Let me start by saying how incredible the Paperhouse score is as a whole. The film is one of those that seems to have been forgotten to the annals of cinema history; a sad thing given its great premise, but an understandable burial given its obvious budget constraints, questionable ADR and grating performance from lead child actor Charlotte Burke (who unsurprisingly has no other credits listed on IMDB).
The story tells of a troubled young girl (Anna) who, whilst ill, draws a house with a child in the window. In her dreams she is able to visit the house, and finds that the boy is trapped inside. The film then jumps between her sleeping and waking lives as she attempts to free the boy by adding to the drawing. This leads to a disturbing situation when the girl draws her father; a man whose drinking and long absence have caused stress to the family unit. In the drawing he appears angry, and within the dream both Anna and the boy trapped in the house are chased and tormented by this dangerous patriarch.
With a premise that lends itself to a disjointed and otherworldly score, Hans Zimmer (here working with fellow composer Stanley Myers (The Witches, The Deer Hunter)) creates a soundtrack that is as delicately dreamy as it is nightmarishly jolting. There is a timeless quality to the themes running throughout the film, and whilst some of the electronic instrumentation very much locates the score in its late 80s time period, the sonic qualities of the music would comfortably be at home in a Zimmer’s modern day blockbuster soundtracks. Speaking of which…
Whilst listening to the Paperhouse score I was at times shaken out of my engagement with the film, and thrust into other films whose scores are embellished in my brain. There were moments I found myself wondering if Batman might show up, or if the dream the girl was in would be infiltrated by Dom Cobb from Inception.
Let me elaborate. Here is the cue from Paperhouse called The Staircase
What do you hear from 43 seconds to around 52 seconds in? Because all I can hear is the section between 3:13 and 3:20 from Batman Begins’ Tadarida movement.
And when listening to the Paperhouse Overture…
At 1:35 that doesn’t half evoke Dark Knight incidental music. And then at 1:54…BWAHHHHMMMM, a cheap synth knock off of those famous Inception stings that spawned a generation of trailers.
Now of course it’s natural for a composer to have an identifiable musical style, and have similar sounding tendencies, but I find this all the more curious. It’s like Zimmer found the style that would make him Christopher Nolan’s go to guy, but did so 17 years too early. Those Inception BWAAHHHMMS just don’t have the slickly produced primal thunder that they do in this day and age. And those signature Dark Knight strings lose much of their impact when accompanied by thin soundscapes.
It’s my theory that Zimmer, when tasked with creating something new and innovative for Christopher Nolan, instead of looking to the future dipped into the past; his own past. There he found within the layers of a largely unknown film, the basis for a sound to define a generation of movie goers.
I’m not really sure that there’s any wider point to this article beyond simply stating that one thing sounds like another, and ‘oh isn’t that interesting’. I guess I just find it cool and intriguing to be able to chart where an artist comes from to end up at the very top of their game. And if finding your stride means calling on something great from your past then more power to you. I love the scores for Paperhouse, The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. It’s all good!