by Jonathan Jarry
"Am I not Galactus? Am I not He whose very name is spoken only in dread whispers throughout the farthest reaches of the unending universe? Am I not the Ravager, the Devourer of Worlds?"
Move over, Dr. "Troy" Doom; there's a new bad-ass in town. In fact, quite possibly the ultimate bad-ass. With a loose adaptation of "The Coming of Galactus" storyline from the original Fantastic Four comic book, should it be any surprise that the music changes its scope? In Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a silver entity surfing the ether arrives to Earth. Marvel's First Family will soon learn that this Sentinel of the Spaceways, the Silver Surfer, is the alien herald to an omnipotent force as old as the universe itself: Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, who has chosen Earth as his next cosmic protein shake. Can Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing unite in repelling the ultimate threat to Earth? Does a falling tree make a noise if there's no one around to hear it? (The answer is yes, by the way, and Mr. Fantastic would totally tell you about acoustics and vibrations if he were here.)
John Ottman returns to follow up on his score to the first Fantastic Four movie and there are quite a few surprises in store for people expecting more of the same. The same, of course, would be one kick-ass rendition of the Fantastic Four Fanfare after another and a lot of quirky, intrically-laced lines for woodwinds, strings, and brass, with ample dynamic choral movements to keep the roller coaster alive. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer features less choir than its precedent, despite what its epic marketing campaign might lead you to assume. Ottman makes periodic use of synthesizers, creating a soundscape of warped bells and textures to bathe the music in the Surfer's otherworldliness. Finally, the Fantastic Four Fanfare is not a prominent player; Galactus' ominousness sucks the heroism out of major chunks of the score, but Ottman finds subtle ways to integrate the melody, sometimes in the bass line, sometimes buried in a quick string figure and sometimes, especially towards the end, as the inspiriting and fun call-to-arms it was designed to be.
The highlight of the score as a whole is the "Silver Surfer Theme" which is as close to perfection as a composer can get to representing the Silver Herald. It does the alien being as much justice as Ottman's original Fantastic Four theme did to Marvel's First Family. The middle portion of the score is surprisingly subtle, even sometimes introspective and minimal. The epic action sequences are a thing of the past; this score is about dread and foreboding, with a dash of hope sprinkled at the end. Be prepared to be wowed by the first track and surprised by the rest of the album as SoundtrackNet is proud to continue its Summer 2007 exclusive coverage with a track-by-track "first listen" experience of John Ottman's ominous score to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Where will you be when Earth will be devoured by a giant man in a purple suit?
SPOILER WARNING: The track titles give some plot details away!
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1. Silver Surfer Theme (4:21)
The album begins with its highlight: a complete exploration of the thematic and sound design material that flesh out the character of the Silver Surfer, Galactus' stoic herald. The opening seconds feature a soft orchestra accompanied by ethereal synthesizers which evoke the idea of sliding or gliding on the cosmic ether. These whispery and warped sounds complement the set-up of the two main chords on which the Surfer's Theme is built, the V and VI chords. The misterioso overture fades out and we are treated to the reveal of the melody: a stirring and minimal pull between the two chords, linked by dotted quarters and eights, a triple meter back-and-forth for French horns and strings in perfect unison until the end of the first phrase, where the lines start to split and harmonize. The theme is reprised for full string ensemble with a synth rippling effect echoing in the background. Out of the ensuing silence, a heralding and majestic rendition of theme springs forth from the commanding brass over two overlapping string ostinati propelling the melody forward. A quick harp run takes us to the B Theme, a delicate and feminine ascending melody of redemption for the bond the Surfer forms with Sue Storm. A shimmery interlude is interrupted by a heavily punctuated reprise of the Surfer's A Theme, with full brass and foreboding string ostinati. Electric guitars are brought on board to bring vigor to the punctuation and a penultimate rendition of the theme eschews the middle passages, playing only the two alternating chords, revealing the Surfer's Theme to be closely related to Holst's "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age", its power and dread derived from this continually unresolved passage from one chord to the other for the full orchestra. The Surfer's Theme is a giant ticking clock and its complete melody is restored by the trumpets in full Holstian fashion at the very end, with woodwinds and violins racing to the finish line, itself a fat, ominous chord for the lower brass, celli, basses, and lower woodwinds. This symphonic suite is allowed a majesty and a build-up that the film score itself, due to the constraints of the medium, never quite attains. Simple, brilliant, and amazingly well executed, this is the Silver Surfer.
