CAPED CRUSADERS AND OTHER SUPERHEROES. PART 1.

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The age of the superhero is definitely with us, with each year the films that focus on the antics of crime fighters and doers of good increase dramatically and with each instalment or new storyline that is committed to celluloid we are given a new sound or a new theme. These themes in the beginning were quite simple, the composers draft was give the audience something that they can latch onto each time the hero is around or is about to do some magnificent feat of daring do and wipe out yet another dastardly villain. But things change and movies, storylines and also film scores evolve and alter in style and approach. Superheroes now come in collectives as in X MEN, AVENGERS, etc etc, and even superheroes have disagreements and we see our favourite good guys battling against each other as in BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. I suppose the most iconic superhero theme has got to be BAT (my wings are like a shield of steel) FINK, closely followed by DANGER MOUSE, was he a superhero? and then of course who could forget BANANA MAN, COURAGEOUS CAT AND MINUTE MOUSE, SPACE STARS, etc the list is FROM HERE TO INFINITY.

 

No, not really, although some of the music for these characters was pretty good. I was actually thinking more of SUPERMAN as penned by film music royalty John Williams, as soon as one hears that opening note it is instant, you are back in front of the TV at Christmas watching Christopher Reeve flying to rescue another damsel in distress, or kick the butt of Lex Luther. And yes, we did believe a man could really fly. The first two Superman movies I thought were pretty good, then like most series the franchise kind of dipped into a silly and nonsensical pile of unwatchable space waste. With bad storylines, awful direction and music that was basically other composers adapting and using the Williams theme and building unforgettable scores around it. Same thing happened with BATMAN, Tim Burton did ok with the first two then the series was given over to second rate filmmakers who played it for laughs which were not that funny.


This of course is just a personal opinion, but after Danny Elfman departed the BATMAN series, things looked safe in the hands of Elliot Goldenthal, who I thought was a ground breaking musical innovator, however although Goldenthal contributed two interesting scores to the series about the caped crusader, BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN AND ROBIN, in truth I do not think that all things musical were never to be the same again. The third and fourth instalments lacked the quirkiness of Tim Burton and his dark but entertaining style, and director Joel Schumacher did not seem to have the same creative flair as his predecessor.

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The darkness in BATMAN movies would not return until 2005, when filmmaker Christopher Nolan took the directorial helm for, BATMAN BEGINS, which contained a score by two of Hollywood’s A list composers, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer. The darkness was reflected within the score, with both composers utilising symphonic and synthetic components to realise a score that was driving and relentless, the sparse melodies being overwhelmed by music or musical sounds that were more soundscape than score. But saying this, within the movie the score was highly effective and served the picture well creating some spectacular moments where image and music worked together so well it would be difficult to watch the movie without this score. The at times dronelike sounds on the soundtrack lifting the action and creating tense and dramatic personas which not only enhanced and elevated the action but became part of that action. The deep and pulsating use of percussive elements complimented by fierce and ominous brass were truly wonderful and can be heard in a more developed example in tracks such as MOLOSSIUS, which for me is 100 percent Zimmer who would develop this style of scoring further in other movies including further instalments of Nolan’s BATMAN series. Also within the score there is a subdued melodic side, in which we hear emotion and to a degree poignancy, CORYNORHINUS, is for the most part a cue that leans towards the melancholy with a deep emotional sound, but also a track that has to it a fragility and a delicate air. The Zimmer/Newton Howard BATMAN score continued three years later in THE DARK KNIGHT, again a fusion of symphonic and electronic, and there were themes, not as we used to have them but there were fleeting glimpses of themes even within the action scenes of which there were many.

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Like BATMAN BEGINS the dark and thickly foreboding style purveyed on the soundtrack sent the movie and its storyline to new heights, pounding percussive combining with driving strings and proud sounding brass to achieve a totally engrossing style, a style and a sound that was perfect for our caped crusader who now was darker than the villains he pursued. The score which was for me chaotic and menacing fitted the movie like the proverbial glove and again to see the film without this score would be unthinkable. I am not a great fan of Zimmer as you have probably gathered from previous articles and reviews I have written but with the BATMAN movies there is just something that is totally consuming about his music and yes I know Newton Howard had a hand in creating this sound too, but if you listen to the score intently it is obvious it is the work of Zimmer, or could it be Wallfisch, Balfe and co? LIKE A DOG CHASING CARS is probably the standout cue and we hear the undeniable Zimmer sound here, slow beginnings, layer upon layer of a repeated theme or a succession of repeated notes, which grow in stature and volume as the piece progresses. With its richly dark driving strings being overshadowed by the inspiring brass flourishes that grow and become more powerful as the composition develops and builds to a crescendo of sorts. For the third film in the Christopher Nolan directed BATMAN trilogy, the writing credit on the score is Zimmer alone. And although the score was in tune with the movie I am not convinced that it is the best of the bunch as it were.

