Gladiator is another outstanding film score by Hans Zimmer. As a whole it doesn't move me as much as his unforgettable scores to Lion King and Prince of Egypt, nor are its themes quite as memorable as those for early efforts Crimson Tide and The Rock. However the score fits the film Gladiator like a glove (or gauntlet, if you will), with every instant heightening the drama of the corresponding scene. The fact that the film is such a grim-natured piece of narrative may be the reason the score doesn't reach out and grab the listener immediately.
As seems to be the trend lately, Zimmer shares scoring duties for the project with one of his cohorts, in this case mainly Lisa Gerrard. The majority of tracks are completely or at least partially scored by Zimmer, and I noticed no clear separations in the styles of the tracks due to composer. In fact, some of the tracks with different scoring assignments actually blend right into each other.
The quality of the score is apparent from the very beginning. The first three tracks, a progression of moody, somber music leading to "The Battle", are superbly scored in every way, but you don't gain full appreciation until they've grow on you after repeated listens. As "The Battle" plays I consistently find my body moving and tensing to the rising and falling instrumentation. What's great about this track is its persistence - it doesn't get as blatantly frantic as other battle music can, yet it never lets up and always has a feeling of very strong tension. A few different motifs at work weave amongst each other, memorable but not excessively melodic. What's really interesting is the almost carnival-like melodic structure just faintly present in this track, which starkly contrasts the brash, danger-filled instrumentals and main mood, and taken as a whole is a remarkably effective musical depiction of the melee-like, absurdly violent nature of the battle. Almost equally remarkable is the follow-up track "Earth", which with a slow medieval tempo and well-placed trumpet solo forms an absolutely perfect moody, somber resolution to the intense battle music.
Surprisingly action music as in "The Battle" is not pervasive to the CD. For instance, as well done as the action music in "The Might of Rome" may be, with its thick mood of subtle tension, the track is just as notable for what follows - a strong feeling of spiritual enlightenment brought forth in heavily medieval fashion, conjuring images of the religious temples and statuary of the film's historical setting. The styles of both segments are not at all what I'm accustomed to hearing from Zimmer and show his capacity for diversity.
Given the nature of the film, there are rarely if ever any moments of unabashed triumph, splendor, or romance. The music is almost always either desolate, gloomy, or at least somber. As could be guessed, "Patricide" takes these feelings to the max with its frightfully effective use of high-pitched and low-pitched strings. Tracks like "To Zucchabar" and "The Emperor is Dead" usher feelings of solitude and spiritual desolation with their use of choral effects, a Zimmer staple, and such medieval elements as lute instrumentation, which is a first in my own experience of his music. Middle Eastern instrumentation is interspersed throughout, most noticeably in the solo, non-lyrical vocals which add even more mood.
Only occasionally are respites given from the stark majority. "Strength and Honor", although simple and subdued in its composition and orchestral instrumentation, is in those very ways powerful, with an almost new-age-like spirituality. Also powerful is the finale of tracks, beginning with "Elysium", in which the female vocalist (Gerrard herself) bookends the score with a sad and reverent dignity.
The score to Gladiator is anything but cheery, but the combination of feverish battle music with somber respites makes for a powerful listening experience.