Review: Super Themes Soundtrack
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It's like a nostalgia trip for your ears...
Compilation albums are great fun, aren’t they? I’ve talked at some length before about them, and how they can be hit or miss with their intended audiences. Silva Screen Records’ latest offering – Super Themes – is no different, but it does contain a lot of really great tunes that the cult fan will appreciate having in their collection. While there are some moments where you just want to know what the criteria was in order to be picked, some are really spot-on.
The two-disk set is chock full of goodies spanning the last 40-plus years of superhero television and movies, and much of it is great. From the swinging sixties we have jazz composer Neal Hefti’s surf guitar theme for Batman, which is one of those guilty pleasures every geek can enjoy. In fact, this rounds out the first seven tracks of the album, all of which are from various entries in the various Batman franchises.
However, some of the choices seem a little odd. The album starts out with “Rise” from The Dark Knight Rises, then “The Watchful Guardian” from The Dark Knight, and “Molossus” from Batman Begins. The last of those tracks isn’t a bad listen, but I thought there might have been a better choice from that particular movie. We then have “Main Titles and Fanfare” from Batman & Robin, one of the least offensive things about that movie, a very rousing piece by Elliot Goldenthal. Danny Elfman shines in the next two, the “End Titles” from Batman Returns, which has a very gothic quality to it – reflecting the darker approach the movie took toward the source material - and the “Main Title” from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. This piece in particular is amazing, not only because it has become iconic to fans of the Dark Knight everywhere, but because it seems as though it would have fit any crime noir film of the 1940s. That seems fitting, as the film itself seemed to not be sure where it really fit, with its suit and fedora wearing gangsters and art deco buildings seamlessly fitting into a modern day setting.
Some of this album really stands out as the best of superhero fare, whether because the tracks are just that good, or because they have permeated our social consciousness and have become part of pop culture. John Williams’ brilliant score for the 1978 Richard Donner film Superman gets represented with the now legendary main title themes – which to this day makes me want to tear my shirt open and reveal the iconic shield – and the “Love Theme” from that film, renowned for the memorable flying scene with Superman and Lois Lane. Then there’s Jerry Goldsmith’s “Main Title & Argo City” from 1984’s Supergirl, which isn’t bad, but felt as though Goldsmith tried too hard to emulate Williams’ score from Superman.
Rounding out the Superman block is Remy Zero’s “Save Me”, performed by Michigan Music Works and lacking the feel of the original song. This is one very weak spot on the collection, making me wish they had possibly chosen another incidental track from one of the movies, or even the main theme from Lois & Clark. Spider-Man gets his due with the main title themes from both this year’s The Amazing Spider-Man and from Sam Raimi’s 2002 film Spider-Man. James Horner gives a brilliant theme for the aforementioned film, while Elfman gives us a dark main title theme for the latter, one that seems to have hints of his work from Batman in it; which is a shame, because the composer is much better than that. It’s not a bad track, but it seems too generic. Finally we go back to the 60s again for the "Spider-Man TV Theme", another one of those television themes that has become part of the cultural lexicon, and weaves itself into your head and gets stuck for days.
There are some interesting choices from recent films here, even if some of them wouldn’t be ones I would have chosen at first. Alan Silvestri’s “Avengers Assemble” from this summer’s The Avengers is a rousing piece, and probably one of the better examples to have used from that score, defining the sound of the new superhero team. “Thor Kills the Destroyer” shows Patrick Doyle to be a wonderful composer, but I would have thought there might have been some better examples from that particular film. Silvestri also gives us “March” from Captain America: The First Avenger, which at first I thought wasn’t the best choice from the film, but after listening again, I realize it’s brilliant in paying homage to the bombastic film themes from the war movies of yesteryear, and in portraying Steve Rogers’ true heart and spirit, even before donning the stars and stripes.
Henry Jackman delivers “Magneto” from X-Men: First Class, which blends orchestra and electronic to sound like an industrial metal song. The track is really great, even if you’re not particularly a fan of that style of music, just for the interesting blend of musical genres. John Ottman brings us the “X-Men United Suite” from X2, a satisfying mix of orchestra and chorus that paints a background for our various heroes and villains to join forces against a common foe. There’s Joe Harnell’s beautiful and haunting theme from The Incredible Hulk television series, that memorable piano suite we heard every week as David Banner took one last look at the situation he made better, only to move on until he can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him (oh, like Ted Cassidy’s narration wasn’t inside your head at that point as well).
Other high points are “Strobe” from Kick-Ass, the theme from the passable The Shadow, and another guilty pleasure in the theme from the 1975 television series Wonder Woman. There are also the main title tracks from the Raimi-produced Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: The Warrior Princess, both of which hold a special place in my heart. And for the true die-hard nerd there’s the main theme from the cult classic Danger Mouse. We also have the track “Autobots” from Transformers, which is a very nicely done piece, and captures the spirit of the film.
Some of the choices that I might have skipped were the theme from Fantastic Four, the end credits theme from The Rocketeer, “Suite” from Judge Dredd, and the theme from the series Heroes, which, while being a great show, is a bit flat theme-wise, and really doesn’t seem to fit in here. There are also “The Moon and the Superhero” from Hancock, which just seems too derivative, and “Driving with the Top Down” from Iron Man, which isn’t a bad track – again blending the orchestra with electronic music. That said, there was some really great music in that movie and, given the choice, I thought that they might have picked something a little better. Instead of some of these choices, we could have had the theme from The Green Hornet TV series, or a selection from The Crow, but alas, again, I don’t make the decisions.
Not for the timid, this is one of those soundtracks you would only probably appreciate if you were a real fan of the movies and programs, and even then, only if you were one of those folks that gets into this sort of thing. But if you are, please make sure you check it out. I mean, some of these are really great for popping in your car stereo and blasting while you’re cruising down the highway, or for sitting down and reading some selections from your comic book collection.
Super Themes will be available on October 16, 2012 by Silva Screen Records.
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