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“It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Superman”

Superheros are characters that need no introduction. We are exposed to the iconic crime fighters and protectors of the people through comics, TV series, and flicks since we are little kids. We all dreamed of possessing their extraordinary superpowers, and dressed up like them for Halloween and other costume parties.

 

Wonder Woman’s lasso and bracelets, Iron Man’s powered armor suits, Thor’s hammer, and Green Lantern’s power ring are no match for John Williams’ brilliant heroic march (Superman, 1978). The first major superhero film featuring Christopher Reeve lives in our memories and in our hearts. Get ready to be propelled into space, and fly into a fantastic and melodic journey.

 

The Joker, the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and other psychotic criminals at the Arkham Asylum are probably asking themselves “Can somebody tell me what kind of a world do we live in, where a man dressed as a bat gets all of my press?” (Batman, 1989) The Penguin, Catwoman, and Mr. Freeze will probably tell them that is hard to compete with Bruce Wayne alter ego when he is driving the Batmobile with Danny Elfman’s “The Batman Theme” soaring in the background. The dark, gothic, powerful and mysterious superhero score is truly awesome and highly memorable.

 

The Dark Knight again landed a great musical score in the film Batman Begins (2005). Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard collaboration is the second best example of how two composers can complement each other (sorry Lennon and McCartney still win). The music evokes feelings of sadness, mourning, terror, tension, and provides powerful driving music for the action scenes. “Molossus” and “Antrozous” are my favorite tracks.

 

“In a stunning turn of events, a superhero is being sued for saving someone who, apparently, didn’t want to be saved” (The Incredibles, 2004). Michael Giacchino’s score for the animated superhero movie features lots of brass, saxophone, and 1960’s spy film nostalgia. “The Glory Days” is a perfect blend of big band jazz and classic John Barry-esque music. “The Incredits” is the best superhero score for closing credits since an amazing piano piece was used for the impulsive alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner (“The Lonely Man Theme” by Joe Harnell from The Incredible Hulk TV series, 1977).

 

“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.” The theme song of the 1967 cartoon (re-recorded by Michael Bublé in 2002) still remains the most memorable tune for Peter Parker, despite two excellent scores penned by legendary composers Danny Elfman (Spider-Man, 2002) and James Horner (The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012).

I will also like to highlight two recent fine compositions in the Marvel superhero universe:  the great epic action romp “Driving With the Top Down” by Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, 2008), and the soaring “Captain America March” by Alan Silvestri (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011).

 

Finally, let’s close with the extremely memorable “Flight of the Bumblebee” (Green Hornet TV Series, 1966), arranged by Billy May from an original composition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It features an amazing solo by Al Hirt, a true trumpet superhero.

 

Superhero Superman

Notable Superhero Scores

 

Adventures of Superman (TV series 1952) – Leon Klatzkin “Superman March”

Batman (TV series) 1966) – Neal Hefti “Batman Theme”

Green Hornet (TV Series 1966) – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov “Flight of the Bumblebee”

Wonder Woman (TV series 1975) – Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics)

Incredible Hulk (TV series 1977) – Joe Harnell “The Lonely Man Theme”

Superman (1978) – John Williams

Superman II (1980) – Ken Thorne

Flash (1980) – Queen

The Greatest American Hero (TV Series 1981) – Joey Scarbury

Supergirl (1984) – Jerry Goldsmith “Overture”

Robocop (1987) – Basil Poledouris

Batman (1989) – Danny Elfman “The Batman Theme”

The Punisher (1989) – Dennis Dreith

The Flash (TV Series 1990) – Danny Elfman

The Rocketeer (1991) – James Horner “To the Rescue”

Batman Returns (1992) – Danny Elfman

Batman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1992) – Shirley Walker

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (TV Series 1993) – Jay Gruska (the son in-law of John Williams)

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (TV Series 1993) – Ron Wasserman “Go Go Power Rangers”

The Crow (1994) – Graeme Revell

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series 1994) – Nerf Herder

Superman: The Animated Series (TV Series 1996) – Shirley Walker

Batman & Robin (1997) – Elliot Goldenthal “A Batman Overture”

Spawn (1997) – Filter and the Crystal Method “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do”

Blade (1998) – Mark Isham

Batman Beyond (TV Series 1999) – Shirley Walker

X-Men (2000) – Michael Kamen

Unbreakable (2000) – James Newton Howard “Visions”

Smallville (TV Series 2001) – Remy Zero “Save Me”

Spider-Man (2002) – Danny Elfman “Main Titles”

Blade II (2002) – Marco Beltrami

Daredevil (2003) – Graeme Revell “Daredevil Theme”

