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Soundtrack review: A hologram for the king (Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer – 2016)

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Soundtrack review: A hologram for the king (Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer – 2016)


“A Hologram for the King” is a 2016 German-American comedy-drama film directed and written by Tom Tykwer, based on the 2012 novel of the same name written by Dave Eggers. The film tells the story of a washed-up, desperate American salesman who travels to Saudi Arabia to secure the IT contract for a massive new complex being built in the middle of the desert. It stars Tom Hanks so I will definitely see this one. Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer wrote the score.

It’s always a good sign when a score surprises me from the opening minutes. It’s always refreshing for me when composers don’t fall into the generic trap for some scores and bring something extra to the story. Sure I expected oriental strings but not the almost fairy tale like (if the fairy take was “Alice in Wonderland”) choir in the background or the relentless and addictive pace of the strings from which I can almost see fire rising. “Mr Clay” opens the door and comes in determined to take a front seat among my favorite cues of 2016 so far.

Fresh is the word that best describes this score. The way the strings are used and how the sounds are combined make me smile and tap the rhythm on my desk. If the atmosphere in the movie is similar to the one in the score, part sarcastic, part amusing, part wondrous, then I have another reason to go watch it, except the presence of Tom Hanks on screen. It’s fascinating how just a few instruments can create such a vivid and believable atmosphere if used properly and with a bit of imagination.

And since the composers have been so imaginative in the music they also expand my own imagination and I feel as if “A hologram for the king” plays like a vision in the desert. I see things glow which maybe are not there and I find hope where maybe I shouldn’t. Those choral sections seem like phantasmagoric creatures that appear every now and then. The music gives me strength and its pace keeps me going. Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer’s composition never stops to take a breath, as if its mental determination was fragile. The score keeps its momentum going for the duration and I love it.

There’s also an ambient component in the music that makes me feel as if I’m watching a spectacular documentary where nobody speaks and I just take joy in the visuals. It’s not very often that a score feels unique; it’s quite hard these days to find a sound that the audience feels they haven’t heard before and to me the composers succeeded. They succeeded so well that I can’t wait to hear more from them. Count “A hologram for the king” as a fantasy and as one of the most fascinating scores of 2016 so far, one I will surely return to. Can’t wait to see the movie!

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 44 / 44

Album excellence: 100%


01 Mr.Clay

02 Full Steam Ahead

03 Family Business

04 Voyager

05 Timeless

06 Marching On

07 The King Is Coming

08 Zahra

09 New Hamshire

10 A Hologram For The King-End Titles

11 Bonus Track-Traveler

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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  1. jackson elmore 25th April 2016

    Wow, thanks for this. Never woulda checked it out unless i saw it here, thanks man!

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 25th April 2016

      that’s awesome, glad I could help! this is what it’s all about!

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