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Category:    Home > Reviews > Super Hero > Soundtrack > Rock > Superman Returns – Music By John Ottman From The Motion Picture/Sound Of Superman (CDs)

Superman Returns – Music By John Ottman From The Motion Picture/Sound Of Superman (CDs)


Sound: B     Music: B-/B



So here we are in a new era of Superman.  The character has been showing up officially on film since the Fleischer animated shorts of the early 1940s, making it 65 years with Superman Returns.  An important aspect of The Man Of Steel is the music that backs him.  In the best Superman adaptations, a building crescendo and/or at least building, upbeat theme song best served his exploits.  That is why those animated shorts and the 1950s TV series with George Reeves tend to be so remembered.  By the 1978 feature film, which Bryan Singer has rightly dubbed a genre classic (though he may mean beyond that), with music once again being a key element.


This time, it was John Williams in a wave of exceptionally prolific work on films like the original Star Wars and Brian De Palma’s grossly underrated The Fury.  In the midst of all that, he pulled off Superman – The Movie in both its theme and the vocal classic Can You Read My Mind.  He nailed the instrumental theme so well that even the terrific recent animated series did a variation of it and the mixed live action shows that followed also owe much to it.  Needless to say, Singer and his longtime composer/editor John Ottman rightly realized Williams' song had become as vital as the themes from Mission: Impossible, James Bond and The Pink Panther.


Ottman makes wide use of the theme for his otherwise new score of the film, though Williams also haunts the score with the choir style in the intense, early Rough Flight sequence that shows the money on screen as much as any spectacle in the film, but it works very well.  There are also slight touches of the Strauss classic Thus Spake Zarathustra which as served as the theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in its exploration of “man and superman” as it were.  Some of the more personal moments are not unlike the narrative context John Barry does so well in and out of the Bond films, while Ottman has good instincts about music in general.


Besides scoring almost every Singer film (except the first X-Men) and other films like the sonically jumpy Halloween: H20, the underrated Gothika, the oddly interesting remake of House Of Wax and his second of three superhero franchises so far with Fantastic Four, he has also done the film editing (and in effect some of the sound editing) on most of the Singer films and on Superman Returns, which puts him in a unique position of craftsmanship and his judgment has been pretty effective so far.


However, having to juggle so many materials originating from other people holds back his work here, yet it is still an interesting score even when it does not always work.  It is not to say it is a failure, but to say it has ups and downs like the film itself.  At its best, it is really strong, though the choir concession seems almost like pandering to a modern commercial audience.  It has the potential to mean more, but the later music pieces and narrative that follows never addresses that.  However, it also has better producing and engineering than almost any instrumental score this year and for as bad and bad sounding as so much movie music has been this year that only helps.


The score is also an Enhanced CD, offering the teaser trailer, final trailer, footage of the recording of this music and extended preview for the Look Up In The Sky documentary everyone needs to see.  On top of this CD, Rhino/Warner Music have issued a collection of vocal songs called Sound Of Superman that features Rock genre music related in one way or another to The Man Of Steel.  This is usually done by the studios and record labels just to cash-in, but this set does not have the pretension of telling us it is “music inspired by the film” that abuses the word “inspired” unbearably.  As a matter of fact, it is exceptional.



The tracks include:


1. The Academy Is... "Superman" (The Clique/R.E.M. cover)


2. Plain White T's "It's So Easy" (original)


3. The Sun "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman"  (The Kinks cover)


4. Motion City Soundtrack "The Worst Part" (original)


5. The Films "Sunshine Superman" (Donovan cover)


6. Maxeen "Save Me" (original)


7. Paramore "My Hero" (Foo Fighters cover)


8. American Hi-Fi "The Rescue" (original)


9. The Spill Canvas "Saved" (original)


10. Jack's Mannequin "Meet Me At My Window" (original)


11. Nightmare Of You "Waitin' For A Superman" (The Flaming Lips cover)


12. The Receiving End Of Sirens  "Superman" (Stereophonics cover)


13. Royal "Brainiac's Daughter" (Dukes of Stratosphear cover)


14. Sara Routh "You're Never Gone" (original)



I was very surprised at the talent, production quality, energy and impressive performances track after track.  Some “genius” pointed out that Donovan’s hit Sunshine Superman was not about The Man Of Steel, but obviously missed the joke here.  For that matter, the song still reminds many of The Man Of Steel just the same.  Add that the band The Films came up with an original way to cover this song that has to be heard to be believed, it is so good.


The original tracks are also very good, while other covers are very worthy.  Maybe some of these acts will be one-time bands, but this collection proves that such sets do not have to be run of the mill or so prefabricated that they should go straight to the cutout bin.  That makes for two surprisingly solid music CDs to go with the new film.


The PCM 2.0 16bit/44.1kHz Stereo sound on both discs are very good, with nice depth and detail in Ottman’s orchestrations and richness in the Rock songs.  They are so good, you’ll wish they were multi-channel Super Audio CDs.  Playback is certainly state-of-the-art for the nearly 25-year-old format and some of the better-sounding discs we have heard this year.


As a side note, we also have the theatrical review of the film at:





I liked it more than our fellow critic, but more on that later.  We also have coverage of VCI’s animated Fleischer Superman shorts.  Since my review, someone pointed out that some color boosting accompanied the fuzzy image, but I stick by the often-great color the disc offers.  Since that review, we have heard Warner is going to issue the shorts later in 2006 in restored prints.  Despite all the other versions on the market, we will STILL recommend the VCI edition, which you can read about at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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