Do you remember when Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl came out? Before they sequeled the idea to death? Well, I remember it clearly — and I remember seeing it twice, each time having just plain fun at the theater, and leaving with the Black Pearl theme playing in my head (as well as the image of Orlando Bloom, but that’s another post entirely). As a senior in college, I heard the same motif playing on the “Pirates of the Caribbean”-themed excursion I forced my family to take while on a cruise. A year later, at college, I sat in a derelict high school gymnasium, playing the piece with a local youth orchestra as the leaky ceiling dripped rainwater around me. I tell you all of this in part to show how well I know the music, but also to impress upon you how effective and popular it was.
The composer of that theme — Klaus Badelt — is a German man (born in Frankfurt), whose contributions over his career cut a broad swath across the recent film landscape. He’s not a household name like John Williams or Howard Shore, but it’s highly unlikely that you haven’t seen a movie with at least some scoring by him. At a relatively young age, he moved to the US to work with Hans Zimmer, and in the years since has been quite prolific (though since founding his own company, his work has been less visible).
When I was a sophomore in college (I swear this is relevant, just bear with me), a girl down the hall (later my roommate) invited me to her room to watch Gladiator, which was her favorite movie at the time. As we watched, eating her roommate’s snacks, reclining uncomfortably on the dorm room floor, I suddenly exclaimed to her, “Hey! That’s the Pirates of the Caribbean theme!”. I recall a feeling of betrayal — this composer had reused a theme! A theme that I had loved! It was the tiniest part of the full Gladiator score, yet suddenly everything I’d felt about Pirates of the Caribbean was a lie, because its awesome, exciting theme was…unoriginal! I pinned it all on Klaus Badelt.
A decade later (jeez, the inexorable march of time…), I realize that Klaus Badelt isn’t a freshman composition student, reusing the same paper he wrote in high school for a college assignment and arrogantly assuming the teacher won’t notice it’s recycled (side note to freshmen: your teacher will notice). Klaus Badelt is skilled and logical, a craftsman who knows the right music for the right moment–as proven by the number of directors who have chosen to work with him over his relatively short career. Now, I consider that if I were him and had this one small moment of music in Gladiator, which I liked, and which I didn’t feel got as much score time as it could carry, I’d absolutely turn it into the theme for an entire franchise.
Of course, Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean are a small fraction of Mr. Badelt’s CV — and I don’t want you getting the idea that he’s not versatile. His contributions include the scores to Ned Kelly, Constantine, Miami Vice, 16 Blocks, and — my personal favorite — Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, an excellent documentary from Werner Herzog. In addition to these, on which he was primary or sole composer, he contributed to the scores of The Prince of Egypt, Mission: Impossible II, Pearl Harbor… as well as the most recent Halo game. Clearly, he can write for anything.
I hope to hear more from Badelt — and I’m sure I will. After all, I unknowingly heard and admired his music several times over the past couple of years. First, in Happy People, and second in Halo, though, at the time, I admired the music but thought it was kind of silly to pair such extravagant music with what I consider to be a kind of stupid shooting game — but my opinion on first-person shooters are for another time. Knowing that, at a gut level, I really like his music, I am interested to see where his career takes him, and I’ll be watching him closely over the next few years.
Featured Image: Buena Vista Pictures