CD: Broken Arrow (1996)

May 4, 2011 | By

Return toHome Soundtrack  Reviews / B


Rating: Excellent

Label: La-La Land Records/ Released: February 15, 2011

Tracks & Album Length: CD 1: 13 tracks / (55:18) — CD 2: 10 tracks / (60:38)


Special Notes: 20-page colour booklet with liner notes by Al Kaplan / Limited to 3000 copies.


Composer: Hans Zimmer




The pairing of director John Woo with Speed writer Graham Yost produced a guilty pleasure rather than an action classic, here filled with the visual, verbal and performance bombast that’s either endemic or a highpoint of loud nineties action films.

Woo’s style mandated an ongoing stream of melodrama, with big sounds in music and effects, and musical themes leadened with sincere gravitas that on occasion were conceived as deliberately tongue-in-cheek.

Hans Zimmer’s career during the nineties often had the composer scoring 5-7 projects in one year (hence the frequent claims by his critics that he was more of a ringleader of soundalike composers rather than a singular creative voice).

Even if the score is drenched in the crashing bass booms that immediately identify a Zimmer score (composed solely or in part), Broken Arrow is influential for being the prototypical nineties action score, and the compositional style all producers and studios wanted slapped onto their summer tent pole pictures.

Zimmer’s music was rarely applied to small dramatic works during this period. His ability to draw and heighten heroism with grand orchestral strokes remains untouchable, as well as his pioneering work in creating a perfect orchestral-electronic hybrid which impressed blockbuster producers as well as Woo, whose images needed broad dramatic musical strokes.

In Broken Arrow, the story of a rogue going after missiles provided the perfect musical contrast: an evil, arrogant, self-amused villain, and his younger do-good opponent, backed by a spunky female national parks ranger.

The score is filled with synth chorals to enhance moments of desperation (“Going to War”), atmospheric drones and rippling percussion for prolonged moments of suspense (“The Search / Broken Arrow” or the pounding tempo in “Humvee Chase), and giddy energy using simple devices such as a percolating cluster of notes on banjo (“Desert Dawn”).

Moreover, the composer made use of guitarist Duane Eddy’s guitar licks in the score’s highpoint theme for the once-brotherly relationship that existed between the two opposing men, a theme that proved so popular it not only became part of the Scream 2 temp track used by that film’s editors, but was mixed into the film and became Officer Dewey’s theme.

La-La Land’s 2-disc set presents the score in a deluxe edition with unedited and used cues, album and film versions, plus every incarnation of “Fire in a Brooklyn Theater,” the famous piece composed by Randy Edelman for Come See the Paradise (1990) which became the de facto climactic music in many action film trailers that decade.

Zimmer’s score is filled with contemporary sounds, classical allusions, and rock-heavy beats, all tailor-made for Woo’s dramatic template where former great friends or men cut from the same cloths take different paths and become dangerous foes, wreaking havoc before good triumphs after a prolonged bloodbath.

For Woo, the score also contained the core bombastic elements for Mission: Impossible II (2000), one of the director’s worst films, and Face/Off (1997), scored by then-newcomer John Powell in a heavy emulation of all things loud and Zimmerlisch before Powell reasserted himself in the Bourne franchise.

Zimmer didn’t really become trapped with this sound because he used subsequent action films to train younger composers, but his dilemma was being in demand for same-sounding scores, many of which sound like music by one amorphous group of Zimmer soundalikes .

This 2-disc set also features additional cues by Harry Gregson-Williams and Don Harper, but unlike The Rock (1996) rubbish like Chill Factor (1999), Broken Arrow represents the apex of Zimmer’s action writing, and perhaps music written for Woo during his uneven period in the U.S. (Hard Target, scored by Graeme Revell, is more of a swampy man-to man combat drama, and remains the lone exception.)

There still is much to admire in the craftsmanship of such iconic bombast, and while the score may have several unintentionally amusing moments, it’s an important score in the evolution of action film scoring.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography


Return toHome Soundtrack Reviews B


Category: Soundtrack Reviews

Comments are closed.