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Excellent music sadly limited by synthetic performance
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
ROBERT J. KRAL
* * *
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
The Superman franchise has been extraordinarily successful for all concerned. I've never quite understood the appeal of comic books myself (at least, not since I was about seven) but grown men all over the world (well, in America anyway) seem to go weak at the knees at the very mention of the man of steel, who has inspired about twenty films, countless television series and of course all those comic books. The latest filmic outing is the animation Superman: Doomsday, which deals with no less an event than the superhero's death (though I don't think I would be giving too much away if I said I suspected it might just not be as cut-and-dried as that).
Of course, numerous composers have been inspired by the character, most famously John Williams with his infamous main theme for Richard Donner's big screen version (which I've always found to be the least satisfying of Williams's famous themes - though the rest of his score was wonderful). For Superman: Doomsday, Australian composer Robert J. Kral was enlisted. Much of Kral's career has been in television, most notably for Angel (he scored over a hundred episodes of that show). Sadly the budget for this project did not allow the use of an orchestra, but if anything calls for a "big" sound then it's Superman and so the composer was forced to use a synthetic orchestra instead.
Technology has improved so much that the sound you can get out of such a thing is far better today than it has ever been before, but there is still a huge difference between hearing music played by a fake orchestra and a real one, and it's such a pity that Kral's music is constrained in this way - it is big, imaginative and very large in ambition, and would probably sound fantastic if played by a real orchestra. The main theme - with just the slightest nod to Williams in its opening bars - is a stirring one, and there are several other strong themes which run through the score as well.
Best of all, however, is the action music, whose complex "orchestrations" (the synths are multi-layered at all times) lend it a real quality. The grander moments work well too - there is a real sweep to "The Death of Superman" which is very impressive, and when the music doesn't need to be so busy, the synthesised sound is less distracting. Indeed, if you can get over that - and I must admit, I can't - then you would find an awful lot of quality here in La-La Land's album; if you can't, there'll still be moments you should be able to appreciate and enjoy, but that one unfortunate fact will be the one which dominates your thoughts throughout. Kral certainly seems to be a very talented composer, and I really hope his next project gives him the budget to allow his music to receive the kind of scope it deserves.