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Soundtrack review: Superman returns (complete score, John Ottman, 2006)

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Soundtrack review: Superman returns (complete score, John Ottman, 2006)

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John Williams’ score for “Superman”, and especially the legendary main theme (I don’t think there are 3 better themes ever written) made it very hard for future composers to follow up when the franchise got rebooted and new movies came out. The expectations were always high, and besides, how can you top or even match that theme? Maestro Williams is a tough act to follow…And yet, two brave composers took on the task, and chose completely different paths. We saw how brilliantly Hans Zimmer transformed Superman into Man of steel here, and now it time to check on John Ottman, who chose to took the road more traveled…
Ottman is a special kind of composer, because he also serves as editor on most of the movies he scores, and he also likes to direct. He’s usually attached to Brian Singer’s movies; the two have a great relationship. It was no surprise when Singer chose him for the hard task of scoring “Superman returns” in 2006.  
He opens the movie with John Williams’ “Superman March” in the Main titles. He keeps the original theme and plants his brilliant new ones after it. Williams actually contributes with a couple of themes to this new score, which blend perfectly with John Ottman’s compositions.
“Superman returns” is a score worthy of such a super hero. It does him justice; it shows power and heart as big as his. Action tracks like “Rough flight”, “Home run” and “Superman returns” alone make the extender version of the score worth buying. I could write a few lines about almost each of the 58 cues on this album, that’s how good this score is. It is a relentless, non-stop orchestral wonder. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, and the two hours go by in a blink, you are surprised when it ends, because you wanted more. The action cues can go head to head with Williams’s best any day. The sentimental tracks are melodic and deep, they speak to me and move me and there’s something to find in each of them. Just check out the wonder that is the 7 minute long “How could you leave us?”, a story book cue, tender, full of heart, with choral parts that make me dream of a hero and with a bit of John Williams’ old magic.
Actually the choral work on this score, even if it doesn’t appear on many cues, is one of the things that impressed me the most. It sounds like a Christmas choir, it takes me right back to when I was a kid dreaming and waiting for presents. It reaches something inside me that was planted long ago…
The second CD of this score, from “Little secrets” on, means 27 cues (72 minutes) of excellence. There isn’t one single bad note in there, it’s like I am listening to a story before going to bed, a story that I don’t want to see end. The music takes me to a world where everyone is safe because Superman is watching and he won’t ever go away again. “Saving the world” parts I and II are the final action cues before the emotional cues take over (“In the hands of mortals”? “Parting words”?…dream stuff) and lead to the end of the score which comes full circle and is once again dominated by the Superman March.
This march is as immortal and revered as Superman himself, and deservedly so. But John Ottman managed to come up with a score that to me is even better than John William’s original effort. It’s a composition full of life, heart, and hope and as rich as they come. I marvel at how different this vision is from Man of steel, yet it stands as tall.
The extended version released by La-la Land Records shouldn’t miss from any collection. I am sure that 20 years from now, “Superman returns” will be regarded with the same reverence and excitement as the original Superman. As I write this I am listening to “Reprise”, the final cue on this score, and wonder what wonderful fairy tale was it composed for…
“Superman returns” is a score that could give back the faith in film music to anyone who might have lost it…No, the golden times aren’t gone. There are still composers capable of making us dream…And John Ottman is one of them. I absolutely love this score…This may be a score written for Superman, but everything in it feels warm and human. And for now, as we mortals are to Superman, so are my words compared to the quality of this music…
My ratings:
Cue rating: 90 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 103 / 120
Album excellence: 86%
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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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