Superman’s Universal Appeal

Superman’s Universal Appeal

Interview with composer John Ottman

How else can a gay journalist begin a phone conversation with the openly gay composer and editor of Superman Returns without addressing the multi-leveled speculation that the new Superman is gay? How did the 41 year-old composer and editor feel about the reports that 27 year old film star Brandon Routh was so well endowed that extra work had to be put into smoothing out the bulge in his costume?

“That’s a quintessential example of how the press creates something completely ludicrous,” Ottman replied.

“The speculation all came out of an interview that costume designer Louise Mingenbach gave when they were first beginning the movie. She made a joke that the most difficult part of the costume was figuring out what to do with the crotch area. Suddenly the press took off with it, and we read that he was so hung that we had to digitally reduce the size. It’s complete bunk. We just laugh at it; it makes no sense at all.”

From this crotch reference, rumor spread that Superman was a gay character. The fact that he wears blue tights and a red cape made from milliskin, a Spandex blend, which display the 6’3” Routh’s ample quadriceps and tapered torso to great advantage only fueled the fantasy.

“There’s no one more straight than this character,” Ottman protests. “We’re continually puzzled why this keeps coming up. Perhaps it’s because my colleague Bryan Singer is known as a gay director. Even Larry King, when he first sat down to interview Bryan, asked if Superman is gay. It’s so silly.

“I think every group that is not accepted, including our gay group, wants to embrace Superman as one of their own. That part I understand. But he certainly is not a gay character. I also think that the film employs an allegory to him in a Christian sense will help dissuade any criticism. It’s almost a built-in defense.”

Ottman is referring to the quote from Superman’s father, Jor-El, which the powers behind the film consider so important that they’ve highlighted it on their website.

“Even though you’ve been raised as a human being,” Jor-El tells his son, “you’re not one of them. They can be great people—they wish to be—they only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all—their capacity for good—I have sent them you, my only son.”

Were such allusions not enough, a further exchange between Superman and Lois Lane’s young son, and scenes where a suffering Superman assumes the pose of crucifixion suggest that Superman can be viewed through many lenses other than lavender.

Above all, Ottman emphasizes that the movie is a love story.

“It’s about a man who feels like an outsider trying to find out how he fits into the world. The love story, not the suspense element with Lex Luthor, is what kept me going emotionally as a composer. I sank my teeth into the emotional love triangle that’s the main drive of this movie.”

Ottman finished the score a mere six weeks before Superman Returns debuted in theaters. Before he could even begin composing, he spent nine months editing scenes on location, and finished in Los Angeles. After tweaking the final sound mix, which took about three and a half weeks, Ottman and Singer completed dubbing less than a week before the film opened.

Ottman admits that he approached the Herculean task of composing over two hours of music for Superman Returns with a fair amount of trepidation.

“I thought that no matter what I did, I was going to be fed to the lions, because there’s such a huge fan base of the original John Williams score. As a fan of the original movie myself, I understand how someone could be on pins and needles wondering if I had screwed up the entire Superman world.

“I felt a lot of pressure to preserve that which was holy. At the same time, I needed to write something new. I walked a fine line, trying to explore new ground while at the same time giving nods to the original thematic material. I really felt I wasn’t going to make anyone happy, and that I was going to be maligned.

“Many of us felt extreme pressure as we tried fill someone else’s shoes from the original movie. In a strange way, I think some of those older personalities of the past somehow channeled themselves slightly through everybody, and what came out came out.”

Ottman joshes that his colleagues are going so crazy about the score that, “they’re masturbating to it.”

“I’m so, so flattered,” he utters with relief. “I guess all that fear and paranoia on my part paid off, because they pushed me to put a little extra into this. Of course, I always try to give my all, even if it’s for a small project.”

Even though the composer/editor had promised himself that he would take a break from work to focus on moving into his new, custom built home with his 28 year-old registered domestic partner of three and a half years, he immediately succumbed to an offer to score and edit a Hitachi commercial. Insisting that he is neither sado-masochist nor a practitioner of same, he laments that he always ties himself up with work.

“I always seem to get into a comfortable situation where I could probably retire if I just stayed simple, then go and do some crazy thing like building this monstrosity of a house. I always keep myself in this perpetual state of having to work to survive. I’m the classic ‘glass is half empty’ not ‘half full’ kind of guy.

“For me, writing music is an escape from all the painful parts of life. I put a lot of my own psyche into my music and hope that, at the end of the day, people respond to it in some positive emotional way.”