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Soundtrack review: Blade runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Blade runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch – 2017)

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“Blade Runner 2049” is a 2017 American neo-noir science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. A sequel to Blade Runner (1982), the film stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, who reprises his role as Rick Deckard, with Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto in supporting roles. Officer K, a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a epic quest to find Rick Deckard, a former blade runner who’s been missing for the last 30 years.

For both film and film music lovers, “Blade runner 2049”, the sequel to the iconic Ridley Scott 1982 movie and to the equally iconic Vangelis score was if not the first at least the second most awaited film event of the year (since we also have a Star Wars movie coming in 2017). For me the excitement wasn’t just about the story and idea but also about Denis Villeneuve as a director since for the past few years he has emerged as one of my favourite filmmaker with exceptional “Prisoners”, “Sicario” and the best movie of last year in my view, “Arrival”. All those movies had another thing in common and a part just as important in creating their unforgettable and suffocating tension: Johan Johannsson’s music; I had no worries about the new “Blade runner” when I knew he would be back and the score was still among my most anticipated of the year. As much as I was looking forward to JJ’s score, imagine how inconceivably excited I got when my favourite composer, Hans Zimmer, the man who had dreamt his whole life of writing the music for “Blade runner”, was called by Denis Villeneuve to take over and make this movie sound coherent with his vision. As always Hans didn’t come alone but with his current favourite collaborator and pupil, Benjamin Wallfisch, a composer who had already wrote on his own the best horror score of 2017, “It”, for another long awaited movie and a few more very good compositions with “Annabelle: Creation”, “Bitter harvest” and “A cure for wellness”. Both Hans and Ben stated that they were going to stay true to the general sonic scape of the original “Blade runner” while bringing their own vision to the franchise. I am reviewing the music before seeing the movie as I don’t want to repeat the experience of seeing the 1982 movie and the music really not fitting in some scenes, as opposed to being perfect in the album presentation.

The two composers welcome us into the new BR world with “2049”, a dystopian electronic theme that’s as dark as it needed to be and has the humming and whirring that bleed into a synth dream that if I would have heard without knowing who wrote it or for what movie I would have instantly though “Blade runner”. This is the sound that Vangelis created, now under other exceptionally gifted fingers. What has made the original movie special for so many years in term of sound has been, for most part, the atmosphere of a melodic, dark dream, of a rainy fantasy. The way “Blade runner 2049” opens, it feels as if we never left. That undertone remains, constant and hypnotic, even in more action oriented cues like “FLight to LAPD” which is vintage Zimmer since he met Chris Nolan.

The rain which was such an important element in the BR world is played by Hans and Ben with the most sublime of ambient synth melodies; this rain is welcomed and friendly and wakes up every single nostalgic cell I have in me. The entire score does but this quiet cue in particular just hits the spot. “Wallace” is the moment when the vision of Hans and Ben kicks in; this movie happens 30 years later in the same world, in the same town but evolved and the two composer use the same tools that Vangelis did 35 years ago but with their own craft. I think in his mind Hans has been preparing for writing this score his entire career; it’s like every and all synth or electronic motifs he has written from “Black rain” on have built up to this perfect mix, to cues like “Mesa” which is a synth anthem to make you forget all other synth anthems. It’s also the place where one motif from one of my favourite Hans Zimmer scores, “The fan”, hides. I am amazed though at how well Benjamin Wallfish can write this type of music; with his credentials in drama and horror as well I am calling 2017 the year of Ben Wallfisch and he gets my vote for composer of the year.

The first half of “Blade runner 2049” is nothing like Hans’ scores from the past few years for movies like “Dunkirk”, “The dark knight”, “Inception” or “Interstellar”; in fact it’s nothing like any other score Hans Zimmer has written. The score is dark without being abrasive; aggressive but natural; the emotional parts are simply sublime: “Someone lived this” and “Joi” are among the best atmospheric cues Hans Zimmer has ever written. “Joi” especially could be my favourite theme from the score, with the haunting keyboard motif and the blissful ambient mood and it’s also the closest to the original Vangelis sound.

