It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane!
Summer 1978 and the buzz was “super” for SUPERMAN. At age 16, I considered it uncool to show my anticipation for the film. Sure, I had fond memories of watching George Reeve on TV as a kid. Having Richard Donner, who directed my beloved OMEN, attached to the picture helped a bit. But only one aspect of the film appealed to me—John Williams.
Following his double whammy of STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND the year before, the “real” world–including this film score newbie–had latched on to Williams’ star. SUPERMAN helped cement his celebrity status and Williams officially became king of the summer box office. It all begins with those memorable main titles…
Incorporating state of the art graphics, the main title sequence was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Against the backdrop of outer space pockmarked with stars, neon blue shadowed titles fly in from all corners of the screen with a woosh of adrenaline. Inserted are bits of special effects that remind me of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or a Romper Room Magic Mirror. But the visuals would soon wear out their welcome without Williams’ rousing music.
A pulsating rhythm in the lower brass crescendos and builds as more instruments join in. The tension mounts and the pulse races until the trumpet announces the dum-da-DUM (SUP-ER-MAN) fanfare. The fanfare leads into the now-classic “Superman March,” which incorporates motifs from the love theme (“Can You Read My Mind” in its vocal version). The theme also forms the legato bridge section of the march.
The visual look of this title sequence has been often duplicated but never equaled. The same can be said of Williams’ music. As recent films will attest, they just don’t write comic book scores like this anymore.
Fans of the music can order the definitive 8-CD box set Superman: The Music (1978-1988) from Film Score Monthly.