Rating: ** out of *****
Highly praised for the detail and realism of its rendering, Rango the film was generally well received, both by critics and audiences. I personally found the film odd, and was left feeling cold and indifferent about it. Hans Zimmer, on the other hand, has had a heavy plate for 2011, including both the fourth Pirates film and Kung Fu Panda 2. For Rango, his first offering of the year, Zimmer produced a score well designed to perfectly fit the zany and strange film. The score is a vastly stereotypical western/mexican sounding affair, and bears a sensibility similar to Zimmer’s own 2009 Sherlock Holmes in how this zany, slightly-off-kilter sound is to be created. This ends up being perfectly suited for the film, which relies for its humor on frequent parodies or subversions of the western film. The score manages to do this by relying upon its own parody and subversion of common film score conventions and themes.
The main Range theme, featured in its fullness in “Rango Suite,” a nearly six-minute tour through all the principle themes and ideas of the score. The theme bears a twanging, lurching similarity to the the Sherlock Holmes theme, but the theme’s progression is more reliant upon Jack Sparrow’s theme from the Pirate films. The Holmes feel to it can really be heard in later cues like “Name’s Rango.” The emergence of kazoos utilized as a major instrument in “It’s a Metaphor” recall the similar use by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell’s Chicken Run from a few years prior. The general feel of haunting solo trumpet over rumbling underscore, recalling Zimmer’s 90s classic Crimson Tide, appear in parodic fashion late in “It’s a Miracle.” Zimmer also riffs on classic Elmer Bernstein sensibilities in “We Ride, Really.” Ennio Morricone references are also a familiar part of the soundscape. References to Zimmer’s Broken Arrow also make frequent appearances, co-opted for use in a western in such cues as “Rango Returns,” and much of the action music alludes back to Zimmer’s Muppet Treasure Island. The theme presented via a whistling choir, as in “Rango Suite,” are reminiscent of Gregson-Williams and Powell’s Antz.
Beyond the references and allusions, the score is generally enjoyable and entertaining. However, the soundtrack release is much less than satisfactory and bears many of the same problems that his Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides release would a few months later. The album features a meager 35 minutes of music, spanning 20 tracks, which makes for a disjointed and jarring listening experience as every minute and a half we shift cues. Six cues are less than a minute in duration, and of those, two are about 20 seconds long, and another is 43 seconds long. Furthermore, the score is scattered between seven songs, leaving Zimmer’s music with only about 20 to perhaps 24 minutes of run time. Of this music that remains, six cues feature dialogue from the film mixed over top of the music.
I enjoyed the music in the film. I even enjoyed the music on the soundtrack. Not stellar, not his best of the year, or the decade, but solid, enjoyable music that keeps you engaged with while it is running. Unfortunately, with not enough music, spanning too many cues, with too many songs scattered about, and dialogue over the music, I can do little but give it a low rating. These are pathetic soundtrack releases offering little to nothing for the serious score collector. Mr. Zimmer, you can do better.