Composed and Conducted by Jerry Goldsmith
As much as ardent collectors of John Williams hate to acknowledge the sentiment, the composer only excels in two major film genres: old-style fantasy adventures and dark, disturbing dramas. Although he made two notable forays into the horror field with Dracula and The Fury, Williams has always remained subservient to Jerry Goldsmith in the broad spectrum of film. Goldsmith literally reigns as king in innumerable genres: science fiction, horror, documentary, war film, family fare, hard fantasy, comedy, straight action, typical dramas, and a host of other varying areas. However, make no mistake - when John Williams receives a commission in one of his home genres, he never fails to produce a miracle - it is a combination of the popularity of the movies and the quality of these scores (actually pastiches of German Romanticism) that have caused some to place the misnomer of "best composer of all time" upon John Williams.
Thus, in 1984, the ill-advised and even more ill-received sequel to Superman, Supergirl, had the producers searching for a composer to "fill in" for maestro Williams, the burden of which fell squarely on Jerry Goldsmith. Ironically, a paradox exists between Williams and Goldsmith in the area of serial-style popcorn flicks - while this is one of the only genres that Williams can handle effectively, it also has the dubious distinction of being one of the only genres in which Jerry Goldsmith does not excel.
With Supergirl, Goldsmith fashions an entirely serviceable adventure score that attempts to distance itself from the mastery of the original soundtrack, while still being entertaining and compositionally sound. Goldsmith composes all manner of leitmotivs, with the most noticeable used for the title character. This sterling march wisely abstains from competing with the original marches and succeeds in a wholly different light. Only two real problems manifest themselves in the score: the excessive synthesizer effects, which will quickly grate upon the march and a few action cues, as well as the score's incessant length - Silva's release contains the entire score as heard in the film, as well as a few alternates (a few of which are basically indiscernible from the originals,) which bring the running time to an absolutely staggering 78 minutes. Still, this remains the best source of music from Supergirl - while the long out of print 40-minute Varese Sarabande album from several years ago only retains about 40 minutes of score, it contains a few too many of the "padding" tracks while leaving out pieces like The Vortex/The End of Zaltar.
Thus, we have a conundrum - Supergirl, while not necessarily a masterstroke, contains about 45 minutes of good, if not exceptional action-adventure music, sometimes in the mold of Legend, and almost an equal amount of repetition and banality that, while being perfectly serviceable in the film, tends to prolong the listening experience eternally. Silva adds a fascinating liner booklet with an analysis of each track as heard in the film, while the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus perform with their usual gusto. Jerry Goldsmith die-hards will doubtless want to purchase this, but others should delve into some of his other work before attempting to tackle this monstrosity.
Track by Track Analysis:
1. Overture (6.07)
Supergirl begins with a lengthy, exciting Overture (actually a longer end credits track used for the original international cut of the film) that introduces all of the major themes. Following an introductory fanfare over a bed of rapid string ostinatos, the brassy main theme thunders through the trumpets with strong percussion beats and eventually a triplet string descant. Several reviewers have rightly accused the theme of being too simple, but one has to remember the film's nature - imagine an intricate 12-tone theme for an inane 1984 popcorn thriller! One of the typical qualms is not unfounded, however - this theme's repetitive nature begins to weigh heavily on the score, stretching 78 minutes into an eternity. After the resolution of the opening theme, Goldsmith follows the typical Williams precedent and presents his love theme - an euphoric, soaring melody for French horns that again lacks complexity but not emotion. Another of Goldsmith's indelible string accompaniments flutters rapturously above the theme, again giving it an appropriately celestial ambience. Soon an exciting brass transition thrusts the music into the Monster theme that will monopolize several action sequences. Goldsmith uses as its basis a dark tritone motif for trombones and timpani (always the symbol of death and evil in traditional Romantic music). Somewhat more complex and in keeping with Goldsmith's 1980's sensibility, this features a relatively simple melody line for trombones, horns, and strings accompanied by either a distressed horn figure or minor-key runs in the strings. Finally, Goldsmith segues again into the main Supergirl march, gives it a slightly shortened arrangement, and ends the piece with a series of magnificent, rousing brass fanfares. Thankfully, Goldsmith omits the score's synthesized overdubs for this end credits suite.
2. Main Title & Argo City (3.15)
The Main Title begins exactly as the Overture did with the anticipatory horn fanfare and string ostinatos, but Goldsmith now includes an array of synth overdubs, including a huge "whoosh" effect that the composer uses to great effect the first few times but soon overpowers the main titles track. Following a straightforward recapitulation of the love theme and main theme, the score segues into the first underscore track. Argo City functions much like Williams' Krypton cues, comprised of a dark sustained pedal point for bass and uneasy synthesized voices.
3. Argo City Mall (.56)
The mysterious tone from the previous track continues here, with a slightly Eastern-sounding motif for strings, a bed of evocative synthesizer tones, and reminiscences of the main theme.
4. The Butterfly (1.36)
An outdated, slightly annoying buzzing synth effect becomes the foundation of this track, although Goldsmith soon adds celestial synthesizers and strings, molding the music into an exciting action cue with virtuoso brass fanfares that would not sound out of place in Legend.
5. The Journey Begins (1.12)
More bright effects begin this track, although Goldsmith soon incorporates a passage much like the last track that has the strings crescendoing into a cataclysm of despairing brass fanfares based on the main theme.
