REST IN PEACE: ALEXANDER COURAGE

It has been noted elsewhere but I would be remiss if I didn’t write something about the passing of composer Alexander Courage, who died on May 15th of 2008.  While the man had a prolific career and as a Superman fan the most direct connection I have with him is the fact that he scored Superman IV: The Quest For Peace his most famous piece would be the theme to the original Star Trek series.

Like many Superman fans I went through a long and protracted period where I openly scorned and mocked the scores to the second, third and fourth Superman films.  Having recently purchased the big, honking Superman: The Music (1978-1988) CD box set I have found a new appreciation for not only Ken Thorne’s work on Superman II and Superman III but also Courage’s work on the fourth and sadly worst of the Superman film series.  I am particularly fond of the music that played under Superman’s speech to the United Nations.  It’s a great piece that builds nicely and has a wonderful pay off where not one but three different themes come in at once; the Superman theme, Lacy’s theme and Jeremy’s theme.  While the film still has problems and plot holes you could drive a monorail through the score has some great moments to it, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Courage’s passing got me thinking about why we as Superman fans (in general, I’m sure there are those that feel differently) used to be so down on the scores to II, III and IV and I think it comes down to this; it wasn’t John Williams.

John Williams gave my generation a Superman theme (just as Leo Klatzkin did for children of the fifties and sixties with his theme for the Adventures of Superman series) and I think his not coming back to score the second, third and fourth film irked a lot of us.  This is to be expected because in this sense we were cheated.  Williams did all six of the Star Wars films as well as the sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark and because he didn’t come back I think we unfairly judged the composers that followed.

This line of thinking really hit me when I realized that most of my favorite music cues came from the second and third installment in the Christopher Reeve franchise.  Sure I love the Williams score to Superman: The Movie, particularly the main theme and the helicopter sequence, but I equally love the piece where Clark changes into Superman for the first time in Superman II and the piece where Clark rips open his shirt after defeating himself in Superman III.  In fact my favorite version of the Williams’ Superman theme is from the second movie.  You could argue that Thorne just re-used the Williams work in his Superman films and you would be right but at the same time the fact that he did do that really united the movies beyond having the same cast and Thorne took the Krypton theme and made it dark and sinister for the Phantom Zone villains.  Courage actually did a lot more of his own thing in the fourth film and because of all of that I really need to take back a lot of the bad things I’ve said about the two composers over the years.

Wow, that went off on a tangent, didn’t it? 

Oh well, rest in peace, Mr. Courage.  My deepest condolences to his friends and families.

More to follow…

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