2. Galactus Destroys / Opening (1:53)
The arrival of Galactus is announced by a growing atonal cluster for the orchestra among which tonal chords can be heard, disturbed by the cluster and uneasy. Ethereal synthesizers slip into the higher pitches, alternating between the two Surfer chords as the build-up intensifies, the choir coming in discreetly to accompany the orchestra. The rippling synth returns, piercing the sound fabric, reminding the listener of Goldsmith's synthesizers in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. We are left with orchestral debris that are rebuilt around the Fantastic Ostinato (those four rising notes from the first film, the accompaniment to the Fanfare), which accumulates the colors and motifs of the main title track from the first film, rising to the point where the Fanfare would come in, but quickly stopping, leaving us instead with a mysterious sequence for piano strings and bumbling flutes, delicately celestial, and punctuated at the end by a growing dissonant chord.
3. Pursuing Doom (3:12)
Jittery lines and ostinati for the orchestra prepare us for this action sequence, with the staccato bursts of the main title overture making an appearance on the trumpets. We hear the trombones playing a variation on the Fanfare before the Surfer chords are heard on the brass in an understated, noble fashion. The A theme is hinted at by the trumpets before a dissonant burst from the flutes leads us to Doctor Doom's mischievous theme for low brass amidst timpani hits. The Fantastic Four Fanfare then bursts onto the scene and the accentuating lines promote the suspense and drive the music forward. Doctor Doom's theme makes brief cameos and the Fanfare is woven subtly throughout the whole chase. The cue ends with a drum run in the middle of a dissonant chord for strings and brass.
4. Wedding Day Jitters (1:21)
We hear Reed and Sue's Love Theme, first hinted at, then stated in full by piano and violins. The flute explores it further before descending into a quirky glissando. Pizzicato strings play out the Fantastic Ostinato while the bass line hints at the Fanfare to represent Mr. Fantastic's jitters, and we quickly move out to the sound of regal bells to a variation on the Fanfare for violins and French horn, with the flutes gently fluttering in the Ostinato.
5. Chasing the Surfer (2:32)
Johnny Storm's modern attitude colors this chase sequence with the subtle addition of contemporary percussion and electric guitar licks. The Ostinato on the tremolo celli gives momentum to the Fanfare, clearly stated by the trumpets, before the sound is sucked out of the piece by one of the Surfer's synthesizers. A dissonant brass groan emerges from the ensuing silence and the chase is on again to the sound of a modern drum kit, the Fanfare giving pursuit to the Surfer's synths. The choir barges in, chanting the Surfer's V and VI chords to the sound of ticking xylophones while the trombones try to pierce the barage with the Fanfare. A musical maelstrom is spun from this conflict, with quick, descending ostinati for the violins and repeated cymbal crashes. An eerie vocal glissando slams the break on the pursuit, morphing into an orchestral glissando charged with alien atonality, crumbling into a deep piano clash. The driving action motif is back temporarily, before we end with a baffled, almost comical English horn variation on the second phrase of the Fanfare.
