Music to his ears: Hollywood finally acknowledges the film industry’s premier composer

Hans Zimmer celebrates his untelevised Oscar win for Dune, robed up in Amsterdam.
Hans Zimmer claimed his second Academy Award after a 20-year drought. But despite the snubs, imitation is the best form of flattery for the composer. Angus Delaney reports.

After being passed over by the Academy for more than 20 years, composer Hans Zimmer received his second Oscar for Best Original Score for his music for Dune.

The Lion King (1996) was his only previous win.

During those two decades, Zimmer received 11 nominations for Best Original Score, as well as several snubs for his work on Interstellar, Gladiator and Inception.

Despite the lack of awards, Zimmer’s influence on modern film music is profound.

Dr Gregory Camp, a lecturer in music at The University of Auckland says there are shades of Zimmer in almost every current big budget Hollywood movie.

“They’re in his style, a combination of electronic and live instruments and a style that is very particular,” says Camp.

“It’s very rhythmic, as opposed to being melodic or with a lot of active chord progressions … the scores often sit beneath dialogue.”

To listen to the full interview with Gregory Camp, tune into The Standard’s Current Affairs podcast The Wind Down.

Zimmer’s rebranding of film music has come a result of his experimentation, evident in his use of a church organ in Interstellar or 16 trombones for Inception.

 “He is very adventurous in his choice of sonority,” says Camp.

Zimmer also makes use of strange and exotic instruments, including Persian bagpipes, foreign flutes and the Duduk, an Armenian instrument that demonstrates perfectly how composers have copy-catted Zimmer.

“[The Duduk] has already almost become a cliché of film scoring,” says Camp. “He used it in Gladiator in 2000 and that put it on the map.” 

“Even John Williams has used it.”

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Camp says John Williams, the mastermind behind scores for Harry Potter, Star Wars and Schindler’s List, was the person aspiring composers tried to sound like, but it’s now changed to Zimmer.

“People who wanted to make it in the field wrote in [Williams’] style… these days they write in Zimmer’s style.”

The combination of Zimmer’s willingness to experiment, use obscure instruments and blend the traditional and technohave helped make him the most prominent composer in Hollywood.

Despite this, Camp thinks Zimmer has plenty of time left in the game.

“I think he’ll go on for a while… he’s got another couple of decades.”