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Interstellar by Hans Zimmer (Review)

posted Nov 17, 2014, 8:26 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated Nov 18, 2014, 8:44 AM ]

If you don’t count the Batman films, the last two films Chris and Hans made were about fathers and their disconnect from their family. Forget the fact that Inception was about entering dreams and heisting information, it was simply a father trying to see his children’s faces. Forget that Interstellar is about a man trying to find a new home for humankind off our dying planet, it’s about a father’s regret for putting his job over his children. When you look at it that way, one could assume we are hearing one of the world’s finest composers truly opening up about his personal life. That is why I laugh when people complain about Interstellar’s sound mix, that they are missing crucial dialogue. There is a reason why Nolan mixed the score louder for certain moments. The score is the dialogue, and some people are failing to listen. Interstellar is a monumentally simple score, and a surprisingly simple story told on an immense canvas.

I think viewers get boggled down on Nolan’s films trying to comprehend the “meaning” of everything, while easily forgetting the true emotional core that is unfolding before us. Nolan’s films have always been deeply personal stories disguised as blockbusters, expository dialogue and archetypes included. Hans’ organ-based score does wonders for taking us on a cosmic sci-fi journey by staying minimal when it needs to be. The central stair-climbing motif is the heart of the score and carries with hit a hint of tragedy behind it. That tragedy is the idea of a father breaking his close bond with his pre-teen daughter to take on a mission to save humanity. The only reason the father is doing this mission is to give her daughter a future, but time slips away and he ends up missing her entire life. It’s that simple, and when you look at it that way the score can be a heartbreakingly emotional journey. One cannot deny the parallels between the subject matter and perhaps Zimmer’s own personal life. I don’t know Hans, I’m not claiming anything to be true here as these are just assumptions. But If I were to look at this score, knowing how Nolan presented it to him, I would say this is a very internal reflection of Hans. Hans is a father, he is also one of the busiest and well-known composers of our generation. You can’t help but wonder when did work come first, and in turn result in lost time with family. How much is Hans drawing from personal experience versus crafting just a narrative? As an audience we can connect to that as well. Be it friends we’ve fallen out of connection with, or a past love or lost family member. We’ve always thought “what could have been” or “what should have been”, but more importantly "what could I have done differently?" I know from my own screenplays that I’ve projected current or past pain into my characters. You write what you know, so if you see a film or a score that really works it’s probably because they were feeling emotions that they have felt before. Now, once you’ve identified the emotional core of the score we can look at how amazingly it was structured for effect.

Looking at the “space adventure” side of this epic, the score’s organ-based approach is perfect. I think almost all of us think “church” when we think of the organ. It carries a religious and spiritual connotation with it. You don’t have to be religious for the effect to work. I’m an atheist, but the idea of searching the cosmos for a new home, or trying to figure if a wormhole was placed within our reach by someone or something sends tingles down my spine. The film is filled with fantastically memorable sequences such as the water planet and the giant wave where Hans implements his ticking clock motif that he used so well in the Sherlock Holmes scores. The failed docking sequence is filled with tension and suspense all due to the score's minimal yet grand build. The whole film is a visceral experience versus an intellectual one. Sure there are plenty of ideas going around, but if you focus on the score (or even lack of it in some areas), you will be rewarded by a very emotionally resonating story. Zimmer’s score doesn’t just accent the film’s core themes and action sequences, it lifts them up. The score is mostly lingering notes that hit and fade, but the organ is able to do some unique textural stuff under the surface. The result is a chilling, tragic, haunting and poignant score.

Like all great films and works of art, there’s more going on beneath the surface. By examining the themes of fatherhood that the film is about, the score ends up feeling like a very personal project for Hans. Hans captures the relationship of Cooper and Murph brilliantly. The music feels like an apology from a father to his child for not being there, and anyone can take that and apply it to their own life where we seemed to let important moments slip by without realizing we could never get them back. It turns the relationship between Cooper and Murph into something very powerful and resonating. The score in album form may feel a bit anticlimactic especially if you settled with the standard edition, but in its complete form with picture it's as intense in emotions as it is in dramatic structure. Interstellar is one of Hans Zimmer’s finest accomplishments as a composer, and I can’t help but feel we are seeing a lot about Hans Zimmer the man within this score as well, be it from experience or just interpretation.