Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Death of Super-Heroic Theme Music

note: there is nothing cool about this post, nor am I talking about music of any real depth… I’m aware. Deal with it.

Have you noticed that theme songs on TV and in the movies are basically non-existent these days? They’ve been replaced by pop tunes or nothing at all. I’m not sure which is worse. I just know that I miss them.

Most of all, I miss Super-Heroic theme music. Superhero themes have also been replaced with pop music or generic soundtrack music. Some you don’t want to remember (ahem, Smallville). Others are totally forgettable. Can you remember any of the music in Batman Begins, the X-Men or Spider-man movies? I can’t. And these films were seen by MILLIONS and MILLIONS of people.

But, can you remember the music to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies or the Michael Keaton Batman films? Of course you can.

These theme songs were as powerful and inspiring as the heroes themselves, yet completely and wonderfully tied to those characters. They ran as leitmotifs throughout the films and played whenever your hero entered the screen. Your heart raced and you couldn’t help but smile and feel powerful and heroic too.

Perhaps we are going through a period in which it is not cool to have theme music. It’s as if producers and directors are saying, “Audiences are too hip for cheesy theme music.” What a colossal load of crap. We crave theme music. We love theme music. We need theme music.

Or maybe the real problem is that composers don’t know how to make great theme music anymore. The only recent theme music in a comic book film that I can remember is Superman Returns and that film basically just reused John Williams’ original Superman score. And all that really did was make me want to re-watch Christopher Reeve’s Superman: The Movie and Superman II.

The tagline for the first Reeve movie was “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

And when you heard that theme music, you believed it. It was magic. It wasn’t matter-of-fact like today’s heroes. That music was a thing of marvel and joy. It gave you chills and you were thankful for it.

There has been a wonderful pedigree of superhero themes since comic book heroes have taken to the screen, starting with Max and Dave Fleischer’s “Superman” in 1941 (just a few short years after the genre was even invented).

The short list of great themes from both the big and small screen is pretty obvious to most, but I love lists so I’m going to run through it anyway (in chronological order):

Superman – Sammy Timberg (1941)

Timberg started it all with the Fleischer’s brilliantly animated Superman shorts including “The Mechanical Monsters,” one of my personal favorites. For a while, this was THE superhero theme song – and rightfully so. I can only imagine the wonder children in the early 1940’s movie houses must have felt watching these elaborate shorts for the first time.

The Adventures of Superman – Leon Klatzin (1952)

Superman flew right into people's homes with this unforgettable opening. George Reeves WAS Superman to millions of children in the 50’s and this music played a huge part.

Batman – Neil Hefti (1966)

Call it campy, but don’t call it bad. This cheesy classic stays with you. Nana nana nana nana, nana nana nana nana LEADER!, er, BATMAN!

Spiderman – Paul Francis Webster (1967)

Another classic sixties theme. For most people, this is the only Spiderman theme.

Wonder Woman – (1975)

Ok, this one is kind of crappy, but you remember it, don’t you?

The Incredible Hulk (The Lonely Man Theme) (1978)

The opening theme to Bill Bixby’s 70’s Hulk show took a back seat to this great anti-theme closing credit number. It’s also the saddest song ever written for television credits. Fast forward 'til there only 1:00 left of the clip and sob.

Superman – John Williams (1978)

Wiliams’ score stands as the single greatest Superhero theme ever written. You will believe man can fly.

Batman – Danny Elfman (1989)

Elfman’s Batman theme gave Williams’ Superman theme a serious run for its money. Unforgettable and undeniably Batman. It is arguably the last great superhero theme.

Lastly, I’ve saved for you MY FAVORITE TV SUPERERO THEME SONG EVER! - Johnny Douglas (1981)

I’m completely serious about this. This show had non-stop music cues including this awesome theme song. It’s like crack to me.


wakeywakeyman said...

Well said, however...

How on earth could you omit this one?

I don't know if he's a "super" hero but...

COME ON!!!!!

The Editor in Chimp: said...

Yes, well... I thought about that... but then I'd have to include:

Anonymous said...

what about Jem and the Holograms?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember how good the series was overall, but Justice League Unlimited had a pretty damn good theme.

So did the 90s Batman and Superman cartoons, even if Batman's was just a condensed version of Tim Burton's theme.