Review Summary: To hear Interstellar is to see it.
For Hollywood, being louder is riveting--there is no requirement for delicacy or prowess to compel the public audience. To forgo complexity for simplicity is a necessity for a film industry with a demand for splendour. This formula is where Hans Zimmer and his proteges have thrived for over a decade now. Nearly every action blockbuster during this time has seen Zimmer’s involvement somewhere in the music division, whether it be actively composing or finding a suitor from his own cohort to fill-in. And, by and large, the productions to come from this house, or “school” as some have described, have been suitably entertaining: they are overt, loud, simple and above all, complementary. Where the traditionalists use strings, Zimmer uses brass and beats, and the results are moving, whether you appreciate it or not.
Despite what the critics may squabble about, the rudimentary aspects of Zimmer’s music summon more than just loudness. When distilled, the contentious elements aren’t merely due to a lack of skill or conviction within, but rather a worthy collaborator to compliment them: someone who is prepared to exemplify his style as opposed to subverting it. We have Christopher Nolan to commend for this. If not for Nolan’s bleak industrialism, non-linear plots and a healthy appetite for perfection, Zimmer would still be struggling to assemble his Germanic electronic music heritage within the realm of modern film score to largely mixed results. It was as if they we meant to be, in that regardless of the passage of time, they’d somehow meet to produce works of cinematic genius like the lucrative collaborations of Spielberg and Williams; Cameron and Horner; and Zemeckis and Silvestri. The relationship began rather uninterestingly with the Batman franchise, but by 2010’s Inception
, I was in blissful agreement with every one of his brass notes spewing from the speakers that patterned the cinema’s walls despite that they were echoes from 1995’s Crimson Tide
(his first excellent work). You may label it as a mere by-product of Zimmer’s apparent obnoxiousness, but without its bombastic score, Inception
would fail as a film and be little more than an intelligent heist drama embroiled in the wreckage of dreams and crumbling post-modern architecture.
This healthy, ongoing collaboration between Nolan’s vision and Zimmer’s newfound vigor for instrumentation is (at time of this writing) playing a crucial role in your local cinema through the film Interstellar
. Nods to other masterworks used elsewhere in film or opera are readily recognisable throughout. Some are probably deliberate, such as an organ swell alike Strauss' lingering organ in Also sprach Zarathustra
, which is used to great effect as an event signifier, not unlike the brass in Inception
. Others are perhaps just coincidences, like Philip Glass’ score for Koyaanisqatsi
, which shares similarities to the simple organ theme in “Cornfield Chase” and “Day One”, both of which evoke the childlike dreaminess of the Spielberg and Williams devices in E.T.
. Some are to be expected, like the fierce strings of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde
, which can be found in the cues of “Detach” and “Stay” depicting desperation and loss. Further, “Message from Home”, played entirely on piano by Zimmer himself, is built from the same melody as that found on the strings during “Stay” before it, yet in stark contrast, its setting isn’t a father’s emotional Earth-bound separation from his child, but the simple beauty of the planet Saturn--where one is tear-jerking and majestic the other is humbling and tranquil and the effects are mesmerising. Woodwinds, a rarely used group for Zimmer, evoke a desolate Earth in “Dust” as well as the eerie vacuum of space in “A Place Among the Stars”. “Mountains”, derived from brass and measured by ticking clockwork roiling underneath, encapsulates a sense of urgency while “Coward” similarly uses chaotic organ, piano and brass to escalate a confrontation between characters.
Poignant strings, woodwinds, swelling organ, impressionistic piano: these are not areas Zimmer has readily explored to such effect. He’s done incredibly well to capture the visual beauty of each moment, and to reinforce a Nolan-depiction of humanity's best and worst attributes using appropriately defined instrumentation, without resorting to the typified fad of Hollywood's aforementioned formula or space-film tropes. There are many other examples to be listed, but really there isn’t much more than can be said about the brilliance of Interstellar’s
score without sounding repetitive. It’s moody, dramatic and far reaching; it’s loud, sometimes piercingly loud, but is also at times quaint and subdued, built entirely from perhaps two or three simple themes which are reconstructed to suit each scene through atypical means.
I don’t wish to bore you with intangible notions of how film and music (sound and vision) are uniquely mutual; how sound, and the visceral sense of hearing itself, makes vision sing; how without an appropriate approach to sound, vision, no matter how impeccable, is diminished. There’s undeniable truth to these ideas, and by no means are they meaninglessly philosophical exertions. But we all know the feeling don’t we? You’re sitting in a darkened cinema, filled to the brim or totally empty, and without warning the passage of time loses all value. For films that entrance us, time has no meaning. We’d be prepared to sit for an eternity if it meant revealing ourselves towards pure indulgence. We are shepherded to feel and think via the forcefulness of sound and its effect on perceived time; by all accounts it should, usher emotion that would otherwise be overshadowed by the imagery itself. Interstellar
approaches this marriage between sound and vision as if they were two sides of the same coin with spectacular results.
It may be easy to disapprove of the film’s dialogue, its occasional moments of sappy sentimentality, or its apparent plot holes, but it’s hard to disapprove of its entirely fitting score. To call it the 2001
of our era is not a stretch from any viewpoint for it repeatedly refers to the Kubrick masterpiece, no less via its music. Alas, I said I wouldn’t bore you so here it is: Interstellar
is a film you need to hear
in order to properly see if you haven’t managed to already.