Where does one begin? When it was announced that Hans was to score the new Superman produced by Christopher Nolan, and directed by Zach Snyder, there was much reluctance and trepidation.
The last attempt at bringing back Superman by Bryan Singer and long time composing and editing partner John Ottman was met with moderate disappointment. Such is the legacy of Richard Donner and John Williams.
Overlooked is the ongoing legacy of Christopher Reeve.
In this case, the relationship between Nolan and Hans persisted, persuading Snyder to work with a new composer after regular collaborator Tyler Bates and one-timer David Hirschfelder.
As cited in many articles, it took many requests to convince Hans that he was capable of reinventing Superman, just as he did with Batman. In doing so, he first chose not to emulate the iconic score and trumpet fanfare indelibly etched in many minds of long time fans of the original.
In preparing this review, I chose (wisely) to wait to watch the movie before casting any opinions on the new approach in the score. Of course, being a long term fan since hearing Rain Man in 1989, listening to the score from day of release is common practice.
The Deluxe Edition of the album features 6 extra tracks running 30 minutes.
For those who have yet to listen to the score, I recommend starting with Sketchbook which is a first of its kind, and totally conducive to the listening experience as a continuous suite at 28 minutes.
This used to be the norm for Zimmer albums, but with the proliferation of the iTunes format as singles, it makes better commercial strategy to publish short cues.
As suspected, the album producers chose to arrange the tracks in thematic order as opposed to chronological order, despite the movie itself using flashback sequencing. What is also interesting is that the pedigree involved in the album is quite curious where we have a long time pop music producer Peter Asher (Linda Ronstadt), and associated famed bass player Lee Sklar (Phil Collins). On an updated note, Hans had this to clarify on the involvement of both Peter and Stephen Lipson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood); it should also be pointed out that Stephen is a known collaborator of Trevor Horn, who of course has worked with Hans notably on Video Killed the Radio Star, and Toys.
Peter Asher is a great friend and great at getting the best out of musicians. Same with Steve Lipson. We’ve known each other for 30 years, and I’ve always loved the sound of his records….
And on whether this was their first project together:
No, no, we’ve worked on a lot of things… Officially or not. He’s based at Remote (Control Roductions).
The start of the album is opened with Look to the Stars, which evokes an X-Files like atmosphere, despite the cue name sounding like a classic Williams’ Star Wars one, which builds into one of the 3 main theme movements of the score, and for a moment sounds like a few notes from John Williams’ Superman, and climaxes with a rising blended female voice, and proceeds into a cello chase to finish.
It is followed jarringly by Oil Rig which is a frenetic but rhythmic concoction of drums leading to synthesised brass for a quick finish.
Sent Here for a Reason starts off with the new Clark Kent theme briefly, blending in steel bowls reminiscent of Philip Glass, progressing into dissonant bass, and then the main piano line with organic bass with a pinging note, progressing into more lingering and segueing into a female trail off.
Dna introduces the alien or Krypton theme which really resembles a sci-fi tune used elsewhere which I haven’t been able to pinpoint just yet. It then reprises the cello chase movement with a few variations including a drum snare arrangement, and then loops back to a march version of the early theme, ever so evolving away from the Williams’ sound, to finish.
Goodbye My Son starts off with a young lilting voice interspersed with ethereal voices building into a choir that mixes in a soaring trumpet and electronic strings, and continues to rise to a climactic short finish.
If You Love These People starts off with a medium tempo, and then really starts to open up the gas and sound palette throwing in a large male choir, guitars, and light drums, and Hans’ signature synth brass line, and then downshifts gears to focus on just brass and then tapers off into lingering space. Initial listening was reminiscent of Bird on a Wire.
Krypton’s Last picks up on the same sequence and then brings back the violin and sound effects, and strips away almost everything to spotlight the Stradivarius solo (initial listening evoked the spirit of Williams’ Schindler’s List), followed by the alien theme, and then kicks back into gear with the entire ensemble, and tapers off abruptly.
Terraforming is the album’s longest cue apart from Sketchbook, and begins with a fast tempo of the main rhythm line, and then varies in between the previous musical phrases, and sound effects used in the movie.
