Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar is a breathtaking work of musical wonder; one that manages to both expertly capture the vastness and mystery of outer space and still keep the music small and intimate for its central theme of family. It’s just a bit of a shame that lack of chronology and absent film versions of cues spoil the experience slightly.
If wonder could be translated into pure music, then that’s basically what Hans Zimmer’s score for Interstellar is. It is in my opinion his greatest work, and just so happens to accompany one of Christopher Nolan’s best movies to boot. Speaking of – Interstellar is an epic science fiction film set in the near future, that tells the story of humanity’s desperate search for a new world to call home as Earth becomes virtually uninhabitable, and what’s really interesting about the score in particular is that Hans Zimmer was told precisely none of the above when Nolan approached him to start composing. Instead, Zimmer was simply told the film was about a father leaving a child (leaving out the part that he’s the pilot of humanity’s last spacecraft flying off to find a new world), and the unimaginable sense of loss that would come with that. From just one page of script describing the above, the composer came up with the main theme for the score – and that’s what we’re going to start with.
Quick preface before we really get started though – Zimmer’s Interstellar is a brilliant score, but it does unfortunately suffer from what now seems to be a continual annoyance for his soundtrack releases – a messy assembly. The expanded edition then amplifies this as it contains a smattering of bonus tracks combined with the original album, which overall make for a particularly aggravating listening experience as you try to untangle a jumbled musical web in an effort to give some semblance of order and progression to the album. Naturally, the music is also placed out of film order, which (in my opinion anyway) kills the momentum of the narrative and concurrent build-up of the score’s themes – which is why for this review (and this review only) I’ve taken an unusual step for me, and will be talking about the score in the order its heard in the film, rather than the album, as frankly it just works so much better. So, without further ado –
Dreaming Of The Crash introduces the main theme, and if there’s one thing I should say before the track begins, it’s that the music here is really quite unlike anything you would normally expect for an epic sci-fi score. In fact, for the first few seconds there’s not actually any music at all – instead, quiet winds and echoing thunderclaps play to emphasize the storm-ridden, virtually uninhabitable state that Earth is in the film. Then, slowly but surely, a few notes from an organ echo through the choatic weather, playing a few interspersed notes from the main theme quietly, gently and pensively to set the mood. As the music continues, the weather slowly fades away and the organ then takes prominence, playing the thematic notes in a few more sorrowful renditions before then cementing the wistful tone with a powerful crescendo from the organ. Gentle electronics arrive a few seconds later, driving home one more solemn playthrough of the main theme before the cue comes to a calming end. So, let’s talk about the organ – Zimmer’s choice of main instrument for the score here is a curious one indeed, and certainly not the first expectation that comes to mind when thinking of a sci-fi score, but as I’ve said and will likely continue to say as the review continues – Interstellar is a beautifully unique sci-fi score, and that organ will come to play a poignant and surprisingly brilliant role in the music to come.
Case and point; Cornfield Chase. The cue opens with quiet, slow-paced strings and a few gentle notes from the organ before the instrument then moves up to the forefront, and the music simply starts to go. The pace quickens, the orchestra builds and the score then takes a two minute dive into what I can only describe as pure musical wonder. The movie focuses on humanity’s search through the stars for a new world to call home, and Cornfield Chase just perfectly captures the feelings of awe and wonder stemming from that premise. Sadly though this wonder doesn’t last for long as the track comes in at just over two minutes long, with Flying Drone then bringing back the melancholic mystery of the first cue, complete with several increasingly worrisome playthroughs of the main theme on piano, strings and ominous electronics. This then segues into the quietly bleak Dust; a blissfully atmospheric and thankfully lengthier piece (coming in at just over five minutes) that represents the grim future that humanity faces at the start of the movie. Dust is what planet Earth is essentially reducing down to, and that bleakness, that feeling of utter despair at the slow destruction of our home planet – that’s what this cue captures, and it does so to pretty incredible effect with the organ naturally playing centre stage. Day One is actually a pretty interesting cue – it’s the full orchestral version of the track that Zimmer composed for Nolan after reading through just that one page of script I mentioned earlier, and is essentially a basic concept of the main theme. It starts on light, gentle piano and then builds up into powerful organ variations, and is a pretty great indicator of things to come, not to mention a very interesting listen considering how the score then pretty much entirely evolved from it.