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I suppose credit where credit is due and Zimmer did do a good job on DARK KNIGHT RISES, but is the thematic element as strong with this score, maybe it was the input of Newton Howard that made the previous two soundtracks more appealing? Who knows? As I write this article, I have seen that Zimmer is to score the new Bond movie, replacing American composer Dan Romer, for Daniel Craigs final outing as 007 in NO TIME TO DIE. Well I am not impressed I cannot disguise that, but on taking a listen to THE FIRE RISES from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, maybe just maybe he could pull it off. From BATMAN we go to another fighter for good and justice SPIDERMAN, this is a series of films that has like BATMAN gone through various stages and had many lead actors donning the spidey persona. And likewise, there have been a few composers involved, DANNY ELFMAN, CHRISTOPHER YOUNG, JAMES HORNER, HANS ZIMMER, JUNKIE XL, MICHAEL GIACCHINO, DANIEL PEMBERTON etc. The first movie in the series was released in 2002 and directed by Sid Raimi, with a great pulsating and highly rhythmic score from Danny Elfman, which contained so many familiar nuances and quirks that we associate with Elfman it could have been another BATMAN score or even a revamp of the music Elfman penned for DARKMAN.

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But whatever your thoughts on the score it worked for the film and we as collectors were wowed by Elfman’s obvious ability as a film music composer. The score was certainly filled with offbeat quirks and off the wall musical experiments, the track COSTUME MONTAGE sounding somewhat spaghetti western in places. The score was not all action led as Elfman displayed in the track ALONE which was filled with a quiet sadness purveyed by strings and subdued woodwind. But in the main SPIDERMAN contained a full-on action score, filled to overflowing with over the top themes and some inventive orchestration and innovative writing and familiar Elfman trademarks. The composer returned to the scoring stage for SPIDERMAN 2, and the music he created again was high flying and sweeping with just as many if not more of the familiar Elfman musical trademarks, but on this occasion the sound seemed even more grandiose with the composer utilising a greater brass section, lavish strings, booming percussion and creating more choral moments. The tense and dramatic sound that he achieved underlined and supported the crime web hurling crime fighter and also made for a good listening experience away from the images on screen.

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SPIDERMAN 3, again starred Toby Maguire as Spidey, and was also again helmed by filmmaker Sid Raimi, the music however was composed by renowned film music Maestro, Christopher Young, but it did also contain some of the themes that had been written by Danny Elfman for the first two moves in the franchise. Now Young had created iconic soundtracks for films such as HELLRAISER 1 and 2,and had been active in the writing of film music within the horror genre for a number of years. His SPIDERMAN 3 score which was revered by collectors was at times condemned by certain critics, and because the movie was not as successful as it was anticipated at the box office, the music that Young penned was never to see the light of day as a CD release. Instead a song album was released and presented as the original soundtrack, the film company hoping to re-coup some revenue from the sales of the album. The composer issued a private pressing of his score, which contained 15 cues and had a running time of just over an hour. Young’s atmospheric music is in my opinion probably the best SPIDERMAN score written, grand and imposing, fearsome, dynamic and dramatic. In the main it is a symphonic score but does contain some electronic or synthesised elements that act as support. Young combined powerful symphonic moments with choral performances and wildly relentless thematic material, which although scored for action scenes still contained an engaging and strong melodic content.

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It’s a funny thing every time I hear Young’s score for SPIDERMAN 3, it evokes memories of Jerry Goldsmith, Chris Young kind of composes in a similar way, with big brass and driving strings for the action sequences, but he scores the quieter or more intimate scenes with poignant strings and woods, and has the ability to fashion beautifully haunting melodies as did Goldsmith. His music from SPIDERMAN 3 is like his many other soundtracks inventive and inspired, and within it one can hear glimpses of past Young scores and also sounds and styles that the composer would employ in future projects, SPIDERMAN 3 the score is an underatted work and one that so deserves an official soundtrack release. Next in the series was THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN (2012) which had a change in the lead role actor, and a new director. Andrew Garfield became Spiderman and the directorial role was taken on by Marc Webb, with the musical score duties falling to James Horner. As one would have expected, Horner created a large scale score for the movie, but although it underlined, punctuated and supported throughout, for me it still did not have to it the presence or indeed the inventiveness that we had experienced with both Elfman and Young. In many ways this was a conventional sounding superhero score, if there is such a thing. But it was still bristling and bursting with that superhero sound, bold, sweeping and energetic. Horner also brought melody to the proceedings which manifests itself in a more developed form in the track I CANT SEE YOU ANYMORE, the composer utilises heart breaking piano solo that is enhanced by strings to purvey an emotional and affecting composition. Horner did a good job, as he always seemed to and for THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN he did create an original sounding score that was removed from the previous three movies, as in little reference to these and also we cannot hear any of the composers trademarks that he always seemed to include in other soundtracks, yes we know instinctively its Horner, but it’s different and is possibly one of his better works in the latter part of his career. The END TITLES-PROMISES is highly emotive and one of the composers most gracious and uplifting pieces that ends in a wonderfully lush way. THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2, was possibly when the franchise hit rock bottom, musically speaking that is, with Zimmer, and Pharrell Williams having a hand in writing the score, as well as contributions from Junkie XL and the Magnificent six ? this is the problem with Zimmer he never seems to create a score by himself, is this because he can’t or is it because if it’s bad he can blame someone else? This is a hotch potch of styles, that contains fuzzy and crashing elements that are grating and to be honest annoying, no wonder it is such a mix of unsuitable sounds and styles when you have more than 9 people working on it.

