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One year after Star Wars, Williams returned again to the sci-fi fantasy epic genre with this big screen adaptation of the classic early 20th century comic book and TV series.  The movie had an all-star cast, including Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, as well as a popular writer, Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather.  While the composer returned to the Golden Age swashbuckling Romantic idiom to write the music, not many compositional similarities are shared with Star Wars.  Superman's style is infinitely more modern, even resorting to dissonant orchestration at times.  The score has many sections, each characterized by a different style.  After the main titles, which introduce the main themes, we abandon that modern military-esque sound for about 45 minutes.  Next are the Krypton scenes, which are scored with impressionistic, sometimes dissonant orchestration.  For the Smallville sequence, Williams uses his trademark tender Americana, which was normal for him at that period in his life.  After a transitory cue (Fortress of Solitude) which contains both Americana and impressionism, we head to 45 minutes of straight military-esque action cues coupled with more trademark Williams romance moments.  All in all, this score, although quite long at about 140 minutes, manages to stay interesting with varied styles and tempos.  This 1998 Varese Sarabande rerecording, with their usual Royal Scottish National Orchestra, preserves about 80 minutes of it, using a few concert arrangements, as well as some previously unreleased tracks.  I've heard a lot of complaints regarding the slow performance of this, but I think Debney was trying to find a fresh, different approach to Williams' material.  Imagine what those people would say if someone rerecorded the entire Star Wars score, using different tempos!  As Varese has said, this isn't supposed to be a replacement for the original score, just a companion piece.  As a matter of fact, I think Debney accomplishes something that wasn't present in the OST - throughout the first half, even when a supposedly heroic cue is playing, there is a profound sense of bittersweet longing, especially in the main titles.  The liner notes are very in-depth, containing notes on each track, as well as a movie and score history.  Which brings me to another point.  Somehow, the idiots at Warner Bros. threw out the printed scores for this piece, making it impossible to find a fully orchestrated version.  The producers ended up having to borrow Williams' conductor sketches, which condenses the score to about 10 staves instead of the usual 24-30.  For those who were put off by the somewhat archival sound quality of the original CD release, this rectifies that with 20 bit digital technology.  But definitely don't buy the OST now, unless you just want a sampler, since Rhino has recently done an expanded 2CD edition of the full score with both film and concert takes of all the cues, with digital remastering for the sound quality.  It was originally supposed to come out this August, but has since been pushed back to sometime early next year.

Track by Track Analysis:

Disc I:
1. Prologue and Main Title (5:31)
For this album, Debney struck a perfect balance between the film and concert versions of this opening track.  First is a maestoso playing of Williams' new Superman fanfare in the brass and horns, which promptly segues into the film version of the prologue.  For the flashback sequence shown on screen, Williams uses a quiet, tranquil, wistful variation on the fanfare, which foreshadows some of the impressionistic Krypton music, although not as dissonant.  As this fades into the distance, the composer introduces a dotted ostinato theme on a low C, which, after building for a while, introduces a brassy transitory fanfare.  This is transformed into the powerful main theme, perfect for the comic book sensibilities present in the film.  Again, even in this heroic upbeat track, somehow the conductor and composer inject a bittersweet longing, which foreshadows the first half of the plot.  I don't know if I'm the only one hearing this (maybe I've finally gone completely insane.), but it adds a nice touch.  In some of the quieter sections, Williams subtely continues the ostinato, but now in high woodwinds.  After another fanfaric part, the composer adds a new section with the opening fanfare played over the march ostinato, which segues into the playing of the next theme.  For this love theme, Williams somehow keeps up the breakneck pace from the titles, even with the pulsing low C still in the bass.  Later, we get a final, triumphant rendition of both the main theme and the opening fanfare, now accompanied by a descending bass march vamp.  Again, even though this score continues the swashbuckling Wagnerian tradition present in Star Wars, the composer goes for a completely different execution, using a 20th Century sound.

2. The Planet Krypton (4:35)
We now return to the impressionistic, sometimes dissonant orchestration of the Prologue.  However, before that happens, Williams uses a simple, grandiose opening fanfare to set up the setting.  First stated quietly in the brass, it later reaches soaring heights, only to back down into the orchestral depths, which characterizes most of the rest of the cue.  A short section of upbeat woodwinds comes next, playing an offshoot of Star Wars' force theme along with a quiet recap of the Krypton fanfare.  However, dissonant string orchestration takes over with the introduction of a sinister synthesizer tone.  An urgent, atonal brass march takes over, which quiets into a menacing trilling section for strings and woodwinds.

