Superman The Movie Soundtrack Review: This is a review of the film score Superman The Movie by John Williams.
At a glance:
174 minutes of score
Geek Score: 98.6
Total Minutes Of Excellence: 166.1
Album Excellence: 95%
Buy or stream? Buy
Superman The Movie literally flew to the big screen in 1978, an Alexander Salkind movie directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman. Unable to convince the ruling council of Krypton that their world will destroy itself soon, scientist Jor-El takes drastic measures to preserve the Kryptonian race: He sends his infant son Kal-El to Earth. There, gaining great powers under Earth’s yellow sun, he will become a champion of truth and justice. Raised by the Kents, an elderly farm couple, Clark Kent learns that his abilities must be used for good. The adult Clark travels to Metropolis, where he becomes a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet…and a caped wonder whose amazing feats stun the city: Superman! Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, the world’s greatest criminal mind, is plotting the greatest real estate swindle of all time. Superman had become mainstream entertainment, joy for the masses. The score is composed by John Williams and this review is part of Big J’s Sunday.
I was a big comic fan growing up, specially superhero ones like Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Batman and X-Men. I bought the limited comics we had available and I think it was around 1984 when I saw the movie Superman for the first time and it was awesome. I was only 1 year when the movie originally came out so that’s why I was late. I remember that white Warner logo zooming in. I had the privilege of watching it on a scratchy VHS tape. Then, that simple horn fanfare hit me and it had my full attention. Then a boy reading comics, like I did! Daily Planet coming in, the moon, we are traveling into space…. In steel blue neon with a sizeable swooosh sound comes “Alexander Salkind Presents”, then by magic it shoots towards me and then it starts. The theme that still to this day blows me away. It’s heroic, it’s even more super than Superman. The volume suddenly found it’s way to its peak and stayed there. Once the best intro ever was done, I rewinded and played it again. “Music by John Williams” flashed by and that was it, or it should have been it. The movie started and it was fantastic, so much that even in a 7 year old mind I forgot that I needed to get that music somehow.
Did you buy The Blue Box? Film Score Monthly amazing 8CD presentation of no less than 4 Superman movies plus The Animated Series. It’s an amazing package and every fan of Superman should own it. Superman The Movie is actually 3 CDs. The first two CD’s provide the complete score plus some alternates, but CD 8 expands on this with a few more alternates. It’s around 3 hours of music for the first film alone. We start with ‘Theme From Superman’ which could be the radio edit of the main theme. This is the one from the masses. It starts with the theme played on horns, very heroic and classic Superman. Then the low brass starts around 0:25 and goes on from there to even greater heights. The Superman theme is undeniably great, it is ridiculous how great it is and what it means to me. This is 4:29 of pure bliss. Put it on repeat, turn up the volume. I can listen to this for hours. If there was one theme I would chose over everything else, it’s this theme. This is THE theme, the BEST theme ever created. Period. Done.
The actual film score starts with cue nr. 2 ‘Prelude And Main Title’ where we start with the curtains dividing and the boy who reads the comic tells the story of a man, a super man. Then the main theme starts with the low brass, and literally explodes unto our screens. I remember my dad complaining that the intro was too long, but I could barely hear him because I was busy immersing myself into this experience of sounds and visual. The whooshing names flying by. This was great. This was Superman. Then we zoom into Krypton, the doomed planet with ‘The Planet Krypton’. The Krypton theme starts around 0:25 and in the beginning it’s minimalistic with just horns, but then it adds to the theme and what a theme it is. Superb! Then it goes into the politics of Krypton and more importantly the sentencing of Zod, Ursa and the other guy. At around 2:08, you can hear the muffle percussion sequence. I always felt that this represented the bad guys who stood on trial for their crimes. Once trusted by Krypton and the council, they now stands accused. It’s all very serious, very dark, but very brilliant. There’s a 3 note synth sound that’s added on top of that. I didn’t realize that until I heard the score. They are found guilty of course and are banished to the Phantom Zone. Williams music when the dome opens and they are trapped in the Phantom Zone is menacing and very big sounding.
