Film Music Review
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X-Men First Class

Music composed by Henry Jackman

20 Tracks (Playing Time = 60:45)

Album produced by Henry Jackman and Al Clay. Music orchestrated by Stephen Coleman, John Ashton Thomas, and Noah Sorota. Additional music by Chris Willis, Matt Margeson, and Dominic Lewis. Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Score recorded at Newman Scoring Stage, 20 th Century Fox. Score recorded by Frank Wolf. Score mixed by Al Clay and Jeff Biggers at Remote Control Productions. Digital recording by Erik Swanson, Siamm Andrews, and Daniel Kresco. Music edited by John Finklea.

Sony Classical 88697924512

Rating: ****



A decade has passed since the first X-MEN film appeared on screen. Two sequels and one character-related origin film have since appeared. The music for these films has often struggled to find a consistent musical voice with scores by Michael Kamen, John Ottman, John Powell, and Harry Gregson-Williams.

The present film takes us back to the beginning of the X-men saga in a time of the Cold War and a world on the brink of Armageddon. The film’s score is by Henry Jackman whose first solo scoring effort, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, was a perfect blend of 1950s sci-fi music a la Herrmann and grand orchestration. His equally fine score for GULLIVER’S TRAVELS was the only highlight of that holiday release last year. Jackman comes out of the Zimmer group, having worked as an arranger or co-composer on a number of Zimmer projects (THE DA VINCI CODE, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 & 3, THE HOLIDAY, KUNG FU PANDA, THE SIMPSON’S MOVIE, HANCOCK, and THE DARK KNIGHT).

The opening “First Class” does have some powerful music in its mix with a strong majestic theme that also soars above a texture that bears some resemblance to Zimmer’s string style. The appearance of rock guitars and drum patterns is completely appropriate given the focus on the “early” formative years of the X-Men. Creation of dark colors with ambient design is another important aspect of the score which is presented as well early on (“Pain and Anger”). Jackman takes a page out of the recent BATMAN reboot scores with a recurring minimalist-like motif that will recur to set up returns of his primary thematic material.

The main difference is that there are not those huge blocks of sound that crescendo into climaxes in the Zimmer-Howard scores. Here the music’s intensity is created through repetition of very active motives. Jackman’s orchestral style manages to explore intriguing instrumental combinations, sticking mostly to a more traditional sound that helps him stick out from others in the Zimmer protégé camp (though the penultimate track “X-Men” could have been written by any of that group). The result is a dramatic and engaging superhero score cemented by a strong thematic idea. These are the primary elements upon which Jackman creates a series of sequences which vary this material throughout the rather engaging score.

The musical ideas tend to a dark quality for the most part and the electric guitar segments are added to provide more punch and greater sound to the overall music. “X-Training” is a more urban sounding track all around with contemporary backdrops in an almost trance-like sound. There are some great action sequences in this score with “Rise Up To Rule” providing the first in the music’s presentation and “Let Battle Commence” bringing the contemporary rock gestures into a fuller orchestral presentation as well later. While the storyline maybe character driven, Jackman seems to avoid creating too many thematic connections to characters (this would have made an overly-complicated soup) sticking instead to emphasizing inner conflicts and tension and punctuating action sequences. The music overall is an often interesting hybrid of synth and sequencing techniques along with contemporary orchestral scoring which works quite well.

Each subsequent score by Jackman continues to impress and the commercial success of X-MEN FIRST CLASS this summer will no doubt help open doors to some additional projects.

For fans of superhero-themed film music, there is much to enjoy in the present release.


-- Steven A. Kennedy, 5 July 2011

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