Rating: ***** out of *****
Hans Zimmer returns to man the musical helm for the third Pirates film, and finally produces music truly worthy of the franchise, rich with bombastic power and stirring themes. If anything, the music for At World’s End picks up and improves upon the already vastly improved music for Dead Man’s Chest.
The album gives us several new themes, including an oriental-sounding theme to signify the Asian pirates introduced in the film, which is heard most openly in “Singapore,” but also makes subdued appearances in other places in the later half of the score. A theme for the Pirate Brethren appears late in the score, beginning in the lackluster opening cue, “Hoist the Colors,” turning up in “The Brethren Court,” but finally bursting into full orchestral performance in “What Shall We Die For?”
The driving battle theme for the East India Trading Company from Dead Man’s Chest, oddly enough, dominates the “Singapore” cue, leaving the Asian pirate theme underepresented on album (though this would later be remedied in the extended fourth disc of the Pirates of the Caribbean Treasures Collection, which features the rest of the unreleased music from the crew’s time in Singapore). The East India theme also features in the extended action cue, “I Don’t Think Now is a Good Time.”
A motif for Calypso is developed in the aptly named “Calypso,” which is appropriately dark and foreboding as the furious goddess of the sea is released from human bondage and summons a hurricane to sink the lover that betrayed her. An additional jaunty jig-like cue is developed in “Up is Down,” which recurs in a number of cues, but mostly in the underscore or counterpoint. Zimmer utilized elements from it in the delightfully frantic counterpoint beneath the action music in the second half of “I Don’t Think Now is a Good Time,” and in more soaring strings under the final two cues.
But the thematic high point of the score is the central theme for At World’s End, which gets its first appearance in “At Wit’s End,” introduced first softly on mysterious strings for several minutes before bursting into dramatic statement by brass, strings and the rest of the orchestra, and then is referred to in sorrowful oboe and winds at the start of “I See Dead People in Boats.” The theme then shows up in its full power and glory at the album’s completion, in the final two cues, “One Day” and “Drink Up Me Hearties.” These final two performances are similar to one another, but theme is so good to listen too that, despite the already speaker-stressing music, you are tempted to crank the volume up even further. I would also caution against listening to much of anything on this score while driving in the car, as it will unconsciously necessitate driving at unsafe speeds to match the excitement of the music. The energy of these last two cues is infectious, and if you’re anything like me you will come back and listen to them repeatedly.
You will be in especially dangerous driving conditions if you attempt to listen to the massive, over-ten-minute-long action cue, “I Don’t Think This is a Good Time.” The cue opens with a furious restatement of the East India Trading Company theme, before settling into some stock Zimmer dramatic music, completely with heavy strings, deep brass, cutting cellos, drums, gongs, church bells, and masculine choir. Even though it is stock Zimmer and could have generally been taken from many of his previous scores, the power is such that I hardly minded. The music then settles into the primary “Pirates” theme for a lengthy and delightful sustained action sequence, complete with the Black Pearl theme as a counter variation. The themes trade back and forth with frentic energy until settling into one of Zimmer’s most proficient and enjoyably original action cues in many years, with syncopation between themes at the same time, the orchestra trading between the Will and Elizabeth love theme in the primary, with cutting strings below playing the “Up is Down” theme as counterpoint, before bursting into a dramatic string performance of the romantic theme as Will and Elizabeth kiss in slow motion, oblivious to the chaos around them. Then the music settles back into another nice statement of the franchise “Pirates” theme and concludes.
In “One Day,” Will and Elizabeth are allowed their one day ashore every ten years as the film proper comes to a close. The final cue, “Drink Up Me Hearties,” begins with an accordian statement of Jack’s theme, then slides into material alluding back to the “One Last Shot” cue from The Curse of the Black Pearl before bursting into the primary Pirates theme and transitioning from there to the “He’s a Pirate” cue as the end credits roll, a cue which builds nicely to a high emotional point, and then switches to the soaring At World’s End theme which, astonishingly, manages to push the sheer orchestral power even higher in one of the highlight cues of the album.
A very good end to a score franchise that has only improved. Sadly, the music to the fourth film would be such a shattered mess, especially as presented on album. But one cannot have everything, I suppose. Recommended.