The council on Krypton are stubborn and won’t listen to Jor-El’s warning about their imminent doom. ‘Destruction Of Krypton’ tells the story of the cold council rejecting Jor-El’s warning. It’s doomsday time with a soft but eerie choir. There’s a 5 note theme in here before Williams make a grand statement. There’s warmth coming in at around 4:00, presumably telling about Jor-El and Lara’s love for their son, Kal-El who they now have to send to earth to prevent him being destroyed along with Krypton. There’s a hopeful theme around 4:50, a hope that their son will be the man they hope him to be. It almost goes full on heroic but Williams restrains himself. The destruction itself is violent with menacing horns and brass section and the strings are dramatic. ‘The Kryptonquake’ continues the story with the Superman fanfare as young Kal-el breaks through the roof of his father’s place and escapes certain death on Krypton. ‘The Trip To Earth’ ends the “intro” to Superman with young Kal-El hurdling towards earth in his ship. It starts with swirling woodwinds. This cue is very space-y, which is the whole point of the sequence. It’s a bit upbeat at Kal-El is learning from the voice of his father Jor-El.
So he is now hitting earth, almost hitting Martha and Jonathan Kent driving in their truck. ‘Growing Up’ is a terrific cue. I love the Superman theme here as the young boy comes out of the crater and particularly when he lifts the truck to Jonathan and Martha Kent’s amazement. The biggest highlight though for me starts at 1:05 where Clark Kent is running along a speeding train at big speeds with french horns and strings in an upwards frantic fashion. So much fun! ‘Jonathan’s Death’ introduces yet one of Williams amazing themes. The Smallville theme opens the cue softly on woodwinds and strings, but at 1:03 death hits the Kent family to what are dark strings and a muffled church bell. The Smallville theme gets one final wave on horn and strings before saying goodbye to Jonathan. I love how the scene is scored, and it’s a whirlwind of emotions. Clark is soon drawn towards his origins and finds the crystal, and Williams plays the crystal motif with an ominous female choir. Some soft sweeping Americana when Martha sees her son Clark stand in the middle of the field and we hear the Smallville theme again. It’s a goodbye scene, beautifully scores by the maestro. It’s the start of something rather than the end, but it’s still hard to see them separating.
Clark has to leave Smallville as he he drawn towards the Arctic. Now starts one of my favorite cues ‘The Fortress Of Solitude’. Clark is searching for his true calling and the female choirs starts the cue, but we’re soon introduced to the Krypton theme again. The Krypton theme and crystal theme is alternating in beautiful unison as the cue develops. The Krypton theme is one of my favorite themes, so I’m happy to see it’s return. Going to a bit of a jump (not far, I promise!) to ‘Lex Luthor’s Lair’ where we hear the villain theme for the firs time. Otis, Lex Luthor and Mrs. Teschmacher make quite a theme. I feel that the theme is silly enough to be an ode to Otis and not so much Lex Luthor. The theme doesn’t seem intelligent enough for him, but I still love it.
‘Helicopter Sequence’ is an important cue because at 3:45 we get a few seconds taste of the amazing love theme as Superman saves both Lois and the helicopter. Of course the constant use of Superman theme makes this cue a winner. ‘The Penthouse’ and ‘The Flyng Sequence’ are two amazing cues telling a love story between Superman and Lois Lane. First when he meets her the penthouse for a short interview before they fly together. This is the flying sequence without Margot Kidder talking/singer over it and it’s beautiful both with and without. Apparently Kidder’s singing voice was so bad that Williams got angry about it and complained to Richard Donner, but Donner was adamant that Kidder had to be the one who said the lyrics.
Earlier we got a good taste of the villains theme, but they have a theme all to their own. ‘The March Of The Villains’ is their villain theme and it’s both funny and great. ‘Chasing Rockets’ is a great action theme where Superman theme is being mixed in with some great and frantic action as Superman is chasing the rockets. Love theme gets a quick visit as well. It is without a doubt the best action cue on the score. ‘Superfeats’ is almost just as frantic as Superman is saving buses and trains. The ultimate declaration of love we find in ‘Turning Back The World’ as Superman literally turn back the clock to see Lois live another day. A mix of Superman theme and love theme. The Krypton theme is there as well as in the movie we have voiceovers from both of his fathers. They are not on this album edit however. All is well with the world and Superman neatly delivers super villain Lex Luthor and his more mentally challenged partner in crime Otis to the prison. I’m surprised the villain theme is not used here, just Superman theme and love theme. At 1:59 we get the end titles and it’s of course Superman’s theme up and down and everything in between. Of course it has to be this way. That’s the way to end a movie about the greatest hero that ever was and the greatest theme that ever was. The complete film score is over and it clocks in at 111 minutes and we still got over 50 minutes of alternate versions and source cues left.
Some final thoughts before I go into the alternated. This has been and is a true pleasure. The music is massive and features some amazing themes, most of all the Superman theme and the love theme. but the Krypton theme and Smallville theme are amazing as well, although sadly used very little. The villain theme is another gem. All is part of this wonderful story of Superman. Most composers are lucky if they can manage to create 1 great theme in a score. Williams have at least 5 plus some sub-themes. This is astonishing work and is simply one of the greatest scores ever written and performed.
