I listen to this all the time. Not a week goes by that I don’t listen to the first two discs, which comprise the entire score by Hans Zimmer as originally recorded in Autumn/Winter 1998, following two years of collaboration between himself and director Terrence Malick. Entire films can be written, shot and released in the time it takes Malick to edit a film, constantly reworking scenes and often editing, completing and then re-editing them with alternate music- TRL was no different, and when it finally got released, Malick would of course have further tinkered with the score, returning to classical choices he perhaps always favoured (something that no doubt irritated his composers before and after) and thus relegating much of Zimmer’s score to the cutting room floor (or Avid dustbin, however that all works in this digital age).
That The Thin Red Line was one of Zimmer’s finest efforts is nothing new- it was always a major part of the success of this haunting and magical film. However it is clear from this remastered edition, in which the original intended score is presented across the first two discs that this score is truly remarkable and more special than even its fans possibly expected (as the late Nick Redman comments in the liner notes, a two and a half hour program that is almost two-thirds unreleased). Some of it is familiar from the film but omitted from the original soundtrack album release, and some of it is totally new, cut from the film and never heard before. As a whole piece of music, it is in my mind clearly Zimmer’s masterpiece, his finest work. Richly lyrical, emotive, deeply soulful, mystical even. I have found myself listening to it as a musical work all its own, completely independent of the film it was written for.
I keep coming back to it. Its almost an ambient thing, something of a mood. Themes are woven throughout, returned to, dismissed, then later reprised. In this respect it is fairly routine of Zimmer’s work, in which he often populates a score with one or two admittedly fine themes and then constantly reworks them, remixes them throughout the whole, but goodness me, those themes he came up with for The Thin Red Line are quite extraordinary. I am constantly reminded of Matt Irvine’s record reviews column in Starburst magazine, particularly his review of Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, in which he commented that the music was so strong as a narrative whole that it seemed akin to a modern symphony, a classical work in its own right. Irvine was absolutely spot-on and I do think the same could be said of this score too.
The score functions in a similar way to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, in which it is mostly about mood and atmospherics, its music that you feel rather than even hear, sometimes. There are themes and leitmotifs just as in any score but they are almost secondary to the whole. One of the most iconic pieces of film music of modern scoring is the Journey to the Line track (as it was titled on the original OST album) which features here in an extended form with a different title- indeed this music is so popular and has been reused in so many trailers and temp tracks that it has become the bane of modern composers. Its interesting that in this complete score it turns up so often in so many different (sometimes subtly so) forms; woven throughout it forms the backbone of the score. Tellingly, it features in Nature Montage, the very opening of the score and a piece of music (some five minutes long) largely replaced in the actual movie. Its a lovely mood-setting piece, evocative of Witt’s dreamy, questioning narration (“What is this war at the heart of nature?”), the warlike, almost drone-like Journey to the Line theme falls to a lovely, soulful piece (Witts theme, really) that sets up the tensions of the film and the score as a whole. Its a genius piece to introduce the score and film and much of it all-new to our ears.
As we suffer the decline and near the end of physical disc formats and likely with it, such perfectly curated score expansions such as this, it feels all the more special that we somehow got this expanded and remastered edition of this score. It isn’t cheap, mind, and has come under some criticism. The new material is spread over the first two discs of a four-disc set, the third disc being a remastered edition of the original soundtrack album, and a fourth disc of Melanesian choir music- religious chants partially featured as source music in sections of the film. The inclusion of the original soundtrack is certainly well-warranted. It features music not used in the film, some music used in the film but not sourced from the original score, and edited suites unique to itself. While it is in truth the original album we fans loved for years, it actually feels like a standard third disc of alternates etc that an ordinary expansion such as this might contain. Whenever I listen to it now, that’s what it feels like. A collection of alternates and replacements to the score heard on the first two discs. The inclusion of the fourth disc is partially redundant -little of it was used in the film- but it was a major part of the films identity, and I believe Zimmer insisted on its inclusion, so who’s to argue? If nothing else, it makes the whole thing feel complete.
As far as soundtracks go, this is surely the release of the year, and having owned it a few months now, I often see it on my CD shelf and have a ‘pinch me’ moment of surreal disbelief. Its rather like La la Land’s own 3-disc set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Intrada’s 3-disc Conan the Barbarian– these are wonderful scores, some of my very favourites, and we have them in luxurious complete (or as near dammit) editions after waiting for years. Indeed, I would truly thought such releases were impossible, years ago. Just as films appeared in the cinema and then disappeared for years until eventually surfacing on television, so soundtrack albums were simple vinyl albums that came out during a films initial release and then quickly became OOP, relegated to second-hand speciality stores years later. We are very fortunate indeed now.