Music Album Review: ‘Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition’

The cover art of the 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition is based on the 1978 teaser poster for Superman: The Movie. 
 © 2019 Warmer Bros. Records, La-La Land Records, and DC Entertainment

In December of 1978, Warner Bros. Records released Superman: The Movie – Music from the Original Soundtrack, an album produced by the man who composed and conducted the score, John Williams.

Warner released the album in three formats, each one slightly different from the other. The vinyl LP version consisted of two 33 rpm records and contained nearly 78 minutes of themes and action “cues” from Maestro Williams’ score, which represents less than half of the film’s score. The eight-track edition had the same tracks and running time as the LP, but the cassette version omitted two tracks – Growing Up and Lex Luthor’s Lair – due to the limitations of the format.

The Superman: The Movie soundtrack, was edited by Williams to fit the aesthetics of the time and presented much of the music – including the iconic Main Title (March from “Superman”) and Love Theme from “Superman” – in concert hall arrangements that differ from the versions heard in the Richard Donner film.

In a similar vein, the 1978 record’s tracks did not quite follow the chronology of the film; for instance, the sixth track on the original recording is the romantic Love Theme from “Superman”; in the actual movie, the theme is heard during the second half of the end title sequence.

Maestro Williams was nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy for the record, which (as was the case with the Star Wars score in 1977) he had made with the London Symphony Orchestra. And even though it did not knock the 2-LP Star Wars soundtrack from its spot as the best-selling soundtrack of the time, Superman still sold a lot of copies over the next decade.

Superman made its compact disc debut in 1989. Once again, Warner Bros. Records dealt with the new format’s storage limits of 74 minutes’ worth of music – an issue that has since been addressed by advances in digital recording – by excluding two tracks. The complete 78-minutes-long soundtrack from 1978 was released by Warner Music Japan in 1990 – CDs made there met the country’s 80-minutes-per-disc storage standards, but this reissue was not widely available in the U.S. market.

In 2000, Superman and John Williams fans finally got the version of the soundtrack for which they had waited 22 years; Rhino Records and Warner Archives released for the first time a complete presentation of Maestro Williams’ complete score in a double CD album. Produced by Michael Matessino and the late Nick Redman, this version “combined the album master with various edited ‘pre-dub’ elements to reconstruct the score.”

The 2000 two-CD album might have been the definitive recording of Maestro Williams’ music for Superman if an employee in the London-area studio where the film was made had not made an unexpected discovery.

According to Matessino’s liner notes, shortly after [the Rhino soundtrack] release, 35mm magnetic film reels containing an earlier-generation 6-track mixdown were discovered at Pinewood Studios. This source was used for an audio remix for the film’s DVD release on DVD in 2001, with the score presented (in edited, truncated form to match the film) as an isolated track.

This find formed the basis for Film Score Monthly’s 2008 Superman: The Music (1978-1988) 8-disc box set. This might have been the score’s Ultimate Edition were it not for another accidental discovery: the original 2-inch 24 track masters used during the recording sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra at Anvil Studios. Warner Bros. had found the tapes, barcoded them, then locked them in a vault.

As a result, Mike Matessino, along with La-La Land Records’ MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys, associate producer Neil S. Bulk, and creative consultant Jim Bowers were able to put together a third (and possibly last) restored assembly of John Williams’ magnificent score for Superman.

A recent discovery of the score’s original 2-inch, 24-track music masters has led the way to a stellar, high-resolution transfer by Warner Sound. This first-generation element has been restored, remixed, assembled and remastered by album producer Mike Matessino, resulting in a stunning presentation of this legendary score that is unparalleled in its sonic quality.

The 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition

Released in mid-February of 2019 as a limited-edition commemorative set, this version of Superman: The Movie’s score contains three compact discs:

Discs One and Two present maestro Williams’ film score in its glorious, full form, while Disc Two also contains a bounty of alternate/additional cues (including an astonishing early version of “The Fortress of Solitude” that remained vaulted and unplayed for four decades), and Disc Three showcases the original 1978 soundtrack presentation, rebuilt and remastered from these newly restored recording elements. – La-La Land Records product description

Only 5000 units of this 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition of the Superman soundtrack were made by La La Land Records and Warner Bros. Entertainment. (C) 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment and La La Land Records.

Disc One

Score Presentation

  1.  Prelude and Main Title  5:06
  2.  The Planet Krypton and The Dome Opens  6:39
  3.  Destruction of Krypton (Extended Version)  7:57
  4.  The Kryptonquake  2:27
  5.  The Trip to Earth  2:33
  6.  The Crash Site  :39
  7.  Growing Up  2:01
  8.  Jonathan’s Death  3:27
  9.  Leaving Home  4:52
  10.  The Fortress of Solitude (Extended Version)  9:22
  11.  The Mugger  2:11
  12.  Lex Luthor’s Lair (Extended Version)  4:54
  13.  The Helicopter Sequence  5:59
  14.  The Burglar Sequence  and Chasing Crooks  3:21
  15.  Cat Rescue and Air Force One  2:17
  16.  The Penthouse  1:35
  17.  The Flying Sequence (Instrumental Version)  8:12
  18. Clark Loses His Nerve  :51