6. Camp Testosterone / Meeting the Surfer (3:35)
We open with a "sit rep" type of establishing cue, with brass and string chords, fast flute chirping, and snare drums. The music delicately lands on the ground with flutes and violins harmonizing, before the celli and snare call-and-answer each other. Woodblocks begin to take the beat and discreet harp plucking gives the scene a comical air. A shimmery, Ligeti-like chord for the high pitches of the orchestra invokes mystery, before being cut short by the return of the comedy material: staccato strings, tuba, piano, and shakers. The rippling synth comes back over suspenseful tremolo strings before the low brass states a minor key version of the Fanfare, threatening and ominous. The Surfer's Theme is given a hostile rendition for low brass, punctuated by gongs and synthesizers. The Surfer's two-note ostinato is reintroduced and gains volume and momentum over a bass drum run that abruptly ends the cue.
7. A Little Persuasion (2:07)
The Fantastic Four triplets are screamed out by the strings, urgent and bleeding, with quick glissandi by the brass. One of the Surfer's synthesizers' doubles over the brass as we prepare for a short chase sequence. Timpani, snares, and xylophone carry the military beat as the brass attacks with abbreviated chords that keep rising before morphing into distraught glissandi. The trombones then bring in the Surfer's Theme over a jumpy violin ostinato and it climaxes into a groaning, dissonant, and massive chord over rapid timpani hits. The synthesizers calmly take over the madness, bowing and shifting, complemented by quiet strings. The celli voice a short variation on the Fanfare before the strings and synths entwine in mystery and ominousness. The cheerless celli finish the cue with a short motif accompanied by quiet, lower brass dissonance.
8. Botched Heroics (4:26)
This cue is the closest to Ottman's material from the original Fantastic Four. It is a return to the rapidly-changing action music that makes use of the Fanfare and the various motifs associated with each character. A hushed rendition of the Fantastic Ostinato pulls us out of a dreamy intro while the French horn delicately voices a variation on the Fanfare and a discreet modern beat enters along with tremolo strings. We change key, reprising the same material, before a snare roll takes us into the action. The cue then belongs to the lower strings and the brass, which reveal a scene of chaos. A harp arpeggio takes us to a quieter, dreamier section of the sequence, with sustained violins and uneasy glockenspiel. The brass and lower strings then take multiple stabs at the cue, driving forward before stopping, and starting again. The descending triplets return as an ostinato with occasional anvil hits and bass drum pounding. As the triplets thicken in dissonance, the trumpets let the Fanfare ring out in urgency. The tremolo strings provide a shifting bed to Sue's jittery Forcefield Theme. Trombones up the ante, carrying more danger than before, and they shift into the solid action rhythm heard at the 3:30 mark of "Battling Doom" in the original, with the violins sliding from note to the next. The brass instruments then joins together to perform the Fanfare in a heroic muster, but the Surfer's synthesizers and the rippling effect are back to cool down the proceedings. The brass mobilizes in a rapid action ostinato that keeps rising and chaos ensues with Goldenthalesque brass screams and dry snare hits. The triplets return, first on the violins, then the trumpets, for the last stretch of the sequence as the Fanfare comes back, firmly grounded by the timpani, resolving in the major mode as danger has once again been curbed. Sweet strings and resplendent brass take us into the acclamation material from the theme heard at the end of "Superheroes" in the original. We end in a misterioso segment that gains volume, with the low brass groaning at the last chord.
9. Someone I Once Knew (2:24)
Strings and synths quietly maintain an atmosphere of reverence while the harp discreetly weaves in a character's curiosity. The clarinets and celli carefully introduce the Surfer's A Theme over otherwordly synth accompaniment. At times, the synthesizers completely envelop the theme, choking it. As quietly as before, the strings take up the Surfer's B Theme, hinting at a hope for redemption. It stops short of being finished and a timpani comes in, hushed, while the curiosity motif returns, which turns out to be the core motif of the Surfer's A Theme. A ticking modern beat takes us to a girating motif for flutes over a loud, low-pitched orchestral cluster... and the rippling synth pierces the fabric once more, reminding us of Galactus' approach.
