Monday, June 10, 2013

Man of Steel by Hans Zimmer

by Travis Elder

Man of Steel

The most anticipated score in 2013 is undoubtedly the score to Man of Steel.  Those involved with the production of the movie including director Zack Snyder decided to start from scratch as if no other Superman movies existed.  This included setting aside John Williams' chill inducing, iconic brass fanfare in favor of a bold new approach by Academy-Award winning composer Hans Zimmer.  The result couldn't be more different than Williams' beloved and now more than 30-year old score.  Where John Williams used brass fanfares and snare drums accompanied by full symphony orchestra Hans Zimmer uses a 12-member drum band of renowned drummers accompanied by 8 pedal steel guitars, and synthesizers.

Zimmer has composed two principle themes for this score.  The first is a theme representing Superman's hope and struggle to become part of human race.  This delicate piano theme was featured at the beginning of the third trailer for the movie released earlier this year.  Incidentally, the entire cue from the trailer is included on the album in track 17.  This theme, the Humanity Theme, finds liberal usage in several cues including the highlight cue, Earth, which presents several satisfying variations.  Like his theme from Inception, Time, the Humanity Theme is very simple, but it touches the heart in its intimacy especially played so tenderly on the piano.

Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel
The second theme is Superman's.  In composing this theme and anthem Zimmer has stated that he procrastinated for three months just feeling intimidation at the prospect of treading in John Williams' shoes.  For those like myself who have grown up with John Williams' epic theme and can whistle and air conduct it on command its hard to imagine anyone topping Williams' legendary effort.  That said I had high hopes for Zimmer especially since he has composed some amazing themes such as those for Crimson Tide, The Lion King, and Backdraft.  The result is a theme or really anthem, much simpler and shorter in construct than Williams' work, that will likely find popular appeal.

Superman's theme first appears in the Look to the Stars where it receives a restrained and very slow tempo treatment conveying a sense of reverence and nobility.  Some alluring vocals enhance the beauty of this cue.  The best performance of Superman's theme comes in the concert-fit piece What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World (that's a mouthful).  This cue begins with the humanity theme and then at 1:23 the drum march subtly begins.  Over the next minute the music continues ascending and building anticipation until at 2:41 the full on anthem explodes and you cannot help but envision Superman flying triumphantly through the air.  Chill inducing?  Yes!  Exciting?  Yes!  Inspiring?  Yes!  Zimmer's approach couldn't be more different than Williams', but at its core Zimmer's anthem inspires the same feelings of elation as Williams' theme.  Unfortunately, nowhere else in the score on album does that anthem reach those same heights.  This is Clark Kent and Flight do offer some swell, but short variations on the anthem.

Zimmer's Man of Steel Drum Band
Percussion obviously plays an important role in the score.  Oil Rig brings on the big drums in beat-you-over-the-head fashion.  The first minute of Terraforming features my favorite drum march performance on album.  Probably the most intense drumming comes in This is Madness! where the drummers go gangbusters for almost four minutes with virtually no other accompaniment.

The destruction of Krypton was an epic part of John Williams' score and so too for Zimmer's.  If You Love These People is a perfect merging of guitar, the drum band, and the chorus.  At its climax the cue recalls some of Zimmer's best choral action work from The Lion King.  The finale of the cue reprises the violin solo heard earlier during the cataclysm of Krypton's destruction with a beautiful solo violin.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to hit the repeat button when you come to this cue!

In terms of a stand alone listen several cues suffer from an overabundance of heavy bass rumblings and synthesized textural meanderings (General Zod, You Die or I Die).  WaterTower records released two 2-disc versions with the deluxe version featuring an additional half-hour of music. Both releases included the 28-minute behemoth track, Hans' Sketchbook, a synthesized collection of all the ideas for the score.  While Hans Zimmer's epic, in your face Superman power anthem and delicately crafted Humanity Theme do not replace or eclipse John Williams' work they do stand as enjoyable additions to the Superman musical ethos.  ***1/2

Stand alone listening experience ratings:
1. Look to the Stars ***1/2
2. Oil Rig ***
3. Sent Here for a Reason ***1/2
4. DNA **1/2
5. Goodbye My Son ****
6. If You Love These People *****
7. Krypton’s Last ***1/2
8. Terraforming ***1/2
9. Tornado ***
10. You Die or I Do **
11. Launch **1/2
12. Ignition **
13. I Will Find Him **
14. This is Clark Kent ****
15. I Have So Many Questions **1/2
16. Flight ****
17. What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World *****
18. Hans’ Sketchbook
19. Are You Listening Clark **
20. General Zod **
21. You Led Us Here **
22. This Is Madness! ***1/2
23. Earth *****
24. Zod’s Arcade **

Note: bolded & italicised cue titles include Zimmer's new Superman Theme / underlined tracks include the Humanity Theme.

Hans Zimmer & Zack Snyder talk Sculptural Percussion of Man of Steel

Hans Zimmer Crafting a Score: Strings of Steel

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