Review of Superman Returns Soundtrack - Spoiler FreeReviewed by: Neal Bailey
1. Main Titles - 4 of 5: How can you mess up the Superman Theme? It's very difficult. It's an all-time classic for film, and hands-down what everyone thinks of when they think of Superman, generally speaking. It's recursive, in that you can play it through in your head and then play it again, so it sticks in your head when you're working. It's great to think to, to write to, it's an awesome parody song in a comedy. It's an American classic.
This version is SLIGHTLY bastardized in that it spunks things up a bit, and in the end cuts off a bit early, but all in all, this is pretty much a note-for-note reproduction of Williams' theme, and a good one.
The Williams version is a bit cleaner, and this one has much more of a pronounced percussion which, even though I play the drums, is off-putting. The thing that makes the Williams version so great is the fact that he has a very clean, pronounced focus on the trumpets and horns.
Either way, still very much a good, honorable rendition.
2. Memories - 4 of 5: The Kent Theme is very prominent here, before the song picks up and becomes more hopeful, prominent, and the thematic elements of this, the new film start to come to the fray. It incorporates a lot of the Williams percussion with a very hopeful set of horns and strings, before coming back down to a bit of a darker tonality, almost a Tchaikovsky style, Flight of the Bumblebee kind of feeling.
It then gets mysterious, almost a very Luthor feel. Cold, desolate, I can only imagine this to be when Superman is exploring Krypton, or someone is looking at something desolate. It's got a bit of the Fortress thematic to it.
All in all, this track starts very quickly, with a very prominent sound, and then gets melancholy, breaking the track into two distinct feels. The first is great, the second is just average, so the 3 and 5 combine for a 4.
3. Rough Flight - 4 of 5: This song starts off with almost a Matrix-style, squiddy scene rush tone, then calms a bit into a mellow, sad horn before popping right into the familiar Superman Theme, a bit pepped up for an obvious action piece. The action music revs up as whatever Superman is doing is obviously done, but unfortunately the horns aren't really anything spectacular until about the 2 minute mark, where they pick up, become more noble, the strings kick in, and the track hits its stride.
Then on, it's pure Superman, a heroic bit of action coupled with the classic theme before cutting back into that mellow, string-based, melancholy, almost Fortress style music. It cuts back to the sharp horns again, back to the unspectacular, repetitive horns and strings with the "squiddy" scene feel, and that continues.
At four minutes, a heavy string theme enters, a beautiful orchestration of an action scene that has its own uniqueness, and the song picks up again as it reaches its crescendo with a choral bit that echoes and is haunting.
A GREAT action theme were it not for the repetitive parts. The moments of beauty almost make up for the slow sections, and it irons out well.
4. Little Secrets/Power of the Sun - 5 of 5: Opens with the "Can You Read My Mind" theme, which quickly evolves with strings into something more stringy and melodic. Not exactly very unique, but very peaceful and very strong.
At one minute, that fades into a new song with more heavy bass piano. It reminds me, crazy as this sounds, of Final Fantasy 2 for a minute, then dissolves away into kind of a heroic theme new to the Superman mythos, but also relates, as repeated sections from the theme come in as the choir ratchets up, and the song becomes very beautiful, taking on an almost Danny Elfman feel with the choral.
It then becomes confrontational and dark, as if Lex Luthor has stepped into the room and the flowers wilt.
All in all, a great track, one of my favorites, though it is scatagorical.
5. Bank Job - 3 of 5: Definitely a goon theme. You get almost a Phantom Menace kind of thing, where when the druids were walking around you had a lot of strings coupled with some very sharp percussive. That's the driving theme of the beginning of this song. Almost the Trade Federation song, but more human. I'm not sure how to make that make sense, it's just the feel I get. It's hard to quantify with classical.
It then gets very fast, heavy in the kettle drums and very fast with the strings, almost that Looney Tunes kind of feel (only serious).
Then we get a hint of the newer Superman Theme, the old Superman Theme, and it wraps up in a choral bit of noise with some drums.
Abrupt, but a good track nonetheless. Nothing really sticks out though.
6. How Could You Leave Us? - 4 of 5: Piano, and a bit of the Krypton Theme leading into some horns.
The strings and piano carry on. It's a slow song, as if someone is flying gently or if there is something very profound happening.
It's very generic, but it's also pretty. I guess it's like a comic book where the action is conveyed, but there's nothing that the artist does that really sticks out at you.
At about 1:50 you get a hint of "Can You Read My Mind" before the song gains some strings and goes full-on into the theme, only slowed and clipped.
