In that golden age, Formula 1 ruled the European raceways. Ron Howard's latest film, Rush, explores that 1970's racing culture and tells one of its most harrowing stories, that of the relationship between Formula 1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. It was one of the sport's great rivalries: the dashing, English playboy against the methodical, brilliant Austrian. Exploring in particular depth the culmination of that rivalry at the 1976 World Championship following Niki Lauda's infamous, catastrophic crash, Howard returns to the screen with a sleek, exciting and engaging film that's sure to garner significant Oscar consideration.
Having scored all of Ron Howard's films since The Da Vinci Code, it's no surprise that Hans Zimmer is back in the driver's seat for this one. He's had a prolific year thus far, creating the controversial new sound for the Man of Steel and helming the so-so Disney flop The Lone Ranger, and he'll finish it off with another assured Oscar lock, Steve McQueen's unflinching 12 Years A Slave. Before that much-anticipated endeavor, though, Rush will hit theaters. His score for Rush is expectedly high-octane, fast-paced, and even exciting, though avid fans of the composer may find it often a little too familiar.
The score begins with a flurry of F1 car effects and then introduces its main theme in "1976", a solemn cello piece over plucking guitar and thumping bass and percussion. Devotees of Game of Thrones will immediately notice the similarities to Ramin Djawadi's "A Lannister Always Pays His Debts", one of the more prominent themes of season three, but the cue also incites comparison to some of Steve Jablonsky's work on the Transformers series, particularly "The All Spark". When the brass kicks in, the theme reveals its full majesty; a fitting, albeit typical, display of forceful gravitas from Zimmer. The theme recurs in choice instances throughout the score, as at the midpoint of "Mount Fuji" amidst an ethereal flurry of guitars and in the magnificently dramatic and fantastically built cue "Lost but Won" (though its impact falters slightly when the brass reveals just how synthetic it really is). "My Best Enemy" continues in the vein of "Lost but Won", albeit in a higher register and more cathartic tone than its predecessor.
The dominating material on album is the racing music. This material is appropriately high-octane and intense, dwelling in a similar realm to the sound Zimmer created for Inception's action sequences, with a heavy emphasis on period-appropriate rock influences. The tense "Into the Red" is distinguished by a notable burst of the main theme at 1:00 that will no doubt accent a harrowing moment onscreen, as well as some similarities to Inception's "Dream is Collapsing". The electric guitar is nearly a constant in cues like this, though some sport a much more forwardly Rock and Roll vibe than others (see "20%", "Oysters in the Pits", "I Could Show You If You'd Like"). "Watkins Glen", one of the standout racing cues, admittedly rips unabashedly right from Inception's "Mombasa" but ends with a memorable burst at 1:10 of an exhilarating, underutilized theme over some impressive, percussive elements. This brief theme can also be heard in "Stopwatch", a motivating, inspiring piece (as an aside, if the string motif caught your ear, check out "Re-Entry" from Philip Sheppard's score for In the Shadow of the Moon; it uses it to moving effect). The alternatingly understated and bombastic "Nürburgring" draws from The Dark Knight (as does "Reign") but also features an incredibly abrupt employment of the rattling "Mombasa" percussion at 4:16 that takes you completely by surprise and highlights some of the album's mixing and editing issues. But more about that later.
Of all the fast-paced, racing-oriented cues, the pounding and thumping "Car Trouble" stands out to me as a clear front-runner. Though by no means the most complex, it is easily one of the most satisfying due to the electric guitar and string motif that runs throughout it. It's simple yet speaks to the rush of adrenaline and thirst for glory inherent in the climactic moments of every great race.
A handful of dramatic cues round out the original material on album. The chilling and weighty "Inferno" lends gravity to Niki Lauda's infamous second lap crash at the German Grand Prix and employs some intimations of the main theme. Audiophiles may cringe at some of the distortion and reverberation on the track when the strings are at their heaviest, but it's still a sobering piece of work. "Budgie" also dwells in this tone, but cues like "Glück", a warm and atmospheric piece for twangy guitar, and "Scuderia", which uses the "Mombasa" motif, are more affirmative in their own ways.
Interspersed with Zimmer's original score for Rush are a few period-appropriate rock/pop songs such as Dave Edmunds' "I Hear You Knocking", Steve Winwood's "Gimme Some Lovin'", Mud's "Dyna-Mite", Thin Lizzy's "The Rocker", and David Bowie's "Fame". It's a nice collection of source music and especially fitting given racing culture and the celebrity, rock-star status of racers like James Hunt.
As mentioned before, there are a few problems with the mixing and presentation that warrant addressing. As has been his controversial method of late, Zimmer employs a partially synthetic orchestra here. Much like in The Dark Knight Rises and occasionally in Man of Steel, this often leads to distortion of the music and "warping" effects that once in a while disrupt the listening experience. Audiophiles, take note. The other more frustrating attribute of the album is the editing of tracks. Each cue is cut off just a smidge too early, leaving the listener with the impression that the beginning of each new track contains a sliver of the end of the previous (evident right from the outset with the disrupted transition between "1976" and "I Could Show You If You'd Like"). Such grievances, though, do not entirely diminish the effect of Hans Zimmer's Rush. While too often drawing from previous works of the composer (and, possibly, from that of his protégés), Rush is mostly the score I expected it would be. It's an exercise in combining adrenaline-pumping action with weighty drama and, in spite of its numerous faults, it mostly succeeds and entertains.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "1976", "Stopwatch", "Into the Red", "Watkins Glen", "Car Trouble", "Lost but Won"
Label: Water Tower Music
Availability: 24 track edition