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Oscar Watch: Hans Zimmer Talks Inception Score

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 10, 2010 at 9:19AM

Christopher Nolan's Inception, which has crossed the $800-million mark worldwide, certainly will be one of this year's ten best picture Oscar nominees. Warner Bros. will bring the movie back into the public eye when it promos the DVD release in early December. One key contributor to the film's success is composer Hans Zimmer, who has been consistently strong of late (Sherlock Holmes marked his seventh Oscar nomination; he won for The Lion King). Released on iTunes July 9, the Inception soundtrack was a top ten bestseller.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Christopher Nolan's Inception, which has crossed the $800-million mark worldwide, certainly will be one of this year's ten best picture Oscar nominees. Warner Bros. will bring the movie back into the public eye when it promos the DVD release in early December. One key contributor to the film's success is composer Hans Zimmer, who has been consistently strong of late (Sherlock Holmes marked his seventh Oscar nomination; he won for The Lion King). Released on iTunes July 9, the Inception soundtrack was a top ten bestseller.

Many folks take Zimmer for granted as a big-studio mainstream composer, but the German musician is worth a closer listen. Last year he took me on a tour of his sprawling Santa Monica recording studio, which is home to other musicians and collaborators. Even though Zimmer was a tad more pressured for time, we recently sat down again for a flip cam chat (below) about his layered, lush Inception score. The music helps to pull the viewer through the movie's maze, providing signposts of meaning.

We talked, among other things, about Zimmer's slowed-down use of the Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" and his anxiety attack before a rare act of public bravado when he and guitarist Johnny Marr performed live with a 26-piece orchestra at the Inception premiere after-party. "It became more and more of an electronic score," he says. "Just like Chris was inventing the world, I was inventing the sounds for it...We needed to offset the intellectual conceits with an emotional throughline."

Part One: Anxious about the live concert, coming up with surprises for the DVD, working on James Brooks' How Do You Know.

Part Two: The technology of slowing down the Edith Piaf song.

Part Three: Translating the electronic score into an orchestral one; on being compared to Bernard Herrmann and described as "minimalist."

Part Four: Oscar eligibility issues.

The slowed down Je Ne Regrette Rien:

This article is related to: Awards, Franchises, Genres, Video, Production , Oscars, Inception, Action, Interviews , Sound and Score


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.