Tornado introduces a ticking tempo track followed by cello strikes, and synth blending and drum rolls, and then slows to a rising string lament, and reprises Clark’s piano theme to finish.
You Die or I Do starts off slow and brooding, with a shuffling sound effect driven rain roll and then hits a drum stride after a brass signal, and then continues to build, ebb and flow, and then introduces the Zod music motif which is like a flanged vacuum cleaner, and finishes with a drum strike phrase.
Launch is a majestic variation of the alien theme, punctuated with lilting drum strikes, and then layers on rising guitar riffs, and then quickly drops off after the Zod flange to segue into the female vocal finish.
Ignition is a militaristic cadence employing the much talked about drum circle, that ends as abruptly as it began.
I Will Find Him takes the dark musical route featuring the signature trombone flaring, Zod flanging, weaving up and down in tempo, diving in and out of orchestral instrumentation, tinged with an overhead female choir, and driving brass coupled with strings, all layered with the ever percussive drums, to an abrupt finish.
This is Clark Kent is the piano theme stripped down to its beautiful self resonance with ambient delay, switching to an organ, and light synth wavering, and then segues into the 3rd main theme of the score in a light drum roll, and piano reprise complete with percussion strike to finish as a teaser.
I Have So Many Questions brings back the alien theme with emphasis of the cello and sci-fi sound effects, building into a brief synth wash, and light drone effect, and then the violin lament solo but this time aided by a backing synth and vocal, to finish.
Flight brings back the plunging bass line, the Williams’ like brass but muted, and then quickly presents a flourish, and then changes to a lower synth transition, and for the 2nd time introduces Superman’s 3rd theme, and the pedal steel guitars for the first time, rising to a crescendo to drop to a lilting piano and humming voice, and slowly brings back the snare roll and then brazenly opens up the entire palette singed with the guitar riff blended in with the brass, and continues until coming to another abrupt finish.
What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?, apart from being possibly the longest track name by Zimmer, is the penultimate cue that was vividly used in the main trailer, bringing all that one associates with the Man of Steel – courage, victory, hope – where spirits soar, starting with a low and slow rise of the piano theme, followed by a slow drum roll, and then bass line, and then the violin chase, rising to a blaring brass and drum rhythm, which continues and then pulls back to breathe, and then pulse forward to add the soaring choir, and then tapers off with a receding drum line.
Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook) delineates the main album from the bonus tracks, and is such a unique opportunity to compare a full demo version of the score pre-orchestration, which literally demonstrates the power of Hans’ sample library, available at his Mac fingertips. It is also telling of the level of what is left in the final score, and instrumentation used in previous scores which fans would be familiar with.
Are You Listening Clark? is the first of the bonus tracks, that is sound effect driven, followed by the use of the Clark piano theme, and alien theme.
General Zod is the first of 3 bonus tracks by regular remix collaborator Junkie XL (real name Tom Holkenborg), which surprisingly for the first time aren’t remixes but actual score pieces from the movie (it is interesting to note that he is scheduled to score the follow up 300: Rise of an Empire). This is a great and subtle stoic and righteous variation of the themes depicting Zod, featuring strings and synths.
You Led Us Here contains variations of the alien Krypton theme.
This is Madness! is a drum circle version of the Zod and action themes, by Junkie XL, and while named after dialogue in the movie may not be used.
Earth is a welcome relaxed steel bell tinged version of the Clark theme with laid back guitar, synth pointing, and drum stick tapping reminiscent of Thelma & Louise, and while also named after dialogue in the movie may not be used.
Arcade sounds like an amped up version of the Zod themes, by Junkie XL, and may not be used based on the track name not appearing in movie.
In conclusion, this listening review has ended up being quite different from the early listening experienced before watching the movie. From a standalone point of view, it is easy to listen to Sketchbook, Earth and What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World? On that basis, it is best to watch the movie before trying to appreciate the score as is, and the results will be two-fold – you will understand and enjoy the movie from the score point of view (given that you have listened to it already), as it is mixed in surprisingly well, and resonates on an emotional level so greatly with the Clark theme which may cause tears to be shed, and secondly as has been my case in point, enjoy the score on its own, as the movie watching experience will etch it into your mind, and forever fuse the story and music together. This is the true core of movie-making collaboration, and something which Hans has stated in the past where the music must serve the movie, and in this case, it certainly does.
