“Sherlock Holmes” Score Review

I’ll just get this out of the way, then move on: Sherlock Holmes is not a very good film.  It’s not a bad film by any stretch, but it’s also not a good one.  I never really found myself caring for the characters, or very intrigued by the central mystery, and just in general found most of the film somewhat boring.  But one thing that did standout from the mediocrity of most of the film was Hans Zimmer’s score.

The score was released on iTunes back on Dec. 22, prior to the film’s release, and having listened to it a few times I went ahead and put it among the five best scores of 2009, and now having seen the film, I stand by that assessment.  If anything, the score is one of the few bright spots of the film (along with costuming, set design, and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance – though even his scene chewing couldn’t save a poor script).

Primairly, what Zimmer’s score is is fun – it’s kooky, off-kilter, and kind of strange.  Holmes’ theme uses a broken and out of tune piano that sounds like the bastard child of a honky-tonk piano and a hammered dulcimer.  Also featured are a fiddle (of course), banjo, and accordian, which gives the whole score a slightly carnival atomosphere.  The off-beat accents and instrumentation of Holmes theme made me think of some of Danny Elfman’s scores for Tim Burton – I’m looking at you Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.  But Zimmer does add his distinctive flavor and sound to the score.

Supposdly the film was temped with Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score for The Dark Knight, and there are a few elements that seem to have made their way to the final score, notably a low cello/bass growl in a few cues off the album.  Those few moments besides, Zimmer has crafted a very unique sound that blends effortlessly these two sides of the score – the kooky Holmes theme and the darker orchestral sound.

And maybe that is reflective of part of the problem with the film, it doesn’t know what it wants to be – action film or a character study of Holmes.  Had the script toned down the action set pieces and focused more on the characters of Holmes and those around him, the film could have been much better, and certaintly the actors were in place to do it.

But back to the score itself, one thing that dissapointed me in viewing the film is that it seemed like the score was a bit buried in the final mix.  On the album, there are some huge orchestral hits and bass punches that I kept expecting to hear but never did.  A good example is the opening track on the album, “Discombobulate.”  It packs some serious punch on the album, but never comes alive in the film, not even when the theme is presented in the closing credits.

The most effective musical moment of the film was when Holmes was attempting to escape from the exploding warehouse and the sound mix drops out, the film goes slow motion, and we get to hear Zimmer’s score.  It’s a tired Hollywood moment, but Zimmer’s tender string writing here is quite good and works well.

It’s always hard to try and line  up an album with a film on only one viewing, but one of the strange things on the album that demands closer viewings of the film is the penultimate track.  Labeled “Psychological Recovery…6 Months,” it’s an 18 minutes suite of music that seems to be taken from multiple moments of the film, but I’m not quite sure of this.  It could be that there is an 18 minute stretch in the film with constant musical underscoring, but I don’t remember it.  One thing that slightly annoys me about the track labeling for the album is that the quotes that the titles are taken from don’t seem to line with the musical cue it is assigned to – this is something also present on the CD release of The Dark Knight.  It just makes the job of your humble reviewer that much more difficult.

Regardless, though, I found the score to be enjoyable and did suceed in bringing various aspects of the film out, but even a good score by Zimmer couldn’t save the film from being anything other than what it was…strictly middle of the road.

2 thoughts on ““Sherlock Holmes” Score Review

  1. I found the movie more enjoyable than you did, although I take all your criticisms as valid. More annoying even than the script was Ritchie’s direction, which I found too constantly hectic and mannered. Let the thing breathe once in a while, dammit. There was quite a nice chemistry between Downey and Law, and Zimmer’s score surprised me with its subtlety. I would have liked to have heard Holmes do something with the violin besides his occasional plinking, and I think that could have made for some nice diegetic/nondiegetic interplay. In the original stories he was a very good violinist.

  2. I agree that there was some good musical material to be mined with Holmes and the violin. It bugged me quite a bit that all he did was plunk at it (and the whole scene with chromatic scale vs. atonal clusters…seriously, what the?). I think he actually used a bow once, but it was for a split second and was barely more than scratching. I also agree that Downey and Law had some good chemistry, but for as much as people making of the homoerotic undertones to the relationship between Holmes and Watson, I didn’t see all that much there.

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