Thursday, June 27, 2013

Quick Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel
Music composed and arranged by Hans Zimmer
Additional music/rhythm design by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg)
Additional music by Andrew Kawczynski, Steve Mazzaro, Atli Orvarsson
Ambient music design by Mel Wesson
Music orchestrated by Bruce Fowler, Walt Fowler, Yvonne Suzette Moriarty, Kevin Kaska, Carl Rydlund
Music conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith, Junkie XL and Atli Orvarsson
Score recorded at Eastwood Scoring Stage (Warner Bros), Newman Scoring Stage (Fox)

In the footsteps of the The Hobbit's regular and limited editions, Man of Steel follows suit with a deluxe edition with a few extra tracks and steel case.  I'll be reviewing the limited edition.  No film spoilers, don't worry.  

The album begins with Look to the Stars, starting with quiet rumbles with the main Superman theme intervals hinted first in timpani, guitar and then in the French horns.  Female voices enter singing vowels before the swirling low strings take over.  The brass and strings crescendo and fade away.  Oil Rig features the often talked about Drum Orchestra and the blaring brass seemingly from Inception.  Sent Here for a Reason is the first instance of the theme sparsely played on piano.  Humming electronics eventually take over, and electric guitar takes over the theme, before being passed back to the piano.  While the theme is gentle and features nice intervals, notes and chords, it's an unintentional sound-a-like to The DaVinci Code theme, and it feels like something is missing.

DNA starts with a calm minor melody, before the chugging strings and percussion enter.  The Superman theme appears on the electric guitar.  Goodbye My Son features a female vocal solo in a tender lullaby, and a string ostinato.  I guess it's a highlight, but it still sounds like something we've heard before.  If You Love These People is full of the theme on electric guitar, drum orchestra leading with the choir - in a mix that completely sounds like The Lion King (albeit more synthetic-sounding).  A sorrowful solo cello with piano and string backing take over before the track is abruptly ended.  The emotional side continues into Krypton's Last, with a violin solo carrying the track.  The electronic sounds whiz by before the brass, strings and percussion enter like earlier in the score.

Terraforming builds on a percussion/string ostinato that continue for a good part of 9 minutes.  We get the Superman theme and strong sonic rumbles.  These sounds aren't enjoyable to listen to, no matter how effect they may be.  While this is an action cue, it never evolves, it merely just changes the string patterns and brings the brass louder.  In the middle of the cue, we get a bit of a break before the chanting choir and steel sculptures bang away, before giving way to the more hopeful chord progressions as it crescendos to the end. 

Tornado begins with an electronic rhythm and let's the drum orchestra take over.  The strings add and crescendo to the tender moment with piano.  You Die or I Do has more minor low rumbles, has more electronic buzzing, hard percussion.  The string and brass work in this track sounds like someone is parodying Zimmer (and RCP) tendencies.  (Are you seeing any patterns?!) Launch brings the drum orchestra back, adding in a goofy sounding electric guitar and later the female vocalist.

Ignition is a percussion nightmare.  Perhaps I sound like an old man, but that cue is neither action or exciting.  It is thankfully short.  I Will Find Him has some electronic sounds and rumbles from earlier in the score with the Inception-esque brass calls.  The percussion and brass pick up, accumulating to large minor chords.  The piano version of the main theme starts This is Clark Kent.  There are some slight harmonic and accompaniment variations to this version, with strings pulsing quietly in the background.  The melody eventually builds with an accented piano and percussion.  If you like the quieter moments with this theme, this is a good version.

I Have So Many Questions is relatively quiet, with the echoing pattern found earlier in the score.  It is neither optimistic nor hopeless, but features another lovely violin and vocal soloist.  Flight is where the theme grows with power, much like Superman himself and his powers of flight.  We get more of the pedal steel ensemble, and a quieter section before the bombastic nature is show.  Zimmer's style of slowly growing the theme with more instruments and dynamics shows off in this track - perhaps a highlight.  What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World? (besides being the longest track title ever), is full of thematic moments from the score.  The gentle piano begins the cue which builds the theme with the surging strings and brass.  Of course the guitars and drums join in.  This track is probably going to be the stand-out of the score, the optimistic and soaring Superman theme we've wanted the whole film.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance is Man of Steel (Hans' Original Sketchbook).  Played by Zimmer on keyboards (showing how far digital technology has gone), is the whopping 28 minute suite.  It is a bevy of themes, some later refined in the completed score.  It is an interesting look into his scoring methods - starting as a suite and eventually written to fit each scene.  It is slightly ironic how similar this synth demo sounds like the final score (real instruments and all).  This is the general pattern for Zimmer and co., and this is a neat glimpse.  (See the Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack Collection for similar demos).  Is the Sketchbook a bit much, maybe a little indulgent?  Yes - but an interesting listen at least once.

