- Stefan Riedlinger
Interstellar - Hans Zimmer - Soundtrack Review
This is the second review of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack on my website. I want to talk about this soundtrack because the movie is right now in the theatre. Some critics think that this movie is not the best of Christopher Nolan, they still prefer the Batman movies, but I have to say that I like “Inception” and “Interstellar” more than the Batman films.
"Interstellar" is an epic SF film directed, co-written and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. The movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Nolan’s regular movie actor Michael Caine. Set in a future in which humanity is struggling to survive, it follows a group of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for mankind.
I look forward to any new Christopher Nolan film. He is the only director of this generation who can really tell a story in a mind-blowing movie experience every time. I always feel exhausted after watching a Nolan movie, especially the later ones. Nolan’s films are so full of emotion and great scenes that you keep thinking of the visuals after seeing it, for example the Paris scenes in Inception and the bookshelves scenes in Interstellar.
Of course, this movie is a homage to SF classics such as Stanley Kubrick’s "2001 – A Space Odyssey" (1968), perhaps also Fritz Lang’s silent movie masterpiece "Metropolis" (1927) and other SF classics such as "Blade Runner" (1982), "Star Wars" (1977) and "Alien" (1979), which might have inspired the production design.
I do not want to talk here about the different SF topics in the movie, e.g. the time travel and its physical and logical aspects. There are many articles from much more sophisticated people than me who can explain you the possibility of these various aspects. For me, Interstellar is a very personal movie, perhaps Nolan’s most personal film so far. It is a movie about love, more specifically about the love for the people we love, and especially how much we need our family and how sad we feel when we are separated from them. Here is the trailer:
Hans Zimmer mentioned in an interview he again came early on board. Nolan just gave him one piece of paper, nothing about the movie, just a very personal note that touched Hans, and so he composed the music. What I do not like in Zimmer’s approach to write film music is that he mostly finished the music before the final cut of the movie. In general, he composes suites and he or his team will fit these suites to the final movie. Goldsmith, for example, composed the music in a way that the music fits perfect to the movie and in general composed the music when the movie is finished.
Having got rather tired of the usual overblown music found in the latest Hans Zimmer soundtracks, I was really impressed by his music for this film. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, the composer discussed the intense collaboration with Christopher Nolan and his ideas for the music. In the liner notes to the Interstellar CD, Nolan explained his “radical new approach” with this movie.
He asked Hans Zimmer “to give me one day of his time. I’d give him an envelope with one page – a page explaining the fable at the heart of the movie-to-be. Hans would open the envelope, read it, start writing and at the end of the day he’d play me whatever he’d accomplished. That would be the basis of the score.” Therefore Hans Zimmer “took me at my word, and several months later, he gave me my day, forcing me to start my own creative journey by sitting down to write out my page.” Later that day, the composer called the director and played a simple piano melody that went directly to Nolan’s heart and worked as the emotional guide. This track was called Day One.
Zimmer had composed a four-minute piece for piano and organ: “I really just wrote about what it meant to be a father. And Nolan came down and sat on my couch, and I played it for him. He goes, ‘Well, I better make the movie now’. And I’m going, what is the movie? And he starts describing this huge journey, this vast canvas of space and philosophy and science and all these things. And I’m going, ‘Hang on. I've written you this tiny little thing here.’ And he goes, ‘Yes, but I now know what the heart of the story is’. So, he was writing with this piece of music sort of keeping him company all the way through the writing process, all the way through the shoot. At the end of the filming of Interstellar, Nolan gave Zimmer a watch. On the back it says, ‘This is no time for caution,’” said Zimmer. Here is a clip from a concert in Prague:
In the liner notes to the CD, Hans Zimmer mentioned that it started with Christopher Nolan’s idea of using a pipe organ this time. Even though I read that Zimmer had no idea that this movie would be an SF movie, the use of an organ reminds us of Kubrick’s 2001 and the first notes of the fanfare of Sunrise from Thus Spoke Zarathustra by German composer Richard Strauss.
Richard Strauss composed this tonal poem inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical book in which Nietzsche explained his ideas of the “Uebermensch” as a person who gives himself his own rules and fights against the obsolete morals of society.
Strauss’s fanfare starts with a sustained double low C on the double bass, contrabassoon and organ. This transforms into the brass fanfare and introduces the “dawn” motif (from Zarathustra’s Prologue, this motif includes three notes, at intervals of a fifth and an octave, as C–G–C). I listened to this piece during a concert in London’s Royal Albert Hall, and the fanfare is still very impressive and powerful. Elvis Presley used it as the opening piece in his concerts between 1971 and 1977.
Using an organ for an SF movie might sound a little bit like a stereotype, but Zimmer used it not just for an opening track but made it an essential part of the whole score. Zimmer and Nolan visited London’s Temple Church to record the 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ played by the church’s music director Roger Sayer. Because of the use of the organ, this score by Hans Zimmer stands out among his recent works.
In the liner notes, Zimmer explains his early love for the organ as the most complex man-made musical device and his joy when he was finally old enough to reach the pedals. For this music, Nolan asked Zimmer not to use the big action drums or the propulsive string ostinato that the composer liked to use before.
Hans Zimmer started to synthesis sounds of air and wind to include in the music. Zimmer explained the exceptional process of the score when he composed and played the tracks, “with every note played solely by me”, and then Nolan and his team fit the music to the scene in the movie. Zimmer mentioned that he never had the actual film in his studio to look at it while he wrote, an entirely unusual process compared to the other composers I have talked about in this book.
But Zimmer and Nolan had always planned an experimental music expedition to London to see what the “extraordinary musicians and the magnificent acoustics of two great churches could bring to the project”. Zimmer’s friend Richard Harvey suggested visiting Temple Church, and in the liner notes in a heart-warming way Zimmer explained his worries and then his astonishment at the organist Roger Sayer and his way of “taming the beast”, Zimmer’s nickname for the big organ.
The best music track of the score is the music to the Docking Scene. When I immediately went out after seeing the movie and bought the music album, now called the standard edition (with 16 tracks), this track was not on the album, and I had to download it via a link I found on Hans Zimmer’s website. How could he not include this powerful music for one of the best scenes in the movie on the album? Here is a fan version:
The music has the right balance between the overblown pieces such as "Coward, Where We’re Goin’" and "The Wormhole" with the organ and the more lyrical ones such as "Afraid of Time", "Detach", "I’m Going Home", "S.T.A.Y" and "Stay" (perhaps the best two tracks after the music for the Docking Scene called "No Time for Caution"). There is one track called "Mountain" in which Zimmer uses a clock-like instrument and includes the typical clock ticking in the music as a musical concept of time.
I do not want to mention any more tracks from the album. The whole score has a good flow and typical of Zimmer in its musical approach. There are many more tracks that stand out other than the few I have mentioned. On the standard album I bought I missed the kind of end credits tracks that bring the album to a satisfying ending.
You also have to decide which album presentation you want to buy, and I do not understand why, other than for financial reasons, there is not just one album with all the essential cues on it.
For me, "Interstellar" is one of Zimmer’s best works in recent years, even though it lacks a satisfying musical and dramaturgical structure. I still prefer his earlier and more theme-based soundtracks, but this music is exceptionally good on screen, and the track for the docking scene astonishingly good even when separated from the movie.
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