The choir picks up, and it becomes its own theme, a very haunting, beautiful, original piece that takes pieces of "Can You Read My Mind" and appropriates it into something beautiful through the three minute mark, where it goes back to the profound, quieter tones that are less unique.
At about 3:30 the song picks up beauty again, jumping out of the unremarkable and having a few very poignant, strong string moments that couple with the choir once again to create something uplifting and strong that continues through until at about the 4:30 mark "Can You Read My Mind" is finally fully played.
The song then goes into strings, playing the full theme as Williams wrote it. It's quite beautiful, blowing away what came before, even though what came before was very original and fun to listen to.
All in all, this was another track that had great moments coupled with moments of regular, generic soundtrack. It looks for greatness, and almost has it. It does have it when it's using Williams' work.
7. Tell Me Everything - 3 of 5: Strings and choir open this piece, giving it almost a "Duel of the Fates" feel. It sounds a bit like when Qui-Gon is struck down in Episode One (forgive the Star Wars references, it's just a general feel this soundtrack has, likely owing to the fact that it's very steeped in John Williams' work, which is not a bad thing).
It then becomes quiet, bringing in some clarinets and some xylophone, giving it a haunted, almost desolate feel. The choir continues to build, then becomes quiet again.
About 1:50 in, some dark horns make the feel more sinister. The strings come in, giving a VERY Danny Elfman feel to whatever scene it describes. It's almost like listening to the Batman soundtrack for a moment there, at the end of this track.
All in all, not incredibly unique, but somewhat scary and original.
8. You're Not One of Them - 2 of 5: A very quiet theme, like the serious, ponderous moments that made up a lot of "How Could You Leave Us?" It's a slow piece, not picking up much at all.
At the end it cuts back to the sad theme from "How Could You Leave Us," giving a tiny bit of choir and strings, but ultimately, most of this is a bridge piece, it would seem.
9. Not Like the Train Set - 5 of 5: Sinister horns mark a very dark opening for this piece. The choir picks up, giving it that Danny Elfman feel again. It becomes unmistakably Batman-y here, a villain's theme if there ever was one.
Bells come in at a minute in to affirm this along with a string theme that sounds as if it's tailor made for Luthor. It's original, it's freaky, and I love it.
At 1:45 it goes into a somewhat Indian sound (randomly), then cuts back to a hopeful choir theme, as if Superman is flying. It's beautiful. It's got a Danny Elfman edge to it, but it's still its own.
It then cuts back to the rigid strings that marked the beginning Luthor feel. The choir picks up.
This banters with the hopeful Superman flying sound, and it creates a remarkable bit of tension that continues to clash into the third minute.
At 3:30 it mellows a bit, and becomes almost a traveling theme (per Lord of the Rings) before jerking you back in at 4 minutes with the Superman Theme, very dominant, at a bit more of a hectic pace than you're used to, almost military in its strength. It descends into random bits of horn and string that are almost oriental in nature before jumping back into the main theme near the five minute mark and closing with a military whimper flute.
A VERY compelling song, despite the slow bits.
10. So Long, Superman - 2 of 5: Dark Danny Elfman choir again, a very Batman villain kind of feel. It cuts to choir that's almost like the Darth Maul scenes again, or a Sith scene from a Star Wars soundtrack.
A destructive, climax-ish horn leads into a quiet, sinister series of high strings at the 1 minute mark, which continue into a series of wavering tones almost like the "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control" soundtrack.
The sinister tone comes back at the two minute mark and remains subdued. The track is very subdued, almost generic again, for at least the first half of this track.
At 2:50 we have some Sith style tones, and then it goes back into the Superman hopeful/wistful element that recurs throughout the soundtrack. It's muted and subdued, however, and the track has yet to take a marked effect on the listener. Almost a bridge piece again.
At the four minute mark, a bell sounds, almost a funeral dirge style bell. It repeats. The strings pick up, and the song becomes sad briefly before a series of thuds instill an almost fearful tone.
The Danny Elfman villain strings pick back up, and the Superman Theme is played, darkly. It ends, without having accomplished too incredibly much. It had potential, but this track doesn't deliver.
11. The People You Care For - 4 of 5: The Sith style choir begins again, only almost noble, as if you're looking down on something important and monumental, but also funereal.
It becomes a cold, dark, heavy string movement with a steady percussive beat, very strong and original. The thematic wavers and gets stronger. At the one minute mark if fades back into the "Flight of the Bumblebee" homage briefly before becoming unremarkable, quiet bells.