The storm returns in Stay – literally. The cold, ambient weather sounds from Dreaming Of The Crash play again here, with the organ then pushing quietly through to play a sombre, almost sorrowful rendition of the main theme. This lasts for about a minute or so before the organ then starts to build and strings appear, slowing the main theme and pulling it further down into heartbreaking, despairing territory that is then amplified tenfold in the cue’s final minute as the organ reaches a powerfully mournful crescendo with the orchestra also playing loudly and emphatically behind it. After the main theme finishes up and the orchestra dies down, Who’s They then starts to play piano, echoing out a new, rather worrisome motif that will come to play a much more prominent role later in the score. It does get quite a lot of build-up time here as well though, with the rather melancholic cue lasting just over seven minutes. Message From Home then does little to alleviate this sense of solemnity, with quiet, high-pitched piano notes painting a rather sorrowful musical picture for much of the cue’s ninety second runtime. Things do however then start to pick up (at least a little bit) in Atmospheric Entry, with the organ returning alongside some mysterious-sounding electronics that then fade into the rather tense The Wormhole. This similarly short cue utilises the same electronics alongside an increasingly anxious organ, with said instrument then building to a emphatically deafening crescendo as the track draws to a close.
Mountains is where things then really start to get going. The cue opens with quiet electronics playing a ticking-like sound, and make no mistake – a ticking clock is exactly what it is. As the protagonists of the film race to find a new world before Earth becomes completely uninhabitable, their main antagonist is (naturally) time, and intriguingly, due to the time dilation effects of a black hole in the movie – each tick that you hear passing in this track and for the protagonists is a full day ticking by for Earth. Overall, it certainly adds another layer of tension to an already worrisome cue, and that’s just the start. As the music continues, the ticking starts to get louder and the electronics more prominent until a huge crescendo is reached at the two minute mark, with the organ then crashing through in its loudest, most dramatic appearance yet. Here the pace quickens considerably, with the organ taking centre stage alongside the orchestra for a minute of emphatic action score that’s simply, brilliantly out of this world. All-in, Mountains is tied for standout cue with another track that we’ll hear a bit later on, and it’s certainly not one to be missed. The score then slows right back down with the subsequent Afraid Of Time, where the main theme plays on a rather ominous piano accompanied by worrisome percussion. Subtly, there’s an element of foreboding tension creeping slowly but surely into the score now, as time is most certainly running out in the film.
The ominous atmosphere continues in No Need To Come Back, with the now recurring motif from Who’s They playing in quietly morose form. This then takes a bit of a sinister turn at the three minutes mark, with creepy, aggressive strings fading in and then building to a particularly dramatic crescendo, and the track then ends on a similarly morose rendition of the motif it opened with. A Place Among The Stars builds on this new, anxious, almost threatening nature to the score, with low-pitched brass notes and foreboding strings taking centre stage for much of the cue’s three and a half minute runtime. Running Out then injects a little more anxiety into the music, kicking the pace up with tense percussive elements and quickened piano notes alongside the Who’s They motif playing rather worrisomely in the background. The mood does settle down slightly in I’m Going Home, with the orchestra slowing down and building atmosphere for the first few minutes. It’s not long though before it’s made pretty clear things aren’t all right, as the despairing motif from Dust then starts to play on solemn strings. This then segues straight into Coward, an eight minute kinda-sorta-action setpiece that plays heavily on the build-up of tension. It starts with rapid, agitated piano notes alongside worrisome percussion that, over the course of the next few minutes, slowly build both in pace and intensity until the organ then bursts through at around the halfway point, hinting toward a certain action piece to come before then fading as quickly as it arrived. This absence doesn’t last for long though as the instrument then returns in the final moments of the cue, playing the now action motif from Who’s They in its loudest, most dramatically tense rendition yet together with a particularly frantic piano.
