Saturday, August 10, 2013

Superman Unbound by Kevin Kliesch (2013)

by Travis Elder

Hans Zimmer's Man of Steel is not the only new musical take on Superman released this year.  Kevin Kliesch composed original music for DC / Warner Brothers Animation's Superman Unbound, released direct-to-video in April.  No stranger to scoring, Kliesch has orchestrated many features films (Superman Returns and X-Men: The Last Stand) as well as composed scores in his own right such as Cartoon Network's recent Thundercats reboot.  The story for Superman Unbound is based on the comic Superman: Brainiac and tells the story of the ruthless Brainiac's invasion of Earth, his blood thirsty efforts to kill Krypton's last son, and Superman and Supergirl's heroic efforts to save himself and the planet he calls home.

Working on a small budget common for such productions, Kliesch composed, orchestrated, and even performed the music.  The director initially wanted a modern electronic score, but Kliesch convinced the director that these larger than life characters needed some orchestral punch.  With this understanding, Kliesch combined orchestral samples with liberal electronic overlays and, thankfully, he gave Superman and Supergirl a more traditional, grandiose brass superhero theme.  The result is a triumphal, but not over-the-top theme that I enjoy more than Zimmer's rhythmic approach in Man of Steel.

The score is pretty much wall to wall action and Kliesch provides some excellent action cues along the way.  The best of these include Terrorist Attack with its pulsating electronic percussion and overlays.  The other is the seven minute powerhouse, Brainiac Attacks Metropolis.  Both include excellent variations of Kliesch's super theme.  One of my favorite passages of this theme occurs from 2:26 to 2:51 in Terrorist Attack, a great save-the-day passage.  Wow!  Kliesch's theme inspires and nails the combination of orchestra, including some Williamsesque brass outbursts, and electronic textures.

Kliesch brings it all together in Rebuilding the City/End Titles providing an excellent overview of the score.  It features satisfying performances of the action material and a charming soft, love theme in the middle section before launching into the most victorious performance of the super theme of the score.  My criticism, at least for the album listening experience, is the beginning of the cue (0 to 51 seconds) is so dissonant, too sharp a contrast, and seems out of place next to the excellent suite that follows.  A cut could have worked wonders here.  Still, this cue is one of the highlights of 2013.

If you find yourself generally put off by synth scores, give Superman Unbound a chance.  The quality orchestral samples and Kliesch's skill as a composer mask well the lack of a live orchestra.  Kliesch proves again, as he did with ThunderCats, that small budget need not mean poor quality.  The score is available from WaterTower Music as an MP3 download and an on-demand CD-R.  Amazon MP3 | Amazon CD-R

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