The limited edition set has the following tracks.  Are you Listening, Clark? features more ambient sounds and ghostly echoes which disappear when the theme appears on piano.  General Zod contains more interesting ambient sounds (perhaps a bit too close Batman cape flapping).  There is a pattern of a motif in this cue, but it's not apparent throughout the score as an identity for Zod.  There is a section of somber sounding strings, moving slowly and building, which works quite well.  You Led Us Here is a gloomy track, with vocals, cello solo and chimes.  More drums appear in This Is Madness!, which sounds like a drum circle jam session.  Earth is a quieter track, almost dream-like, with the main theme being slightly varied.  Arcade is chock full of the low bass and then the standard string arpeggios and intrusive electronic buzzes.  Similar to earlier tracks, it sounds like a wonderful Zimmer parody mock-up.  With the bonus "experiments from the Fortress of Solitude", General Zod, This Is Madness, Arcade were written by Zimmer and Junkie XL.                                                  

First, I think it's important to remember that most of director Zack Snyder's films were "scored" by Tyler Bates, so technically, Hans Zimmer's efforts are a step up. That said, Zimmer's methods didn't quite work with the film. Obviously John Williams' familiar Superman theme wouldn't have worked with the film, but a different sounding world wasn't created. There was no sense of identity in Clark/Superman, Krypton, Zod, Lois. Yes, there was the simple piano melody, which maybe was perhaps too simple. As Zimmer said recently in an interview "I write stupidly simple music". And perhaps there is a familiarity with the Superman theme only because it was used with the trailers.

I will give credit to Zimmer for his uses of A Minor instead of the traditional D Minor he has written so many melodies in. I do love how optimistic the themes become when finally shifting to major keys or chords. The orchestra of drummers and pedal steel orchestra overstayed their welcome in many parts of the score. And yes, there were steel sculptures used as percussion. Get the "steel" theme? I know he wanted a 360 circle of drummers to add to the sonic landscape, but with so much overdubbing and layering, it didn't sound any different than the amplified cello/bass sections. P.S.. with the way the film is mixed, half the score was hardly heard.  But not liking the score isn't Zimmer's fault. It's the film, the new vision for the timeless characters that didn't rise to the history of those characters.

As the old quote goes, "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results".  So I can't be too surprised listening to an overwrought score by Zimmer with the same grab-bag of tricks used in countless other scores.

It's a's a's a REAL string section!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Screen Credit Quiz! (Summer Blockbuster Edition)

Ah, nothing like the summer for some movies.  This round of the Screen Credit Quiz is full of summer hit movies.  

Here's what to do: name the film by the title card and put your guesses into the comment section!



Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hans Zimmer: The Team

Hans Zimmer was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1957.  Music was an escape for Zimmer, whose  father died while he was a young boy.  Zimmer eventually moved to London, and began pursuing keyboards and synthesizers without formal musical training.

He began performing with bands like The Buggles in 1979. In fact, he can even be spotted in the music video for their hit, "Video Killed the Radio Star".  He co-produced and performed on "The History of the World (Part 1)" with the band The Damned.  It was that single in 1980, that he was credited - "Over-produced by Hans Zimmer".  He also played synthesizer on albums for bands like Krisma in 1981, and the Spanish band Mecano in 1984, among others.  Throughout the 1970s, Zimmer also composed commercial jingles for Air-Edel Associates.  Upon meeting film composer Stanley Myers, they teamed up and formed Lillie Yard Studio in London.  Together they co-composed scores, like Zimmer's first real film score Moonlighting (1982), Success Is the Best Revenge (1984), My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Separate Vacations (1986), and Castaway (1986).  Zimmer also joined composers David Byrne, Ryûichi Sakamoto, and Cong Su as a music associate and producer for The Last Emperor (1987).  Zimmer began to branch out as a solo composer for Terminal Exposure (1987) and A World Apart (1987).

