Benjamin Wallfisch’s score for SHAZAM! is a welcome return to the wonderful world of 80s-style orchestral action adventure, and another fantastic addition to DC’s mind-blowing superhero score catalogue.
Let’s start off by talking about the biggest and best thing (by far) about this score; the main theme. The album opens with a track called SHAZAM!, a loud, epic, heroic and masterfully orchestrated four-minute-long superhero theme. There’s so much to draw from this one piece of music; just from the opening notes I can hear heavy references to the compositional style of John Williams, particularly his work for 1978’s Superman. The actual motif for the title character is rather complex, being about twenty four notes long (give or take), and it gets its introduction in a loud and vocal-heavy rendition about thirty seconds into the piece. We are then treated to a good two minutes or so of dramatic, very heroic-sounding and brass-heavy orchestra, with elements of the main theme interspersed throughout. The music does slow down a bit here, allowing us to catch our breath for a few enjoyable strings-based seconds before then diving straight back into the main theme for its best appearance yet. Here Wallfisch simply throws everything in his orchestral arsenal at it, resulting in a truly breathtaking finale to a frankly mind-blowingly good piece of music. This is the best superhero theme that I have heard in a good long time, and I don’t say that lightly.
Things soften up quite quickly after that main theme, with pensive and strings-heavy tracks like The Consul Of Wizards and Compass taking the forefront. There are heavy elements of mystery and wonder with these cues, conveyed primarily through ominous-sounding vocals and tense backing strings. Throughout them however is also an ever-present sense of heroism, which for much of the first half of the album just lurks quietly in the background, but it is most definitely there. Seven Symbols then darkens the horizon a bit more, adding more mystery with rather haunting vocals and percussion accompanying the already established gloomy strings.
It’s You Or No One then starts to turn the tide, pushing back the darker side of the score and coaxing out the more hopeful elements that were previously hidden in the background. Like with the last few tracks it opens with rather pensive strings and percussion, at points reminding me of the mysterious musical style of Alan Silvestri’s Night At The Museum. Towards the end the music then builds up rapidly into heroic brass and strings, sounding out a few of the twenty four main theme notes before then drawing to a close. Dude, You’re Stacked then continues in this vein, hinting more at the main theme and a more superhero-y setting overall before then fading back into the softer strings side of the score.
It’s at this point in the album that SHAZAM! clearly starts to build towards the full theme, which is another reason why I think it should’ve been the final track on the score, not the first. Brass has become a regular member of the orchestral cast now, with cues like Bus Rescue leaning more on the action side of the things by combining the established tense strings with loud brass and hopeful vocals. There’s one moment where the volume starts to increase and the orchestra starts to build, and literally two notes of the main theme are played before the music then rapidly cuts off, almost as if it’s saying; “no, you are not ready yet.” It’s definitely building to something, that’s for sure.
The score continues in this new manner for a good few tracks, with the composer now using the softer strings-heavy side of the score in combination with the darker and more foreboding vocal elements, and infrequent bursts of heroic orchestra appearing here and there. Come Home Billy is a pretty good example of this, opening with a few notes of the main theme before then fading backwards into more pensive strings-based territory, and then finishing up in the more gloomy side of things. Give Me Your Power then continues where it left off, starting off sad and soft and then building up with brass into near-villainous score as presumably something very bad happens.
All Hands On Deck then switches things up again, taking the newly introduced scary villain-style music and adding more orchestral elements to it, with the pensive strings hanging about in the background. Sad vocals then join the fray about halfway through, before then transforming the mood to hopeful and then all the way to fully heroic as brass and loud strings arrive with a few notes of the main theme. There’s a good reason for this sudden boldness however, as I Can Fly! is up next, and it’s here that we finally hear the full main theme for the first time (not counting the first track) in all its loud and brass-heavy glory. It’s sadly only a two minute track, but nevertheless it’s the musical moment that we’ve been waiting for.
The score then enters finale territory with Fight Flight, a four minute fast-paced action cue with many a John Williams reference. I could’ve sworn I heard some Danny Elfman in here too, but that might have just been me. The music here is rather tense, being quite edge-of-your-seat at points with rapid and almost horror-style strings in combination with villainous vocals and deep brass. Hope however then makes a particularly bombastic return at about two minutes in, with the vocals brightening up and brass leading the charge into much more heroic-sounding score as the track comes to an end.
Finale then picks up right where it finished, continuing the heroism and then mixing it with the more dark and villainous elements, all-in making a literal musical battle which is tremendously enjoyable to listen to. The album overall then draws to a close with We’ve Got A Lair, a very hopeful piece that once again brings the main theme right to the forefront, and as a result it sounds absolutely amazing. It would then be absolutely perfect if the four minute SHAZAM! track played right afterwards as a proper musical payoff, so it might’ve actually been a better idea to have that four minute masterpiece as the final track as opposed to first, so that the score feels like it’s building up to it.
Overall, Benjamin Wallfisch’s score to SHAZAM! is brilliant. His main theme in particular is sublime, being a masterfully orchestrated four minute slice of literal superhero heaven. The album as a whole is completely centred around this motif (as it should be really) with little hints appearing here and there in the rather gloomy opening cues, which then expand and slowly build up as the score continues until finally exploding in full heroic form with some truly spectacular brass-heavy action tracks at the end. It is a very well crafted album, and other than the silly decision to have the main theme as an opening track rather than at the end as an epic finale-esque payoff, I find myself having very little to criticise.
Nail on the head, Mr. Wallfisch.
Standout Cue: 1. SHAZAM!