- Stefan Riedlinger
The Rock - Hans Zimmer etc. - Soundtrack Review
„The Rock“ (1996) is in my opinion Michael Bay’s best movie. I really love this action movie, and it is on my list of my all time favorite movies. I lived two years in San Francisco during my study and work at Google and had a lot of chances to go to Alcatraz. I also took the night tour because you are just then able to visit the hospital where the famous Birdman of Alcatraz stayed.
“The Rock” has also a great cast with Ed Harris, Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage. I read in an article that the executives of Walt Disney gave Bay some trouble, and when he had to go to a meeting Connery asked him to join, and then Connery stood up for Bay and said that the director is doing a great job. I also read that Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for Cage’s role, but he turned down the script because he did not like it. Or was it Arnold’s ego that did not want to work with a director with such a big ego like him? The film was a great hit and is still very enjoyable.
Three composers are written on the CD as composers: Nick Glennie-Smith, Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams. Hans Zimmer is just the second name on the CD, I think the first and the last time in his career on a CD. In my opinion, the Zimmer soundtracks with Harry Gregson-Williams are the most enjoyable ones. Nick-Glennie-Smith and Harry Gregson-Williams, both British, started later a solo career, the first one composed the score for Leonardo DiCaprios “The Man In The Iron Mask”, the second one composed the music for “Shrek”.
“The Rock” is Zimmer at his best, and I cannot understand that the score gets such a bad review on soundtrack websites such as allmusic: “The Rock typifies the bigger-is-better film scoring sensibilities that defined Hollywood in the mid-'90s -- with its bombastic electronics, relentless bass, and blast-furnace eruptions of dissonance, the music is an overwhelming sensory experience, and virtually impossible to absorb over the course of a single sitting. Too many cooks spoil the broth here -- with so many contrasting compositional approaches in the mix, the music is a disjointed mess, and thematic unity is nothing more than an afterthought. You thought breaking out of Alcatraz was difficult? Try listening to this tripe.” This review is just unfair. Try to listen to “The Rock” when you are doing your workout, and you will have a lot of fun.
Gregson-Williams said he just came to the project to help, “The Chase” was one of his responsibilities, and I think this is one of the weakest tracks of the score. Zimmer pointed out: “The main theme is mine, as are a few other bits. I do have a huge influence in there. But I never really wanted to write any of it. It was always supposed to be Nick Glennie-Smith’s score.”
The main theme you can hear in the first track “Hummel Gets The Rockets”, a majestic theme for the opening scene of the movie. When you listen to “Man In The Iron Mask”, you can see the similarity between the scores. The solo trumpet reminds of Zimmer’s “Crimson Tide”, another great score, that I will review in a few weeks. Here is the opening scene with the music:
The second track “Rock House Jail” is pure action and the best track of the score. This 10 minute track is pure fun, and the reason I became a huge Zimmer fan at that time. Instead of his later scores, this is a very good composed track. The rhythm is nice, the percussion is not so overwhelming like in later scores, and it has also its quieter moments. Track 3 “Jade” presents us a lovely melody played on the flute.
Track 4 “In The Tunnels” is underscoring the music when the Seals enter the Rock and are welcomed by Hummel and his men. We then have the massacre in the movie, with Connery and Cage are hunted down by Hummel’s men. Slowly build action, with the main theme, but after listening to track 2 no surprise.
Track 5 “Mason’s Walk – First Launch”, another nearly 10 minute track, starts slowly, some action music, but I think you can skip it because it offers nothing new.
Track 6 “Rocket Away”, 14 minutes long, and not always a joy to listen to. The score as you can see here is very repetitive, so for me this is another track you can skip. The last minute is very nice with the “Jade” theme again.
Track 7 “Fort Walton – Kansas” is the shortest track that underscores the last scene of the movie, so why did they put it as the second last one on the album? A little Midwest feeling, we can find here, and this would be a good last track.
Track 8 “The Chase” is the music for the famous car scene when Cage chases Connery through the city, destroying a cable car, one of the greatest action sequence ever and pure fun to watch. The music is not so much fun, especially the abrupt ending. After 2 minutes, you have a new theme played on strings, but then we are back into the usual action again.
So, in the end, what do we have here? It is pure Hans Zimmer and one of the soundtracks that creates his reputation as a master of action scores. It is also very typical for the Zimmer’s scores in general: a great theme, some nice action music, but overall it is very repetitive. Track 2 is for me still one of the best action tracks of the Zimmer factory and still worth buying the soundtrack.
I found a nice video on YouTube with the main themes:
There are a lot of pure orchestra versions on YouTube, but you can see that Zimmer’s music needs the electronics. If you just play them with an orchestra, the bombastic sound is missing, so I did not add these tracks here. What I found instead was a just piano piece that is interesting to listen to:
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