Imperfect Lock takes the tension from Coward and amplifies it considerably, with rapid percussion and apprehensive electronics establishing a particularly nervous tone for a good couple of minutes. The organ then makes a brief appearance right near the end of the piece, signalling events to come as (sigh) No Time For Caution then starts to play. Now, you may be wondering why I elected to sigh there, considering that this is arguably the most well-known and better pieces of music from Zimmer’s Interstellar. To put it simply – it’s got a long and rather arduous history behind its release, and even when they eventually did bother to pop the track onto iTunes, it turned out to not actually be the version used in the film. Where the organ plays pretty much centre stage in its epic crescendo as it plays in the movie, it’s barely present in the album version (with strings instead taking the forefront), and so just sounds so…lackluster in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, No Time For Caution is an absolutely fantastic piece of music, and a truly epic payoff to the prior hour of musical build-up, but it just sounds so much better in the film, with the organ front and centre. All-in it’s just a massive shame, and one that I’m honestly still a little bitter about to this day. Still, moving on – Detach is tied for standout cue with Mountains, and is in essence the big, dramatic conclusion to the action finale started all the way back in I’m Going Home. It opens rather solemnly, with a piano playing alongside low-pitched, ominous electronics. These then slowly build in intensity, with the organ gradually fading in as well until a loud, grandiose build-up is reached and the main theme spectacularly returns; playing in loud, almost heroic style but also with a touch of sorrow still firmly keeping the music planted in its melancholic roots as another loudly emphatic crescendo is reached and the orchestra simply gives its all. Quiet strings then take over to fade the music out as the cue then ends.
The hopeful, awe-inspiring motif from Cornfield Chase finally returns in S.T.A.Y., though this time remaining in quiet, thoughtful form without the dramatically hopeful build-up from said cue. Mystery and intrigue are centre stage here, with this tonal idea encircling and enveloping the music, then continuing into What Happens Now where creepy electronics and ominous strings set a particularly haunting atmosphere that continues all the way through its two minute runtime. With the score rapidly approaching its end, Where We’re Going then starts to rejuvenate that quiet hopefulness that the start of the album had. Whistling winds open the piece, with the main theme then playing softly on the organ. As the track continues the music then starts to build, with the Cornfield Chase theme then rising out of its prior melancholy and swelling loudly with hope for the first time in a good while. With the motif held high, the track then bows out on a dramatically epic crescendo, ending the score on a decidedly emphatic note.
However – while the story of the film is now at an end, the album actually isn’t. Included on this expanded edition too are several bonus cues, each building upon an established motif or tone from the established score. First Step for instance takes the Cornfield Chase motif and builds on it for another two minutes of swelling hopefulness, while Murph starts off with the mournful theme from Dust and then builds up into an incredibly powerful crescendo; one that’s very reminiscent of the final moments from Detach. Organ Variation is pretty much just that; a four minute tonal piece where the organ takes centre stage, playing the motif from Cornfield Chase in quietly morose form. The eight minute Tick Tock is essentially an extended variation of Mountains, with the ominous ticking build-up occupying much of the elongated runtime. It’s an entertaining piece, but I’ll be honest – I feel Mountains just works better. Day One (Original Demo) is the one that started it all, being the original take of the other Day One I mentioned earlier,and the first piece of score that Zimmer wrote for Interstellar. To close the album proper, Day One Dark then builds things up with a dramatically lengthy take on the action-esque No Time For Caution. The final three minutes in particular are quite interesting as they play around with a lot of the build-up from said cue, though sadly building up to nothing as the well-known crescendo does not make an appearance, with the cue opting to simply fade away instead.
Overall, Hans Zimmer’s breathtaking score for Interstellar is absolutely brilliant, though its messy soundtrack release and annoying lack of film versions of certain cues do drag it down a bit. That is pretty the only issue I have with it however, as other than that it is an absolutely spectacular film score, and Zimmer really has outdone himself with it. The way the music beautifully evokes a sense of wonder throughout its runtime, and expertly captures that feeling of the vast, mysterious nature of outer space really is a thing to behold, and I feel I will simply never get tired of listening to tracks like the wondrous Cornfield Chase or the emphatic, conclusive Detach as a result. The composer’s use of the organ as the instrumental centrepiece also cannot be praised enough; it’s an intriguing and quite unusual choice for a sci-fi score but it absolutely, brilliantly works, and without it I don’t think Interstellar would work anywhere near as well as it brilliantly does. All-in, the themes are excellent, the action tracks superb, and as I’ve said if it wasn’t for the irritatingly alternate No Time For Caution or the confusing album order, this really would be a perfect score.
Standout Cues: 11. Mountains/20. Detach
Follow me on Twitter for the latest soundtrack and review-based news!