Tagged: Road to Perdition

John Ostrander: Making a Better Superman


As of last Monday night, Warner Bros grew a Superman problem. That’s the night that Supergirl started its second season on its new home, the CW… where one could argue that it always belonged anyway. The show guest starred Supergirl’s cousin, Superman, embodied on TV by Tyler Hoechlin.

tyler-hoechlin-supermanIf you don’t already know, DC – unlike Marvel – does not link its movie universe and its TV universe. Since DC Comics is currently in the Multiple Universe concept once more, it might help to think of their TV and movie universes as alternate dimensions. So we can have two Flashes, two Wonder Women – and two versions of Superman.

The DC movie version of Superman, as shown in Man of Steel and Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice Whaddee Do Dah, is played by Henry Cavill and is a darker, more brooding, somewhat more Batman-ish Superman. His costume is also darker, almost a blue-black. He is, we are told, a more “realistic” Superman. And that’s where I think the trouble is going to lie.

Supergirl’s Superman is a more traditional Man of Steel. He’s a brighter, more confident, more hopeful vision. And, not to slam Henry Cavill, Tyler Hoechlin is a better actor. As a kid he held his own with Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig in Road to Perdition where Hoechlin played a starring role as Michael Sullivan, Jr. (Sidenote: not everyone realizes that Road to Perdition is also a “comic book movie” based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. Work that little factoid into your conversations. Amaze your friends. Go out and get a copy. Great read. End of plug.)

The Superman appearing on Supergirl is more my idea of who Superman is – confident, capable, friendly, powerful and, according to one character on the show, smells good. When he walks into the DEO, the government facility where Lara’s adopted sister Alex works, people just stop and stare. Superman works the crowd, smiling, shaking hands, setting people at ease not like a politician or even a celebrity but like a nice guy from Kansas which, for all his powers, he is.

Hoechlin also does a great Clark Kent, reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s great turn, having a deft sense of humor to the portrayal and making the bumbling aspect work. When his cousin secretly congratulates Clark on a well executed file fumble in the elevator, he tells her it wasn’t an act. That’s endearing.

Also, in the TV aspect of the DCU, there isn’t the underlying mistrust that the DC movie universe has for this strange person from another world. Batman wants to kill Superman because the Kryptonian could be a threat; one of the arguments leading to the creation of the Suicide Squad was who could stop Superman if he decided to burst through the roof of the White House and grab the President? On Supergirl, people trust the Man of Steel. Seeing him, or his cousin, inspires hope. While the darker portrayal may be more “realistic,” it’s not what the character is about.

I’m not looking for a return to the Superman of the Fifties as seen in either the comics or the TV show. To be honest, that one bored me even as a kid. The movies, however, makes him more angsty, more dour, and less Super. Hoechlin is only scheduled to appear as a guest star on the TV show for right now but he wears the tights and the cape – and Clark Kent’s glasses – quite well.

I know that in BvS: DoJ (spoiler alert, I guess) Superman dies at the end of the film but we all know he’s coming back for the Justice League movie. I, for one, wouldn’t mind if the movie Superman uses the grave as a chrysalis and pops out as Tyler Hoechlin. Or maybe they can have Tyler spin off into a series as Superman. I’d watch it. And I bet lots of others would as well.

And that’s going to be WB’s problem – the better Superman isn’t on the big screen; it’s on the small one.

John Ostrander: Music To Write Comics By

I love movie and television soundtracks. I’ll often use a given soundtrack while I work, letting it fuel my writing. I can’t listen to music with lyrics in them; that interferes with my process. I’ll get themes, characters, even scenes or whole plots from the music. Soundtrack music is in service of the story that the film is trying to tell; it’s a part of the narrative, heightening the emotion that’s being invoked.

I have my own particular favorites. The composers usually have a large body of work but certain key works resonate within me – Jerry Goldsmith’s Chinatown and Patton, James Horner with Field of Dreams, Shaun Davey’s Waking Ned Devine, Elmer Bernstein’s To Kill A Mockingbird (has there ever been a more beautiful and evocative theme?) and, of course, The Magnificent Seven.

I’ve also been very fond of Alan Silvestri’s score to Forrest Gump but that one is hard for me to listen to anymore. It was also one of the favorites of my late wife, Kim Yale. We had it playing in the background on the morning that she died; in fact – as the last notes of the last track played, Kim gave out her last breath. The music will always be with me but I can’t physically listen to it very much.

What I find amazing is how many great composers in movies and television have the last name of Newman. It’s a fascinating family; the musical DNA runs strong through these people. Alfred Newman (1901-1970) was the scion of the family and has won more Oscars for soundtracks than any other composer. He worked on The Grapes of Wrath, Ball of Fire (I love this film!), Twelve O’Clock High, The Grapes of Wrath and How The West Was Won among many, many others.

He composed the theme for 20th Century Fox which is still in use today. You’ve heard it at the start of every Star Wars movie (although, alas, you won’t hear it in any future episodes since the franchise is now owned by Disney). He was the general music director at Fox for decades starting in 1940 and when he left, he was replaced by his younger brother, Lionel Newman.

In his younger days, Lionel was the accompanist for Mae West on the vaudeville circuit (which must have been an interesting job). He composed the music for the John Wayne film, North to Alaska (one of my fave Wayne films as I was growing up) as well as a passel of TV shows like The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He was also the music director for TV shows such as The Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and Batman.

Alfred Newman sired other soundtrack composers, notably David Newman and Thomas Newman. You may know David from his work on the Disney animated version of Tarzan. He was also the composer on Serenity, the feature film follow-up to the TV series Firefly, a particular favorite in our house. It’s a really lovely piece of work. He also did the music for Galaxy Quest, that wonderful homage/send-up to Star Trek.

Thomas Newman is a prolific and talented composer and one of my absolute faves of the modern breed. His work is stunning, be it on the James Bond film Skyfall or Pixar movies such as Wall-E and Finding Nemo. He scored the films based on two Steven King works, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. He did the theme for the TV series, Six Feet Under, one of my favorite TV themes of all time. It’s quirky use of percussion sets the tone for the series itself.

One of the most played soundtrack CDs in my collection is the music Thomas Newman wrote for Road to Perdition. As he often does, Newman makes great use of minor chords, suggesting melancholy and loss. I have a strong streak of melancholy myself, always have, and it just responds to this music. Heart breaking and breath taking.

Last, and certainly not least, we have Alfred’s nephew, the astounding Randy Newman. Randy is a pop singer and composer par excellence; you must know his songs like “Short People,” “It’s Lonely At the Top,” and “I Love L.A.” among so many others. One of my fave pop writers/composers of all time.

Given his pedigree, it must have been inevitable that he would also take up soundtrack composing. You must have heard his work on The Natural, all the Toy Story movies, Seabiscuit and Monsters Inc (for which he finally won an Oscar after 15 nominations). If memory serves, his first words of his acceptance speech as he gazed out at the audience was, “Don’t you pity me.” He is a man of great wit, a dry humor, exquisite musical sensibilities, and a great sense of narrative. As you may guess, I am a fan.

There are some composers whose soundtrack albums I would buy without even seeing the movies. The Newman clan rank high on that list. They have, as an aggregate, just too much damn talent. It’s unfair to others, I know, but they make me happy.