Score Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Hans Zimmer)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Hans Zimmer

Rating: **** out of *****

Hans Zimmer, prevented from taking credit for Curse of the Black Pearl, returns for Dead Man’s Chest in full force and rectifies many of the problems with the first score. Where Pearl was heavily synthesized and poorly mixed with little orchestration and sticking to repetitive statements of the main themes, Dead Man’s Chest proves itself a more subtle affair, with a fuller use of the orchestra and the electronics far better integrated. Obviously, with more time in which to work, Zimmer was able to produce a vastly superior score to the last, complete with more energy and creative, varied displays of the central themes. You will still find Zimmer’s familiar writing blazing through, but even when the music unleashes the full, masculine sound Zimmer is known for, there is an awareness of a smoother flow and feel to the music. Where the first film simply blared its themes at top volume, hitting you over the head repeatedly with them, Dead Man’s Chest weaves orchestration beneath the thematic material and gives the listener the breathing room of a little variety.

In fact, there is even evidence of development among the themes. The soundtrack opens with three cues that are essentially lengthy suites, each focused on a different character. We are treated to a waltz-like, bouncing variation of Jack Sparrow’s theme in the aptly named “Jack Sparrow,” which is better utilized to convey Jack’s staggering, meandering stride. This builds its way through the orchestra and finally reaching thunderous action power at the climax. The second cue, “The Kraken,” introduces us to the main thematic ideas for the great sea creature, which rumbles around in deeper regions of the bass sound than I thought possible. It too works its way through several varied statements before finally erupting in a massive action statement that comes from the scene when the Kraken destroys the first major ship, and peaks with an explosion of pipe organ and brass as the ship is destroyed by the Kraken’s might. Finally, the third cue, “Davy Jones,” introduces us to our main villain’s theme, a mournful, downwardly sinking theme that is equal parts sorrow and rage. This theme is stated first on the music box, which plays when Davy Jones opens his locket to recall his lost love, and then develops into a darker, less mournful and more enraged or bitter statement, delivered with gusto with a pipe organ leading the orchestra.

The fourth cue, “I’ve Got My Eye On You” is the cue that plays over the film’s opening. The cue’s title is a joking reference to the moment when a prisoner in a cage has his eye pecked out by a crow. Appropriately dark and menacing, coupled with Zimmer’s deep, male chorus, the cue breaks into a triumphant statement of Jack’s theme in the last third as he bursts out of a coffin and paddles back to the Black Pearl. This dark thematic material is reiterated later in “Tia Dalma,” and finds various other moments to return. “A Family Affair” returns us to the dark usage of the Davy Jones material, and also features the theme Zimmer developed to represent Will Turner and his father. This theme is also tragic and sorrowful, making the cue a doubly dark affair. “Wheel of Fortune” is an enjoyable and sustained action cue featuring our primary themes, and has more of the lighthearted feel of the first score’s action cues. From there the score takes a wild turn for the darker in the final two, very lengthy cues. “You Look Good Jack,” is mostly music from the fighting over Davy Jones’ heart, and features the harsher theme for the Flying Dutchman’s crew, which transitions into “Hello Beastie,” the album’s final cue, which runs a staggering 10 minutes in length, and is mostly comprised over interweavings of the darker themes, including Turner’s and Jones’ themes, coupled with the Kraken’s theme. Yet this is not really action music but shifts into more circumspectful music as Jack faces the giant squid that will devour him, one of the franchise’s most iconic visual moments. Unfortunately, Zimmer writes the whole ten minutes at about the same level of intensity, so the music can easily become blurred together. The second half of this cue shifts into fully mournful music as the rest of the crew suffers the tragedy of Jack’s death, and of his sacrifice, and finally ends by returning to the verge of a restatement of the main Pirates theme, but is cut short by the end of the cue. This is as it happens in film, as Barbosa descends the stairs of Tia Dalma’s hut and the film abruptly ends, but the end credits statement of the “He’s a Pirate” theme is not included on the album. This makes the ending feel like something of a letdown, arriving at the verge of the rousing Pirates theme, only to be left unsatisfied.

Zimmer also develops some hard percussion and throat chanting for the cannibalistic island natives in “Dinner is Served,” a cue that shifts into one of the strangest, comedic waltzes of Zimmer’s career as the pirates swing back and forth in their bone cages. More folk music is developed for “Two Hornpipes (Tortuga),” a period cue of fiddles and hornpipes that plays over the tavern riot when Jack makes berth in Tortuga, which is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of music, which both meshes well in the film and is satisfying to listen to on its own.

Though of a generally darker tone than Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest is also a livelier and more fully developed score that is satisfying and enjoyable.

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