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) – Trevor Jones

Hulk (2003) – Danny Elfman

X2: X-Men United (2003) – John Ottman “Suite from X2”

Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman “Main Title”

Blade: Trinity (2004) – RZA

Catwoman (2004) – Klaus Badelt

Hellboy (2004) – Marco Beltrami “Main Title”, “Fathers Funeral”

The Punisher (2004) – Carlo Siliotto

The Incredibles (2004) – Michael Giacchino

Batman Begins (2005) – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Fantastic Four (2005) – John Ottman

Elektra (2005) – Christophe Beck (from Buffy and Angel TV Series)

Superman Returns (2006) – John Ottman “Main Titles”

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – John Powell

TMNT (2007) – Klaus Badelt

Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Christopher Young

Ghost Rider (2007) – Christopher Young

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) – John Ottman “Silver Surfer Theme”

Iron Man (2008) – Ramin Djawadi “ Driving With the Top Down”

The Incredible Hulk (2008) – Craig Armstrong

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) – Danny Elfman

The Dark Knight (2008) – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard “Aggressive Expansion”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) – Harry Gregson-Williams

Watchmen (2009) – Tyler Bates “Rescue Mission”

Iron Man 2 (2011) – John Debney “I Am Iron Man”

The Green Hornet (2011) – James Newton Howard

Green Lantern (2011) – James Newton Howard “We’re Going To Fly Now”

X-Men: First Class (2011) – Henry Jackman “Magneto”

Thor (2011) – Patrick Doyle “Sons of Odin”

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Alan Silvestri “Captain America March”

The Avengers (2012) – Alan Silvestri “The Avengers”

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Hans Zimmer “Rise”

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – James Horner “Main Title – Young Peter”, “Saving New York”

Man of Steel (2013) – Hans Zimmer

Films with fantastic themes often have an element of magic, myth, and wonder. They allow us to escape to imaginary lands, whimsical worlds, and extraordinary alternate realities.

 

“And the secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan, you must learn its discipline, for no one, no one in this world can you trust, not men, not women, not beasts… This you can trust” (Conan the Barbarian, 1982)

Basil Poleudoris musically painted a richly colored mythical landscape full of magic and power, hope and sorrow, beauty and danger, metal and fire. This great musical triumph was accomplished with haunting chorals, thunderous percussion, lavish melodies, and great orchestral sound. He created in the process one of the greatest music masterpieces in fantasy-adventure film history.

 

“Eddie. The guys and I were talking, we’d like want to invite you to our card game on Friday night. Would you like that? Only thing is, you can’t cut!” (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)

A young, innocent, shy, eccentric and weird-looking man named Edward (Johnny Depp), whose hands are made of scissors, is adopted by the kind hearted Peg Boggs. Danny Elfman’s music, like Edward’s scissor-handy works (garden sculptures, hairstyles), is highly imaginative, truly beautiful, and breathtaking. A haunting and inspiring musical journey that is melancholic but fun, tragic but hopeful, wintery but heart-warming, and dark but not evil. Tim Burton’s tender, dreamy, heartbreaking, and inspiring movie has, as it deserves, one of the best fantasy film scores ever written.

 

“Long ago, when man was young and the dragon already old, the wisest of our race took pity on man. He gathered together all the dragons, making them vow to watch over man, always” (Dragonheart, 1996)

The majestic and uplifting Randy Edelman’s score really breathe fire into my heart. “To The Stars” theme is magical, awe inspiring, commanding, stunning, and truly unforgettable. This majestic score is able to transcend tears, sadness, and sorrow. It lifts our spirits to a triumphant state of remembrance, commemoration, and glory.

 

“Once upon a time there was a boy named Peter Pan, who decided not to grow up”

(Peter Pan, 2003)

Inspiring, exciting and delightful, this score is one of James Newton Howard finest accomplishments. The sweet and poignant composition “Flying” is an amazing and uplifting magical adventure. Sweet harps, graceful bells, lovely choral works and soaring melody fill our imagination with mystery, hope and tender feelings. He is able to capture for our enjoyment the wonderful dreamy world of Neverland.

 

“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that, even if it hurts (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006)

It was hard not to fall in love with Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film masterpiece. The beautiful but tenebrous universe blends a haunted fairy tale with the ugliness of reality. Javier Navarrete’s fantastic lullaby magically captures the mystery of the movie. The score can be at times relaxing and soothing, but the composer’s sweeping imagination combined with violin, brass and strings can conjure dark, majestic and sweeping melodies. The music induces a feeling of incantation, placing us under a comforting spell that helps us go through fear inducing imagery that would otherwise lead to a heightened state of dread and anxiety. It is without doubt one of the best film scores composed in the past decade.

