Silva Screen Records, Ltd. (SILCD1210)
Release Date: 2006
Conducted by Nic Raine / James Fitzpatrick
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir
|1.||Spider-Man: Main Theme||4:41|
|2.||Superman: Main Theme||4:09|
|3.||Superman: Love Theme||6:12|
|4.||Fantastic Four: Main Titles||2:44|
|5.||Batman Begins: Eptesicus||4:51|
|7.||The Shadow: Main Theme||2:36|
|8.||The Incredibles: Suite||5:42|
|9.||Judge Dredd: Suite||4:50|
|10.||X2: X-Men United: Suite||7:50|
|Total Album Time:||56:32|
|by Jonathan Jarry
on July 5th, 2006
Holy catastrophe, Batman! I remember some particularly good re-recordings by the City of Prague Philharmonic under the baton of Nic Raine, most notably a rendition of The Abyss that was slower than Silvestri's original but, because of that, more majestic and emotional. Here, the Philharmonic falters and Raine and his players make one bad judgement after the other in a series of mostly awkward revisits of classic superhero themes.
The album opens with perhaps the worst offense of them all: a fully orchestral and choral rendition of Elfman's "Main Title" from Spider-Man stripped of its electronic percussion. While that is not horrible in and of itself (and might actually have proven refreshing), it is Raine's decision to cut the tempo by 40 beats per minute that proves to be the death sentence. The once spine-tingling, web-slinging, free-flying theme is now a lethargic monster that lacks any power or sense of fun. The descending ostinato meant to emulate Spidey's steel canyon acrobatics is now dead in the water as is Spidey's principal theme. The slowing down of the tempo by a third is a grave mistake from which the album never recovers.
As for "Superman: Main Theme", well.... When I was in the high school band, our conductor stopped us halfway through a particularly horrible version of "The Gremlin Rag" and told us that we were playing too loud. Nobody in the orchestra was showing any subtlety. I can almost picture him jumping up and down now, listening to this immature version of the opening titles. John Williams did it right, John Debney did it right, Damon Intrabartolo, Ottman's conductor on Superman Returns, did it right. Here, however, the subtle touches are gone, every instrument playing at their loudest and drowned by overly enthusiastic cymbal crashes. This is a beloved piece that should either be played perfectly or dismissed from one's repertoire entirely. The performance here is slightly above high school level. The "Love Theme" suffers from Raine's slower tempo the way Spider-Man did: it's a slow dirge that loses all of its momentum and power. Williams' touches in the accompaniment, a quiet flutter here, a gentle arpeggio there, which worked well when understated, are now spotlit by the turtle pace of the proceedings and sound cheesy and distracting. The final moments of the piece, when the orchestra finally comes together, should be powerful but the build-up takes forever and we become lost in a sea of stretched-out chords and overbearing performances.
We then segue into the "Main Titles" from Fantastic Four, a cue which curiously escapes the butchery for the most part. While the rhythm is solid, the trombones are strangely ineffectual and the trumpets drown the entire orchestra when they should be accompanying the main theme. The chosen cue from Batman Begins, "Eptesicus", while a questionable choice, is the first all-around good performance of the album. Even though the mixing clarifies the separation between each instrumental section, it is a fairly faithful recreation of the original recording. We then move into a lengthy suite from the original Batman which contains excerpts from "The Batman Theme", "Flowers", "Beautiful Stranger", "Joker's Poem", "Clown Attack", "Up the Cathedral", "Waltz to the Death", "Final Confrontation", and "Finale". The main title is given a superb performance by the Philharmonic, but the segment from "Up the Cathedral" is played in an exaggerated fashion, every section sticking out as if competing with one another, never forming a whole. The "Waltz to the Death" does not quite capture the wicked fun of the original and the "Finale" is massacred by the brass into an almost unrecognizable mess, the original bell hits replaced by loud bass drums, gongs, and cymbal crashes.
Material from The Shadow and Judge Dredd escape mostly unscathed, but not so lucky is Michael Giacchino's thrilling and entertaining score to The Incredibles. It is as if Giacchino and his crew's careful recreation of 1960s recordings had been thrown out the window. This new recording is too crisp and too stilted to contain any fun and the brass and percussion sections, vital components of the score, give second-rate performances when compared to the original players.
The last cue on the album is a mixed bag. Ottman's end credits suite from X2: X-Men United sees its loud and powerful bass drum replaced with what sounds like a synthesizer emulating an empty garbage can. The percussion, on the whole, sticks out like a sore thumb and the brass player have a hard time keeping up with the demanding tempo. Things get better when the orchestra encounters Jean Grey's Theme and the Weapon X Theme, but the ultimate reprise of the X-Men Theme is a not-so-rousing, high-school worthy performance that made me cringe.
Most of the themes Nic Raine and his orchestra chose to perform have made their mark in the film score community. We remember the original recordings so well that a new performance of the same material needs to strive for excellence if it stands a chance at being appreciated. Not only are the performances on Comic Strip Heroes underwhelming and below the bar set by the originals, they mutilate the true tempi in some instances, resulting in ineffectual renditions of heroic themes. While most of the original performances were like Superman spinning around the world, this re-recording is more like a bed-ridden Superman with a Kryptonite necklace around his neck. The majority of the performances here are inexcusable: they lack luster, power, and fun, the three key elements of any superhero score. They make Spider-Man stop slinging, Superman stop flying, and I'm just sitting in the corner, scratching my head.
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