, although why they could not have just been added to the album in the first and conventional sense is just another irksome embuggerence. For the record you get two more gypsy cues and a waltz-cum-suspenser.

    The real bind here is that the film has so much more music in it. There are new themes for Moriarty – although it really isn't very good – and for Holmes' brother, Mycroft, yet these elements barely register in any recognisable form on the album. Zimmer spends so much time and effort getting authentic gypsy players and sounds, but he neglects the actual score CD that would properly reflect his endeavours. The “whole” score wouldn't be a patch on the original, but if treated properly on disc it would certainly make for a more enjoyable and coherent experience.

    No, I'm afraid that the man has ultimately revealed himself to be a hack with absolutely no imagination left. He and his army of production mixer and button-pushing yes-men are systematically destroying the art and craft that is film scoring. I just cannot find a good word to say about this score and the direction that Zimmer and his cronies are persisting in thundering along in. But with studios still paying such an acknowledged and even awarded notary as Zimmer mega-bucks to smother their movies in overly percussion-drenched and sampled syrup, it seems that the switch-flicking (as opposed to baton-waving) composer does not know any different. But, then again, I can easily see him laughing all the way to the bank.

    Hey, Hans, can you score my film for me?”

    Oh, sure. Just a moment. I'll just flip that switch there … and sample a bit of that percussion section there … and, yep, we're done. There you go. Hope you like it. Right – who's next!”

    Although I have enjoyed past scores of his – most especially Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Batman Begins, of course, but also Broken Arrow, The Last Samurai and The Rock - I find myself wishing that he would now do many of us a favour and pull out of movie composing. His lazy attempts at composition robs films of their style, individuality and integrity. Citing Mozart, Wagner and other classical composers as inspiration is a tedious and forlorn excuse when all that he does with such thematic ingredients is to squash them beneath colossal anvils of dense synth. He struggles to manufacture anything melodic, and it now appears that those examples I have just mentioned have been the exceptions, rather than the rule. And, worse yet, he has cloned an entire series of brainwashed acolytes, and their respective scores have all been irredeemably poor as well. He was the man who once lent power and gravity to Maximus' odyssey of revenge and provided such hypnotic revelations in The Thin Red Line. He found a brooding, contemporary voice of nobility and valour for the Dark Knight in Christopher Nolen's awesome Batman trilogy. He utilised so much carnival energy, period suspense and ribald spontaneity for the first Sherlock Holmes. Yet the enormity of score-fan backlash has always dogged his prolific, money-grabbing endeavours. I have defended him in the past … but I will do so no more. He has become a blight of wasted musical imagination … and his sampling talents could be rustled-up by Patrick Doyle's cookie-loving chimps in a nano-second … and vastly improved-upon within moments. He may still have something to offer, but he continually hides such promise so damn well with predictable claptrap such as this.

    For every good score that he has created – although there has never actually been one that he composed and developed completely off his own back – there are at least five deplorable efforts that have made his name inseparable from mud with score-fans. I now finally join their ranks in shunning him and his tasteless cloning factory of Zimmerites. I have to agree that he brings shame upon the art of film-scoring and, worse yet, seems to take a smug pride in it. There is no excuse for such indiscriminate and charmless elevator gear-changes posing as music.

    This score, like so many that emanates from the Zimmer Tribe, is apocryphal garbage.

    To do without it is elementary, my dear Watson.

    If Hans Zimmer didn’t have so much power within the industry, with have so many underlings traversing the studios like a spider-web, I wouldn’t be half as scathing about his style and his practices. But this sort of quick-fix, bogus composing has too much clout, is much too easy to produce and is responsible for the dumbing-down and blanket generalising of movie scores over the last decade. Art is being replaced by generic commercialisation – and the last bastion of the film-making medium, the score, is now also being ruthlessly assimilated by such orchestral programming shams as those headed-up by the likes of Zimmer and his assembly-line at Remote Control.

    At the same time as this was released, Intrada put our way the outstanding score for 1979's The First Great Train Robbery by Jerry Goldsmith. This was a score for another Victorian crime-caper that featured skulduggery, double-crossing, fanciful action and acute attention to period detail, attention that even fed into the music. Goldsmith, who also gave us the groundbreaking symphonic splendours of Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture that same year – both bonafide masterpieces - provided memorable themes throughout, plenty of rich era-laced atmospherics, exciting action, ominous passages of mystery and subterfuge and terrific, self-written source material that perfectly typified the times. I will be reviewing this sumptuous release soon and my advice, in the meantime, would be for score-fans to skip this dearth of wit and vitality without a second thought and opt for Goldsmith's classic instead.

    Zimmer's score may suit the film, itself, better than I have it made it sound here … but, as an album, it is simply appalling.


    Hans Zimmer may have furnished the character and the story with a suitably grand and dark musical vernacular, but part of me truly wishes to God that he wasn't scoring The Dark Knight Rises as well as the first two Bat instalments. I now believe that he has lost whatever talent he ever had in favour of mere self-indulgence. He has become a toneless hack … and a complete musical bore. After this final loathsome score, I will not defend him or his volume-enhanced, detail crushing, character and scene-swallowing, mixing-desk composed rubbish ever again. I now stand beside his legions of naysayers and denounce him as the scourge of modern movie scoring. This material is way, way beyond being simply banal and unimaginative. It is lazy and insulting – two things compounded by the fact that he actually went out of his way to seek out so many virtuoso performers and soloists. The film, itself, is not quite as good as the excellent first outing, but I have no compunction in citing Zimmer's flavourless score as being one of the most obvious and obnoxious of its deficiencies.

    It will surely fall upon deaf ears … but I wish he would just please go away and hang up his scoring spurs. I am embarrassed to have kept the torch burning for him and his brainwashed acolytes at Remote Control for so long. Even their die-hard devotees must surely have noticed how little respect they show for their fans with consistently sub-par releases such as this.

    This is the worst score album of 2011. Bar none.

    Needless to say … soundtrack fans should avoid this CD release at all costs.

    The Rundown





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