Director Barry Levinson heard Zimmer's score to A World Apart, and hired him as the composer for Rain Man (1988).  The synthesizer and steel drum-based music was a breakout score for Zimmer earned him his first Oscar nomination.  The score was recorded and engineered by childhood friend Jay Rifkin, who would partner with Zimmer to co-found Media Ventures in 1988.  In 1989, Zimmer composed his first action score, for director Ridley Scott - Black Rain (1989).  While the score was butchered in the final edit, it marked the first collaboration with Scott and orchestrator/conductor Shirley Walker.  Zimmer added charm to the Southern drama Driving Miss Daisy (1989), which like Rain Man would win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

In 1990, Zimmer collaborated with Ridley Scott's director brother Tony Scott on the race drama Days of Thunder (1990), Green Card (1990) with director Peter Weir, and noir Pacific Heights (1990).  Each established Zimmer in different genres, utilizing his mix of synthetic sounds and orchestral techniques.  He reunited with Ridley Scott with the hit Thelma & Louise (1991), composed Backdraft (1991) for director Ron Howard, replaced George Delerue for Regarding Henry (1991), co-wrote a score with Basil Poledouris for White Fang (1991) and composed K2 (1991), although his music only appears in the European version.  Zimmer returned with Rain Man director Barry Levinson for Toys (1992) and composed the score to A League of Their Own (1992).  He worked with South African musician Lebo M. for the score The Power of One (1992) with its African influences and instrumentation.

Zimmer continued with wide variety of styles and collaborators within his Media Ventures group, among them composer Nick-Glennie Smith, Mark Mancina and orchestrator Bruce Fowler.  In 1993 he composed scores to both Tony Scott's True Romance (1993) and Cool Runnings (1993).  His signature action style seemed to take off with Drop Zone (1994), with one of the melodies appearing in several future scores.  Taking his African-inspired work with Lebo M. further, Zimmer composed the dynamic score to The Lion King (1994).  While continuing to be one of Zimmer's most popular works, the score won the Golden Globe and Zimmer received his first Oscar.    

He certainly continued to work with a busy schedule with films like Beyond Rangoon (1995), Nine Months (1995), and action film Crimson Tide (1995) with Tony Scott.  The latter score would be Zimmer's first Grammy win after two previous nominations.  Around this time, up-and-coming arranger Harry Gregson-Williams began to compose more scores with Zimmer at Media Ventures.  Many scores feature these additional composers like Broken Arrow (1996), The Fan (1996), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), and The Rock (1996) being a pinnacle of his Media Ventures collaboration - featuring music by Zimmer, Glennie-Smith, Don Harper and Gregson-Williams.  While known for his action scores, his light score to The Preacher's Wife (1996) was nominated for an Oscar.  He flexed his action muscles again with The Peacemaker (1997), adding conductor/composer Gavin Greenaway more.  Zimmer's romantic side was shown with the score to As Good as It Gets (1997) with director James L. Brooks (the two had worked previously on 1994's I'd Do Anything).  As Good as It Gets landed Zimmer another Oscar nomination.  Also in 1997, the Broadway stage adaptation of The Lion King opened on Broadway, featuring bits of his score in different arrangements - which would go on to win Best Musical at the Tony Awards.

After becoming the head of the music department for DreamWorks SKG, he scored the animated film The Prince of Egypt (1998), for which he shared an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination with Stephen Schwartz.  Promising composer John Powell was added to the Media Ventures roster, and had music featured in Zimmer's moody score to The Thin Red Line (1998), his collaboration with director Terrence Malick.  Even after Malick's rearranging of the original score, he received another Oscar nomination.      

2000 was a hit year for Zimmer, composing music to the DreamWorks animated film The Road to El Dorado (2000), working again with Broken Arrow director John Woo in Mission: Impossible II (2000) which featured contributions by Lisa Gerrard and Heitor Pereira.  It was a re-connection with director Ridley Scott that made the biggest splash.  Gladiator (2000) lent him another chance to worth with ethnic-inspired music, haunting vocal solos with Lisa Gerrard, and large action cues.  The best-selling album won the Golden Globe for best score, while receiving BAFTA, Grammy and Oscar nominations.  