10. The Future / Doom's Deal (2:58)
One of the warmest moments on the album, the music here plays around Reed and Sue's Love Theme. Clarinets and oboes harmonize without string or brass. The celli then come in, followed by the upper strings, and we delicately make it to a flute rendition of the end of the Love Theme which concludes with a bit of harp. We abruptly change gears to the Surfer's Ostinato over ominous trombone chords. Doom's Theme is hinted at by the prominent trombones doubled by snare hits. Piano and harp arpeggia set in, while the violins agonize over the Surfer's Theme. The piercing, rippling synth makes a grand comeback, reintroducing the Surfer's Ostinato with ethereal vocal coloring. The Surfer's Theme is woven into the cue, but his Ostinato dominates. One feels something important is being discussed, perhaps a... deal? A series of loud chords for the orchestra move us from consonance to dissonance and we are left with a feeling of uneasiness as the Surfer's Theme returns on the synthesizer, with fleeting tremolo violins playing like bats flying helter-skelter.
11. Sibling Switch (1:41)
A brass glissando and violin trill erupt from the speakers before all goes silent. A quiet and quirky staccato march for the string ensemble begins with occasional xylophone, reminescent of "Unlikely Saviors" from the original. The tremolo violins then panick, accompanied by a gleaming glockenspiel, as harp runs pull the melody upwards and upwards.... The quirky march comes back with a bit of brass and we hear a quick extrapolation of the Fanfare for trombones. A drunken motif for strings waltzes in, with staggering accents by the woodwinds and brass. This "mob rush" motif quickly gets out of control and teeters to the brink of chaos.
12. Outside Help (2:38)
A hushed, suspicious chord opens the cue with rapid harp runs. Like a gunshot, the bass drum bursts in, accompanied by tremolo shifts from the strings. While the violins sustain an unresolved chord in the background, the double basses provide short and rapid salvos in the lower range. After much hesitation, Victor's "up to no good" theme from the first movie starts coalescing, made up of a two-note synth and güiro ostinato, wavery strings, and two clarinets. This tense movement continues with discreet bursts of modern rhythms and threatening bass salvos. The recurring string chord grows fatter and more threatening, while the tremolo celli grow louder and louder and louder.
13. Springing the Surfer (1:57)
Heroism returns in this cue after more material from the "up to no good" theme. Dynamic material from the overture to the first movie's "Main Title" starts to converge into a deep and powerful hint at the Fanfare from the trombones. The snare drum returns briefly as things quiet down. The overture returns and the Fanfare is stated in its true form, with the Ostinato on the brass backing it up. It resolves in a grand and triumphant chord for violins and trumpets, before the violins take up the second, descending phrase of the Fanfare, the heavy weight of the brass lifted off the ground by the lightness of the strings. The Ostinato fades away....
14. Doom's Double Cross (2:41)
This one is a cool, malicious cue that reinvigorates Dr. Doom's material. The "up to no good" theme is present in the first half of the piece, its ping-ponging synth and güiro duet tick-tocking away. The Surfer's ether-gliding synthesizer returns, mysterious and seducing. The tick-tocking is reprised and delicately fades away... before an alarming scream from the French horns is let out. Tremolo chords in the upper range of the violins take center stage then, with Dr. Doom's Theme snaking its way into the lower strings. The maliciousness continues with rising power, the rippling synth making an appearance, and Dr. Doom's Theme is resurrected for deep brass, string ensemble, and full choir. Its full glory is cut short, though, by a few orchestral bursts and the reawakening of the rippling synth.
15. Mr. Sherman / Under the Radar (1:55)
Undercover underscore bathes the entire cue in minimal synth work and light motifs. We begin with a descending synth motif for Mr. Sherman over piano brass hits and harp plucking. The cue becomes darker for a minute, before the alien motif returns. A quiet marimba states a recurring motif while the violins play a single, held note. We briefly hear the Forcefield Theme before returning to Mr. Sherman's mysterious motif.
