Superman Returns

Original Score

Rhino, 2006

REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


This past summer, the most famous superhero in the history of comic books was brought back to the big screen after a lengthy 19-year absence. Director Bryan Singer’s aim was to recapture the wonderful spirit of the first two classic Superman films from 1978 and 1980, making his film a loose sequel to those while ignoring the existence of the almost universally derided Superman III and Superman IV.

One of the ways in which the new film makes a direct connection to its forebears is the musical score. Composer John Ottman, who regularly scores Singer’s films, was given the unenviable task of trying to fill the colossal shoes of the legendary John Williams, the most famous and successful film composer of the past few decades, whose original score for the 1978 film earned not only an Academy Award nomination but quickly became one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable scores in pop culture history. Is there anyone alive who wouldn’t immediately recognize the main theme?

Ottman wisely chose to use Williams’ famous opening “Superman March” as the main title theme in my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Superman Returns, and surprisingly (and refreshingly) it is played by the orchestra virtually note-for-note, with no misguided tinkering in sight to try to modernize it, which of course would have been utter balderdash. He also borrowed Williams’ equally well known “Love Theme” as the bedrock for the more tender scenes between Superman and Lois Lane. Other than those two motifs, however, the rest of the music consists of original compositions by John Ottman himself. At first I was skeptical because I had never previously heard of Ottman, but he certainly rose to the occasion as a fitting successor to Williams with this solid soundtrack.

Most importantly, for a movie of this scale about one of the great established characters of Americana (and a very regal one at that), the music is suitably epic in scope. There is no lack of exciting passages featuring loads of explosive brass segments amid frantically whirling strings, shown particularly effectively during “Rough Flight.” Ottman even developed a few grand, re-occurring, memorable motifs of his own that John Williams would no doubt be proud of. I also spotted several interesting, brief segments infused with a retro feel, such as the beginning of the Bernard Hermann-esque “Saving The World,” which is infused with an extra urgency courtesy of rapid bongo drumming.

As a minor complaint, I have to say that the score on a whole is far darker than one would expect in a film about Superman, who is an eternal beacon of hope and reflects the good in mankind. There are many pieces that have a borderline horrific, foreboding quality, and many of the softer compositions even seem to have an element of sadness. The score sounds more like something you’d hear in a Batman film or a similarly brooding, conflicted hero. I’m also not a huge fan of the modern tendency to overuse angelic choirs in epic soundtracks like these, and Ottman shows little restraint in that regard here, which unfortunately lends his otherwise excellent work a whiff of genericism.

While Superman Returns: Original Score might not quite reach the levels of John Williams’ 1978 Superman masterpiece, John Ottman has delivered a highly competent companion work that evokes the original with the utmost respect while adding several new pieces that can proudly be included in the Superman canon. Fans of the classic films and those with an appetite for large, dramatic orchestral scores would do well to add it to their collection.


Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2006 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.