Hidden Figures

Hans Zimmer, Pharell Williams & Benjamin Wallfisch (2017)

Why You Should…
If you’re keen to revisit the territory of gospel music in film, effortlessly fused with jazzy notions and orchestral dignity in this creatively and emotionally satisfying release.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If you find yourself scratching your head at the lack of development of themes in this score, nor the abundance of lengthy cues.

Release Date: 6th January 2017 (GENERAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Hans Zimmer, Pharell Williams & Benjamin Wallfisch.
Length: 49:59
Recorded By/At:
Label: Columbia Records

Additional Information: 
Edited By: Catherine Wilson

It’s nice to see Hollywood pay more attention to the overlooked figures within history, and the crowning achievements the human race have accomplished thus far. Theodore Melfi’s gamble of HIDDEN FIGURES paid off rather well, with its sincerity in opting to use first-class actresses and a supporting cast to narrate one of NASA’s most fundamental moments in their organisation. The African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson, aided by her two colleagues Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were crucial players in the Space Race with Russia, their timely contributions allowing American astronaut John Glenn to be the first man to make a complete orbit around the Earth. Charmingly overstepping racial barriers, be they personal or professional, the film takes its source material from Margot Lee Shetterly’s titular novel. Though it depicted true events and the harrowing ordeals these three women endured to ensure their payoff, it doesn’t come without the soul and spunk that the African-American community is so lovingly associated with, Melfi keen on conveying that bravery and inspired demeanor through all angles of his production. Somewhere along the way, blindingly popular hip-hop and funk artist Pharell Williams stepped on board as co-producer, and invested his own musical voice as one of three composers for the film, aided by ever-popular industry heavyweight Hans Zimmer, and colleague Benjamin Wallfisch.

This unexpected convergence of musicians proves extremely rewarding in output, offering a solid listening experience just six days into the year 2017. Primary attributions are reportedly towards Williams, with Zimmer and Wallfisch working in tandem to ensure a smooth musical narrative. Whilst Williams as an individual, respected performer and composer now cements his inclusion to the world of film scoring with this score, this also serves as a much lighter, more thoughtful and heartfelt work from Zimmer, and Wallfisch. Hidden Figures is a score as mathematical as it is emotional, anchored by a set of loyal themes and motifs, and sublime experimentation of styles and textures. Not since Frost & Nixon has Zimmer demonstrated such attention to textural patterns in a score with his name gracing the front cover, and this score exhibits shades of previous works, namely Interstellar in its sonic acuity. The role of orchestra is on par with the more contemporary range of dynamic instrumentation, yielding splendid results in their harmonic aptitude and melody. The piano serves as the understandable heart of the score, as well as for the main characters, and is given performance by noted pianist and jazz legend Herbie Hancock. Of note is the clear stylistic distinction between the three primary themes for each character, reflective of their personalities. The central theme for “Katherine” is a mathematical piano line that fluctuates with calculative precision, so as to embody her efforts in the film. Ironically, despite this invention, it is transposed to a major key variant later in the score, which begs comparisons with the love theme from The Amazing Spider-Man, and Bicentennial Man, two James Horner scores showcasing further examples of the latter composer shamelessly reusing his ideas in cyclic fashion. This identity is deconstructed in “Kitchen Kiss”, to simple piano chords and romantic string lines. Katherine’s theme is represented by free-spirited melody, guitar plucks and gospel vocals, the latter aspect which serves as an overarching feature throughout the score. The second theme, for Mary is introduced in “I’d Already Be One”, a solemn yet stirring gospel based identity that flutters across as series of minor and major chords, heard further in “Sign” and “Mary and the Judge” on solo piano and clarinets.

The third theme is that for Dorothy, in “Redstone”. More piano and guitar freneticism, with ticking rhythms and pulses, sonic soundscapes and brilliant acapella vocals layered through optimistic chord progressions and strings create a rhytmic motif for the character, that shines it in its energy. This is further placed in “Launch”, as a string progression offers serious tones for the mission at hand. “I Like Her Numbers” briefly injects counterpoint of Katherine’s and Dorothy’s themes, with pronounced mute electric guitar as rhythmic backing. A secondary motif of sorts appears in “Mary and Levi”, as a love theme for the two characters, characterized by bracketed piano lines, given further strength in density with string layers in “Proposal”. The various styles and interpolations of instrumental application is the core aspect of the score’s appeal, with noir mute trumpets timely in their cooing, and brief saxophone respites adding just a hint of soul for the characters as they struggle in their research. William’s own voice features in “Call Your Wives”, a brilliantly infectious cue of positivity that steals your attention with its funk, led by groovy bass and cymbals, and featuring call and response between lower range male vocals and bass guitar. There are some extremely pleasing gospel vocal passages to be found throughout the score, another element of the soul clearly conveyed. “Redacted” shows the focus on texture, with gently rippling piano and layers of electric and bass guitar passages. An unmistakable Zimmer moment of triumph occurs in “Lift Off”, where all three themes are present, scattered across the instrumentation, as a power anthem on horns segues into Katherine’s mathematical theme, implying carefully planned success, further demonstrated in “Rocket Peril”. Perhaps the only fair criticism to be thrown at this otherwise lovely and intelligent score is that the frequency of alarmingly short cues leave little opportunity for development. But this is a fine score to start the new year with, one that is full of unbridled optimism and style, injecting a range of vocal and instrumental sonic palettes to give the listener a smooth forty-something minutes experience. A separate album highlights Williams’ vocal contributions further, featuring an array of songs recorded for the film. This trifecta combination is most welcomed in the future.

Rating: ****1/2

Track Listing:
(all music written by Hans Zimmer, Pharell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch).

1) Katherine (2:37)
2) Mission Control (1:17)
3) I’d Already Be One (1:08)
4) Space Task Group (2:56)
5) Slice Of Pie (1:05)
6) Redacted (1:26)
7) With All The Angels (1:35)
8) Redstone (1:36)
9) Call Your Wives (3:23)
10) Launch (2:21)
11) That’s Just The Way Things Are (2:25)
12) Sign (1:11)
13) Kitchen Kiss (0:55)
14) Mary And The Judge (1:30)
15) I Like Her Numbers (2:07)
16) Ladies’ March (1:25)
17) Mary And Levi (2:12)
18) Euler’s Method (1:23)
19) Proposal (1:40)
20) Pearls (2:41)
21) Katherine Calculates (1:32)
22) Lift Off (3:11)
23) Warning Light (0:59)
24) Rocket Peril (3:10)
25) Hidden Figures (3:50)
26) Epilogue (0:38)


Golden Globe for Best Original Score (2017)
Black Reel Award for Outstanding Original Score (2017)
Satellite Award for Best Original Score (2017)


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