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 bird...it's a plane...it's a REAL string section!

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  1. "It's a bird...it's a plane...it's a REAL string section!"


    a hybrid in the end for sure ;)