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Chappie by Hans Zimmer (Review)

posted Mar 6, 2015, 9:25 AM by Kaya Savas

Niell Blomkamp’s career is quickly garnering criticism similar to that of M. Night Shyamalan's. That he himself is his own worst enemy. District 9 was an amazing directorial effort, but then Elysium and now Chappie seem to be landing with quite a thud. Another alarming thing is he has never quite stuck with one composer. Clinton Shorter’s District 9 was an obvious The Dark Knight temp mimic. And Ryan Amon’s effort on Elysium failed to amount to anything (with no fault to Ryan, all blame on Blomkamp). Amon was in fact supposed to be onboard Chappie, but as things happen in Hollywood, Blomkamp somehow managed to snag Hans Zimmer. Zimmer dove right in after Interstellar and crafted a score that is fresh in its own sonic identity but definitely echoes the chaotic shortcomings of another choppy Blomkamp mishap.

Blomkamp is in love with his native Johannesburg, and Zimmer had to enter that gritty and metallic sci-fi world that Blomkamp has created out of his South African hometown. Chappie is a very standard score in terms of structure. We are introduced to the setting and story, we get a theme for Chappie, we follow Chappie on his journey and it comes to an explosive and emotional climax. Very by the books narrative here, which is fine. Here’s the good. The score feels as if it was built from the ground up, and it really absorbs you into the soundscape of the narrative. Chappie’s theme arrives in “A Machine That Thinks And Feels”. It’s a simple theme that sounds like a music box toy or a lullaby. It’s childlike only in the sense of its fragility, newness and innocence. Zimmer does a fantastic job crafting action builds later with that theme that echos most of the emotion of the score. And honestly, that’s the heart of the score. Chappie’s theme is the emotional heart. It reminded me very much of New Order’s score to the brilliant short film More from Mark Osbourne (whom Hans has scored two films for now, maybe not a coincidence?). It’s all about innocence and that drive for happiness.

The bad here is the pulsing electronic dance style the music takes on. The pulsing loops at times can be abrasive and structured in a way where you want them to stop so you can breath and take in the music. I get that it’s meant to add a modern vibe and pulsing structure to the action, but it yanks the listener out. Thankfully those loops become a more organic part of the score as the story moves forward and don’t feel so artificial. I really liked the final act, it was true to Chappie’s emotional journey and delivered some great Zimmer moments. While the electronic textures used feel unique, Zimmer fans will notice some Dark Knight Rises elements (including a Bane-like chant) as well as an overall throwback sound that calls back to Thelma & Louise and Black Rain. In the end, the score saves itself from its hairy beginning. This isn’t top shelf Zimmer, and I attribute that to a disconnect with Blomkamp who seems to have been given carte blanche too early in his career without fine-tuning his skills as a director.

Chappie is a score that may take at least two listens before it grows on you. The pulse-pounding beginning is too abrasive at times, and the mish-mash of electronic textures can get too muddled. Luckily once Chappie’s theme comes into play the score finds its footing and is able to craft an engaging enough narrative that excites just a tad more than it emotionally resonates. Zimmer with additional composers Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski do craft a unique electronic soundscape for Blomkamp’s Chappie. Sometimes the stylistic approach drowns out the emotional core, but overall it’s an engaging and satisfying musical narrative by the end of it.