In 2013, Hans Zimmer was tasked with scoring a new Superman film, a daunting challenge considering the long shadow cast by John Williams' iconic score to the 1978 Superman. In this iteration, both the film and the score sharply diverged from the "classic" Superman, and delivered an entirely new "sci-fi" approach. The film score was received with somewhat mixed reactions, but personally I've grown to like it more and more with each new listen, especially after writing the below analysis. In fact, at least one reviewer considers this Zimmer's "masterpiece". Zimmer was assisted by a few other composers, most notably Junkie XL, aka Tom Holkenborg ("Mad Max: Fury Road"), who would get equal billing with Zimmer in the film's sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zimmer himself of course, was no stranger to superhero films, having created the classic modern day scores to the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy.
For the recording, a "celebrity drum circle" was employed to create some of the rhythmic elements (Zod drum theme, etc.), and this percussion ensemble included Jason Bonham, Pharrell Williams, Sheila E, Jim Keltner, Vinnie Colaiuta and 10 others. An 8 member pedal-steel guitar orchestra was used to create source textures to be used later in the Superman theme (low figures, "electric glissandi", etc). Homemade sound-sculptures, created and played by Chas Smith, were used to create ambient textures which could also be digitally manipulated. These elements and more were mixed with piano, orchestral and choral tracks to fill out the sound palette for the film. The score was released in a deluxe expanded package which was divided into "Flight" (film score) and "Experiments From the Fortress of Solitude" (demos/sketches and a couple of tracks used in the film score).
As in his scores for the Batman trilogy, Zimmer here wrote mostly short motivic themes used in variations, and threaded them through the complex electronic/sampled textures to create a unique and surprisingly emotional soundworld. The names of the themes I listed below are somewhat ambiguous, since Zod's theme also doubles as an battle theme whether Zod is present or not.
- Superman Themes:
- Theme A: a noble but lonely 4 note motif, first heard on low pedal-steel guitar orchestra. Usually connected through rising slides, but sometimes with falling slides.
- Theme B: variation of the A theme with rising notes alternating with a root tone, ending in epic chordal harmonies.
- Theme C: first heard in "Flight", usually on electric guitar (actually replaced in the film by a version with violins), fully developed into a soaring theme in What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving the World? (when the end credits start).
- Theme D: a triumphant fanfare featured in the end credits.
- Clark Theme: a variation of the Superman A and B themes, but less fateful, kind of a "Smallville" theme.
- Earth motif: 3 note falling-rising figure which often partners with the Clark theme.
- Codex Theme: usually high register motif which is first presented as a zig-zag rising motif but later gets many variations in which the downbeat somewhat shifts, so it sounds more like a descending figure.
- Krypton Harmony: ethereal harmony with subtle shifting textures.
- Zod Theme (and Rhythm): a martial "battle" theme based on an 11-accent rhythmic motif (divided into 6 and 5). The rhythm is first presented in "Ignition", and the melodic element appears in "I Will Find Him".
- Zod Theme B: this theme opens with an "atonal" figure, which contrasts sharply with Superman's generally more tonal themes.
- Mission Rhythm: a simplified version of the Zod theme's rhythm, later used as the basis of Wonder Woman's underlying drum layer in Batman v Superman.
- Zod Humming Motif: basically a kind of whirring sound effect, very unmistakable.
- Lara Theme: poignant theme usually on strings and features a violin or female vocal soloist.
The listing below is in film sequence order (Trk 1.1 means CD 1, track 1). In the "Title" column, the original session cue title follows in parentheses. Titles with an "*" indicate that the track was co-composed by Junkie XL.
|1.1||2:58||Look To the Stars
|0:00: Logos: low Superman theme
A over ethereal Krypton harmony.
1:00: Kal-El is born: Superman theme B in brass over tremolo strings, joined by held harmony chords with female voice.
2:10: At Kandor, Jor-El warns the Kryptonian Law Council that the planet will soon explode and that the Codex must be sent off-planet: Codex theme variation as a string ostinato over brass chords.
|0:00: Jor-El swims to the Codex:
Codex theme in high register over ethereal harmonies,
0:50: Zod's forces attempt to arrest Jor-El but he leaps onto his flying mount H'Raka and flies through the aerial carnage of Zod's coup: Codex theme-based ostinato, brass chords/falling string tremoli/slow drum rhythm, sudden quiet textures/accents into Codex ostinato variation with brass chords/percussion.
2:08: Arriving at his Citadel, Jor-El convinces Lara to send Kal-El to Earth. Zod's forces approach: oscillating Krypton harmony/Superman theme A over subtle percussion rhythm, descending chords, ethereal choral textures.