Sonically speaking, the fact that the album is mastered quite low, inherently dampening the headroom for something that is quite active, sadly diminishes or makes it challenging to like on that level. That is something that ironically is a non-issue when watching the movie, given the usual criticism that the music by Zimmer is overloud. The other observational analysis is that this strategy mirrors that employed by Batman Begins in introducing that trilogy. While the producers have stated that sequels were not intended, it is only natural that the creativity would take this into account, and gamble on being able to expound on the early ideas later, which was clearly demonstrated with the output on The Dark Knight, where sonics and themes opened up like no other. This album falls into the category of acquired taste, as opposed to immediate favourite.
It would be remiss of me not to review the movie on its own merits, and I must say with my lowered expectations from reading others reactions to the change in approach with Man of Steel starting with the very exclusion of the name of Superman, the lack of Williams’ theme, and bleak visual palette, that I was impressed from the get go with the surprising successful structure of the plot, finding solid reasoning for every criticism publicised. Henry Cavill in many scenes reminds us of the huge legacy of Christopher Reeve. The timely humour in a few scenes was welcome. The amazing re-imagined look of Krypton (while not totally original) was totally expanded compared to what we saw in the Donner versions, and Russell Crowe’s role was more than expected, and not as stodgy as the one portrayed by Marlon Brando. While the initial flash forward in plot sequencing is jarring, the eventual flashback method plays itself out beautifully, adding to the emotional payoff. This mechanism I believe was essential in shaking off the comparative familiarity with the originals. The role of Lois Lane is handled with aplomb by Amy Adams, who in not being a classic beauty lends herself well in the role that was defined by the alternate beauty of Margot Kidder who was forever associated with the character, much like Christopher Reeve. Christopher Meloni in what is a new role, really shines as the heroic but reluctant military liaison. While there were a few creative distractions like the heat vision approach, and compressed timelines, it is the amazing performance of Kevin Costner which really steals the movie. His portrayal of Jonathan Kent as both an empathetic and protective adoptive father opposite Diane Lane’s Martha Kent is so unassuming that one cannot but gravitate towards his worldview. It is this foundation which explains all that Clark grows up to be. That being said, a hot off the press contribution (by lost and found original Zinfo member Todd Lamanca!) about:
Cooper Timberline who played the young Clark Kent was in the lobby of the IMAX theater in Richmond (he’s from there) signing movie posters, which he gladly did for me. He’s a firecracker and born talent and will do very well, I’m certain.
It is noteworthy in that without Cooper’s second movie performance, Costner would not have looked so good. The other 2 main female actresses also make their presence felt as counterparts to Jor-El (Antje Traue), and Zod (Ayelet Zurer). Other familiar supporting players include Laurence Fishburne whom one might assume will have a bigger role in the potential sequel, Richard Schiff, and an appropriately untrusting Harry Lennix.
Mention must be made of Michael Shannon’s re-imagined General Zod, who in a given plot point, can be sympathised with.
All in all, cinematic viewing is recommended, and I look forward to the Blu-ray edition in 3D out on November 12th in the US and on October 31st in Australia, to see whether my assessment holds up.
Here’s an insight into the moviemaking experience which demonstrates the continued blurring of the line between scoring and sound effects. Marco Beltrami is credited with a cue from The Hurt Locker, and I was intrigued to find out where in the movie it was used, and who better to ask than Hans himself and this is what he had to share:
We used one sound design thing from his score to the “Hurt Locker”… It just is one sound effect when the lightbulbs blow on the Kent farm…our sound-Design team never found anything as good, and for a while we thought it was part of the sound effects stem on “Hurt Locker”… But it’s a bit of score, and it was only right to give him the credit. He’s a really nice guy. His son and mine are the best of friends!
The score is already seeping into even the rugby league zeitgeist in Australia featuring in Channel 9’s broadcast of the deciding State Of Origin match on July 17th.
A sequel has just been announced at Comic-Con in the form of a hybrid movie – Superman/Batman: World’s Finest. It is assumed Hans will return to possibly expand and blend the Dark Knight into Super Steel.