in movies, music

The fine line between (soundtrack) homage and rip-off

[This post may contain SPOILERS for Captain Phillips, but only if you don’t know what Phillips’ fate was in real life. It also contains spoilers for Inception]

Captain Phillips was one of my favorite films of the year. I’m a huge fan of Greengrass’ hyper-real style, which ratcheted up the tension throughout, and Tom Hanks gives one of the best performances of his career. The score by Henry Jackman was also pretty solid, but one thing about it did catch my ear: the very last track.

I knew it sounded familiar, but as the track went on, its similarity to Hans Zimmer’s “Time” from his Inception score became impossible to ignore. Here’s the latter track:

The chord progression is obviously the same, but so is the instrumentation and the way both tracks play with dynamics (i.e. hear how the volume swells at the same point in the chord progression in both tracks). Furthermore, both tracks play at similar points within each film: right at the end as the credits begin, when some relative level of safety has been established for many of the main players.

Sure, certain chord progressions have been borrowed time and time again in different scores, songs, symphonies, concertos, etc. But their implementation is often so different that new iterations are either transformative or unrecognizable.

This, on the other hand, feels like almost a direct lift. If I had to guess, I’d surmise that “Time” was used as a temp score for Phillips, and it worked so well that Jackman had to create something incredibly similar, but different enough that his film couldn’t be sued. What do you guys think?

Update: Readers have pointed out that Zimmer received a “The director would like to thank…” shout out in the end credits of Captain Phillips.