In 2001, he continued with some directors like Golden Globe nominated Pearl Harbor (2001) with Michael Bay, and with Ridley Scott he composed the varied scores to Hannibal (2001) and the experimental score to Black Hawk Down (2001).  More scores around this time include the DreamWorks animated Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), thriller The Ring (2002) with director Gore Verbinski, Tears of the Sun (2003), Matchstick Men (2003) again with Ridley Scott, comedy Something's Gotta Give (2003) and his 100th film score -The Last Samurai (2003).  Zimmer and fellow composer Klaus Badelt composed the score to Verbinski's first Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).  Composing the theme and giving Badelt composer credit, Zimmer credited himself yet again as "Over-produced by Hans Zimmer".  It was December, 2003 that proved to be a tumultuous year for Zimmer and Jay Rifkin, who filed a multi-million suit against him.  It was then that Zimmer split off and created Remote Control Productions for him and his fellow composers and arrangers.

2004 saw action film King Arthur (2004), animated film Shark Tale (2004), German film Laura's Star (2004) and Spanglish (2004) - reuniting with director James L. Brooks.  The score gave Zimmer another Golden Globe nomination.  Zimmer returned to DreamWorks animation with the fun Madagascar (2005) and returned with Ridley Scott for The Weather Man (2005).  It was Batman Begins (2005) with director Christopher Nolan that caused his biggest splash.  Co-composed with James Newton Howard, the brooding and chugging ostinato pattern became the blockbuster modern scores among his fellow composers.      

In 2006, Zimmer returned to the pirating world with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), this time listed as lead composer.  After a long break, Zimmer reunited with director Ron Howard for the adaptation of The Da Vinci Code (2006).  Like Hannibal (2001), Zimmer skillfully mixed synthesizers and chorus and would be nominated for a Grammy and Golden Globe.  Of course, he finished off the Pirates trilogy with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), each adding new themes onto the previous ventures.  With a very different style from his past films, he scored the The Simpsons Movie (2007).  

Again dividing the thematic material, Hans and James Newton Howard divided scoring duties for The Dark Knight (2008), bringing the music larger into the mix, and bringing their score into high demand.  The score was nominated for a BAFTA and Grammy award.  Other highlights around the same time include the subtle score to Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon (2008), which earned a Golden Globe nomination, and two DreamWorks animated titles, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) and Kung Fu Panda (2008), the latter co-composed with past collaborator John Powell.

He expanded his themes for the Ron Howard followup to 'Da Vinci' with Angels and Demons (2009), expanded into the video game score realm with themes for 2009's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  Notable was his score for director Guy Richie's new take on Sherlock Holmes (2009).  The score was nominated for a Grammy and Academy Award.  The off-kilter and quirky score was co-composed by Lorne Balfe, who had risen through Remote Control Productions composing additional music and programming for various scores.

2010 saw another spike in interest for Zimmer, composing the brooding score for Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010).  The booming score was nominated for several awards, including the Golden Globe, Grammy and Academy Award.  Zimmer also shared scoring duty of the HBO mini-series The Pacific with Blake Neely and Geoff Zanelli, both of whom had appeared in several credits with Zimmer over the years. In 2010, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, pretty rare for a film composer.  His musical quirkiness fit nicely into the DreamWorks animated film Rango (2011), with a Western sound.  

Between 2011 and 2012, his thematic material alongside new themes would appear in numerous sequels, like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) which featured several gypsy improvisations, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012) and a return to the blockbuster with The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  Reuniting with Lisa Gerrard and Lorne Balfe, Zimmer composed the score to the TV mini-series The Bible (2013).  Spreading to more superheroes, Zimmer scored Man of Steel (2013), returned to the Western with director Gore Verbinski for The Lone Ranger (2013).  Among several upcoming projects, there is Rush (2013), directed by Ron Howard and eventually will score Interstellar (2014) for Christopher Nolan.     

Zimmer has really built and empire in film scoring, letting composers gain experience in various jobs as conductor, orchestrator, additional composer and using each other as mentors.  Eventually, the composer gets their own gigs and can score movies successfully alone (many thanking Zimmer in the acknowledgements, or Zimmer has album producer).  Some names from his "team" over the years include:  Klaus Badelt, Lorne Balfe, Ramin Djawadi, Nick Glennie-Smith, Harry Gregson-Williams, Gavin Greenaway,  Rupert Gregson-Williams, Steve Jablonsky, Henry Jackman, Trevor Morris, Blake Neely, Atli Örvarsson, Heitor Pereira, Marc Streitenfeld, Mel Wesson, Geoff Zanelli - to name just a handful.

