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Soundtrack review: Crimson Tide (Hans Zimmer, 1995)

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Soundtrack review: Crimson Tide (Hans Zimmer, 1995)


It’s Hans Zimmer’s birthday today, and the first score I’ll review for this occasion is one of the most special Zimmer compositions out there…I have to admit I’m getting a warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach writing about it, it’s an exciting score to listen to and to talk about.
Crimson Tide is a war movie, but not in a traditional way. It’s actually an anti-war movie. Everything takes place in the small world inside a nuclear submarine, and we only see the consequences of the outside events on the people in there. The movie is all about two people on opposite sides of supporting a war (Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman give some of their finest performances ever in this one) and how, with the possible end of the world around the corner, their ideologies clash. Gene Hackman’s character quotes that “War is a continuation of politics by other means”, while Denzel replies that the true nature of war is to serve itself and that “in the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself”. It’s a movie that leaves you talking about it long after it’s over.
The score is one that defined Zimmer’s action style from the 90s (one of the best and most thrilling sounds in film music history), and a score which remains to this day one of the most appreciated from his career. For me as well this one is a timeless masterpiece. This is the birth of the sound that Zimmer was going to refine even more  in the following years in his incredible action scores like “The peacemaker”, “Broken arrow” and “The rock”.
Hans Zimmer knew he needed to come up with something special and different to support this movie. He gave up on epic orchestral arrangements and used his beloved synthesizer mostly, creating a subdued atmosphere that compliments what’s going on on screen.  The movie is like a play actually, not a real action movie. It’s a play with two characters, it’s a dialogue movie. Everything moves slowly in it, even the torpedoes underwater, so the music takes its time to develop and doesn’t need to be fast and aggressive. Nothing in the movie or the music suggests speed. The war takes place inside the world of these two strong characters, it’s scaled down, and this makes the score also fell claustrophobic and contained, both at an external level (the submarine) and at an internal lever (the minds of the two officers). There are some very well placed somber military choir inserts when the submarine goes under and also at the end of the movie.
Crimson Tide is a very smart and sophisticated score that needs a few listens before it really sinks in and one can truly appreciate its value. It’s actually like one big hour long cue (even though technically it’s split in five parts ranging from 2 minutes to 23 minutes), and to me this music lays the tracks for a train of thought. It’s not a score you can just listen to a part of; it invites you to hear it all, and then some. It really is a score to be immersed in, submarine pun intended. The outside world disappears and it’s replaced by a clear focus when I listen to it. It’s a score that could go on forever; don’t just take my word for it though: Steven Spielberg called Hans Zimmer and told him “I’ve just wasted my entire day. I’ve listened to your Crimson Tide score eight times and I’ve realized it’s actually an hour long, so I’ve been listening to Crimson Tide for eight hours today”.
My ratings:
Cue rating: 100 / 100
Total minutes of excellence:  61/61
Album excellence: 100%
Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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  1. Anthony Brune 9th June 2016

    This was my first Hans Zimmer score. Although I had heard his other scores before, I didn’t really know who I was listening to. As a retired Submariner, and one who did many patrols on the type of sub depicted is the movie, I will tell you that the way he makes you hear the silence of the deep could not have been done any better.
    This was definitely his break away from his earlier works. (Not knocking those at all) Great review.

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 9th June 2016

      Thank you!

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