Superman: The Movie (1978)

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Composed by: John Williams

The most iconic superhero, in fact the one who jumpstarted the superhero genre, Superman was inevitably going to get a serious big-budged treatment. Superman, directed by Richard Donner, was the first serious adaptation of a comic book superhero to the big screen. Amazingly the film has little to no dramatic character development and no fight scenes. In fact, outside of being an origin story, it doesn’t have much of an over-arching story. It’s more like a big-screen compilation of Superman iconography, a chance to see comic book characters brought to life. I thought it was kind of boring when I first saw it, but have grown to really appreciate it, especially after the grimdark hatchet job Zack Snyder gave the franchise. My one great grip is a deus ex machina towards the end that breaks logic and tension. The movie’s success was engendered by a great cast and crew. On the cast end Christopher Reeve absolutely nailed Superman with his righteous charm, though I’m not a fan of his interpretation of Clark Kent as purposefully being an absolute bumbling fool to cover his alter ego. Gene Hackman had a fun take on Lex Luthor, while Marlon Brando provided a commanding reinterpretation of Superman’s biological father Jor-El. The crew end included some good special effects work, while John Williams, fresh off his monster success with Star Wars, provided another major film score. I will be reviewing his score mainly through the original double LP. This provided about 80 minutes of music, with the later CD release excising a couple tracks.

John Williams’ Superman March is one of the greatest superhero themes of all time. Actually, the Superman March is a merger of three themes and motifs for the hero. “Theme from Superman (Main Title)” starts with the main Superman theme. This fanfare has a build-up section followed by a three-note ascending motif that seems to sing “Superman.” After this theme Williams introduces a heroic rhythm that often plays in conjunction with the main theme during Superman’s flight scenes. The third theme is another theme that graces the main and ending titles. This theme has two components. The first is a fanfare (0:45). This fanfare also sounds like it’s singing “Superman.” Outside of the opening and closing titles this fanfare only appears fully during the helicopter rescue scene as Superman introduces himself to the world. On album the first part of the this theme appears at 1:46 in “Super Rescues.” The second component of this theme (1:17) has a more liberal presence throughout the underscore, but never as much as the main theme.

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Shin Godzilla (2016)

In my opinion Shin Godzilla is the best Godzilla movie. It retold the Godzilla story in a completely different way but still retained the heart of the franchise. The film is very satirical, a way for Japanese filmgoers to process their government’s mismanagement of several recent crises. Not only do the heroes have to deal with a giant irradiated monster, but also with an obstructive bureaucracy. The politicians themselves are not portrayed as cartoonish, uncaring villains, but victims of their own entangled system and constrained ways of thinking. Godzilla himself is an absolute literal freak in this film. Instead of a cool-looking dinosaur he’s a half-skeletal nightmare whose very existence is suffering. Needless to say, the film has its detractors. I happen to be in the camp that thinks the film’s risks pay off and the reception in Japan was certainly strong. It even won best picture at the Japanese equivalent of the Oscars.

Director Hideaki Anno brought in Shiro Sagisu, his collaborator from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Sagisu’s music has more of an anime vibe than other Godzilla composers, with loud, bombastic dramatic cues. Sagisu’s score is for the most part enjoyable, though aside from one recurring action/suspense motif there are no strong recurring themes to tie its disparate elements together. The album for Shin Godzilla comes off as a compilation with bombastic action cues, an operatic song, classic Ifukube tracks, and jazzy bits. Continue reading

Godzilla (2014)

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Composed by: Alexandre Desplat

The Americans had another shot at Godzilla with Legendary Pictures’ 2014 film. Compared to Roland Emmerich’s 1997 disaster, this film is definitely more respectful. The plot is basically Godzilla awakens and is on the hunt for the a pair of new monsters, the Mutos. The Mutos are planning to mate and flood the earth with nuclear fueled monsters. Director Gareth Edwards did an incredible job giving viewers a sense of Godzilla’s scale. That being said, the film does have a couple major flaws that prevent it from being great. The human characters, aside from Bryan Cranston’s scientist, are woefully dull. This wouldn’t be  too severe a problem if it wasn’t for the lack of monster scenes. Perhaps taking his cue from Jaws, Edwards went too far in holding off the appearance of Godzilla, to the point that the film cuts away just when an action scene starts! Godzilla doesn’t always appear that much in the Japanese films, but when he does the directors at least know to give him full scenes. At least the final battle in the 2014 film is great. Of course Godzilla fans were very curious which Hollywood composer would get a crack at the Big G. Instead of going for an aestabliseh daciton-adventure composer, Edwards brought in Alexandre Desplat, a highly acclaimed composer. This was a great choice, thankfully saving the Godzilla franchise from today’s mostly pedestrian action scores. Continue reading

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Composed by: Keith Emerson, Nobuhiko Morino, & Daisuke Yano

Unfortunately, despite some pretty good films, the Shinsei Godzilla series was not proving as financially successful as hoped. As it happened Godzilla’s 50th birthday was coming up, so Toho decided to once again take a break from the franchise (their longest) with a big extravaganza. The final result, Godzilla Final Wars is at best a guilty pleasure. Like Destroy All Monsters decades earlier, the film boasts a large cast of monsters, but gives almost none of the them significant screentime. Also like that earlier film the plot involves aliens using mind control to invade the earth with monsters. The director Ryuhei Kitamura, known for his over-the-top and violent action films, expresses too much interest in the Matrix-inspired human fight scenes. The film’s saving grace is that it gets so ridiculous and bad that it gets good again. Highlights include a literal Japanese Keanu Reeves serving as a Neo expy, a scenery-chewing alien commander, and martial artist/pro wrestler Don Frye as a badass American. Needless to say, the film is divisive in Godzilla fandom.

Also divisive is the musical score, composed by Keith Emerson. Instead of getting Michiru Oshima, Takayuki Hattori, or another traditionally orchestral composer, Kitamura went in a completely different direction by hiring British progressive rock artist Keith Emerson. Emerson only had a couple weeks in his schedule to create music. In fact after the first act of the album he largely disappears from the track credits. Japanese composers Nobuhiko Morino and Daisuke Yano stepped in to complete the music, ensuring that the composers’ material lined up stylistically. The result is a score that somewhat matches the over-the-top film, but is wholly unsuited to represent the gravitas of Godzilla. The music is rock and techno-laden, though thankfully there are a few legitimately good pieces. Overall the music sounds like it comes from an early 2000s video game. Continue reading

Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003)

Composed by: Michiru Oshima

Tokyo SOS continued the story from Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla. This time Mothra joins the fray. Her fairies warn Japan that by using the original Godzilla’s bones for Kiryu (MechaGodzilla), it’s actually attracting the current Godzilla’s recent attacks. They offer the services of Mothra as a protector, but Japan is hesitant. What results is a three-monster battle. I think this is a pretty good sequel. It’s the only film in the franchise where MechaGodzilla interacts with Mothra and it also further explores and resolves Kiryu’s spiritual link to Godzilla. My one major criticism is that Akane, the female lead from the previous film, is reduced to a small supporting role despite being the one to have carried Kiryu to victory. Still, the decision to focus on one of Kiryu’s mechanics, Yoshito, as the lead is interesting and gives a different perspective. As usual, Oshima’s score is great. She delivers more great themes while further developing the ones she had already devised for Godzilla and Kiryu. Continue reading