During an appearance on “Larry King Live,” Bryan Singer stated that if he had not had access to John Williams’ original music from Superman: The Movie, then he wouldn’t have made Superman Returns. That sounds a little pretentious coming from Mr. Singer, as if he didn’t have enough confidence in composer John Ottman to create new Superman themes and motifs. It’s not like a new Superman theme can’t be composed; Shirley Walker did it for “Superman: The Animated Series” in 1996, and Danny Elfman (when Tim Burton had still been attached to the film) was preparing to compose an entirely new Superman score. This is one of many examples of how Bryan Singer’s faithfulness to the original Christopher Reeve Superman films might have hurt Superman Returns. But to John Ottman’s credit, he did successfully integrate John Williams’ original themes into his score. In fact, unlike the scores for Basic Instinct 2 (composed by John Murphy) and The Omen remake (composed by Marco Beltrami), the score for Superman Returns is one of the better examples of integrating previously established themes into a new score. And of course, it must be mentioned that the sound quality of the new recording of John Williams’ Superman themes is simply stunning. But there are a couple of minor problems concerning the music of Superman Returns. The first is in the opening credits sequence. It states something like, ‘Original Superman Theme by John Williams.’ The problem with this credit is that there are multiple themes from Superman: The Movie that are carried over into Superman Returns. The credit should have had (ironically enough) an ‘s’ at the end of the word ‘theme’ to indicate its plurality because there is obviously more than one theme being used in the film. The second problem is the new theme for Lex Luthor. While it is quite good as a menacing theme for Lex, the original “March of the Villains” theme from the Christopher Reeve Superman films is missed. There are interviews where John Ottman incorrectly refers to it as “Otis’ theme,” but John Williams had written it as a theme for the villains (which is why it’s called “March of the Villains”). Bryan Singer has made this same mistake when making reference to this theme. Both men referred to it as being a comical theme for Otis. Strangely enough, they both forgot that John Williams had actually used it in a menacing fashion in the first Superman film (one instance would be when Superman falls into the pool and Lex closes the lights as he walks away). It was also used in a menacing fashion much more in Superman IV (which they would have known had they bothered to take the time to watch the film again). If Ottman and Singer felt that the villains’ theme was comical, then a variation of that theme could have been used to make it sound more menacing (kind of like the way John Williams had done it for Superman: The Movie and Superman IV). It’s surprising that Ottman and Singer didn’t even think of that.
Another example of Bryan Singer’s faithfulness to the original Reeve Superman films hurting Superman Returns is the opening credits sequence, which uses the font of the first three Christopher Reeve Superman films (a new one had been used for Superman IV because the Cannon Group didn’t have the rights to use the original font). While it was quite enjoyable, it still felt just a little rushed. And it was also a missed opportunity to present a new credits sequence.
Then there was Lex Luthor’s scheme, which was essentially a rehash of his real estate plan from Superman: The Movie. In Superman Returns, Lex uses the crystals he stole from the Fortress of Solitude to build a new continent, which will destroy most of the eastern United States because “two mass objects cannot occupy the same space.” He claims that people will pay a fortune to live there, but he neglects the fact that a lot of rich people will be dead if his plan succeeds. If they’re killed while his new continent grows, who would live there? Would rich people in, for example, California or Texas really want to relocate to Lex’s new continent? Especially if it looked like the one seen in Superman Returns? It literally looked like the Stone Age, only with a mix of green and grey, and not to mention the kryptonite beneath the surface. Fred Flintstone himself wouldn’t live there even if the land was free. For a man who claims to be the greatest criminal mind the world has ever seen, Lex doesn’t think too far ahead. Apparently he only thought as far as killing Superman. It’s too bad he didn’t realize that his new continent would be uninhabitable. If Lex is indeed a genius, it certainly isn’t shown in the film. Instead, he kind of comes off as a one-note character. Here is another situation where Bryan Singer watching Superman IV would have actually helped. Lex Luthor actually had more character development in that film (and still even more in the uncut version) than in Superman Returns. In Superman IV, Lex admits that the only thing he had in mind after getting out of prison was the ‘end of Superman,’ and that he had no long term criminal scheme for the first time in his life. He then found a way to get rid of Superman while achieving a long term criminal scheme at the same time (which, by the way, did NOT involve real estate, but rather making a fortune re-arming the United States and the Soviet Union with nuclear missiles). Bryan Singer could have learned a few things from the progression of the Lex Luthor character in Superman IV.
Michelle Alexandria of Eclipse Magazine brought up a good point in her review for Superman Returns when she wrote, “If Singer wasn’t so insistent on keeping everything as a replica of the first two films, he really could have done something spectacular with the idea of a growing, gleaming new crystal-based Kryptonian City rising from the ocean depths, and instead, all we get are lame rocks.” It is agreeable that a new Kryptonian city growing in the Atlantic Ocean would have been really cool; numerous Superman fans would have enjoyed it, and it would have been a lot more interesting to see Superman lift the Kryptonian city out of the ocean and send it off into space. Instead of that visually stunning sequence, we get Superman lifting a giant Kryptonian rock. It was still a good sequence, but there should have been a lot more creativity flowing around during pre-production.
Why did Bryan Singer feel it was necessary to have Superman officially return on the very same day Clark Kent returned to the Daily Planet? In the first film, Clark Kent had already settled into his job at the Daily Planet by the time he appeared as Superman. Having both Clark and Superman appear on the same day in Superman Returns was just sloppy writing. It’s hard to believe that no one at Warner Bros. complained about this. According to the Superman Returns review at the old Superman Cinema UK website (which was incorporated into www.capedwonder.com), “…both arrive on the same day? Why not a week later? You could play around with that; introduce Clark as late as possible in ACT ONE. Why not take the opportunity to give Clark Kent a story arc? What about a subplot? … Clark doesn’t get his job back.” Clark not getting his job back would have made the film a lot more interesting. The struggle to get his job back at the Daily Planet becomes his story arc and would eventually conclude at the end of the film where Clark would get his job back. In the film, Clark is nowhere to be found during the third act, and no one seems to notice (again, very sloppy on the part of the writers and the director). One must wonder if the possible subplot of Clark getting fired and having to regain his job is going to appear in the sequel, but then again, Bryan Singer assured everyone that he was going to go “Wrath of Khan” on the sequel (which could be a good or a bad thing).*
*The Bryan Singer-helmed sequel to Superman Returns was never made; Warner Bros. chose to reboot the franchise… again.
(To be concluded in:
75 Years of Superman: Why Bryan Singer Shouldn’t Have Made Superman Returns Part Five)