Score Of The Replicants: What Is It With Ridley Scott And Composers?

Recent news of composer Jóhann Jóhannsson being removed from Blade Runner 2049 soundtracking duties has surprised some, but as Charlie Brigden points out below, Producer Ridley Scott has previous when it comes to odd decisions around the musical talent.

It’s not unusual for a composer to be replaced on a film, even at a late point in the production. Last December had a prominent example, with Michael Giacchino replacing Alexandre Desplat on Star Wars spin-off Rogue One, and it’s happened again now with Denis Villeneuve’s highly-anticipated Blade Runner 2049, which has swapped the music of Jóhann Jóhannsson for that of Hans Zimmer with less than a month to go until release. While this may be a shock and a surprise to some, especially as it was previously announced in June that Zimmer was working with Jóhannsson and his music, it won’t be to those who note the name in the credits of a repeat offender when it comes to tinkering with movie music: Executive producer Ridley Scott.

His rap sheet includes some impressive projects, mostly involving his own directorial exploits. The scoring of 1979’s Alien has been documented previously, with the replacement of Jerry Goldsmith’s score with both an earlier score of Goldsmith’s (Freud) and classical music in the guise of Howard Hanson. Goldsmith had another run-in with the director in 1985 upon scoring the Tom Cruise fantasy Legend. This time Scott jettisoned the veteran composer’s score entirely in favour of a new age score by the German electronic outfit Tangerine Dream. More recent examples include 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven, which included music from Hannibal and The 13th Warrior, with the former by Patrick Cassidy and Hans Zimmer and the latter by Jerry Goldsmith, and Alien: Covenant, which had a score credited to Jed Kurzel but was constructed around Goldsmith’s primary motifs for the original Alien.

But to understand Scott’s method is to understand his motives. Ridley is known as a director very much in control of what he wants from his films and was inspired by editor Terry Rawlings in his method of not only creating a temp track, but also going by a sense of mood – many of his films have a certain atmosphere about them which makes them intently a Ridley Scott picture, and one of the stamps that makes his movies identifiably his. But the crux is that this means any composer has to match what is in Ridley’s head, a potentially difficult obstacle in any circumstance but also one that requires a composer agreeable to the temp track process, which to some composers is tantamount to questioning their talent. Thus you see Scott’s films scored by composers such as Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson-Williams, who can produce perfectly functional scores but rarely produce anything out of the ordinary.

Of course, Ridley is also known for his long relationship with Hans Zimmer, which cycles back to the current situation with Blade Runner 2049. Their relationship has been going since 1989 and Black Rain, arguably Zimmer’s best score, and continued with successes such as Thelma & Louise and Gladiator until the mid-00’s, giving way to Gregson-Williams and Streitenfeld, both of whom came through the ranks at Zimmer’s school or factory (depending on what your opinion of it is) Remote Control Productions. Interestingly, Zimmer’s arrival in L.A. circa 2049 has also interrupted another director-composer relationship, that of Villeneuve and Jóhannsson, having worked together on Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival.

But one thing about Blade Runner 2049 is that it has a fair amount riding on it. Not only commercially – Warners have been pushing it big and Scott may have been wounded by the underperformance of Alien: Covenant – but also as a follow up to what is still seen as Ridley’s definitive film, and that which still has a unique and beloved soundscape due to the work of famed Greek composer Vangelis, whose themes from the original 1982 Blade Runner have been dominant in the sequel’s trailers. The original announcement with Zimmer had him working with the music of Jóhannsson alongside another of his proteges, Benjamin Wallfisch. Wallfish was responsible for some of the music in Zimmer’s Dunkirk score and is currently riding high with the success of It at the box office, and is a fine composer who has shown the potential to be a greater than his mentor. But there is no doubt that the loss of Jóhannsson’s voice is a big deal in a film which many hope can transcend the usual sequel tropes and have its own voice and identity, especially standing on the shoulders of one so strong.

This is a gamble. On one hand, Zimmer has created some wonderful scores and his previous collaborations with Scott have proved fruitful, and may be improved even more by the voice of Wallfisch. On the other, Zimmer can often disappear into the generic tones his underlings are often known for, and the last thing you want in a prominent intelligent science fiction picture is the grey mush of the "Remote Control sound" that pervades thrillers and action pics. For a film based around man’s reliance on machines to do all his work for him, a sense of identity and humanity is going to be the key element. Nothing artificial will do.

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