3. The Destruction of Krypton (5:27)
Continuing with the dissonant, impressionistic music of the previous track, this cue opens with a section combining 3 elements: atonal growling bass, a meandering woodwind melody, and spooky female chorus.  Later, a French horn gets the main melody, and the soundscape builds into another grandiose brass fanfare, much more urgent and desperate than anything we've heard so far.  After various meanderings, a new bittersweet woodwind theme enters, which unfortunately was never used again.  The orchestration continues to build, and, after a chromatic string line, climaxes in another fanfare.  Next is a new theme which will be used throughout disc 1 as a beckoning theme as Clark Kent confronts his past.  It's a shortened, minor key variation on the original Krypton theme.  However, the last minute ends in a desperate brassy action cue as the planet is completely destroyed, based on Krypton's theme somewhat.  Overall, this is one of the highlights of the score.

4. Trip to Earth (2:38)
Another one of my favorite tracks, this is a woodwind scherzo combining various snippets of the main theme with fluttering glissandi.  I think that the leisurely pace taken by Debney helps bring out more orchestral color and emotion than was present elsewhere.  Glueing the cue together is a swirling string theme.

5. Growing Up (2:05)
This is the first cue to employ the trademark John Williams Americana sound.  After both a wistful horn version of the Superman fanfare and a dissonant rising string passage, the track becomes a bouncing scherzo with a jubilant 2/4 ostinato in the bass.

6. Jonathan's Death (4:09)
Previously unreleased, this bittersweet, moving track introduces the Americana Smallville theme, to be heard again in the following track.  Played usually on French horns or strings, the theme becomes a moving elegy for both the hero's earthly father, as well as the simple lifestyle he will eventually be leaving.

7. Leaving Home (4:46)
Personally, "Leaving Home" is my favorite track in the score.  It resurrects both the ethereal female chorus and the "beckoning theme" in the beginning, which build into a sudden dissonant brass chord.  More Americana follows, based somewhat on the Smallville theme.  Soon this theme arrives in full on a solo oboe, followed by performances on various other instruments.  At the climax of the cue, the theme receives both a fortissimo string reading, as well as (in perhaps the most moving section on the album) a potent, yearning French horn fanfare.

8. The Fortress of Solitude (8:22)
Definitely the most ethereal cue present in the score, this reintroduces both the themes and impressionistic music found in the previous 2 Krypton tracks.  The first section is another creepy section based on the "beckoning" theme, complete with chorus.  Later a string scherzo breaks out, still with the voices, which segues into more atonal orchestral mutterings.  However, the tone eventually becomes more triumphant with a few complete playings of the Krypton fanfare.  In the second half, Williams uses 4 main elements: the major key Krypton fanfare, the minor key "beckoning" theme (based on the Krypton fanfare), ethereal synthesizers and chorus, and finally, more impressionistic, sometimes dissonant music.  All of these elements combine into almost a psychadelic 4 minute section, which James Horner later emulated in one track of his score for Krull.  However, the stage is set for the action-packed second half of the score and movie with a return of the heroic Superman fanfare and march.

Disc II:
I think the producers of the disc picked the perfect spot to seperate the 2 discs, since we've just come out of Smallville, and are about to enter Metropolis.
1. The Helicopter Sequence (6:16)
Out of all the action cues, I think this is my favorite.  Williams combines an urgent, sudden brass fanfare with both the Superman theme and strings of blazing action music.  Interestingly, the brass stinger always leaps into the music in the middle of the action, sometimes even when a positive, more upbeat section is playing.  The second half of the cue forms a grandiose action cue with the Superman theme and fanfare as its basis.  Also, for the first time since the main titles, we hear his soaring love theme, played as an elegant brass fanfare.

2. The Penthouse (1:50)
We now move on to a more romantic section in the score, which consists of three main cues: the concert version of the love theme, the Flying Sequence, and this, the prelude to the flying sequence.  By now, the tone has completely changed to an innocent romantic style, including heavy use of the love theme.  Touches of Williams' Americana approach come in every so often, although nothing as American as the Smallville sequences.

3. The Flying Sequence (4:16)
Thankfully, there is no hideous spoken vocal on this track (they just removed that section altogether.)  Overall, this is almost like a second concert suite of the love theme, although more innocent than the other suite.  After a brass fanfare, Williams gives a powerful series of readings of this theme, each one getting more bombastic and brassy, befitting the super hero setting.  This is one of the main highlights of the second disc.

