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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)






Superman Returns

Music composed and produced by John Ottman.

15 Tracks (Playing Time = 55:10)

Score conducted by Damon Intrabartolo. Orchestrations by John Ottman and Damon Intrabartolo. Additional orchestrations by Rick Giovinazzo, Frank Macchia, Lior Rosner, Kevin Kleisch, John Ashton Thomas, and Jeff Schneider. “Superman Theme” composed by John Williams. [Other thematic material from John Williams’ SUPERMAN not credited.] Music edited by Amanda Goodpaster. Score recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Score recorded at the Todd-AO Scoring Stage, April 10-12, 2006, by Greg Dennen. Choir recorded and score mixed at the Eastwood Stage, Warner Bros. By Greg Dennen. Album mastered by Dave Collins.

Enhanced content includes three trailers and a “Behind the Scenes” look at the score.

Rhino R2 77654

Rating: ***1/2


Though the buzz appears to be good for this summer’s hopeful blockbuster SUPERMAN RETURNS, I personally cannot say I am all that interested in it.

I, like Ottman, was a kid when John Williams’ score helped us believe that a man could fly. But I was not as interested in superhero movies then, though I did run out to by the soundtrack album. It is somewhat ironic then that the score for this latest Superman outing is perhaps one of the last new scores to be reviewed here. Williams has said in interviews that he might have scored this film but was overcome by the resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve in the franchise’s new Superman, Brandon Routh. Ottman has incorporated Williams’ signature theme for the 1978 film but also departs into new territory that should earn him some new fans while introducing him to others.

The disc opens with the “Main Titles.” Essentially it is the same music that appeared in the original film with the primary march theme and “Can You Read My Mind” as the interior trio-like moment but this track is closer to Williams’ concert arrangement. In “Memories,” Ottman begins to use the motifs of the “Superman Theme” while also surrounding them with a texture that is not unlike the 1978 score. There is more wordless choral work in SUPERMAN RETURNS in sections that owe a lot to Debussy. The action sequences are a lot of fun to hear as the Superman motif pops up just enough. Unlike the recent BASIC INSTINCT 2 use of Goldsmith’s primary theme, Ottman’s approach works far better. The result reveals much about the difference of these two masters than about the abilities of the composers working with their material. Goldsmith’s “theme” is really about orchestral color and its strength lies in the need for that color to change subtly throughout the score. Williams’ Superman theme is really a musical line that can be placed anywhere in the fabric of the orchestra. How it is orchestrated, while important, is dependent on how the composer using it wants it to be used. There is no easy answer in the adapting of either of these somewhat famous musical ideas but it far easier to enjoy this new score as a result of these earlier approaches.

“Rough Flight” is filled with the kind of action writing heard in other of his works and yet there are some new touches that seem less like standard Hollywood writing. This is one of the first long appearances of a new thematic idea that gives the shape of the track a chance to relax before it powers itself along to an exciting conclusion. There are some great percussion moments in “Bank Job” that may bring new admirers to Ottman’s capabilities it is yet another example of the kind of rhythmic vitality often missing in scores that generally spin out endless ostinati. It lifts this score up a little over the crowd. The introduction of electronic elements is also a fascinating contribution to the music’s texture.

Williams ’ love theme, “Can You Read My Mind?”, makes an appearance in “Little Secrets/Power of the Sun.” Here, as in the use of the primary march motif, Ottman begins the theme and then takes it off into new territory where he can then launch into a thematic idea of his own. This works surprisingly well. The theme’s appearance in “How Could You Leave Us?” is really wonderful as Ottman turns the end of the phrase and changes the harmonic expectations. Those familiar with the 1978 score will spend hours splitting apart the various appearances of ideas from that score. Ottman makes these motifs work because he is skillful at shaping his musical lines. The orchestration helps to place these various threads in such a way that they can be heard without distracting from the whole.

When Ottman really latches on to a project like the recent KISS KISS, BANG BANG, or the tongue-in-cheek EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS the score is the better for it. This is Ottman working with great material and making it his own. The album sequence is a back-and-forth blend of lyric tracks with action cues. While the choral work is a nice touch, it seemed like too much sometimes, almost like there was a need to add in a kind of Horner TITANIC sound to the music. Ottman’s style is an interesting blend thematic writing, interesting orchestration, and good rhythmic sense. These are all in fine display in a score that comes in his career almost at the same point that SUPERMAN appeared in Williams’, give or take a couple of years.

The acoustic of the recording is quite live and dry at times. This may be why the choral work sticks out more than it should. Otherwise this is a fine effort and one of the first true blockbuster scores of the summer. That said, it is again odd in thinking about the 1978 score that one can see some of the changes in Hollywood since then. The list of orchestrators and additional music personnel is huge compared to Williams’ work. There are more people listed here even than in the re-issue of that soundtrack that claim some involvement with the work at hand. The admiration for the 1978 score is present throughout but Ottman lets his own instinct direct the resulting music. It is this that ultimately makes SUPERMAN RETURNS a fine musical experience on its own.

Though the review copy does not do so, one can hope that something will indicate which tracks “contain music” from the 1978 score.


--Steven A. Kennedy , 14 June 2006

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