Composer Hans Zimmer scored the upcoming Superman movie, "Man of Steel."
He says following in the footsteps of John Williams' iconic fanfare theme was intimidating
He says the new music celebrates "everything that was good and fine about America."
The secrecy surrounding “Man of Steel,” due June 14, is pretty extraordinary, but composer Hans Zimmer was able to give CNN a glimpse of what to expect when we caught up with him this week regarding the score he did for “The Bible.”
Asked if the two projects had anything in common, since both involve a savior figure (Jesus, Kal-el) sent by his father to Earth, Zimmer laughed and said, “Yes. Yes is the answer. Once you see Superman, you’ll see how close you are with your question.”
“Both stories are passions,” Zimmer continued, “about a struggle to do the right thing. For Superman, it was a really simple question for me. What does it take to become a good man? To be good? And what does that mean in our more and more complex society? Do any of these values still resonate with us?”
Zimmer said he came to this understanding about director Zack Snyder’s take on Superman (which reboots the series, instead of coming in at a later point a la “Superman Returns”) because he was questioning how he would score the film and not remind audiences of John Williams’ iconic fanfare theme. “Look, that was daunting,” Zimmer confessed. “Seriously. He’s the greatest film composer out there, without a doubt, and it happens to be one of his iconic pieces of music, so I spent three months just procrastinating and not even getting a start on the thing, because I was so intimidated: ‘Oh my God, I’m following in John Williams’ footsteps.’”
His way around this, he said, was to look at the Superman story in a “very different way.” “I kept thinking of the story as, What if you are extraordinary, and your entire ambition is to join humanity? To become human? What does it mean to become human? What does it mean to be an outsider who really wants to join the human race?”
“Man of Steel,” which replaces Brandon Routh with Henry Cavill, is the origin story of Superman, starting with a young Clark Kent discovering that he has extraordinary powers and is not from planet Earth. As he grows up, he learns where he came from and what he was sent to this planet to do, as he becomes a symbol of hope for humanity. The film also stars Russell Crowe as Jor-el (Kal-el’s birth father on Krypton), Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Martha and Jonathan Kent (his adoptive parents), Michael Shannon as General Zod (so expect some trouble there), Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White, and Amy Adams as reporter/love interest Lois Lane. (“She’s fun and sassy, in control, getting into trouble, and always looking for a headline!” Adams enthused earlier). While it remains to be confirmed, the latest rumor is that Mackenzie Gray is playing Lex Luthor, although he doesn’t appear in the trailer.
Coming off three Dark Knight films directed by Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” and “The Dark Knight Rises”), Zimmer also didn’t want to do “another really dark” superhero movie. “Everything’s tinged with irony and sarcasm and bitterness and darkness these days,” he said. But this Superman is something lighter, he said, “celebrating everything that was good and fine about America,” such as small towns “where people don’t lock their doors, neighbors get together, and families are families.”
“What was important for Superman was the simple fact that none of us pay much attention to the Midwest,” Zimmer said. “I know America mainly by the big cities, but if you go into the Midwest, there is a people there and there is a country there. And I thought it was important that the decent folk, simple folk be the heart of the story, and a character who is guileless, who isn’t complicated in the sort of flawed way our Dark Knight is, and isn’t political in any way. He’s just striving to become a better part of humanity.”
This perspective on Superman, the German-born composer said, is something that he came by in part because he’s a foreigner. “I think partly what we foreigners are good at is looking at America, not in a judgmental way, but wide-eyed, and seeing the things you take for granted and presenting them in a new way,” he added. “Like for ‘Thelma and Louise’ and the Grand Canyon, most American kids wouldn’t want to go there for their holiday, but to us it’s a magical, magnificent place.”
Sonically, this treatment of America comes across via a grouping of pedal steel guitars (instead of the usual string section), banging titanium and steel sculptures, and organizing “a who’s who of drummers” in a 12-member drum circle, including Jason Bonham, Sheila E. and Pharrell Williams. “The great thing about Superman is that everybody loves Superman,” Zimmer said with a laugh. “It’s very easy making the call and saying, ‘Hey, can you come?’ I remember phoning Pharrell and him saying, ‘I’m right in the middle of producing the Beyonce album in Miami.’ ‘Jason Bonham’s in Miami, and he’s getting on a plane!’ Next morning, there’s Pharrell, looking a little bleary-eyed.”
As a producer on “Man of Steel,” Nolan, who also collaborated on the story, initially acted as a sounding board for some of Zimmer’s ideas (“getting rid of my demons,” as he put it) but soon stepped aside so he wouldn’t be “a mistress in the mix” between Zimmer and director Zack Snyder, especially since Zimmer’s involvement in the whole project stemmed from a misunderstanding in the first place.
“A journalist asked me (at an ‘Inception’ party) if I was going to do Superman, and I hadn’t even heard of it, so I went, ‘Absolutely no way,’” Zimmer said. “Somehow in the noise of that party, that got misconstrued as ‘Absolutely Hans is doing it.’ It was all over the Internet that I was doing Superman, and I’d never even met Zack! So I phoned him up, ‘I’m really sorry, this wasn’t my doing, this is a misunderstanding.’ And he said, ‘Oh! It’s great that you phoned. Maybe we should meet and talk.’”
So they did, and Nolan urged Zimmer to sign up. “I remember him going, ‘Of course you can do it. What’s the big deal? I did Batman.’ And I said, ‘Excuse me, you went to Warner Bros. with an idea of how you were going to do Batman, and you’re saying I’m supposed to do Superman, but I don’t have the idea in my head.’ I have to sneak up on it!” And with Snyder, now he has.