4. The Truck Convoy (1:54)
After a huge military action section, there is the introduction of a new comical theme in the tubas, almost like an offshoot of the Ewok theme.  It's not particularly memorable next to the rest of Williams' "light" themes, but entertaining in its own way.  The rest of the track weaves between more military marches and more of the tuba theme.

5. To the Lair (3:56)
This expands some of the action cues in the previous track and adds the Superman fanfare.  One building motif near the beginning sounds like a precursor to the "evil people" theme from E.T., which came four years after this.  Later in the cue, Williams pays an homage to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nuremburg with a series of string runs.  The rest of the cue features more of the fanfare.

6. March of the Villains (3:56)
The comical theme from track 4 gets its own concert arrangement here, with the melody carried usually in low woodwinds and brass.  Each variation gets more grandiose, and, like ROTJ's Ewok concert suite, eventually hits a fortissimo march.  Varese could have done everyone a favor by leaving this off, since it would have reduced the running time down to 78 minutes, enough for one CD.  While a nice little piece, I would have rather saved about $7 and gotten 1 CD that was 4 minutes shorter.  The other solution would have been for the company to record about 20 more minutes of the score and thus make a second CD more practical.

7. Chasing Rockets (5:12)
This forms another trademark John Williams action cue with a few more tender bits thrown in.  Most of the track is based around the Superman fanfare.  At about the 1:30 mark, Williams really lets loose with a large collection of brassy fanfares.  Also present in parts is the love theme, usually interpolated in the woodwinds along with the Superman fanfare.  Unexpectedly, the swirling string accompaniment from "Trip to Earth" makes a short cameo in the second half of the cue.  Also noteworthy, near the last minute, is a full action fanfare based on the march ostinato.

8. Pushing Boulders (2:24)
Yet another heroic action cue based on the main theme and fanfare comes next.  Unlike most of the other action tracks, however, this also has some impressionistic dissonant orchestration.

9. Flying to Lois (2:58)
Williams returns to his "superhero save-the-day" action technique, basing this track around the love theme for Lois Lane.  However, we get a break with a straightforward pastoral version of this theme.  Toward the end, the composer uses dissonant orchestration and synthesizers.

10. Turning Back the World (2:01)
The final action track of the score is almost certainly one of the best, using nearly every theme heard so far, including the main theme, fanfare, love theme, Krypton fanfare, and "Trip to Earth" motif.  A lot of the action is based around virtuoso trills in both the French horns and woodwinds.  A final wistful version of the fanfare, heard previously in "Growing Up," ends the cue.

11. The Prison Yard/End Title (6:27)
Before the final send-off of most of the themes, Williams interpolates a more tender, soaring cue with the fanfare and love theme, finally climaxing in a reintroduction of the march ostinato, which leads into a recap of both the main themes and love theme, almost identical to the main title, although the love theme has a louder French horn accompaniment.  All in all, a fantastic finale to a fantastic score.

12. Love Theme from Superman (5:01)
I love the placement of this cue - it serves as a perfect encore to the score, a lot like "The Forest Battle" Concert Suite at the end of Return of the Jedi.  Very few of the arrangements of this theme were heard in the score proper, and this cue is one of the better ones on the album - it's longer and more reflective, yet still as exciting as "The Flying Sequence."  Like the aforementioned cue, each presentation of the theme becomes louder with more complex accompaniment, until, after the climax of the cue, Williams perfectly lets us back down to the ground.  Finally, special mention must be made to the horn descant present in one of the sections.  It's simply magnificent!

Overall, this is one of the most important scores of John Williams' career, and I heartily recommend the score to anyone.  If you just want one recording of it, go for the expanded OST that will be coming out later, but if you're looking for a different, fresh interpretation of the score, you should definitely look into this.  I'm only going to take 1 point off the length category for the needless 2nd CD, since I'd actually rather have 82 minutes than 45 or less, which is most likely how long it would have been otherwise.  The only reason this doesn't get the Choice Award is because some of the action cues on the 2nd CD become somewhat wearing after a while.



 
Superman: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 10/10
Sound Quality 10/10
Length 9/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10




Superman is Copyright 1998 by Varese Sarabande.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All rights reserved.
The ScoreSheet - The Choice of Champions