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SUPERGIRL – Jerry Goldsmith

November 26, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

supergirlTHROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Supergirl was envisaged as a spin-off, capitalizing on the enormous success of the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise. Originally created in 1959 by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, the character was a popular but under-utilized member of the DC Comics family until this, her first big-screen appearance in 1984. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc from a screenplay by David Odell, the film starred Helen Slater as Clark Kent’s cousin Kara, an inhabitant of Argo City, the last surviving remnant of the planet Krypton following its destruction in the first reel of Superman: The Movie. When Kara’s teacher and mentor Zaltar (Peter O’Toole) accidentally allows a special and exceptionally powerful jewel called the Omegahedron to travel to Earth, Kara follows it, intending to retrieve it and bring it home; once there, she finds she has acquired powers similar to that of her cousin, which she must use to stop an evil witch named Selena (Faye Dunaway), who has found the Omegahedron and intends to use it to increase her powers.

The film was a critical and commercial disaster, with the production being slammed for everything from its acting to its direction, writing, and special effects. Any thoughts of potential sequels were stopped dead in their tracks by its paltry $14 million box office gross, and multitude of Razzie Award nominations. However, possibly the only person to leave Supergirl with his credibility intact was composer Jerry Goldsmith, who took the opportunity to explore the super hero genre for the firs time, and grasped it with both hands. Supergirl is one of the most often-cited examples of Goldsmith’s ‘parallel universe’ scores, in which the films he scores are essentially inferior versions of films John Williams scored. From the late 1970s through the mid 1990s, Jerry Goldsmith wrote a lot of great music for some truly awful movies, and if you look at his filmography during that period, you can see the pattern developing: where John Williams had Jurassic Park, Goldsmith had Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend; as Williams had Raiders of the Lost Ark, so Goldsmith had King Solomon’s Mines; and as Williams had Superman, so Goldsmith had Supergirl.

With Supergirl, Goldsmith essentially ignored the quality of the movie with which he was presented, and scored the film it should have been. The score is great: bold, dramatic and thematically rich, filled with memorable themes and an overarching feeling of awe and wonder. The score is anchored by its magnificent main theme, which is presented in its entirety in the opening “Overture,” and is heard frequently throughout the score. Taking its lead from John Williams’s Superman, the theme bristles with life and energy, having a sense of heroism similar in style to its more famous relative, but with a slightly more playful edge. Fully orchestral, with rousing brass performances, propulsive percussion rhythms, and sweeping string accompaniment, it’s one of the best single themes of Goldsmith’s entire career. One of my favorite moments of the score is its conclusive statement in this opening cue where, just after the 5:00 mark, Goldsmith introduces a sensational French horn counterpoint to the main trumpet line, giving the cue a soaring, noble quality.

It reappears in the “Main Title/Argo City,” slower-paced and accented by whooshing synth effects; in “The Journey Begins” as the base of a flashy action sequence, and in “Arrival on Earth/Flying Ballet,” where it combines with a mixed-voice chorus and abstract electronic ideas to capture Kara’s initial confusion and disorientation at her new surroundings, before eventually becoming a tender string-and-woodwind variation, illustrating her subsequent sense of freedom and wonderment as she discovers what she can do.

In addition to the main Supergirl theme, Goldsmith also weaves several other secondary themes into the fabric of the score. He gives a musical voice to the unusual, magically-enhanced relationship between Supergirl’s human alter ego Linda Lee and the bumbling gardener Ethan (Hart Bochner) via a sweet love theme, and captures Serena’s malevolence via a dark, ominous brass theme subtitled the ‘Monster motif’. There’s even a brief hint of Williams’s Superman theme in “The Superman Poster,” which the album’s producers decided to credit to “Jerry Goldsmith (75%) and John Williams (25%)”.

The delicate, lilting love theme gets an extended performance at the beginning of “A New School,” where it is arranged for a solo oboe, at the end of “The Monster Tractor,” sentimentally in “First Kiss,” and in the lovely pair “The Flying Bumper Car” and “Where’s Linda?”

