Rating: *** out of *****
This score has become something of a superstar in the time since the film was released in 2003, and there is ample reason for such adoration. With fresh, swashbuckling themes in vintage Hans Zimmer style, the music was bound to garner a following. Klaus Badelt, the composer credited with writing the score, has proven himself one of the better disciples of Zimmer’s sound.
There is, however, quite a history to this score. Director Gore Verbinski had originally hired veteran film composer Alan Silvestri, to write the music to the film, but due to creative differences, Silvestri was fired late in the game, and Hans Zimmer himself hired. Unfortunately, Zimmer was under contractual obligation by another studio and could not, therefore, take lead credit for the score. This credit was given to Klaus Badelt then, despite the fact that most of the themes and motifs seem to have originated with Zimmer himself.
Because of the timing and the contractual problems, the Pirates film was in dangerous need of a score, and fast. So Zimmer and his cohorts set to work, hammering out a score in a a few weeks to months. Because of this, the music here in Pearl is not as good as the music Zimmer would achieve for the two sequels. It comes as a surprise to a lot of people, but Zimmer actually combines an orchestra and synthesized instruments in his scores, but mixes the base in over top of everything else to create his “sound,” and the result is the sheer wall of testosterone you find barreling out at you from your speakers. Due to the rushed nature of the production, Zimmer and Badelt could not write as much of the music for orchestra as they had wanted, and were forced to compensate for this by completing the score and filling in the orchestrations with completely synthesized filler, in many instances layering these right over top of the orchestral music. As a result, the score sounds vastly more synthesized than it would have been with more time involved in the project. Thus, cues like “Blood Ritual” end up sounding entirely synthesized, the instruments more squeaky, the snare drum feeling more plastic.
The over-synthesized nature of the music also results in an exaggerated barrage of harsh music as the electronics “grate” on one another. The orchestra hits, all electronic, are highly artificial sounding, and can tend towards giving the listener a headache if played for higher volumes, as exemplified by cues like “Swords Crossed” and “To the Pirates’ Cave!” In point of fact, the only extended moments of entirely orchestral music appears in parts of “Moonlight Serenade” and “Walk the Plank.”
This is not to say that the music is not enjoyable, just that in its current form, given the hurried nature of its composition, it is lacking a certain fullness and depth of orchestration necessary to bring it to its full potential. Apart from the mind-numbing portions (ala the second half of “The Black Pearl”) that rely on little more than electronic orchestral bangs and screeching electric guitars, it has some truly great moments. “Barbosa is Hungry” is a fantastic cue, one that I have returned to. There is a lot of charm in the soaring “One Last Shot” cue that serves as the finale of the film, and, of course, “He’s a Pirate,” the now-well known Pirates of the Caribbean theme that plays over the end credits of all the films. “Will and Elizabeth” feature the (generally) unmemorable love theme, but also features a marvelous rendition of Jack Sparrow’s theme, as he comes to dock in Port Royal in a sinking vessel.
The vast majority of the score, however, comes from the final confrontation at the end of the film, spanning seven of the middle and end cues on the soundtrack, and the real oddity here is that little seems to have been done to rearrange to music in a more satisfactory listening experience. Instead, we seem to get the music exactly as it appears in the film. Ordinarily this would not be a problem, but in the film’s climactic battle, the film cuts around to so many different characters that the music is obligated to jump around just as madly, which makes for a chaotic listening experience. One that is also frequently frustrating, because seemingly just as the score settles into a good action riff, it must jump away to a completely different mood and setting, and so you find yourself lurched about a bit. In such an instance, I could have supported editing some suites together to better mesh the music into a cohesive whole.
The bottom line is that this score was wracked with problems from the very beginning, and suffers unduly from a bad mix of orchestral and electronic instruments, and from an inconsistent listening experience. However, the sheer exuberance of the central themes cannot fail to shine through even these downsides and manages to make the music, on the whole, enjoyable.