Music composed by Hans Zimmer,
with Benjamin Wallfisch and Lorne Balfe
Rating: * [Not recommended]
Believe it or not, I don't enjoy writing such negative reviews as this one.
There seems to be a wide gap among film critics and film-goers about this film and score. Some think this soundtrack is brilliant because it is "different" with sound-scapes replacing anything like conventional melodic themes. Others don't like it much because it is not in the traditional film score tradition of say Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams. I'm in that last category since I have seen far better films about World War II with much better scores, like THE LONGEST DAY, PATTON, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, and ATONEMENT, which has an effective scene about Dunkirk with memorable music by Dario Marianelli. For that score, he deservedly received an Oscar for Best Score and also a Sammy Film Music Award.
Like other films directed by Christopher Nolan, who I believe is vastly overrated as a director, DUNKIRK has very little dramatic impact. It could have been told with more detail about the characters so we know more about them. Instead, we get snapshots focusing on three interlocking stories, which is developed in a way that doesn't make for a convincing storyline. The best aspects of the film are the impressive cinematography and special effects which bring the hell of World War II
into vivid re-creation, probably too much so.
Having watched this film in the ear-splitting IMAX version which my wife and I had the misfortune to attend, we were glad when it was over. Film critic Rex Reed correctly called the IMAX version "ghastly" and "a dangerous threat to the eardrums and renders the dialogue undecipherable." Then he adds: "DUNKIRK is definitely a movie that could benefit from subtitles." You might also benefit if you bring earplugs to save your hearing from the excessively loud soundtrack.
In addition to the extreme sound volume, there is the score which just drones on and on with repetitious sounds-capes that have little dramatic impact other than getting louder and softer in certain key places.
There are two others named for cues of this score: Benjamin Walfisch and Lorne Balfe. Balfe hooks up with Zimmer for "Regimental Brothers" (track 6). Nothing much there. Benjamin Wallfisch contributes "Variation 15 (Dunkirk)" which is track 10. It is the best cue and I assume that means one more variation than the great Sir Edward Elgar's "Enima Variations." It takes a lot of buildup to get to the brief quote of Sir Edward Elgar's heartbreakingly moving "Nimrod" (Variation IX), which is also quoted in the "End Titles."
I would much rather hear Elgar's original version which usually brings me to tears with its association of sadness and funerals. If you are one of those who have not heard this "Nimrod" masterpiece by Elgar, here is the original version on YouTube -- click here
Loud meandering sound-scapes and three-part story snapshots don't make for a very satisfying film experience.
I have enjoyed some of Hans Zimmer's past scores, like THE DA VINCI CODE and some parts of GLADIATOR. But this score is nowhere near those two or any of his other past film scores.
I'm always concerned when a soundtrack has more than one composer involved. In this case there are three, even though the other two don't have many cues on the soundtrack album. Why do they bother?
To use a baseball analogy -- the soundtrack has three music batters --
and all three strike out!
I can't recommend this DUNKIRK soundtrack.
I left the IMAX theater with a headache!
-- by Roger L. Hall
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