As a lifelong fan of film scores, I was anxious to hear what Superman Returns: Music from the Motion Picture would sound like. Composer John Ottman didn’t disappoint. He has created a brilliant score that will remind fans of John Williams’ legendary original Superman score (Williams’ “Main Title” is included), but Ottman also adds an epic arrangement of his own music that meets the high standard Williams set back in 1978. Having proven himself as a fine composer on Bryan Singer’s X2: XMen United, Ottman was already a musical force to be reckoned with. With Superman Returns: Music from the Motion Picture, he has taken his career to another level.
In the soundtrack liner notes Ottman openly admits to being a huge John Williams fan:
I reminded myself that this was an opportunity to write an original score that would be new yet faithful to Williams’ Superman theme. One of the tragedies of the sequels was that they featured virtually no new music. Instead, the original score was simply re-edited into scenes that had nothing to do with its original intent. If Williams scored the other movies, he would have implemented his major themes.
Ottman obviously made a conscious effort to research the musical history of the Superman franchise before beginning his gargantuan task. I think Ottman’s respect for the work of John Williams helped him immensely in his effort to create a memorable score. Some sequel composers go out of their way not to listen to the work of the original composer’s music on the original film. Therefore, they often produce something that is counter to the story being told, or alienates the established fan base.
Diehard fans will be pleased with Ottman’s presentation of Williams’ most famous compositions for the original Superman score. He has recorded a faithful rendition of “The Main Title”, which reintroduces us to the main march, and the “Can You Read My Mind” love theme. The integration of the title march into the score is brilliant work, appearing enough to signal victories by Superman, without playing so much as to become redundant. Ottman occasionally uses the “Main Title” theme (particularly at the beginning and the end of the film), but its true effectiveness is when he uses small fragments of it throughout Superman Returns. Ottman’s rearrangements of the “Main Title” are first rate, from the life-saving moments of “Rough Flight” to the triumphant finale, “Fly Away.”
The love theme, while a sentimental favorite from Williams’ original score, always seemed a bit too sappy for me. Ottman has made the theme a bit more tolerable by using the song sparingly. “You Can Read My Mind” only plays a prominent role in Superman Returns on two occasions, and mercifully it is never played in full. Ottman’s interpretation of the “Kent Family Tree” is one of my favorite pieces on the album. The track offers a buoyant choral performance in “Memories.” Combining that theme with the familiar love theme in “I Wanted You to Know,” adds a great touch of maturity to Superman. There are a few brief moments of Williams’ “Krypton Theme.” The song is integrated into “How Could You Leave Us?” using a whispering woodwind and on another occasion with the use of loud brass in “Tell Me Everything.” I was pleasantly surprised at how well the “Krypton Theme” has held up nearly 30 years after its original release.
Ottman’s original contributions to the score include a new villain's theme that has some of the same characteristics of older compositions by others involved in the franchise. Ottman’s theme is still set to a very rhythmic base, with mechanized strings and woodwinds, above frequent blasts of dissonant brass. While this isn’t part of the score I would call spectacular, it is immediately recognizable when “Not Like the Train Set” begins to play. Ottman introduces a “personal” theme to underscore Superman’s inner turmoil. The theme starts on a low note, becomes increasingly higher and rises as Superman’s confidence grows. The resolute chorale verses in the “Reprise” mark the piece as the heart and soul of the score.
The recording quality of Superman Returns: Music from the Motion Picture is very good. Although it would have been nice to hear the London Symphony Orchestra play the score, the assorted Hollywood players who were brought in do an admirable job. Ottman’s use of a choir adds a special element to the score that John Williams’ legendary Superman score doesn’t have. Ottman’s use of two singing groups in the score ranges from the exalted (the opening of "So Long Superman"), to the reflective “How Could You Leave Us?” and the “Reprise.” John Ottman recorded several addition pieces for the film, which producers ultimately decided not to use. Perhaps they will be utilized on an extended DVD release or an expanded soundtrack recording. As is, Superman Returns: Music from the Motion Picture offers 55 minutes of recorded music, Superman Returns trailers and a short “behind the scenes” documentary about the making of the score.
The mark of a great film score is whether it stands alone as a piece of music to listen to long after you’ve seen the film. Superman Returns: Songs from the Motion Picture passes this test in spades. The score is excellent as a standalone piece and sounds very good on a stereo. John Ottman has created a must have soundtrack for Superman and film score fans alike. Superman Returns: Music from the Motion Picture is Ottman’s finest work of his career thus far.