Reviews - Alice In Wonderland

Review by Bluntinstrument

As one of Tim Burton's regular collaborators, Elfman shares an appreciation of the material with other artists involved by investing that little bit more than on other projects; either that or the material and direction itself brings out the best in a composer with natural leanings towards the fantastic. A Burton film invariably comes accompanied by a genuinely rich and inventive score, and Alice In Wonderland is no exception. Despite the 5 year gap between this release and those of The Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Elfman's services were not required to adapt Sweeney Todd - perhaps there is a trend here that Burton and Elfman need a little space after every stop-motion musical), one is plunged straight back into the pleasurably free soundworld of the canon, a neat contrast to the grey-scale Wolfman. Elfman uses a gorgeously large orchestra (oddly some of its sitar etc. extravagances and cattish string fun are so well integrated they sound almost conventional) with chorus (favouring younger female singers, perhaps), topping a ripping fantasy underscore with a principal character vocal theme that somehow reminds one of the Serenada Schizophrana chorus and Edward Scissorhands simultaneously. There is a Mahlerian folksy childishness that comes from the former, mixed with the gentler tone that comes only with a larger orchestral palette; in addition pleasurable harmonic twists, and melodic simplicity that never tires of repetition (believe me!) - all traits straight out of Depp's first Burton film. The choice and combination is an inspired one, at once vivid, dreamlike, childlike and exciting.
Elfman wisely places the broadest version of the theme (which comes from the end credits of the movie) at the beginning of the CD and sprinkles varied returns or echoes throughout in a way that reminds the reviewer of the pattern of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Sandwiched between these magical signposts is a fantasy adventure score that could be criticised for not being Elfman's more distinctively chaotic affair, but is arguably a superior score to Charlie in its unity of tone despite using some of its chugging motifs. This helps bind the tone of the film together: it aids Burton's escape from the more sequential nature of the original stories; it is less distracting than earlier scores so one is left more at the mercy of the narrative than the mechanics of a Burton movie (Big Fish was in many ways a victim of this postmodernist deconstruction, although it is likely the unevenness was on purpose); finally, it makes for an enjoyable and repeatable experience on CD. Indeed the arrangement of the music on disc is in many ways the more obviously enjoyable access to Elfman's score, with tracks of decent length and most often continuing without pause. In the movie, Burton must languish first in reality before entering Wonderland, and the end credits jar with a pop song opener that is totally at odds with the film. The large orchestra and chorus support and enhance the action splendidly, but the smoother, more 'mature' scoring submerges the thematic material just a little too far; however, this may leave it with a better chance of rewarding repeat viewings.
Verdict: Magic but mature film score makes the perfect Elfman CD release. Highly recommended.
Score Rating: * * *
CD Release Rating: * * * *
Wonderland (Underland?) chords:
Alice's theme:
Alice theme
Note1. Track 9. 0'17"-47" Batman Returns Penguin theme referenced? The 1st part of the theme is in various forms of development in other parts of the score and seems to derive from the 3 chord Wonderland motif above.
Note2. The 3 chord Wonderland motif reminds the reviewer too much of an important point in Zimmer's score to Dead Man's Chest, on the commcercial soundtrack at the end of track 11.

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