From “Hijack” on, Hans and Ben, following the evolution of the movie, go disturbing. In Vangelis’ score the only disturbing thing was the overuse of a bow on string like motif during “Blade runner blues”; here the two composers get closer to the sound Hans has been mastering for the past decade. “Hijack” and “Sea wall” are violent synth pieces where Hans goes over the top and I love them. It’s the kind of music that can accompany climatic scenes in the movie and the part of the “Blade runner 2049” score that’s farthest from the original sound. If the 1982 score played like a single 54 minutes long uninterrupted cue I can say that the 2017 score plays like two separate cues, one quieter, one more violent. I like the cathartic end to “Sea wall”, the last quiet and sweet motif after 8 minutes of abuse. “All the best memories are hers” continue the catharsis and the dream.

Just when I was debating the comparison between the two scores, old and new, Hans and Ben fuse the two together in the best of both worlds: they bring their own version of “Tears in the rain”, the most beautiful piece from the Vangelis composition. Safe so say it’s heart to beat and I almost get misty eyed as I listen to it. I mentioned the place where the two scores meet and I will also talk about the theme that shows best the differences between the two: the longest cue from each score, the “Blade runner” theme. In 2049 there is no more “blues” as the 10 minute long final cue focuses on atmosphere rather than character, as a culmination and suite of the entire score. This last track and the way I am enjoying it also shows me that even 76 minutes is not enough and I could have listened to hours of the dark synth soundscape that the two composers created.

Every generation of Sci-fi and synth music fans needs a “Blade runner”. The atmosphere of such a movie and score is unique, addictive and affecting and for me Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish created the own vision of the soundscape for this world; at times evoking the sensitivity of Vangelis, at times inevitably hitting with the force and violence of 30 years later but all the time delivering exceptionally rewarding film music I am sure they will managed to satisfy purists and new fans alike. For me, just like the original, this score is perfect and I can’t wait to enrich my experience by hearing it in the context of the movie.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 76 / 76

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:
2049
Sapper’s Tree
Flight To Lapd
Rain
Wallace
Memory
Mesa
Orphanage
Furnace
Someone Lived This
Joi
Pilot
Hijack
That’s Why We Believe
Her Eyes Were Green
Sea Wall
All the Best Memories Are Hers
Tears In The Rain
Blade Runner

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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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14 Comments

  1. Paul Abruzzo 6th October 2017

    Typical Zimmer garbage. That guy is a scourge on Hollywood. Really, he’s like the midas of shit – everything he touches turns to garbage.

    Would have been nice to hear this movie with a real soundtrack.

    Reply
  2. Misael 6th October 2017

    I really like how passionate you are about this score. But sadly, Zimmer had very little input in this particular score. From what I understand, he was brought into the project by Villeneuve, but because he was committed to his tour, he brought Wallfisch to compose the majority of it and you can tell that they had very little time to come up with something less generic. As it is, it’s a very pleasant mixture of Vangelis with the modern copycat sound you hear everywhere else. I like it but it hardly has an identity of its own.

    Reply
    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 6th October 2017

      Yes I did mention that Wallfisch was the true force for me, composer of the year overall. He worked more on this.

  3. ... 6th October 2017

    Paul, Zimmer worked on this with Wallfish for one night before he went on tour and then for 2 weeks when he was on brake so don’t come and say that Zimmer creates generic garbage or whatever phrase you used. This is basically a Wallfish score where Zimmer helped out when he wasn’t on tour. Hans even said the main theme and the score in general is mostly Wallfishs in a recent interview. Wallfish is also credited before Hans in the end credits of the movie.

    Reply
  4. J 6th October 2017

    Maybe the build up of hype was too much. I’ve given the soundtrack a listen and I just came away pretty underwhelmed. I almost feel betrayed in a sense. My excitement, like many others, began when I heard the first trailer music for the film. Now, I wasn’t expecting the trailer music to match the actual film music, but I was expecting my excitement for the film music to match or supersede my excitement over the trailer music. And I have to say that just hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it will work brilliantly with the film but dammit this soundtrack just sounds bland and unoriginal. I think the fans deserve something better.

