IRON MAN – Ramin Djawadi
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
2008 has been the summer of super heroes. Such is the power of the escapist entertainment provided by the likes of Marvel and DC Comics that three of the top five films at the box office have been about superheroes: The Dark Knight, Hancock, and this movie – Iron Man. Based on a character which appeared in a Marvel comic in 1963 and directed by Jon Favreau, the film stars Robert Downey Jr. (in a career-revitalizing role) as wealthy industrialist an inventor Tony Stark, who builds a super-advanced ‘power suit’, which he dons in an attempt to rid the world of the powerful weapons his own company created, and which have now fallen into the hands of terrorists…
To capture the world of Iron Man in musical terms, Favreau turned to composer Ramin Djawadi, part of Hans Zimmer’s stable of composers at Remote Control Production, whose career is on the rise off the back of box office successes such as Open Season, Mr. Brooks and Thunderbirds, as well as the hit TV show Prison Break. To say that Djawadi’s approach was simplistic is probably an understatement; basically, his remit seems to have been to appeal to the lowest of common denominators with driving rock rhythms, pseudo-heroic crescendos, and increasingly accelerating tempos. It’s the ultimate musical overkill – loud, fast, brash, devoid of any kind of depth, and failing entirely to comment on any nuances which may exist in the film, instead simply saying “Hey, I’m cool!”.
The other problem with Iron Man is that, as well not being good film music, it’s not even good rock music. It may come as a surprise to some that, when not listening to film scores, I often listen to classic and modern rock and metal – everything from Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Metallica, through to Evanescense, Marilyn Manson, Dragonforce and the German tanzmetal band Rammstein, who I have often thought might be able to write a good film score, as their songs often have a quite operatic, poetic nature. Unlike those bands, Djawadi’s chord progressions are crude in the extreme, the guitars do little more than repeat themselves over and over again, and the synth overdubs simply add another layer of aural sludge. As such, it’s difficult to know to whom this score will appeal: film music fans with a sophisticated ear will dismiss it as another mediocre Zimmer knock-off (which, basically, is what it is), while rock music fans will laugh at it for its lack of intelligent design or instrumental sophistication.
There are a couple of moments worth noting as album high points: the opening “Driving With the Top Down” and “Gulmira” are probably the most fun of the mindless rock cues; there’s a vague hint of an Arabic inflection in “Mark 1” to musically acknowledge those pesky Afghans; and the conclusive score cues – “Iron Monger” and “Arc Reaktor” – are nothing if not overwhelming, It’s like being shaken by someone screaming “ARE YOU EXCITED YET???” in your face, but I’m sure the desired affect is achieved in context. The brief moments of downtime come by way of “Extra Dry Extra Olives” and “Are Those Pullet Holes?”, a pair of muted quasi-romantic themes for Downey and his flame, Pepper Potts, and although they consist of little more than quiet, shifting string chords, they at least give the listener a moment to breathe.
“Vacation’s Over” features probably the most stirring performance of the main Iron Man theme, and is one of the score’s high points, with the exception of the finger-snapping big-band cue “Iron Man (2008 Version)” is a wonderful piece of feelgood jazz based on Jack Urbont’s theme for the classic cartoon series which, somewhat predictably, Djawadi had nothing to do with.
What worries me about the success of this kind of score is that, much like the scores for Transformers, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, this kind of film music is becoming associated with summer box office success, and because of the all-importance of the financial bottom line, studios will continue to commission them so as not to rock the boat or undermine the target demographic. The other worrying thing is that, at this time, I can’t see a way out. One only has to look at the viewer comments on site like Amazon to know that average consumers lap this kind of stuff up. It’s so dispiriting to know that composers like Djawadi are getting assignment after assignment and getting the praise and the plaudits, while other, significantly more talented individuals, can’t catch a break.
- Driving With the Top Down (3:08)
- Iron Man – 2008 Version (written by Jack Urbont, performed by John O’Brien and Rick Boston) (1:05)
- Merchant of Death (2:14)
- Trinkets to Kill a Prince (3:07)
- Mark I (3:53)
- Fireman (2:09)
- Vacation’s Over (3:34)
- Golden Egg (4:12)
- Damn Kid (written by Ali Theodore, Zach Danziger and Vincent Alfieri, performed by DJ Boborobo) (1:12)
- Mark II (2:47)
- Extra Dry, Extra Olives (1:43)
- Iron Man (3:30)
- Gulmira (4:05)
- Are Those Bullet Holes? (2:00)
- Section 16 (2:33)
- Iron Monger (4:45)
- Arc Reaktor (3:55)
- Institutionalized (written by Louiche Mayorga and Mike Muir, performed by Suicidal Tendencies) (3:49)
- Iron Man (written by Jack Urbont) (0:20)
Running Time: 54 minutes 49 seconds
Lions Gate Records LIOG200162PMI (2008)
Music composed and conducted by Ramin Djawadi. Orchestrations by Stephen Coleman and John O’Brien. Additional music by Ryeland Allison, Clay Duncan and Atli Örvarsson. Recorded and mixed by Alan Myerson. Edited by Tanya Noel Hill Album produced by Hans Zimmer.