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Soundtrack review: Hidden figures (Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch and Pharell Williams – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Hidden figures (Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch and Pharell Williams – 2017)


“Hidden Figures” is a 2016 American biographical comedy-drama film directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, the African American mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. The film also features Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons. The film recounts the story of the African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who, while working in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center, helped NASA catch up in the Space Race. Using their calculations, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of Earth. The score was written by the motley crew of Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch and Pharell Williams.

Now Hans and Ben are among my favorite composers to listen to and Pharell is an artist full of exciting ideas so I was curious to hear how the three of them would mix on this score; drama and comedy are not the genres in which Hans Zimmer has written his best scores lately so maybe the team effort is a good idea. The thing is with these names I am expecting excitement and innovation and yet the score opens slow and almost elegiac with gospel like voices in the background and a quiet piano mood. I recognize Ben Wallfisch in this and it’s a comfortable place to be in. I like the subtle electronic inserts that mark the space element of the story.

The thing is, as nice as this score is, I’ve heard it many times before in Thomas Newman compositions or some James Horner piano driven scores for example; it has the same light and melodic quality that makes me think of a long summer afternoon. Even the sadder piano moments echo the same vibe; I am sure most of the music came from Ben but I know how beautifully emotional his music can get. In “Hidden figures” the tone is respectful and low key and the music doesn’t make me feel more than delight.  In “Redstone” I think I hear Pharell’s influence with the chorus and it’s the first time the score strikes a chord with me. It has that same rolling quality that shows thinking, ideas, and breakthroughs that James Horner infused his “A beautiful mind” score with.

It was just a prelude as “Call your wives” is all Pharell, funky and exciting and my favorite track so far. The emotion I’m looking for in this score starts building up with “Sign”; the powerful female voice, the saxophone in the background give a very nice 90s feel to it. “Katherine calculates” builds up on that and I love the melody and emotion in this. Moments like this are rare in the score and I find myself getting the most excited when the Pharell composed melodies come up. They are uplifting and make me sway in my chair. Uplifting and inspirational is how I would describe “Lift off” as well.

“Hidden figures” is not a score I will remember a few months from now. In the moment it was nice and pleasant with a few exciting moments but my expectations as a fan from this trio were a bit higher. I’m sure though that the music serves the story and movie right.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 17 / 50

Album excellence: 34%


I’d already be one


Call your wives

Ladies march

Katherine calculates

Lift off

Hidden figures




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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