Disc One Total Time: 74:34

Disc Two

Score Presentation Continued

1.  The March of the Villains  3:37

2.  The Truck Convoy Sequence  3:27

3.  To the Lair  2:21

4.  Trajectory Malfunction  1:21

5.  Luthor’s Lethal Weapon  2:13

6. Superman Rescued and Chasing Rockets  5:01

7. Golden Gate Bridge and The Rescue of Jimmy  4:57

8.  Pushing Boulders and Flying to Lois  5:26

9.  Turning Back the World  2:06

10.  The Prison Yard and End Title  6:41

11.  Love Theme From Superman  5:03

Total Score Time:  1:56:36

 Additional Music

12.  Prelude and Main Title (Alternate)  3:49

13.  The Planet Krypton (Alternate Segment)  3:18

14.   The Dome Opens (Alternate)  2:31

15.  The Fortress of Solitude (Alternate Segment)  4:12

16.  The Mugger (Alternate)  1:29

17.   Prelude and Main Title (Film Version)  5:23

18.   I Can Fly (Flying Sequence Alternate Segment)  2:15

19.   Can You Read My Mind (Film Version)  3:04

20.   Trajectory Malfunction (Alternate)  1:04

21.   Turning Back the World (Extended Version)  2:20

22.   The Prison Yard and End Title (Film Version)  5:48

Total Time:  35:13

Disc Two Total Time: 78:00

 Disc Three 

Remastered 1978 Original Soundtrack

  1. Theme from Superman (Main Title)  4:29
  2. The Planet Krypton  4:49
  3. Destruction of Krypton  6:03
  4. The Trip to Earth  2:28
  5. Growing Up  1:56
  6. Love Theme From Superman  5:02
  7. Leaving Home  4:52
  8. The Fortress of Solitude  8:32
  9. The Flying Sequence / Can You Read My Mind  8:14
  10. Super Rescues  3:27
  11. Lex Luthor’s Lair  2:37
  12. Superfeats  5:04
  13. The March of the Villains  3:37
  14. Chasing Rockets  7:37
  15. Turning Back the World  2:06
  16.  End Title  6:36

Disc Three Total Time: 77:55

Three-Disc Total Time:  3:50:29

My Take

I have owned most of the Superman soundtracks that have been available in the U.S. since December of 1978 in almost every format except the eight-track version. The only major releases I have not purchased or listened to are the 1990 Warner Music Japan CD reissue of the 1978 soundtrack and the 2008  Superman: The Music (1978-1988) Film Score Monthly box set. And until I bought Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition to celebrate my 56th  birthday last year, I only owned the 2000 Rhino/Warner Archives 2-CD restoration, which Mike Matessino and Nick Redman had lovingly reconstructed two decades ago.

Naturally, much of the musical material in this limited edition is similar to that of the 2000 Superman: The Movie soundtrack album. There are differences, of course; some tracks have been expanded or re-edited, and as such have new titles. Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition presents the film’s music as it was heard in the film, which means that tracks such as Luthor’s Luau (which is a bonus track in the ’00 album) are incorporated into the score rather than as ancillary material heard after the main score.

The score for Superman is brilliant and suitably epic, with heroic marches and fanfares that represent Christopher Reeve’s eponymous hero and his dual personalities of Kal-El and Clark Kent; a romantic love theme for Superman and the reporter he falls for, Lois Lane (the late Margot Kidder, to whom this release is dedicated); a darkly mischievous March of the Villains that seems to foreshadow Parade of the Ewoks from John Williams’ yet-to-be-written score for Return of the Jedi; and scene-specific cues that utilize variations of these themes in a way that marries the music to the images shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (who died in October of 1978; he had completed work on Superman and was shooting Roman Polanski’s Tess in France when he had a fatal heart attack) seamlessly.

As I said in my A Certain Point of View review of the 2000 Rhino Records/Warner Archives album:

The result, of course, was one of the most memorable film scores in modern movie history. Maestro Williams’ Main Title March (especially in its abridged concert hall arrangement) is one of the composer’s best-loved works, on par with his Main Title from Star Wars, Flying Theme from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the “Raiders” March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the menacing motif from Jaws and its concert arrangement.

Another iconic theme from the Superman score is, of course, Love Theme from Superman. There are several versions of this work in this album, including the end credits arrangement that doubles as a concert arrangement, as well as the vocal-and-orchestra version heard during the somewhat syrupy “flying sequence” with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.

In addition, British lyricist Leslie Bricusse (who has also worked with Williams on songs for Hook and Goodbye. Mr. Chips) wrote the words to Can You Read My Mind, which was originally intended to be sung by Margot Kidder to the melody of the Love Theme. Director Richard Donner vetoed this idea, so the song morphed into a voiceover. Later, Maureen McGovern recorded Can You Read My Mind and had a modest pop hit with it in 1979, but the song has not aged well.

Maestro Williams’ LSO recording of the Love Theme, however, survived and thrived, and many orchestras, including the Cincinnati Pops and the Boston Pops Orchestra, have covered it in concert halls  and in recordings.

This three-CD edition contains all the music of the 2000 edition, albeit with new reconstructions and previously unreleased versions of The Fortress of Solitude. It also includes the complete 1978 album, plus alternate takes of classic tracks such as March from Superman and The Flying Sequence.

There is also A Score Takes Flight, a 43-page book of liner notes and the long history behind the movie score and the various recordings, It was co-written by Mike Matessino, Lukas Kendall, and Jeff Eldridge.

In my review of the 2000 Matessino/Redman reconstructed soundtrack album for my A Certain Point of View Blog I wrote:

I’ve owned several versions of the Superman soundtrack, including the LP, cassette, and CD editions of the ’78 album, over the past 40 years. Clearly, I have loved them all, but in my opinion, the 2000 Warner Archives extended edition is the best.

Although the 2000 Warner Archives/Rhino Records is still a great album (and the one I have in my Amazon Music digital collection), the 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition is, pardon the expression, really super, man.


Michael Matessino, liner notes for Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition

La-La Land Records website

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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