"Inception," the "Matrix"-meets-"Casablanca" Warner Bros. film starring Leonardo DiCaprio that opened today (July 16), marks the third collaboration between writer/director Christopher Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer. The first two scores the duo paired on -- 2008's "Dark Knight" and 2005's "Batman Begins" -- were notable sales successes in terms of score albums, selling 144,000 and 83,000, respectively, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"Inception: Music From the Motion Picture" was released July 13 on CD by Reprise/WaterTower; a vinyl edition will follow Aug. 3. To build on the sales of his and Nolan's previous film score projects, Zimmer engaged in a number of promotional appearances -- underscoring a new all-hands-on-deck mentality for soundtrack promotion.
During the afterparty for the film's Los Angeles premiere July 13, Zimmer and Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr -- who performs on eight of the soundtrack's 12 cuts -- played selections from the score alongside a 20-piece orchestra. The concert was streamed live on Ustream.
"The idea of a premiere is sort of a weird thing," Zimmer says. "Here we are making this movie for everybody, and we celebrate it by having security guards and velvet ropes around us. I said, 'I'll do it if we can do it for everybody, and the way to do that is with the Internet.' Maybe I'm too much of a socialist from growing up in England during Margaret Thatcher's evil reign."
Two days later, Zimmer was signing copies of the soundtrack at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. The first 200 to purchase the "Inception" soundtrack fan pack for $35 received a guaranteed place in line to meet Zimmer, a copy of the CD, a movie poster and a ticket to the midnight screening of the film at the adjacent Arclight Hollywood theaters.
"Inception" is a densely layered sci-fi film that invokes multiple interpretations of the dream state and the subconscious, tied to corporate espionage. It's heady stuff -- a summer movie where the audience has to pay attention above and beyond being wowed by explosions -- and Zimmer says he and Nolan talked for a year about the project's music.
"Once he gave me the script, it was quite obvious that the obvious wouldn't work," Zimmer says. "There wasn't a lot of arguing going on about this. It was a lot of Chris and I sitting on the beach, watching our kids play in the sand, while we chucked ideas at each other."
At several points, the score references the Edith Piaf song "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," a decision that Zimmer says Nolan wrote into the script before Marion Cotillard -- who won the Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Piaf in 2007's "La Vie en Rose" -- signed on to the project.
"I said, 'No one is going to be that shallow and that dumb and think that that's some kind of a joke,' " Zimmer says. "[Using] Piaf and Chris shooting some of these scenes in Paris were really important because I think that laid the foundations for an emotional journey: the half-remembered dream."
Zimmer visited the set during filming to get a sense of the movie's atmosphere. But once Nolan started editing he asked Zimmer to work on his own -- an audacious request, as composers generally work from a combination of script, storyboards and a near-completed cut of the film.
"I think the idea of shared dreaming . . . he wanted to see if it would actually work," Zimmer says. "The first time I saw the film, it was the complete movie from top to tail with all the music in it."
And did the director and composer reach a creative mind meld? "It was surprising how well it worked," Zimmer says with a laugh.