Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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I have been finding the Smallvilles rather entertaining. When it was recommended to me by suitboyskin, one of the things he had mentioned that made the show fun was the way that they integrate the established Superman mythos into the show's format. The casting of Annette O'Toole as Martha Kent is a nod to her having played Lana Lang in Superman III, but for the most part it takes place in its own interpretation of the D.C. universe.

Interestingly, I just came to a major money-shot episode "Rosetta," in which Clark get his first solid facts about his origins. Now, there ain't nobody out there that don't know where the little fucker came from, so it is actually to the show's credit that the word "Krypton" isn't even heard until over halfway through the second season. Nevertheless, the information delivered here isn't exactly revelatory to the audience, but since the program had set up such an importance on Clark learning about his past that it was encumbent upon them to make this pivotal moment in the series development memorable. There were two ways that they emphasized the importance of this moment; the first was to have much of this information delivered to Clark by Dr. Swan, a character played by Christopher Reeve. The second was a musical choice that sent shivers up my spine.

Snow's music for this show has been effective, occasionally very good, but somewhat disappointing to me after Snow's intense and challenging work on The X-Files. Unlike the Christophe Beck, Robert Kral and Robert Duncan scores for the Joss Whedon shows, which often developed very attention-grabbing thematic material over the course of a season, Snow keeps statements of any themes quite subtle... a system which was perfect for The X-Files but doesn't really work as well when attached to a more traditional program, such as Smallville. Some of this is also due to the heavy use of songs in the show (a balance Buffy had that few other programs manage).

The scoring of the revelations of Clark's origins is ingenious, however. Because the moment requires a lot of dramatic weight, much of the episode's final act uses adaptations of John Williams' themes from Superman: The Movie. At the conclusion of the penultimate act, Clark enters Dr. Swan's office and the eight note "searching" sequence that opens "The Fortress of Solitude" is heard. Snow takes this and turns it into a motif for Swan himself. Much of the same cue, in which the two Krypton theme settings play in opposition to one another builds up to a statement of the familiar secondary theme for Superman. After the commercial break, however, the music returns Snow's soundscape, but he is still using Williams' thematic material. Clark returns home and he has a scene with Jonathan that is quite interesting, with the Krypton material adapted literally but the secondary Superman theme given a dark spin as Clark questions his own place on Earth and his biological father's intentions for him. The secondary Superman theme is heard in a more familiar, heroic arrangement as Jonathan comforts Clark, building to a noble statement of the Krypton theme over the "Executive Producer" credit.

I don't know whose idea it was to use Williams' themes, but the effect is arresting, and the episode is the better for it. It hints at what is to come by evoking another iteration of the legend but the use of direct quotes from "The Fortress of Solitude" during the sequences with Reeve actually emphasize not the connection to the analogous moment in the movie (at this point in the film, Clark is still being played by Jeff East), but rather the idea that the character is not just larger than life (that's a given), but an American myth.

Ken Thorne adapted Williams' Superman music oafishly for the very good Superman II and somewhat more smoothly in the dumber Superman III, Alexander Courage adapted Williams' original themes and some new material Williams composed for the unwatchable Superman IV, Jerry Goldsmith quoted Williams' theme briefly as a Superman poster is seen in his outstanding score to the otherwise dismal Supergirl, and I think that it is telling that Bryan Singer found it difficult to imagine making a Superman movie without using Williams' material either. It would appear that Williams' music is now inextricably linked to the character in the public mindset (like the James Bond theme - a chief complaint about Never Say Never Again).

I had made the comment in the past that Williams' score for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone had a lot of stylistic commonalities with Superman: The Movie. Not so much in what the music sounds like, but how it relates to the on-screen action. The reason why was because I felt that he was doing something similar, which is to create music for a character that the audience was already familiar with, one who had achieved something of a mythic stature before he ever got to them. As a result, while he was indeed scoring the film, he was also giving a voice to the myth itself.
Tags: film music, john williams, superman
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