Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Oscar Potential For Hans Zimmer’s “Dune: Part Two” Score

Music is a defining aspect of the cinematic experience and can often make or break a scene that would otherwise be well-written or acted. When a musical score is given the opportunity to shine, it usually becomes a character of its own. It’s why, as long as feature films have been a part of history, music has accompanied them and helped convey those stories. In the present landscape of film, several composers have made an impact on how music can enhance the visuals, and Hans Zimmer is one of those esteemed names. With “Dune: Part Two,” now playing in theaters, he further expands his musical talents to provide another massive score for the series, following up on his Oscar-winning work in “Dune: Part One.”

With “Dune: Part Two” taking the story in a darker direction and transforming the character of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) into the Lisan al Gaib, the one who will lead Arrakis to paradise by whatever means necessary, Zimmer’s score reflects the tone change in his themes remarkably, if also very simply. The recurring motif across both parts of “Dune” is “Paul’s Dream,” composed for the first movie and played multiple times in the first film, with variations of the theme across scenes. A prominent example of this is “Leaving Caladan,” where the theme takes on an epic and even climactic scale, signaling the journey Paul is about to embark on. The “Leaving Caladan” tune is exactly like “Paul’s Dream,” except more bombastic and with drums and the cellos in a different key. A variation of “Paul’s Dream” is also present in the final minute of “Dune: Part One’s” closing track, “My Road Leads Into The Desert,” which ends that movie on a more hopeful cliffhanger. It is worth noting that this theme is taken from “The Dune Sketchbook,” a companion album released alongside the first part, with extended themes and alternate cues. Another track from the Sketchbook, “Grains of Sand,” plays over “Dune: Part One’s” closing credits. The Sketchbook makes a return in “Dune: Part Two,” but more on that later.

In “Dune: Part Two,” Paul’s dream is now a waking nightmare, as his transformation into the messiah of Arrakis is scored like a horror movie, with the cellos playing the theme in a different and more menacing key, removing the hopeful aspect from “Dune: Part One’s” rendition and making it more sinister. The switch happens after Paul drinks the Water of Life, which opens his mind to all the different possibilities and futures to come while also learning more about himself and those around him, even the true lineage of his mother, the now Reverend Mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and allowing him to see all the lives around him. However, with his purpose being driven by revenge and wanting to destroy the Harkonnens and usurp Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), his scenes are showcased in a more menacing manner. When “Arrival” plays, as Paul walks among the Fremen and a sandworm emerges behind him ominously from the sand, it’s “Leaving Caladan” with a darker twist. The shot of Paul walking—visualized like a grain of sand moving against the flow—is precisely what differentiates the sound of “Dune: Part Two” from its predecessor, particularly in that final act.The changes don’t stop there. Whereas “Paul’s Dream” is the central motif of “Dune: Part One,” “Dune: Part Two’s” main motif is taken from the “House Atreides” suite, also present in Zimmer’s extended Sketchbook album, effectively acting as a bridge between the two movies. The first three minutes of “House Atreides” are vocalized beautifully by Loire Cotler—who also provides the now iconic chant when Paul taps into his messianic side—and can be heard in the sequel’s soundtrack from “Beginnings are Such Delicate Times” and “Kiss the Ring,” to the vocals being fully placed into “Only I Will Remain.” Much like what “Arrival” does with “Leaving Caladan,” the same is noticeable in “Kiss the Ring.” It’s a far more somber and bittersweet version of the theme and one that points less at a hopeful Atreides future and one more inclined to lead into incoming genocide. It is worth noting that several themes have been redeveloped from the Sketchbook for the sequel, notably a reworked version of “Song of the Sisters,” played during the scene with Lady Margot Fenring (Léa Seydoux) and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler), as well.

Much like the first part, the score for “Dune: Part Two” has been met with unanimous praise, with many even citing it to be superior to the previous film and a clear frontrunner for the next Academy Awards. However, this is also made somewhat doubtful, as historically, the chances of sequels being nominated for Best Original Score are relatively rare. This is primarily due to sequels often reusing many themes established in the previous entries and not always having enough original music to distinguish them on their own. As a result, this can somewhat take away from the newer feeling of the latest score and can be seen as a reason for Academy voters to say no to it this time, as those were already commended before. However, all rules have exceptions, and the most notable one in this case remains multi-Academy Award winner John Williams, whose most recent score for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” was nominated, making it the fourth Indiana Jones score to be given Oscar consideration. This is not to mention six of the nine “Star Wars” movies composed by Williams received Oscar nominations as well, with two wins. There are many recurring themes across the Star Wars movies, particularly in “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Hans Zimmer, being the next exception to Williams with “Dune: Part Two,” would welcome a change to pre-established criteria that have long been challenged. Notably, the score for “Top Gun: Maverick,” also composed by Zimmer along with Lorne Balfe, Lady Gaga, and Harold Faltermayer, was seemingly disqualified for the reasons that it used more of the original’s themes than newer music (though Gaga did receive a Best Original Song nomination for her single “Hold My Hand”). The fact remains that musically, the journey showcased across both “Dune” movies has engrained itself rather significantly in modern pop culture. They help convey the awesome and majestic visuals of the two films, the more intimate character-driven moments that enrich Frank Herbert’s novels, and now Denis Villeneuve’s grand cinematic vision, which will be replayed for years to come.

Do you believe “Dune: Part Two” will be nominated for Best Original Score? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

You can follow Shaurya and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @_ShauryaChawla

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