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I won’t even go any further because this score was ,well is rubbish, it’s a work that should be forgotten as soon as possible, it makes me laugh, that Chris Young’s excellent SPIDERMAN 3, was denied a release but this uninspired excuse for a soundtrack got more than one release with the various 4 million re mixes getting out there to the poor unsuspecting members of the public. Then in 2017 we got SPIDERMAN THE HOMECOMING, music by Michael Giacchino, an ok movie with a relatively good score, Giacchino being no stranger to sci fi movies via his work on the reboot of the STAR TREK films, the score for HOMECOMING was a symphonic one although did contain electronic support in certain cues, Giacchino fashioned and appealing and also a serviceable score that incorporated the original theme as used for the TV series many years before.

A year later an animated version of the SPIDERMAN story hit the cinema screens, SPIDER-MAN; INTO THE SPIDER VERSE, was an interesting take on the story and character. British composer Daniel Pemberton provided the score for the film, and like many of his other scores was a fusion of styles, he is a composer who is difficult to categorise as his style never remains the same and he is always evolving and developing his musical sound and style. I enjoyed his efforts on this movie, some of the pieces were very quirky, but I think that is the attraction of this composer, his undeniable talent and also his unconventional approach to scoring movies and TV projects, for SPIDER-MAN; INTO THE SPIDER VERSE, his outlandish and unpredictable style paid off and it is undoubtably a score that people will return to many times once savoured. In 2019 Michael Giacchino returned to scoring duties on SPIDERMAN FAR FROM HOME, again the composer created a grand sounding score, filled with urgent and frantic action led cues, a good soundtrack but not as entertaining as the composers SPIDERMAN HOMECOMING score. I felt that the composer conformed a little to the way in which other superhero movies were being scored, and it had hints of the likes of Silvestri, Williams and even Ottman within it, where as it would have been nice to hear a little more of Giacchino as I know he is in there somewhere.

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From the web obsessed hero SPIDERMAN, we head off to the antics of a superhero of sorts, maybe not a superhero in the true sense, but someone who battles evil, an anti-hero or even a hero with tendencies for revenge, DARKMAN. Directed by Sam Raimi and released in 1990.the musical score was by Danny Elfman, which we know straight away from the familiar style the composer employed on the MAIN TITLES. This is a film that I saw just once and it was not the movie that entertained but the music on its soundtrack, the film itself I suppose was entertaining but the plot a little OTT, the special effects on the film were also lacking but maybe this was the look the director was looking for? And all the time Elfman underlined and enhanced drove the action forward and supported throughout with a musical score that was outstanding.
The dark and brooding brass that is interspersed with jagged trumpet and underlined by threatening percussion and fearful strings, sets the scene straight away, we know from this introduction that our hero is one to be reckoned with. The composer at this point in his career had just fashioned the score for BATMAN and was also known for amongst other things BEETLEJUICE and THE SIMPSONS, his use of imposing church organ was kind of his trademark already and it was not long before this was brought into the equation on DARKMAN, there is just something about the sound of a great church organ that tells the listener or the cinema audience that this is going to be grandiose, epic and maybe a little scary.

 

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Elfman had the knack of creating daunting sounds that he formed into vibrant themes and built on these to realise the remainder of his score, DARKMAN is a score that I would say at times verges upon the operatic, it has to it a dark and sinister persona but also contains a sinewy and bittersweet sound which raises its head from time to time, making the audience aware that DARKMAN is not all bad and he too has a certain amount of vulnerability. Elfman of course went on to score films and TV series that focused upon, THE HULK, THE JUSTICE LEAGUE, THE FLASH and the two sequels to DARKMAN which utilised his thematic material. I think Elfman also surprised many collectors and critics alike with his non superhero/action scores as many were highly innovative and melodic as in his haunting score for SOMMERSBEY and his touching and delicate work on GOOD WILL HUNTING and his lumbering and foreboding music for THE WOLFMAN. From the ELFMAN we go back to SUPERMAN or at least later incarnations of the hero who is probably the original superhero. Christopher Reeve made the part of the man of steel his own, and after his death it was hard to imagine the franchise being able to continue without him in the lead role but continue it did. And we will explore these movies and other such crime fighters and villains in the next part of this article. See you in the phone box soon.

 

Hong-Kong-Phooey

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