FANTASTIC FOUR – John Ottman
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
All of a sudden, it seems, Hollywood is full of super-heroes. The comic book, once the exclusive domain of spotty teenagers and their escapist fantasies, is now the deepest well of cinematic inspiration for the movie making machine, having recently sprung forth with new versions of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, Daredevil, Elektra, Blade, The Punisher, Hellboy, Sin City, and a multitude of others. In many ways, the Fantastic Four can lay legitimate claim to being the grand-daddy of them all, having first appeared in print way back in 1961. The quartet first appeared on film in 1994 in a movie which was made with the intent of it never seeing the light of day, purely as an exercise so that the production company could hold on to the publication rights. That debacle aside, director Tim Story’s 2005 summer blockbuster marks the first time the four have “properly” appeared on the big screen.
After a group astronauts – Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) – are exposed to mysterious ‘cosmic rays’ while on a routine spacewalk, they return to Earth having gained amazing new super powers. Reed, an inventor and leader of the group, gains the ability to stretch his body, and takes the name Mr. Fantastic. Sue gains the ability to turn invisible and create force fields, and calls herself the Invisible Woman. Her younger brother Johnny gains the ability to control fire, and becomes the Human Torch, while Ben is transformed into a super-strong orange rock creature who calls himself The Thing. Dubbing themselves the Fantastic Four and vowing to use their new powers for good, they soon find themselves locked in conflict with their former colleague Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who seems to have attained some super powers of his own…
The one thing every super-hero film needs is a prominent theme. Fantastic Four has one, but… well… it’s incredibly flat. A simple five note fanfare surrounded by repeated triplets in the brass and string sections, it sounds like the kind of thing an beginner would write when trying to impress a prospective employer, not the work of a 10-year veteran with upwards of 30 films under his belt. Ottman at least stands firm and sprinkles recapitulations throughout the score, with prominent performances occurring in “Superheroes”, “Power Hungry” and “Battling Doom”. On the whole, though, the main theme is remarkably trite, especially when heard alongside significantly superior efforts in the genre, such as Superman, Batman, or even Marco Beltrami’s Hellboy.
Another rather disappointing aspect of Fantastic Four is Ottman’s desperate over-use of the choir. I have always found a choir most effective when it is used sparingly to punctuate the material, so its impact and emotional weight is more effective due to its very appearance. In Fantastic Four, Ottman has his voices oohing and aahing right from the word go, leaving them with no impression to make beyond their first appearance in the “Main Titles”. “Cosmic Storm” whips up some dreamy spacey ambiences which are admittedly quite nice, but the large-scale finale, which would otherwise have benefited enormously from the inclusion of the choral element, instead sounds like every other action cue because of the vocal saturation.
Much more impressive is Ottman’s action and suspense music, which builds on some of the interesting textures first heard in Gothika, Urban Legend: Final Cut and others. The second half of “Cosmic Storm” is cacophonous in its way, “Superheroes” is tempestuous and impressive, and “Experiments” builds up a real head of steam, while “Entanglement”, “Power Hungry” and “Lab Rat” delve into some intriguingly dissonant orchestral and percussive effects, the latter two especially featuring some fiendishly outlandish brass performances.
The 7-minute “Battling Doom” is the score’s action set piece, and as such touches base on all the main elements of the composition, including performances of the main theme, more overbearing choral writing, and some admittedly quite impressive orchestral carnage as the heroic quartet finally face up to their nemesis. All this pandemonium is tempered by a couple of calmer, more introspective tracks – notably “Planetarium”, “Changing”, and the first half of the finale “Fantastic Proposal”– which allow Ottman to show off his skills in writing pretty melodies, before he heads back into fanfare mode for the last few moments.
However, the thing about John Ottman and super-hero music is that, by and large, he’s really not that good at it, and I can’t figure out how he keeps getting hired to score these kinds of movies. Ottman tends to be at his best when writing music shrouded in mystery and intrigue, with a hint of horror, a twist of sexiness – the polar opposite of this score. Having now tackled X-Men 2 and this film with less than complete success, one hopes that he’s going to make it third time lucky on Superman Returns in 2006. To be honest, I’m not holding my breath. Fantastic Four is big and bold and brassy, but remains far from emulating its name.
- Main Titles (2:34)
- Cosmic Storm (4:48)
- Superheroes (5:58)
- Experiments (2:01)
- Planetarium (1:29)
- Entanglement (1:19)
- Power Hungry (4:26)
- Changing (2:47)
- Lab Rat (4:50)
- Unlikely Saviours (2:15)
- Bye Bye Ned (2:16)
- Battling Down (7:02)
- Bon Voyage (1:16)
- Fantastic Proposal (2:21)
Running Time: 45 minutes 31 seconds
Varèse Sarabande VSD-6667 (2005)
Music composed by John Ottman. Conducted by Damon Intrabartolo. Orchestrations by John Ottman, Damon Intrabartolo, Rick Giovinazzo and Frank Macchia . Recorded and mixed by Casey Stone. Mastered by Dave Collins. Album produced by Casey Stone.