"It's a seemingly civilized population…he'll be a god to them."
|1.5||2:02||Goodbye My Son
|0:00: Lara and Jor-El feel sad
that they will not see their son grow up: ethereal choral textures joined by
female lullaby voice, then synths.
0:54: Jor-El encodes the Kryptonian Codex into his son's blood cells and then places Kal-El (and his own AI image) into an escape spaceship: noble rising brass figure over rhythmic strings, female voice and choir join, building to Superman A fragment climax.
(Surrender The Codex)
|0:00: Jor-El dons armor as Zod's forces approach the Citadel. Zod's lieutenant, Faora, senses the escape ship's ignition, and Zod accuses Jor-El of stealing the Codex: slams, rhythmic Zod theme on drums, varied dynamic levels, joined by strings, held brass accent.|
|0:00: Jor-El tells Zod that
Kal-El will be free from Kryptonian genetic engineering: low textures (falling chords).
"Heresy!"0:35: Zod and Jor-El fight. Zod tries to convince Lara to abort the launch: blend of Codex theme/Superman theme A and Zod rhythm variation, drums/Superman theme drop out, ethereal choral textures.
1:42: Lara launches Kal-El's escape ship. Zod kills Jor-El and asks Lara where they have sent their son: Codex/drum accents with pedal steel glissandi, Zod Humming motif, soft rising Lara theme fragment on female voice.
"He is beyond your reach."
|1.13||2:57||I Will Find Him*
(Zod Is Captured, edit)
|0:00: Zod is surrounded and
taken into custody: suspense brass, slams with female choir, swells,
0:57: Zod promises Lara that he will find Kal-El: Zod Humming motif, electronic percussion enters, joined by Zod theme in strings.
1:28: Zod and his accomplices are encased and sent to the Phantom Zone: Zod theme joined by percussion accents and brass chords, drums join theme.
Kal To Earth)
|0:00: Lara watches as Krypton
starts erupting, and then explodes: ethereal Krypton harmony, Lara theme, soon
featured on solo violin.
"Make a better world than ours, Kal."1:13: Kal-El's ship leaves Kryptonian space. It eventually approaches Earth: Codex theme over high textures, Zod theme in drums with Superman theme B variation in brass and Codex ostinato in violins.
(Oil Rig Rescue)
|0:00: Clark Kent rescues men at an
oil rig fire: drum circle rhythm enters over ambient textures.
0:59: Clark holds up a big metal structure so the rescue helicopter can escape: brass chords (Superman theme B variation) with drum accents.
|2.2||2:49||Are You Listening, Clark?
(Young Clark Freaks)
|0:00: He falls underwater and
has a flashback to his childhood: Codex theme/ambient textures.
0:34: Young Clark sees x-ray visions and hears loud noises: accents/swells/ambient textures.
1:07: Young Clark hides in a closet: ambient textures joined by whispering voices.
1:41: His mother arrives and comforts him. Present-day Clark is woken by whales swimming around him: Clark theme in piano, Codex theme.
|1.3||3:47||Sent Here For a Reason
(I Just Wanted To Help)
|0:00: Pa Kent tells Clark that
he must keep his powers a secret, that news of his existence will change the
world and possibly cause panic: 3-note Earth motif, Clark theme, Superman theme B
1:27: Pa Kent shows Clark the spaceship he arrived in. He tells Clark that one day he will have to choose whether to stand for Earth or not, and that his real father sent him to Earth for a reason: repeated piano note into sound textures, joined by Superman theme A in bass, Clark theme in piano, soft chords into ethereal textures (Krypton harmony variation).
|1.15||3:47||I Have So Many Questions*
(Who Are You?)
|0:00: Clark talks to a Jor-El's
AI ghost on a reactivated Kryptonian scout ship. Jor-El explains the
history of Krypton and Kal-El's escape from the dying planet (animated
metallic background montage): repeated piano note/Codex theme/Superman theme
A, dramatic pulsing string harmonies/modulating Codex theme, climaxing with
brass and muted string rhythm (Codex theme).
2:22: Jor-El explains that Clark is Krypton's first natural childbirth in centuries: female voice/ethereal textures, joined by Lara theme on strings.
"You're as much a child of Earth now as you are of Krypton. You can embody the best of both worlds."
|0:00: Jor-El shows Clark the
Superman suit: Superman theme A, theme B.
0:51: He steps out into an icy wasteland and begins testing his flying ability: Superman theme B continues, Superman theme C on electric guitar with pedal steel slides and drums.
2:11: After Superman's first flight ends in a crash, he concentrates. In his second flight he travels around the world at high speed: quiet textures, Superman theme B variation on piano/female voice/synth, Zod rhythm theme with noble, anthemic brass/guitar Superman theme.
