To say that the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise has been a huge success would be an understatement. In 2003, when the first film hit the theaters, it became a massive success and basically a cultural phenomenon. Everything just fell into place and producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his director of choice Gore Verbinski had struck gold. I guess the time was just right and they made this genre popular again. Yet, on paper, this was a risk indeed, since several years earlier, the film Cutthroat Island bombed at the box office and contributed to the downfall of Carolco Pictures. Despite massive success at the box office, the quality of the films certainly is debatable. In my book, only the first film was really great and extremely enjoyable. The sequels just did not live up to the quality of the original.
Yet, not only the films became huge hits, but the music as well. At first Alan Silvestri, one of Hollywood’s most popular and best composers, was attached to the project, since he had worked with the director before on a film called MouseHunt. However, in the end things did not quite work out and Silvestri was replaced. Hence, time was indeed a factor and the pressure was on right away. Reportedly, a new score had to be written and recorded within five weeks. Certainly not an easy task and hence a team of composers had to work around the clock to meet the deadline. At this time, Hans Zimmer had a contractual obligation with Warner Brothers to write the music for The Last Samurai and therefore he had recommended Klaus Badelt for the project and Hans Zimmer was credited as the score producer. However, later on we learned that it was actually Mr. Zimmer who wrote most of the principal themes and that he had a huge influence in the writing process of the score. Due to huge time constraints, several people had to work on the score. Steve Jablonsky, Ramin Djawadi, Nick Glennie-Smith and a few others had to pitch in to get things done and they did succeed in the end. The score of the first picture remains one of my all time favorites. Yet, not everybody was happy with the final result and several critics disliked the approach the team had taken. Be that as it may, fans around the globe simply love this score. For the sequels, Hans Zimmer received an official credit as the lead composer and he created massive scores. The music for Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, as heard in the film, is simply amazing. Musically speaking, the fourth installment was a bit of a letdown. Furthermore, Gore Verbinski did not return to direct and Rob Marshall was hired instead. Despite some good new ideas, I have always felt that this score was a bit of a “mess”. Reportedly, Disney just wanted to use the material which had been written beforehand and Hans Zimmer did not have much leeway on the project.
This might also have been the reason why Hans did not return for the latest part of the franchise. Geoff Zanelli was now given the chance to write the score. Having Mr. Zanelli on board certainly is a good thing, since he had contributed additional music and arrangements on all previous films and hence it was a rather logical decision to go with someone, who is not only really talented, but someone who is familiar with the requirements of a Jerry Bruckheimer production.
Was Geoff Zanelli the right choice? Yes, he indeed was. The composer really kept the pirates sound alive. He used music which existed previously and added his own new material, orchestral colors and themes. When you listen to the first piece of music “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, it becomes pretty obvious that Mr. Zanelli had worked on all four movies before. It is a nice piece of music which kind of reminds me of the theme created for Tia Dalma, which was introduced in the second film. The next cue “Salazar” contains one of the new key themes and I must say it is really catchy, poignant and addictive. It is reprised several times throughout the score in different variations. Furthermore, I must point out that Zanelli really understood how to blend the old themes with his new material. The approach he took is largely orchestral. “No Woman Has Ever Handled My Herschel” is one of the first action cues in which the pace really picks up. Here the composer once more shows his ability to create powerful themes combined with a soft string part. This score is not just comprised of trite percussive material and endless ostinati. The orchestral force is big and he uses the instruments well. A full orchestra, sometimes combined with the Metro Voices Choir, really turned this into a fun and exciting musical ride.
“The Devil’s Triangle” sees another very interesting statement of the “Salazar Theme” with a powerful choir performance. Despite the new material which has been written, “Kill The Filthy Pirate, I’ll Wait”, contains the “Jack Sparrow Theme” and Zanelli, also quite cleverly, incorporates material which had been written for At World’s End. Another theme used in At World’s End, “What Shall We Die For”, is beautifully and powerfully reprised in the short, yet big piece “The Dying Gull”. So far, this score was pretty good with some impressive parts. Yet, once we reach “El Matador Del Mar”, Geoff Zanelli brings in the big guns. As of this point, the score becomes really huge and exciting. It is also very interesting to see how well he used the “Jack Sparrow Theme” and intertwines it with the “Salazar Theme”. This cue has a great build up and the choir adds even more depth and emotion. This piece stands as the longest and possibly the best track so far. In “Kill The Sparrow”, Zanelli continued to impress me with his terrific action writing. This is the composer at his very best. “The Brightest Star In The North” is one of the top five cues of this album. It is basically one of the very few tracks, in which you get to hear more sensitive musical moments. After the first minute, this track turns into the most emotional one of the album. The opening bars and the percussion of “The Butcher’s Bill” are strongly reminiscent of the cue called “Singapore” from At World’s End.
Zanelli keeps the action and excitement going. “Treasure” sees a big statement of one of the new principal themes. For this cue, Zanelli used one of the biggest and best parts that were written for At World’s End. “I Don’t Think Now Is The Best Time” was one of the standout moments from that score and Zanelli impressively used sections of this piece.
All in all, I must say that this is a really strong effort. Fans of the previous scores will definitely get their money’s worth here. With a running time of 71 minutes, this marks the longest of all five albums. I think this release is well structured. The music never really feels dull or bland. There are barely any “filler cues”. Even the biggest musical moments never sound over the top or overbearing. Finding a way to blend the great themes introduced before with your own material, must have been quite a challenge. “My Name Is Barbossa” might just be the best example to show how good a job he did to get it right. The phenomenal “Love Theme” Hans Zimmer had written for At World’s End was beautifully incorporated into this piece. Here, Zanelli managed to create a big musical climax and I don’t think any fan will be disappointed. In terms of pure musical quality, I feel that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were the strongest efforts. Yet, this album has a lot to offer. For those that, by this point, are tired of bland and uninspired adventure and action scores, you can be assured that this score is quite the opposite.