CD: Man of Steel (2013)

July 27, 2013 | By

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Rating: Weak

Label: Water Tower Music/ Released: June 11, 2013

Tracks & Album Length:   CD1: 17 tracks / (59:00) + CD2: 7 tracks / (59:00)


Special Notes: Limited Deluxe Edition includes booklet, extra music cues, and code to download DTS Headphone: X versions of cues on CD1. / Also available on LP.


Composer: Hans Zimmer




Just as filmmakers have trouble trying to restart a franchise and differentiate their new entry from a prior effort or series of sequels, composers have the challenge of meeting the needs of the new film and weighing all the history that comes with a character like Superman.

John Ottman had to compose his own material under the powerful shadow of John Williams’ iconic theme in Superman Returns (2006), and Hans Zimmer’s situation is no different, but rather than allow for any thematic cameos or ghostly quotations, Zimmer – perhaps at the behest of director Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. – wrote music that immediately signaled a new take on Superman.

No longer practicing his patented pure bombast, Zimmer’s approach to scoring action and adventure material has matured over the years, but Man of Steel is very much derived from the heavy chord statements that Zimmer used in Inception [M] (2010) – loud, brash brass with electrified sweetening – and his main theme is built around similarly minimalist material.

MOS’ opening cues stick to the bare bones material, and the dour mood infers latent grandeur; a power in development, if not a hero struggling with multiple identities as both Clark Kent and Superman, and the CD’s first third is perhaps the score’s strongest material. Zimmer spins off electric variations, chamber-synth hybrids, and some great percussion clusters, but as the score progresses and Zimmer’s theme evolves into somewhat longer material, the score becomes a little too familiar – and not due to a cyclical unraveling.

As mournful and affecting as the first half of “Krypton’s Lost” may be – it’s filled with heavy strings and solo material, hushed vocals and mercurial electronic tones – it also marks the first signs where Zimmer’s has worked in the closing theme material from Angels & Demons [M] (2009). It’s not a note-for-note re-use, but the theme’s chord structure is strikingly close to A&D, giving much of the material in MOS’ an unwanted sense of déjà vu.

The lengthy “Terraforming” presents the first overt appearances of the A&D chords, but the cue is notable for a potent use of percussion and a great emulation of the blasterbeam sound which Jerry Goldsmith used with precision in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1978). Other cues – “Tornado,” “Launch” – are less memorable, and the general monotony of the score (which ostensibly feels like a cyclical presentation of Action Cue + Danger Cue + Sad Cue; repeat) makes this a lesser work within Zimmer’s post-Inception C.V.

There are in fact two distinct ways to read the score:

1) Until Zimmer is pushed to create a more striking work with newfound sounds, what will continue to materialize in his work are patchy assimilations of sounds tied to his last major creative challenge.

2) Rather than base the score around a blatantly heroic main theme that’s reiterated in Williams’ score (and the sequels) like clockwork, Zimmer built his MOS music as one elaborate bass line, leaving the melodic and expansive thematic sections to the film’s sound effects, dialogue and visuals.

If the second interpretation is the most true, then the MOS album is still a challenge, because even as a reductive score, it lacks a certain creative sharpness or memorable idea that truly affects the listener the way Williams and Ottman managed to achieve in their own Superman entries.

Water Tower Music’s limited Deluxe Edition presents the score on Disc 1, with extras on Disc 2. Like the general release 2-disc version, the 28 minute “Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook)” features the same early versions of cues for major sequences, but even when edited into suite form it’s terribly repetitive and grating, and is perhaps of main interest to Zimmer’s fans.

The remaining 6 bonus cues on Disc 2 are unique to the Deluxe edition, and their exclusion from Disc 1’s programme will annoy fans wanting to hear MOS in proper chronological order. Water Towner clearly wanted to economize by using the same Disc 1 master for both releases, but it would’ve made sense to have a single 1-disc standard version, and arrange the entire score in chronological order over the two CDs, leaving the painful ‘sketches’ suite for the very, very end.

The Deluxe set also comes with a booklet, and a code that permits buyers to download the app in tandem with Disc 1’s 24 cues so they can listen to a special DTS Headphone: X mix designed to emulate the score in 11.1. (Zimmer was recently interviewed regarding the score and the Headphone: X process by the High-Def Digest, who also report the score will be available on the upcoming Blu-ray as a separate 5.1 music-only track.)

Zimmer also appears in a far too short promo video on YouTube. A well-intentioned sample track on YouTube compares the non-DTS / Headphone: X versions, but it hardly emulates the immersive sound; what you get is a rather muddy mix, unless perhaps the DTS extract is played back using proper gear..


© 2013 Mark R. Hasan


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