    Reply
  5. Grant Burton 8th October 2017

    It should have had the theme from the original, but it did not, the soundtrack should have at least the trailer music… but it did not. I found Zimmer a great composer , but wrong for this movie, his inception, Dunkirk blasting of trumpets, and violins to a defining noise was not blade runner in my book, it did nothing to remind me this was blade runner, I thought I was watching Dunkirk again.

    I have to agree with others , I will be listening the original soundtrack for many more years, this one by zimmer, no! Its got small synth tip of the hats to the original in parts, but no coherence , no real theme, tears in rain is the only track to have any of that, as its a remix from the original.

    Anyone know where you can download the remix theme from the trailer ?

    Reply
  6. JL 8th October 2017

    This soundtrack ruins the film in my opinion. They should asked Vangelis to do it. The best part is the final music that was composed by Vangelis and is reused with some modern synths. All the emotion of the first film is lost in this version because of the poor soundtrack….

    Reply
  7. Chris 8th October 2017

    I did the opposite and saw the movie first. I think the new score works well with the images and big sound system at the cinema. As a stand-alone listen at home the soundtrack is not as captivating to me. My favorite is probably the 10 minute track “Blade Runner”, which brings together the best bits of the score. Will give Someone Lived This and Joi another listen based on your praise of those.

    Reply
  8. sakis 9th October 2017

    The problem of not enjoying this soundtrack is that most of you are expecting to listen to an OST as Vangelis Papathanasiou would have composed.
    This is NOT the case.Stop comparing the music to the soundtrack of 1982 and take it as it is.
    I think Its a great listening, created by some of the most talented composers out there.

    Reply
  9. Angelx 9th October 2017

    There are a lot of issues with this soundtrack…
    First of all, of course we are comparing to expecting the same, if the whole soundtrack using the same instrumental arsenal what Vangelis used. Except that as Vangelis COMPOSED an OST, this soundtrack is a template-scoring…
    The only good one is the tears in the rain… only problem, that it was composed by Vangelis :P.

    I would also question, why johann johannsson was dropped out from the project.
    The official announcemnet, that the director and him together decided to go to another direction seems a very lame explanation, as per johann johannsson was not let to comment, due to contract issues…

    Reply
  10. Iain Sinclair 11th October 2017

    I think the soundtrack works well for the movie but as other have stated it’s slightly underwhelming as an album (the vocal track “Almost Human” is awful and feels tacked on !). I received my download the morning before I saw the movie and found it too abstract although it does have some great moments, after seeing it alongside the movie its understandably why they went down this road.
    The other thing to consider when comparing this to the original soundtrack is that Vangelis’s Blade Runner album isn’t really a soundtrack album as we’d know today, he had 12 years to take what he’s created for the film and hone it into the beautiful thing it is, with voice-overs, unheard tracks and completed pieces that were only snippets in the movie, this is why it’s loved so much, not only is the music great but its feels like a proper album!

    Reply
  11. LonderJan 13th October 2017

    @sakis @lain, you described it perfectly. It works very well with the movie!

    Reply
  12. Alex Achim 1st November 2017

    Amazing from my point of view, i didnt say the 1982 version yet.,. Vanghelis is such a great composerm but this soundtrack totally captivated me 🙂

    Reply
  13. Scott Watrous 13th November 2017

    I have seen the original BR a few times over the years but being born in 88, I’ve never developed any sort of deep appreciation of the original score outside of recognizing it has quality moments, and builds good atmosphere for the film, but I’ve only listened to the original’s soundtrack completely through maybe but once. I recall few hooks that would take me back to that work outside of watching the film and of course recognizing Tears in the Rain. It’s not bad but today, having not grown up on it, I have no nostalgia for it in particular. But it is good. Just nothing I’ve spent a lot of time in.

    The new OST is engaging and I enjoy it. I enjoy the modern heavy rumble throughout, feeling the sound. I enjoy the motifs when they show up, I enjoy the intense moments when they pop in, and I certainly enjoy when it hits with a long, low drone or a warped, ripping spinner racing in the background. It’s almost oppressive.

    There are a lot of parts on the new one that drag, it’s not perfect no. But it’s great to put on when you want to feel the music, immerse into the world and feel the music. I would gladly take more of this.

    Reply

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