16. Four in One (3:04)
Nauseating chords on the violins open the cue, soon disrupted by a deep trombone and tuba groan over male choir, the flute fluttering about. A two-note ostinato keeps the beat in the background until a high-pitched, muted chord for the violins turns things around. The overture material starts to coalesce once more and we hear a minor mode statement of the Fanfare for trombones, reiterated then transformed into a victorious call-to-arms. A dissonant passage makes way for the chase proper, with tribal percussion dominating the soundscape. Dr. Doom's Theme is quickly stated by the brass with chanting choir. The brass hits left and right and the two-note ostinato is back for the whole orchestra. The string and brass instruments unite to push a tentative Fanfare forward. Crazy harp and woodwind arpeggia bumble about before being stopped by a staccato pushing-of-the-brakes by the brass. The tribal percussion and ostinato return and are quickly resolved by ominous chords and the rippling synth.
17. Silver Savior / Aftermath (5:55)
A simplified version of the Love Theme is heard on the celli in a minimal orchestral setting. Bells chime, slightly offset, while the Love Theme continues uneasily. A hint of nobility is perceived, and the Surfer's Ostinato returns, played by the strings, with grounding punctuation by the brass. It quickens then stops. The brass states a noble melody, backed by the warming strings. The Surfer's Theme returns on the strings, more tender than before. The menace of Galactus can be felt by the frequent use of the rippling synth, but the nobility and redemptive power of the Surfer's B Theme casts the shadows away. His A Theme makes a stately comeback for brass, heavily punctuated, with the two-note ostinato in the background. The choir enters for the second phrase and the minor mode gnaws at the music's nobility until the atonal orchestral cluster and synth atmosphere return. The flutes flutter and things calm down. The Surfer's chords come back, spelling doom, with the choir at the forefront. A minor-key chord grows heavier and heavier, resolved in pure heroic fashion with the tonic blasted by the trumpets. The aftermath is uneasy at first before the orchestra hints at the Surfer's Theme along with a delicate, four-note descending line for glockenspiel, then harp. We segue into a playful segment and hear the Fanfare again, muted at first, then resolute, with the triplets on the flute. A harmonically rich version of the Fanfare concludes the track, with a loving rendition of the second phrase on strings. All's well that ends well, it would seem.
18. Gunshot Wedding (1:18)
We begin with playful pizzicato and woodwinds before segueing into a quiet rendition of the Love Theme for the flute with harmonies on the piano. The second phrase is stated by the full string ensemble. Crazy, tremolo strings start to flutter about with tubular bell hits. The music rises and rises then fades away to the sound of a rippling effect on the piano.
19. Norrin Radd (0:49)
An elegiac rendition of the Surfer's A Theme by a soft choir soon joined by the string ensemble. It is a touching and understated goodbye that climaxes in a glorious and fully resolved chord for the strings and choir.
The Silver Surfer's Theme makes for a poignant and mysterious addition to the Fantastic Four thematic canon. If the first movie's score belonged to the Fanfare, this one is firmly the Surfer's. Its melody is malleable enough to roam the spectrum of mystery, ominousness, and redemption. What is surprising in the score, and perhaps telling from a story point of view, is the scarcity of truly epic action music. The first track is monumental in scope, but at least half of the album is dedicated to cues underscoring dialogue or providing us with foreboding clues as to what might happen. Ottman's action cues are closer here to Superman Returns' more focused energy than to the original Fantastic Four's mickey-mousey plethora of effects and crazy motifs. The score is more mature as it discreetly weaves the themes in the fabric of the music and the Silver Surfer's ominous theme dominates the landscape.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer comes out in theaters June 15th, 2007, and the score album will be released in stores by Sony Classical on June 19, and on iTunes from Fox Music. Giant metallic surfboard not included.
Special thanks to John Ottman, Dan Goldwasser, Jeremy Meyers, Danielle Diego and JoAnn Orgel.