6. Arrival On Earth/Flying Ballet (5.36)
Again, Goldsmith composes an exhilarating action spectacle that capitalizes on the film's fantasy elements with a pool of synth effects, diabolical, impressionistic horn fanfares and woodwind runs, and a lush chorus. The love theme makes its brief first appearance here, soon covered by exciting variations on the main theme from the orchestra and chorus, and the impressionistic atmosphere continues throughout the cue, assisted by Goldsmith's tranquil synthesizer effects, high string passages, and love theme. The "Flying Ballet" presents a graceful permutation of the main theme with a host of majestic string descants. The composer's fantasy environment forms this lengthy cue into one of the highlights of the score.
7. Chicago Lights/Street Attack (2.23)
A rather mundane arrangement of the love theme comprises the majority of "Chicago Lights", although the latter half contains a few noteworthy action fanfares. "Street Attack" follows in the tradition of John Williams' original score, presenting another rather monotonous action cue based around the main theme.
8. The Superman Poster (.52)
Goldsmith makes a brief cross between franchises with a quote of the original Superman theme in synthesizers against the new march.
9. A New School (2.13)
Goldsmith continues the impressionistic tone of the score with Legend-like ambiance for lush strings and synthesizers and a few quotes of the main theme.
10. The Map (1.10)
Another highlight of the score, this features a constantly building ostinato for strings, climaxing in awe-inspiring mutating horn fanfares.
11. Ethan Spellbound (2.13)
A serviceable and lush, yet rather pointless underscore track, this contains the usual doses of synthesizers and luxuriant strings, soon mutating into a dark action cue based around hints of the monster theme.
12. The Monster Tractor (7.34)
The first true action extravaganza of the score, "The Monster Tractor" features a useful tritone motif as its foundation, over which Goldsmith inserts all manner of complex orchestral ostinati, as well as the monster theme from the Overture in its first appearance. Eventually the tritone motif develops into a somewhat more intricate theme since the composer adds into it a quote of the simple Hun motif from Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. Overall, this enduring orchestral showpiece becomes one of the score's main highlights with its mastery of orchestration and thematic application.
13. Flying Ballet (Alternate) (2.13)
The main section of this version of the Flying Ballet plays almost verbatim to its film-version counterpart with exciting versions of the love theme and march, but it features a heavier dose of synthesizer effects that border on annoying. Goldsmith slightly rearranged the introduction and finale with different melodic ideas and orchestrations from the film version. Overall, the lengthier and more-developed film version remains superior, but this alternate provides a fascinating view into the composer's creative process and response to studio reediting.
14. The Map (Alternate) (1.13)
Another alternate of one of the score's highlights reveals that Goldsmith originally favored an even heavier sprinkling of synthesizers than that which appeared in the film.
15. The Bracelet (1.44)
"The Bracelet" returns to the dark, synthetic ambiance of Argo City, its Easternized motif, and the buzzing synth patch that characterized "The Butterfly."
16. First Kiss/The Monster Storm (4.35)
Goldsmith utilizes an innovative alternating approach here - he creates a deliberate paradox between luxuriant arrangements of the love theme for oboe and mid-range strings and cacophonous statements of the Monster tritone motif. When this latter section threatens to consume the score, the composer adds triumphant fanfares of the main Supergirl march with its characteristic synthesizer effects, forming another rousing, virtuoso action cue.
17. "Where Is She"/The Monster Bumper Cars (2.57)
A discordant passage for string clusters, startling woodwind glissandi, and belligerent synthesizers opens the track, and Goldsmith soon allows atonality to take over with a dissonant action cue featuring both the tritone Monster motif and a passage from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring that the youthful march soon consumes.
18. The Flying Bumper Car (1.28)
The composer presents a rapturous arrangement of the love theme for the typical strings and soaring synthesizers that he all too soon blights with hints of the tritone monstrosity.
19. "Where's Linda?" (1.21)
Again, Goldsmith composes a short cue featuring impressionistic versions of the love theme and march.
20. Black Magic (4.08)
A dissonant bed of bleakness for the bass and keyboards opens "Black Magic," followed by a short respite of the main theme and love theme. The majority of the track, however, presents another cloudy landscape of action music with the typical themes for Supergirl and the tritone motif receiving a rousing workout.
21. The Phantom Zone (3.42)
An uneasy, dark patch of orchestral color characterizes "The Phantom Zone," with helpless orchestral renditions of Supergirl's motif constantly overpowered by an electrifying onslaught of choral forces, hints of the tritones and full Monster theme, shimmering keyboards, and general impressionism that seems to be a logical extension of Ravel's lavish 19th Century orchestrations.
22. The Vortex/The End of Zaltar (5.49)
For one of the climactic action cues, Goldsmith continues the formula set forth in "The Phantom Zone" with celestial, colossal wailings from the choir, brass, and woodwinds. This serves as the foundation for another attack from the Monster theme and orchestral impressionism that sets the stage for Legend, one of the composer's magnum opuses. In the end, this cue becomes another of the album's highlights that will appeal to both the uninitiated and die hard Goldsmith listeners.
23. The Final Showdown & Victory/End Title (Short Version) (12.10)
For the excellently-developed finale cue, Goldsmith reverts to traditional action music with his usual high-range strings and apocalyptic brass fanfares - to analyze each individual moment would be an exercise in futility. Suffice it to say that the march, love theme, and Monster motif get quite a virtuoso set of variations and that the cue has more than its share of victory fanfares. The short version of the end title presents the same concert arrangement we've heard tens of thousands of times on this album, but provides a rousing finale to the proceedings.
Again, Supergirl presents a dilemma - there are at least 45 minutes of 9/10 material, bogged down by hoards of 6/10 ballast. Avid listeners of Jerry Goldsmith will definitely feel the need to give Supergirl a purchase, but others should digest the typical Goldsmith prerequisites before tackling this behemoth.
Sound Clips/Purchasing Links
Visit CDNOW's Supergirl page for 30-second sound clips of every track!