Superman Returns is so different in tone and appearance from the Superman films of the late '70s and '80s that it seems odd the filmmakers have chosen to recycle so much from them. Through the miracle of digital technology, Marlon Brando again plays Supermans father, appearing in the Fortress of Solitude to dispense advice and background for the story. The films star, Brandon Routh, bears some resemblance to Christopher Reeve, and he even sounds a bit like him.
The new film taps deepest into our memories, though, by using John Williams original theme music during the opening credits. John Ottman wrote the rest of the music for Superman Returns, and because the film is so much darker then its predecessors, both narratively and visually, the music has more brute power and complexity than Williams soundtrack did. It is heavy on atmosphere and dynamics, but it lacks the melodic quality that is common to Williams scores. Ottman weaves some of Williams melodies into this new soundtrack and skillfully adapts them to reflect the conflicts of the characters, yet few of his own melodic ideas stay with you.
Ottman relies too heavily on choral sections throughout the soundtrack, but there are some genuinely moving passages in the cues "So Long Superman" and "I Wanted You to Know." Much of the music accompanied some very loud action in the film, and the recording, which has a wide dynamic range, lets you hear subtleties in the orchestration that were lost in the theater. Ottmans music serves the action in the movie well, but it lacks the crowd-pleasing qualities that made the original score so memorable.
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