 

I did not dare to overlook the epic fantasy films based on the works of J. R. R Tolkien and J.K. Rolling. I plan to review their beautiful music in a future blog about great fantasy film sagas.

 

Heart of Summer

Notable Fantasy Film Scores

 

The Wizard of Oz (1933) – Herbert Stothart

Beauty and the Beast (1946) – Georges Auric

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – Bernard Herrmann

Alice in Wonderland (1951) – Oliver G. Wallace

A Christmas Carol (1951) – Richard Addinsell

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – Bernard Herrmann

Scrooge (1970) – Leslie Bricusse

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – John Williams

Excalibur (1981) – Trevor Jones (featuring mainly music by Richard Wagner and Carl Orff)

Dragonslayer (1981) – Alex North

Legend (1985) – Jerry Goldsmith (European release) / Tangerine Dream (American release)

Clash of the Titans (1981) – Laurence Rosenthal

Time Bandits (1981) – Trevor Jones

Conan the Barbarian (1982) – Basil Poleudoris

The Dark Crystal (1982) – Trevor Jones

Krull (1983) – James Horner

Fire and Ice (1983) – William Kraft

Brazil (1985) – Michael Kamen

Lady Hawke (1985) – Andrew Powell and Alan Parsons

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1986) – Michel Kamen

The Pricess Bride (1987) – Mark Knopfler

Willow (1988) – James Horner

Scrooged (1988) – Danny Elfman

Highlander (1986) – Michael Kamen and Queen

Labyrinth (1986) – Trevor Jones and David Bowie

Edward Scissorhands (1990) – Danny Elfman

The Green Mile (1999) – Thomas Newman

Groundhog Day (1993) – Thomas Newman

Hook (1991) – John Williams

Dragonheart (1996) – Randy Edelman

Meet Joe Black (1998) – Thomas Newman

Peter Pan (2003) – James Newton Howard

Big Fish (2003) – Danny Elfman

Corpse Bride (2005) – Danny Elfman

Brothers Grimm (2005) – Dario Marianelli

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) –Javier Navarrete

Lady in the Water (2006) – James Newton Howard

Eragon (2006) – Patrick Doyle

The Golden Compass (2007) – Alexandre Desplat

Bridge to Terabithia (2007) – Aaron Zigman

Stardust (2007) – Ilan Eshkeri

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) – Alexandre Desplat

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) – James Horner

Avatar (2009) – James Horner

Alice in Wonderland (2010) – Danny Elfman

Clash of the Titans (2010) – Ramin Djawadi

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) – Harry Gregson-Williams

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) – Trevor Rabin

Hugo (2011) – Howard Shore

Conan the Barbarian (2011) – Tyler Bates

Your Highness (2011) – Steve Jablonsky

Wrath of the Titans (2012) – Javier Navarrete

John Carter (2012) – Michael Giacchino

Dark Shadows (2012) – Danny Elfman

Life of Pi (2012) – Michael Danna

Snowman and the Huntsman (2012) – James Newton Howard

Some of my favorite movie characters are iconic monsters. Getting scared with monstrous creatures can be really thrilling and engaging. King Kong, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, and Godzilla constitute a representative sample of the inhabitants of the pantheon of movie monsters.

 

Protagonists in these films may also include characters derived from folklore tales (Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster), “nuclear paranoia” creatures (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), Japanese Kaiju (Gamera), vicious animals, mutated beasts, carnivorous insects, and dinosaurs. Sci-fi inspired monstrous characters include aliens, robots, cyborgs, and mad scientists’ experiments gone wrong (normally harmless animals, plants or machines turned into cold-blooded killers).

 

“Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty that killed the Beast.” (King Kong, 1933)

Max Steiner’s breathtaking, timeless orchestral composition was the first film score ever written for an American “talkie”. The film tells the story of a gigantic ape creature who dies in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman. Because his actions were not entirely based on choice, and were in fact the consequence of circumstances beyond his control, the monstrous island-dweller has elicit an outpour of empathic feelings from film viewers. King Kong has become a landmark in the history of cinema, and one of the world’s most famous movie icons.

 

“It’s Alive!” (Frankenstein, 1931) is the most legendary horror movie quote.

Dr. Frankenstein creates a mate for his monster in the famous sequel Bride of Frankenstein (1933), considered by most at least an equivalent and possibly a superior film. The famous character portrayed by Boris Karloff was introduced to us in a film with no original score, but the sequel was blessed with a Franz Waxman’s early film-music masterpiece. Gothic literature elements of horror and romance percolate thought-out the score. The wonderful melody beautifully captures the sinister side of the human soul. This extremely influential composition is considered a cornerstone of horror film music.

