#5: SUPERMAN (John Williams)

October 21, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Can you read my mind? Do you know what it that you do to me? I don't know who you are - just a friend from another star.

Most people who heard those lyrics on the radio during 1979 associated them solely with the pop hit by Maureen McGovern. In fact, those lyrics (written by Leslie Bricusse) were originally spoken in the film Superman by Margot Kidder. As written, they were intended to be sung, but the creative team determined that the song would be badly received and decided that it would be better for Kidder to do a spoken voiceover. As a result, when McGovern covered the song, only Superman fans recognized the source material.

Years later, while some may fondly recall Superman's love song, it's the main theme, with its dramatic build-up and triumphant announcement of the SUPERMAN title that remains embedded in the memories of fans. To me, this is one of the greatest opening title sequences of any film, and largely because of the music. It's better than Star Wars, The Untouchables, and Conan the Barbarian. From time to time, I have popped the DVD in the player just to watch the credits and hear the music. It was with delight that I greeted Bryan Singer's news that he intends to use this theme music in his re-invention of Superman.

The soundtrack album is classic Williams. It's perhaps not as varied as his work for Star Wars, but it's stronger and more mature. It's also the most famous work he did for a filmmaker not named Lucas or Spielberg. Aside from the main title and any track featuring a version of that or the love theme, I am fond of "The Planet Krypton," "The Fortress of Solitude," and the semi-comedic "The March of the Villains" (which sounds a little like the track from Star Wars where C3PO and R2D2 part after landing on Tatooine).

Williams was originally contracted to do the music for Superman II but, like Gene Hackman, he quit when Richard Donner was fired as director. Ken Thorne was brought in to re-arrange themes written by Williams for the first movie. (Essentially, the soundtrack for Superman II is just Superman re-organized.) For the third movie, the filmmakers unwisely decided to not use the entire Williams theme for the opening credits (although it is used during the film and in its entirety during the end credits). Alexander Courage, who arranged the music for the execrable Superman IV brought back a truncated version of the Williams title music, making the opening credits the sole worthwhile aspect of the movie.