Another thing that Superman: Unbound has going for it is its ambitious score by Kevin Kliesch. Best known for his orchestrations on numerous major films like, somewhat ironically, Superman Returns, Kliesch surely knows his way around an orchestra but is only starting to break into the composing world. This and his score for the reboot of Thundercats ("...ho!") will slowly but surely put him on the radars of many a geek.
Kliesch’s Superman: Unbound is of course not the only score tackling the Man of Steel this year, as Hans Zimmer made many waves recently for his divisive score for Man of Steel, the Zack Snyder reboot of the character. I do not intend to compare the quality of Kliesch’s work with that of Hans Zimmer or, for that matter, John Williams, but I bring this lineage up to make a specific point about Kliesch’s approach: Superman: Unbound is a successful middle ground between those oft-compared extremes. While incorporating many modern elements, Kliesch still finds instances to revel in orchestral writing, resulting in a rather pleasing hybrid score.
When I say "orchestral", though, I’m not quite speaking literally. Given that Superman: Unbound is a fairly low-budget affair, Kliesch doesn’t have a full orchestra available to him. What you’ll hear in Superman: Unbound is a synthetic imitation of an orchestra, albeit an extremely well done one at that. Due to Kliesch’s experience and talent with this kind of thing, the synthetic nature of the score only distracts once in a while. Mostly, the pseudo-orchestra is milked for all its worth in wall-to-wall action writing.
The Örvarsson-like ostinatos of the "Main Title" provide a sense of foreboding mystery on an interplanetary scale and signify the more "modern" side of the score. Cues like "Dissecting the Probe/Kandor Attack", "Brainiac’s Ship", and "Superman Held Captive" continue this sound of threatening, otherworldly intrigue and plot. The ostinatos overlaid with ambient electronic/choral work are Brainiac’s main representation in the score, fitting due to his somewhat robotic nature, though likely bothersome to stringent opponents of the Remote Control Productions sound. The threat Brainiac poses is occasionally also represented by a warped, electronic drop and a processed horn blast (horn-of-doom!).
As I mentioned earlier, Superman: Unbound is a predominantly action-based score with the majority of its cues being loud and high-energy. The earliest action piece, "Terrorist Attack", stands out as a highlight. Like much of the album release, "Terrorist Attack" is a superb merging of the score’s electronic and orchestral elements and it only reveals itself as completely synthetic during a few brief instances. What’s especially worthy of note here is the introduction of Kliesch’s Supergirl theme at 2:24 into the cue. It’s easily the strongest theme of the score and is not far behind whenever the Kryptonian is coming to the rescue. An even stronger rendition of the theme can be found in "Rebuilding the City / End Titles" at 4:52. It appears here in an arrangement that seems to be taking slight cues from X-Men: The Last Stand, which Kliesch also worked on as an orchestrator. It’s a much stronger, bolder variation of the theme than appears anywhere else on the album and as a result comprises the score’s best minute. In fact, if you have to listen to one track of Unbound, I would go with "Rebuilding the City / End Titles". As would befit the end credits, the track is a fantastic summation of the score and features some of its best thematic material, including an additional variation of the main theme between 1:02 and 2:07 and a charming, warm love theme in the middle.
Though the constraints of the film’s budget are sometimes evident in its imitation orchestra (regrettably sometimes working against Kliesch's compositional prowess), Superman: Unbound is nevertheless a satisfying, even surprising, listen and an impressive merging of contemporary and classical styles. It’s a shame that Kliesch did not get the opportunity to incorporate a few more themes (and that I’ll likely remember the film for a sequence in which Lois flips Brainiac off over anything else), but his main theme and the numerous, well-constructed action pieces make Superman: Unbound a worthwhile listen for any superhero fan.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Terrorist Attack", "Superman Breaks Out", "Rebuilding the City / End Titles"
Label: WaterTower Music
Availability: 12 track edition