 

” You yell ‘Barracuda,’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘Shark,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands.” (Jaws, 1975)

The John William’s theme for this movie is the most recognizable horror score of all time. Going to the beach has never been the same for most people after watching the Steven Spielberg ‘s ultimate animal terror film. He also penned the beautiful and thrilling score for Jurassic Park.

 

“Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility… A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality” (Alien, 1979)

Jerry Goldsmith’s chilling, and otherworldly atmosphere of the alien ship and its monstrous inhabitant is reminiscent of his prior landmark score for Planet of the Apes. Along with the vacated Alex North’s original recording of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was one of the most requested and coveted soundtrack restorations. The complete original score for this monster film set in deep space was released in 2007.

 

To conclude, I will like to place in the limelight the composition that plays over the end credits of the film Cloverfield (2008). “Roar!” is a bold, creepy, exciting, and very well crafted overture by one of the emerging dramatists of contemporary film music, the “Smoke Monster” (Lost TV Series) composer Michael Giacchino. Due to similarities with the music of Akira Ifukube, it has been suggested that Giacchino’s overture is a tribute to the composer of Godzilla. Cloverfield also celebrates other legendary monster movies with embedded still frames from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them! and  King Kong. Monsters, like movies, will be with us forever…

 

Monster King_kong

Notable Monster Movie Scores

 

Nosferatu (1922) – Hans Erdmann / Reissue – James Bernard

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) – Gustav Hinrichs

Dracula (1931) – it did not have an original score, Philip Glass was commissioned to write the score  for the 1999 DVD release

Frankenstein (1931) – there is no musical soundtrack in the film, except for the opening and closing credits

The Mummy (1932) – ballet Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky, also previously used for the opening credits of Dracula

King Kong (1933) – Max Steiner

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – Franz Waxman

Son of Frankenstein (1939) – Frank Skinner

The Invisible Man (1933) – Heinz Roemheld

The Invisible Man Returns (1940) – Frank Skinner

The Wolf Man (1941) – Hans J. Salter & Frank Skinner

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) – Franz Waxman

The Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942) – Hans J. Salter

Phantom of the Opera (1943) – Edward Ward

The House of Frankenstein (1944)- Hans J. Salter

The Thing from Another World (1951) – Dimitri Tiomkin

It Came from Outer Space (1953) – collaborative score by Henry Mancini, Herman Stein, and Irving Gertz

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) – David Buttolph

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – Hans J. Salter, contributions by Henry Mancini and Herman Stein

Godzilla (1954) – Akira Ifukube

Them! (1954) – Bronislaw Kaper

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) – Mischa Bakaleinikoff

Tarantula (1955) – Herman Stein and Henry Mancini

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) – Mischa Bakaleinikoff

The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) – James Bernard

The Mummy (1958) – Franz Reizenstein

The Horror of Dracula (1958) – James Bernard

The Giant Behemoth (1959) – Edwin Astley*

*Astley’s most memorable work is the distinctive theme music for the British TV series The Saint

Brides of Dracula (1960) – Malcolm Williamson

Curse of the Werewolf (1960) – Benjamin Frankel

Kiss of the Vampire (1962) – James Bernard

The Birds (1963) – no score

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) – James Bernard

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) – James Bernard

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) – Tristram Cary

Young Frankenstein (1974) – John Morris “Transylvanian Lullaby”

It’s Alive (1974) – Bernard Herrman

Jaws (1975) – John Williams

King Kong (1976) – John Barry

The Thing (1982) – Ennio Morricone

The Fly (1986) – Howard Shore

The Fly II (1989) – Christopher Young

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Wojciech Kilar “The Storm”

Jurassic Park (1993) – John Williams

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) – Patrick Doyle

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994) – Elliot Goldenthal

Mimic (1997) – Marco Beltrami

Alien Resurrection (1997) – John Frizzell

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 TV Series) – Nerf Herder

Godzilla (1998) – David Arnold

Lake Placid (1999) – John Ottman

The Mummy (1999) – Jerry Goldsmith

Sleepy Hollow (1999) – Danny Elfman

The Mummy Returns (2001) – Alan Silvestri

Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001) – Joseph LoDuca

Lost (2004 TV Series) – Michael Giacchino

King Kong (2005) – James Newton Howard

Let the Right One In(2008) – Johan Soderqvist “Eli’s Theme”

Let Me In (2010) – Michael Giacchino