One of the beat features of this amazing package is the number of alternate versions that gives a slightly different take on the music we know and love. We start with ‘Prelude And Main Title’ that starts right away with the horns. This is a shorter version, more condensed but just as powerful. What I love about this version happens at 2:32 where the love theme comes in but with the same power as the main theme fanfare. It is fantastic. ‘The Dome Opens (Alternate)’ is a very different version than one heard in the movie. This is more bombastic and dramatic. Wonderful stuff! ‘The Mugger (Alternate)’ is also quite different with a more sinister approach, darker, but maybe not better. Still great though. ‘I Can Fly (Flying Sequence Segment)’ is an early version meant for a shorter flying scene. Just as great though, a bit more frantic love theme. Really fantastic. ‘Can You Read My Mind (Film Version)’ is the flying sequence with Margot Kidder’s voice over the music. A must listen for any Superman The Movie fan. It sure brings back memories.
CD 8 Alternates, Source Music And Songs contains some gems worth mention. First up is the film version of ‘Prelude And Main Title (Film Version)’ which every fan must have. This is the real deal and it’s awesome. ‘The Flying Sequence (Album Version)’ is the ultimate version of the flying sequence and love theme with Margot Kidder’s voice. ‘Can You Read My Mind (Original Version)’ is the original version with a pop sounding orchestra, a bit of 70s groove as well. It was prepared and made for a vocalist, but you won’t find a voice on there. Lovely! Equally great is the longer ‘Can You Read My Mind (Non-Vocal Version)’ has the same pop-sounding 70s sound, but was created for instrumental reasons only. ‘Kansas High School’ is a superb 50s style rockabilly tune created for use in Brad’s car when he leaves Clark behind to fix and prepare the football helmets. ‘Kansas Kids’ is the continuation of that high school cue, but was replaced with Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around The Clock’. More source fun from Williams with ‘Lois Car Radio’ which sounds a bit more like modern (at the time) rock. Finally my favorite source cue of them call, ‘Luthor’s Luau’ which is very noticeable in the movie as we watch our bad guys enjoying themselves by the pool in Luthor’s underground mansion.
This is my music, it really is. If Williams did only one score and this was it, I’d label him a genius. You can’t beat this you really can’t. Although I love Zimmer’s Man Of Steel, it can never beat this. It never had the chance. This is stuck so deep in my mind, body and soul that nothing can touch it. It is the ultimate score for me and it will remain so until the end of time. End of. If you haven’t bought the amazing Blue Box (or FSM Box 02) from Film Score Monthly, you still can and it is all worth it. It’s the pride of my collection and it will be the pride of any collection. Not only do you get 8 Cd’s of great music, but you get a massive booklet as well with all kinds of trivia and information. Really, this is the ultimate gift for any Superman fan. If you have read this far, I am very impressed with you. I must have bored each and every one of you by now, but I don’t care. This is groundbreaking stuff, this is the stuff of heroes, this is the stuff of Superman, the man of steel.
1. Theme From Superman *
2. Prelude And Main Title *
3. The Planet Krypton
4. Destruction Of Krypton
5. The Kryptonquake
6. The Trip To Earth
7. Growing Up
8. Jonathan’s Death *
9. Leaving Home *
10. The Fortress Of Solitude
11. The Mugger
12. Lex Luthor’s Lair
13. Helicopter Sequence *
14. The Burglar Sequence / Chasing Crooks
15. Super Rescues
16. The Penthouse *
17. The Flying Sequence *
18. Clark Loses His Nerve *
1. The March Of The Villains *
3. To The Lair
5. Chasing Rockets *
6. Superfeats *
7. Pushing Boulders / Flying To Lois
8. Turning Back The World
9. The Prison Yard / End Title *
10. Love Theme From Superman *
11. Prelude And Main Title (Alternate) *
12. The Planet Krypton (Alternate)
13. The Dome Opens (Alternate)
14. The Mugger (Alternate)
15. I Can Fly (Flying Sequence Segment) *
16. Can You Read My Mind (Film Version) *
18. Turning Back The World (Alternate)
19. The Prison Yard / End Title (Film Version) *
1. Prelude And Main Title (Film Version) *
2. The Flying Sequence (Album Version) *
3. Can You Read My Mind (Original Version) *
4. Can You Read My Mind (Non-Vocal Version) *
5. Kansas High School (Source)
6. Kansas Kids (Source)
7. Lois Car Radio (Source)
8. Luthor’s Luau (Source)