Initially, I had no plans to go see Christopher Nolan’s latest movie Dunkirk in the cinema. One of the reasons was that I had heard stories about the score Hans Zimmer had written for the movie not being interesting at all– it was supposed to be all sound design and did not contain any themes or melodies. But on a whim, I found myself in the cinema watching this movie.
After just a couple of minutes into the movie, I knew exactly where the stories about Zimmer’s score were coming from. During the first scene I already felt uneasy and uncomfortable, because of the images on the screen and the drone sounds that entered my ears. That feeling would continue throughout the whole movie and had me buried anxiously in my seat. The droning continued almost until the end of the movie, before I finally heard some very slow melodies.
For the whole score itself, sound design is used to create tension without any themes and melodies. Most of the sounds are made by string instruments with haunting sounds added on top. I personally liked the ticking of a watch sound in “The Mole,” it really gave the feeling that the clock was ticking and that time was running out. “Supermarine” is a track that was released on Youtube before the movie came out, so I was already familiar with it. It consists of a fast musical motif with other musical patterns laid on top of it. It is very repetitive but I can appreciate that from time to time. Since the music is from Zimmer, its repetitiveness is of very high quality. In “Impulse” the ticking watch transitions perfectly into percussion. “Home” starts off with great uneasiness, until almost at the end the melodies just flow in for the first time in the whole score. “The Oil” sounds almost the same as “Supermarine”. The last tracks of the album, “Variation 15 (Dunkirk)” and “End Titles (Dunkirk),” contain the only theme that the soundtrack has. It is based on Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod,” and sounds competently composed, but it’s a bit too slow for my taste.
Forming an opinion about this score is complicated. I have listened to the album on its own a couple of times and it does not grab me at all: I just do not care for the drone sounds. If I had to choose highlights, I would pick “Supermarine”, for keeping an eight-minute track interesting while repeating the same pattern over and over, and “Variation 15”, for its version of “Nimrod.” However, I do think that this soundtrack fits perfectly in the film. Two moments in the movie deserve extra attention. The first is the scene where the ticking clock just stops and the other is the point where the melodies flow in near the end of the movie. Without the tension of the score and the use of other sounds, the effect of the movie would never be as impactful as it is. Even though I will probably not listen to the score again, it definitely deserves praise for fitting the movie so well.
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The highlights are in bold.
- The Mole
- We Need Our Army Back
- Shivering Soldier
- The Tide
- Regimental Brothers
- The Oil
- Variation 15 (Dunkirk)
- End Titles (Dunkirk)