At 1:45, the music starts to become heroic again, as if a hero is picking himself up. It cuts immediately to the piano's heavy bass villain theme again, as if action is picking up in a very strong way. The percussion kicks in, and the track gets very strong.
Horns add to the sense of tension, and you get the feel of a very scary, very tense seen, even better than the Rough Flight track.
A harp sounds, then a horn, and an accomplished crescendo indicates falling action. Nice track, all in all.
12. I Wanted You to Know - 3 of 5: This starts off with the scattered harp that indicates when Superman is doing something magical, per in Superman II with the magic kiss. It's very quiet, subdued, and generic, per other parts of the soundtrack I've mentioned.
The clarinet picks up briefly, and sounds a sad tone, almost the Kent Theme, but I'm not sure. It's still subdued and generic.
The "Can You Read My Mind" clipped theme commences at about the 2 minute mark, builds, becomes remarkable once again, and then fades out to close the track with the Kent Theme. The last 1/3 of this track is incredible. The first two minutes is pretty slipshod.
13. Saving the World - 3 of 5: A VERY terse action theme utilizing what I've referred too as the Danny Elfman hectic Batman sound commences, cutting into the "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control" bit for a moment.
A very strong crescendo occurs at the 40 second mark, and things calm again into a generic bridge sound.
Horns and strings rise into another choir piece, which builds and rises, but ultimately doesn't really accomplish much. It then drops straight into the newer Superman thematic mixed with the old theme at about the two minute mark. The track is picking up at this point, but it then collapses and becomes very quiet and bridging once again, which is frustrating, because you're looking for something really epic at that point.
The Sith choir picks up again, the kettle drums start to bang, and a climax builds, but ultimately it proves rather generic.
A piece that sounds great in a lot of ways, but doesn't stand out as anything truly incredible. Also frustrating in the middle.
14. In the Hands of Mortals - 3 of 5: An almost religious choral piece with some plucked strings. It's almost as if someone is preparing for battle, but for a very important, and somewhat symbolic battle.
At the one minute mark, the choral fades, and it becomes the generic bridge sound again. At 1:30 it picks up a bit then dies abruptly, fading back into empty harps and quiet noise.
Unremarkable, but beautiful in the beginning.
15. Reprise/Fly Away - 3 of 5: The "Final Fantasy" style sound begins this piece. It then becomes choral at thirty seconds in, almost Elfman in style. It's still bridge work, meaning, it's unremarkable for the most part, just background music.
At 50 seconds in it becomes haunting and beautiful again, then rises up into a heroic flair. At the 1:15 mark it really takes off, becoming almost like the opening theme to Star Trek: First Contact. It fades at 1:30 and becomes subdued again.
At two minutes it becomes a dark, almost Elfman choral piece again, then the strings pick up and it becomes sad before launching into the "Can You Read My Mind" clipped piece. It then pushes the Superman Theme and goes back to filler at the 2:40 mark.
At 2:55 "Can You Read My Mind" sounds again, rising into a new, stronger version of the theme, the one from before. It's beautiful, and strong, but it ends curtly at 3:30 and becomes the Superman theme for the remaining 45 seconds of the song.
All in all, a mixed bag here, rising towards the end, but largely good because of Williams' contribution.
OVERALL/THE VERDICT - 3 of 5: This is not an exemplary soundtrack. Is it a crappy soundtrack? NO. It is, after all, very strong in the spirit of Superman, it heeds the past and homages it. Where this soundtrack fails is in crafting any kind of new thematics for Superman. It begins to, early on, with the new, strong Superman action themes, but ultimately, like a television soundtrack, it seems patently designed not to get in the way of the story on the screen. And yes, there's something to be said for that, but there's also something to be said for a soundtrack being so good that it enhances the story, as the John Williams Superman soundtrack did.
The Danny Elfman tone to a lot of the villainy is nice, purposeful or not. The "Can You Read My Mind?" section is well done.
Overall, there's a large sense of melancholy and sadness in this piece, and a lot of action that doesn't quite live up to the musical potential it could.
It is, to put it blatantly, average, per my overall verdict. Is that bad? No. But is that great? No.
Does it hit the right Superman beats where it should? Meaning, do I think this soundtrack being average will hurt or help the movie? I think, used judiciously, it will help the movie quiet a bit, especially the homage pieces.
I also listen to this NOT knowing the story, NOT seeing the tracks in action and where they belong, so the above could be so much hooey and per usual I could be full of beans. But that's my impression, of now.
The original soundtrack is much, much better. But this one doesn't suck.