(this track is different from the film version and features different string and guitar elements, removing some and adding others)
|0:00: Flashback while talking to
Lois by Pa Kent's grave: while in traffic, an approaching tornado forces the
Kents to seek shelter: ambient textures joined by ticking sound/brass swell,
low string ostinato figures developed with percussion accents, poignant brass
1:12: Pa Kent runs to save their dog who was left in the car (not Krypto, obviously): drum circle Zod rhythm, poignant Codex theme in sweeping strings and drum accents.
2:05: He stops Clark from helping him and revealing his powers, and is killed in the tornado: quiet texture/Clark theme in piano, resigned muted brass.
|2.4||2:59||You Led Us Here*
(Zod's Story, Pt. 1 )
|0:00: Superman meets Zod on the general's Kryptonian mothership: sinister textures, Zod humming motif.
0:33: The Kryptonian ship "atmospherics" cause Clark to pass out. He has a vision where he talks with Zod in a field: Codex theme in various layers, developing.
1:21: In a flashback montage, Zod describes how Krypton's explosion freed him from the Phantom Zone and that he had been collecting abandoned Kryptonian technology from around the universe until he noticed Clark's activation of the Kryptonian scout ship: dark, gothic string/brass/choral figures with fast Codex theme and monolithic Superman theme variation flowing underneath, eventually building to a climax.
(We Have A Plan/
|0:00: Clark and Lois plan to use
the original Kryptonian escape spaceship as a bomb in order to destroy Zod's
mothership (and part of the terra-forming machine): Mission rhythm in low strings, modulating, low Superman theme
1:14: Superman flies off towards the World Engine (the 2nd part of the terra-forming machine) in the Indian Ocean: Superman theme A with brass/Mission rhythm on drums.
1:29: Zod's mothership creates destruction in Metropolis. Clark and Lois (with the escape pod) fly towards their respective goals: ominous low textures, joined by Mission rhythm, Superman theme A on low electric guitar under sinister Zod theme B in low brass.
2:25: At the Kryptonian scoutship where Clark first learned of his true parentage, Zod argues with Jor-El's AI ghost. Superman approaches the World Engine, which starts defending itself with tentacles. The army attacks Zod's mothership. Citizens run as Metropolis begins collapsing: ambient textures, Zod Humming motif, Superman theme A in distant brass, Mission rhythm/Superman theme A, Zod theme in violins/Zod theme B in brass, Superman theme A/B into Zod theme B developed on brass over drums, Codex ostinato in low strings, Zod theme in staccato string accents/Superman theme B ending harmonies, Codex theme.
5:37: Zod and Jor-El continue arguing: ambient textures, Superman theme A over tremolo textures, subtle string rhythms enter, poignant rising strings.
"I will harvest the Codex from your son's corpse and I will rebuild Krypton atop his bones."6:47: Zod deletes the Jor-El AI and flies the Kryptonian scoutship (and birthing chamber) towards Metropolis. Superman has trouble fighting the World Engine: Superman theme A with accented brass chords/string rhythm, joined by chorus/slams and sweeping Zod theme B.
7:50: In Metropolis, Perry tries to help a trapped assistant. On the other side of the world, a determined Superman valiantly rises against the World Engine's gravity waves and destroys it, breaking the terra-forming device's gravity chain and saving Perry and the girl: suspense tremolo textures, rising variation of Superman theme B in strings, becoming triumphant with brass, choir joining, relieved ethereal texture.
|1.1||3:13||You Die Or I Do*
(Final Confrontation, edit)
|0:00: (After Lois and the army
have successfully used Kal's escape pod to destroy Zod's mothership in
Metropolis) Zod seethes at Superman for destroying the World Engine and the
Kryptonian scoutship/birthing chamber: low textures, ambient rhythmic elements/
low Superman theme A.
"We could have built a new Krypton in this squalor."1:30: Zod attacks Superman hand to hand: Zod rhythm, drums with Codex in low strings/climactic rising figure.
2:10: Zod learns how to use eyebeams. Massive architectural destruction ensues: massive drum/brass accents/Zod Humming motif, Zod theme on strings, quiet textures.
|1.6||3:23||If You Love
(Battle Continues, edit)
|0:00: Zod asks where Superman
trained ("On a farm?") and then learns how to fly. The battle
continues in the air and then in space. Lois and Perry observe
satellite fragments falling from the sky: low textures based on Superman theme
A/Zod theme rhythm, building with Superman theme A/Zod theme, joined by
choir/guitar figure, modulating, etc..becoming somewhat poignant (from Lara theme?).
2:09: The battle moves inside Metropolis Central Station. Superman is forced to kill Zod to prevent him from killing bystanders with his eyebeams: held string figures, climax, poignant variation of Clark theme led by cello, Krypton harmony.
|1.17||5:27||What Are You Going To Do When
You Are Not Saving the World?