The Monster motif is presented in several of the score’s vibrant action cues, notably the aforementioned “The Monster Tractor,” the threatening ‘The Monster Storm,” “The Monster Bumper Cars,” and the deeply sinister “Black Magic,” all of which are the result of Selena conjuring up spells to turn inanimate objects into weapons. Essentially a brutal three-note brass blast, the Monster motif is extrapolated out into a series of richly textured, densely exciting sequences typified by whooping, lively trumpet lines, string and woodwind accents filled with endless movement, a relentless percussion core that drives everything forward, and frequent electronic enhancements to remind us of Supergirl’s celestial origins. In several of these cues, Goldsmith plays the Supergirl theme against the Monster motif contrapuntally, illustrating the on-screen battles between Supergirl and Selena through similarly epic musical conflict. Goldsmith often used heavy brass motifs to depict his villainous characters throughout his career, and Supergirl is one of the best examples of that type of writing.

Building on their usage in the action cues, Goldsmith’s penchant for using experimental electronic techniques can be heard in cues like “Argo City Mall” and “The Butterfly,” where elegant, feathery woodwind textures are offset by other-worldly sounds. Throughout the 1970s and 80s Goldsmith was a pioneer at the cutting edge of trying to incorporate synth technology into his music; while some of them were less successful, his experiments in Logan’s Run, with the blaster beam in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the ideas here in Supergirl add a great deal of depth to their respective scores. Subsequent cues, such as the slightly befuddled-sounding “Ethan Spellbound” and “The Bracelet,” also make use of substantial electronic effects, while “The Phantom Zone” and “The Vortex/The End of Zaltar” mix ethereal electronic ideas with ghostly vocals and unusual, vivid orchestral touches to musically portray the terrifying alternate universe to where Kryptonians banish their criminals, and from which Supergirl must escape in order to save Earth. Interestingly, there are echoes of scores like The Secret of NIMH and the music he would later write for Legend in these sequences; scary, imaginative and modernistic. Everything is neatly wrapped up in “The Final Showdown and Victory/End Title”, which recapitulates all the score’s main themes and finishes with a rousing flourish.

The score for Supergirl was originally released as an LP in 1984 on the Varèse Sarabande label, with 14 cues and a 40-minute running time; it was re-released on CD in 1993 by Silva, substantially expanded to almost 80 minutes, with various alternate versions and superior sound quality, and this is the recommended version, although it has been out of print for some time, and the physical CD can command some pretty hefty prices on the secondary market.

As dated and cheesy as the film may be, and as dated and cheesy as some of its electronic whooshes and zooms may be to contemporary listeners, Supergirl remains one of Goldsmith’s most enjoyable forays into the fantasy genre. As I mentioned at the outset, the main theme is one of his most enduring and popular, and the level of creativity shown in some of the action and horror-like sequences is intellectually innovative enough to belie its pulp comic book roots.

Buy the Supergirl soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (6:07)
  • Main Title and Argo City (3:15)
  • Argo City Mall (0:56)
  • The Butterfly (1:36)
  • The Journey Begins (1:12)
  • Arrival on Earth/Flying Ballet (5:36)
  • Chicago Lights/Street Attack (2:23)
  • The Superman Poster (0:52)
  • A New School (2:13)
  • The Map (1:10)
  • Ethan Spellbound (2:13)
  • The Monster Tractor (7:34)
  • Flying Ballet (Alternate Version) (2:13)
  • The Map (Alternate Version) (1:13)
  • The Bracelet (1:44)
  • First Kiss/The Monster Storm (4:35)
  • Where Is She/The Monster Bumper Cars (2:57)
  • The Flying Bumper Car (1:28)
  • Where’s Linda (1:21)
  • Black Magic (4:08)
  • The Phantom Zone (3:42)
  • The Vortex/The End of Zaltar (5:49)
  • The Final Showdown and Victory/End Title – Short Version (12:10)

Running Time: 77 minutes 50 seconds

Silva America SSD-1025 (1984/1993)

Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton. Contains extracts from “Superman” composed by John Williams. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Edited by Ken Hall. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith. Album produced by Reynold da Silva and Ford A. Thaxton.

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