It is also this "team" that is divisive to score listeners and other composers.  To some extent, many of these composers follow the same patterns and formulas into their own projects.  Some object to Zimmer composing virtually long suites of thematic material and having his "team" actually put the score together from there.  While that might not be the case, his recent composing style has certainly taken off for most blockbusters and large films.  

Of course his work in blockbusters, animated films and almost every genre is notable.  He has worked with some of the best directors, and had long-lasting collaborations with Ron Howard, Ridley Scott, James L. Brooks, Nancy Meyers, Barry Levinson and Christopher Nolan to name a good number.  With those large-scale films and best-selling albums, Zimmer is currently one of the most recognizable names (and sounds) coming out of film scoring today.      
At the rate he creates new scores, we'll have lots more to listen to.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Scoring Stages: Todd-AO

Todd-AO Scoring Stage
CBS Radford Lot

One of the best places for sound editing and engineering. Originally built as a scoring stage (unlike the other studios). Owners Republic Pictures sound department received a special Oscar at the 1946 awards for “an outstanding musical scoring auditorium which provides optimum recording conditions”. One of the largest stages, Todd-AO renovated in 1992 and could fit 150 musicians. Amid financial situations, the scoring stage closed in December 2007.  (The last feature film recorded there was National Treasure: Book of Secrets)

Scores recorded here include:
The Red Pony (1949) – Aaron Copland
The Little Mermaid (1989) – Alan Menken
The Lion King (1994) – Hans Zimmer
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Thomas Newman
Apollo 13 (1995) – James Horner
Pocahontas (1995) - Alan Menken
Waterworld (1995) – James Newton Howard
Crimson Tide (1995) – Hans Zimmer
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) – Elmer Bernstein
Batman Forever (1995) – Elliot Goldenthal
Mars Attacks! (1996) – Danny Elfman
Ransom (1996) – James Horner
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) – John Debney
LA Confidential (1997) – Jerry Goldsmith
Titanic (1997) – James Horner
Mulan (1998) – Jerry Goldsmith
American Beauty (1999) – Thomas Newman
The Green Mile (1999) – Thomas Newman
Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) – James Newton Howard
Erin Brockovich (2000) – Thomas Newman
Evolution (2001) – John Powell
The Princess Diaries (2001) – John Debney
A Beautiful Mind (2001) – James Horner
The Salton Sea (2002) – Thomas Newman
John Q (2002) – Aaron Zigman
Signs (2002) – James Newton Howard
The Tuxedo (2002) – Christophe Beck/John Debney
The Scorpion King (2002) – John Debney
Blade II (2002) – Marco Beltrami
House Of Sand And Fog (2003) – James Horner
Elf (2003) – John Debney
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – Klaus Badelt
Looney Toons Back In Action (2003) – Jerry Goldsmith
Bruce Almighty (2003) – John Debney
The Italian Job (2003) – John Powell
Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004) – James Horner
Enchanted (2005) – Alan Menken
King Kong (2005) – James Newton Howard
Constantine (2005) – Brian Tyler
Flightplan (2005) – James Horner
Dreamer (2005) – John Debney
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) – Harry Gregson-Williams
Sin City (2005) – John Debney
The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) – Brian Tyler
All The Kings Men (2006)
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – Brian Tyler
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) - Hans Zimmer

The Prestige (2006) – David Julyan
The Pink Panther (2006) – Christophe Beck
Superman Returns (2006) – John Ottman
Night at the Museum (2006) – Alan Silvestri
Lady in the Water (2006) – James Newton Howard
All the King's Men (2006) - James Horner
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) – Hans Zimmer
Bridge to Terabithia (2007) – Aaron Zigman
Partition (2007) – Brian Tyler
August Rush (2007) – Mark Mancina
Beowulf (2007) – Alan Silvestri
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) – Trevor Rabin
Eagle Eye (2008) – Brian Tyler
Stop-Loss (2008) – John Powell

Batman Forever
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

James Horner Conducts

Last scoring sessions at Todd-AO for National Treasure 2