Man of Steel: Hans Zimmer on How You Follow John Williams

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We met Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer at the famed Clint Eastwood Soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot recently. Zimmer has crafted a soaring score for Man of Steel and given the permeation of the iconic theme and score by John Williams from the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, one could understand how he first said no when director Zack Snyder asked him.

Man of Steel: Superman in Action

Zimmer has quickly become one of the most in-demand and popular composers in Hollywood. The German-born music maven has crafted the scores to some of the most popular movies in recent memories.

His tackling the score, teased prominently in this Man of Steel trailer, is largely due to the friendship he developed with Christopher Nolan making his Dark Knight series, and that is only his most recent success. Zimmer won his Oscar for The Lion King and then went on to compose the soundtrack to Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Inception as part of his 159 title resume. 

Even though he’s had enormous success, the idea of tackling a Superman score was utterly terrifying. See, Zimmer grew up a huge fan of Williams.

“It starts off with me kicking and screaming saying I don’t want to do this, it’s too much responsibility. John Williams is the master. He casts a huge shadow. What do I have to say that John hasn’t said? I grew up loving John Williams’ music. I remember listening to the score of Close Encounters and thinking, ‘This is one of the important pieces of 20th century concert music.’ I didn’t know you could do that in films,” Zimmer said.

Hans Zimmer Photo

“He’s been a huge influence on my life, except the last year where I forced myself to not listen to anything he’s done. I only saw Lincoln two weeks ago! I couldn’t do it to myself.”

Once he agreed to do the score, Zimmer never looked back and in fact, misses everyone he worked with on Man of Steel. “Then, you get drawn in and then you fall in love. Then, when you are the most in love… they say, ‘You’re done.’ Then, there’s the missing this family. It is a struggle,” Zimmer said.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this without everybody. The beauty of it is the collaborative process. The reason I love working on film is you get to speak to the actors, the writers, the DP.”

Zimmer may have joined the Man of Steel project out of respect for his friend, Nolan, yet he clearly has a new friend in Snyder. “With Zack, he is so visual. He’s a great artist. Half of our language together, he’s not using words. He’s drawing something. You try to not let your brother down. I grew up loving comic books.

When asked why, after so much resistance, did he finally say yes to scoring Man of Steel, it truly came down to camaraderie.

“Chris Nolan’s my friend and you want to hang out with your friends as much as you can. I don’t get out of the studio much, so you might as well surround yourself with people you love. Also, it was Zack starting to talk about the story which I knew meant I didn’t have to do a parody of a John Williams score. I could go and have my own voice,” Zimmer said.

And he was also drawn to the light, rather than the darkness that had permeated Nolan and his collaboration for the last decade.

Kevin Costner Man of Steel

“The things he was talking about meant something to me, especially after nine years of darkness in The Dark Knight. Suddenly, there’s a thing I haven’t done since Backdraft, which is to celebrate the first responder -- that person who doesn’t turn away from the car crash, who actually comes towards it.”

Zimmer sought to compose a “humble” score, given that the Superman character is about as unassuming as superheroes get. He also saw it as a tribute to those who rush towards danger in our society.

“I thought one of the things Zack and Chris were talking about was, ‘Let’s celebrate these people that the news doesn’t speak about. Let’s celebrate a farmer and his wife who take in a stranger.' That’s real,” Zimmer said. “I wanted to write a humble score, because there’s something so dignified about those people.”

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