(Clark Kent, Reporter)
|0:00: At Pa Kent's grave, Clark
and Martha talk (flashback of young Clark playing around while wearing a cape, and
Pa Kent looking worried): ambient figures leading to Earth motif, Clark theme on piano.
1:29: Clark tells Martha of his future plans (montage of Clark starting a new job at the Daily Planet): drum rhythm with low strings, Superman theme B/hopeful string rhythm, joined by Superman theme C in tremolo violins.
"Hi, Lois Lane. Welcome to the Planet."2:41: Title, end credits: Superman theme C/Superman theme D fanfare in brass/drums/etc.
3:28: Hopeful low strings rhythm/distant Superman theme B in brass/strings.
4:35: Superman theme C in strings with choir/drums.
4:59: Drums/bass pulses.
|Suites and Sketches|
|1.14||3:47||This Is Clark Kent (Clark Kent Suite)||0:00: Clark theme in piano
over ambient textures.
0:56: Piano solo over soft pulsing textures, joined by quiet string rhythm.
2:24: Clark theme on low piano and martial percussion.
3:10: Percussion/piano accents, low textures into Krypton harmony.
|2.1||28:17||Man of Steel Suite (Hans' Original Sketchbook)||0:00: Krypton harmony,
joined by Superman theme A, Superman theme B.
1:52: Lara theme in sweeping strings/guitar/synths.
2:51: Lara theme with added brass and drums, effects.
3:51: High falling figures over synth pulses, undeveloped Codex theme in high synths, joined by fast piano variation.
5:13: Modulation with added string accents, joined by big chords and female choir.
6:14: Joined by Superman theme B, electric glissandi, modulating.
7:51: Theme layers fade out into ambient harmony with repeated piano note, Superman theme A/echoed guitar, Superman theme B.
9:13: Clark theme in piano/low percussive punctuation, developed into an anthem with rhythm section.
11:01: Lara/Clark theme variation on piano with ambient pulses/guitar/strings.
12:32: Superman theme A, B with drums, Superman theme C joins.
14:08: Drums/piano accents, Superman theme B on brass/synth.
15:20: More drums/guitar join with Superman theme C, adding Superman theme D.
16:22: Ambient textures, drum slam, Superman theme A, B in low muted brass over held string textures.
18:14: Superman theme C in low strings, joined by electric glissandi/drums, low drones/ambient textures.
20:05: Superman theme A on slow low figures enters, joined by string rhythm, Zod theme B in brass/male choir.
22:33: Drum accents/more strings join Zod theme B.
23:25: Rising choral textures based on Lara theme (used for when S destroys the World Engine).
24:43: Superman theme A developed in drums/brass with synth ostinato/string tremoli, poignant string figures, joined by choir.
26:29: Rising fanfare, Zod theme B in brass.
27:53: Drum slam accents.
|2.3||7:21||General Zod (Suite)*||0:00: Zod humming motif/low
0:54: Drum accents and high swirling ambient elements enter, low chords/Zod humming motif.
1:55: Zod theme in strings/low textures/Zod humming motif, building in layers.
3:54: Zod theme continues with drum accents.
4:20: Quiet strings/ambient textures, poignant string theme,
developing and eventually joined by brass.
|2.5||3:48||This Is Madness!*
(Action Drums Suite)
|0:00: Ensemble drums with
low impact textures, developing mix.
1:04: Rhythm change.
1:33: Quieter rhythm but building, snare accents enter.
2:14: New accent rhythm, developing.
2:43: Rhythm change, developing.
3:11: Rhythm change, accents.
|2.6||6:11||Earth (Suite)||0:00: Ambient textures,
0:55: Clark theme in synth, Superman theme B ending harmony, Clark theme on piano.
2:13: Guitar figures (over bass pulses) enter based on previous motifs.
3:40: Soft synth melody figure and light percussion enter, joined by guitar/synth/etc continuing previous texture.
4:40: New rhythm, added synth figures, etc. (kind of U2 "Joshua Tree"-ish).
|2.7||7:26||Arcade (Suite)*||0:00: Ambient swirling
textures, joined by low synth figures.
1:21: Zod Humming motif, Zod theme in strings, developed with drum accents.
2:58: Zod theme builds with brass chords entering, drums enter.
4:24: New synth figures (square waves), rhythmic use of Zod humming motif/slams, Zod theme.
5:35: Ambient textures with Zod theme drums (and synth), Zod humming motif/slams, drums rhythm over ambient textures, ambient low strings, etc.
Hans Zimmer.com listing
Zimmer YouTube EPK video #1
Film Music Notes Analysis (excellent, didn't find this until after I finished my post, I think his might even be more accurate than mine, oh well...)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice