Film scores

Soundtrack review: Chappie (Hans Zimmer – 2015)

chappie

„Chappie” is an experimental robot built and designed to learn and feel. Apparently this upsets some forces who will try to take him down. This is the plot of the latest science fiction movie from South African director Neil Blomkamp whose next science fiction film will be a little thing called “Alien”. He gained a lot of attention after “District 9”. I was very curious about the score because it’s the first Hans Zimmer outing of 2015 and because he said it would be a return to his 80s full synthesizer style. Music to my ears… That sound comes from my earliest memories and is deeply imprinted in my soul. For this score, composers Andrew Kawcztinski and Steve Mazzaro are also credited on the cover which means they contributed a lot to the score.

When I think of Hans Zimmer and 80s electronic music I get tingly and my judgment loses all objectivity. After all that is the sound I remember as dearly as my childhood. There are traces of it in “It’s a dangerous city” and they meet the 2010 Hans Zimmer. It’s an interesting encounter and I am trying to see the child sound all grown up. “The only way out of this” puzzles me because it sounds as if a modern DJ or trance music composer hijacked the score. But I guess this is the contribution of other members of the team. I find my way through “Use your mind” with eyes closed because it’s the Zimmer sound I know like my own skin. The timeline dissolves into a single point, a black hole that swallowed “Black rain” and “The dark knight” and spat out a wonderful hybrid creature.

Yet there are moments in “Chappie” that seem void of emotion. The story is science fiction, but it’s about a robot that’s taught to learn and feel and this idea lacks in some tracks. They are just cold and dark electronic compositions. Luckily it’s in this type of territory that atmospheric gems like the middle section of “Firmware update” can flourish and be better appreciated. This is how a cue turns from 3 stars to 5 just like that. I love the wonderful experimental bells at the end and the feeling of exploration I get from this piece. Is it a lullaby? Is it a nightmare? Is it both?

I am having a hard time connecting with this score. Save some precious moments I can’t identify that 80’s sound I was looking for. I find it again in “The black sheep” and I just want it to stay. It’s not there from the beginning of the cue but it just takes over and makes time stop. The middle part of this cue is divine. The end of the cue with its lonely and sorrowful bells is equally wonderful. This is what I came for. It’s weird. A lot of cues throw me off when they start because of the aggressive and cold electronic beat but they change pace and mood and conquer me by the time they are through.

And then there are cues I can’t understand, like “Indestructible robot gangster #1”. It’s just sound effects mashed together even if they don’t fit. “Breaking the code” intrigues me. It echoes that 80s sound inside me only it’s Jean Michel Jarre and not Hans Zimmer. Early Trent Reznor is also there grinning in a corner. It makes the journey of “Chappie” even stranger and more captivating. I’m past the halfway point and I can’t make up my mind. I keep going because I want to know what surprises come next. No cue sounds like the one before and the whole score almost feels like a dark improvisation. It makes me yearn for the sun. And then I realize I’m still listening to “Breaking the code” and it was just an illusion, old school Hans is back and finishes the track. Yes, this is how it feels to listen to “Chappie”. You should try it.

There’s a track on this score brilliantly titled “The outside is temporary”. It’s my favorite cue and it summarizes best my experience of listening to this score. It’s also the point where this composition comes together and becomes just brilliant. “Never break a promise” and “We own this sky” should convince anyone who still had doubts. The latter made me think of Firefly because it’s the perfect space western track.

Maybe I should say “the inside is temporary”….? “Chappie” is a collection of echoes and dark corners, scary passages and unintelligible moments, monsters, ghosts and memories. This score is not for everyone. I would say “You lied to me” is the cue you should hear to get an idea if you’ll like it or not. But once you open this can, be ready for what’s inside. Meet the most intriguing score of the year so far.

Cue rating: 86 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 37 / 63

Album excellence: 58%

Highlights:

Use Your Mind

The Black Sheep

Breaking The Code

You Lied To Me

The Outside Is Temporary

Never Break A Promise

We Own This Sky

About the author

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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