Obligatory author's background
As co-reviewer to a by now regularly frequented web-site1, it is often too easy to exercise the power which electronic publishing bestows upon so many in the modern world, and so I wish to avoid any misinterpretation by explaining my own reaction to the film and (swiftly) my views on the composer: I admit that I enjoyed Burton's second film, and perhaps its more grotesque humour and wittier script make it a more repeatable experience. I find the characters more at home in their environment and I think far from losing out on the freshness of its predecessor, Batman Returns has a lot to add to the franchise. In light of the two succeeding films I am more convinced that a continued emphasis on plot and sombre mood in the sequal was a component of Burton's instinctive latching onto the merits of the first film.
My views on Elfman can be found by the casual surfer by reading other reviews2, as well as my biographical details elsewhere on this site, but for the reader committed to this review and not prepared to wade through the rest, I shall summarise. I am not a great admirer of many of Elfman's early scores, still less am I a fan of his pop past in the form of (Oingo) Boingo. Both are stylistic preferences, although I am sure most readers of this feature are convinced that his scoring technique in films has, if anything, improved rather than grown lax over the years. I am a confessed admirer of the later "scores with an edge" such as Dolores Claiborne, but am equally respondent to the darker side of Elfman's so-called "goofy" style in the shape of The Nightmare Before Christmas and even The Frighteners. This review will inevitably be coloured by my own leanings and I advise all to take my somewhat pompous language with the scepticism it deserves.
I spend admittedly little time searching the web simply for reviews, particularly when (as with most fans of film music) I feel I can make my own mind up, thank you very much. But perhaps for the reader's convenience I can sum up a few of the themes which run through most of those reviews found in searching.
There appear to have been two large setbacks to the critical success of this score, the first being that it was written for a film which failed to live up to the expectations of the 12-year-old school boys who so enjoyed the first movie, and thus was rumoured to be Elfman's final collaboration with Burtonthe end of a partnership which had shown so much potential. The second setback appears to be of the composer's own making: Elfman is quoted in at least two interviews3 as being far from pleased with the dubbing of his music onto the film. This point deserves attention to which I shall devote space later, but despite soundtrack reviews supposedly being concerned with the generous (70 minute) and crystal clear recording on CD, the negative atmosphere generated by composer and project appears to have spread into the web literature.4
Elfman Zone ed. Tim Perrine (aka. Groovy Yak) http://www.msu.edu/user/perrinet/elfman/index.html