Reviews - Army of Darkness

Review #1 by the Texas Ranger

Fantastic - bizarre in form, conception, or appearance; strange. SEE: A.O.D.THEME
This is one of those fantastic little discoveries that I stumbled upon before my interest in the Internet flourished. It was only through my budding interest in the work of director Sam Raimi that I noticed this fantastic theme. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, this theme doesn't appear on any Elfman Compilation CD release that I'm aware of. Why it wasn't included on Music for a Darkened Theater Vol. 2 is beyond me, but alas, my search continues.
For those who have not seen the cult classic, the March of the Dead theme accompanies the march of thousands of skeletons which, under their evil leader (a clone of gun toting zombie exterminator/S-Mart employee, Ash [who has traveled back in time after opening a portal in a lost cabin{where zombies killed his girlfriend and infected his hand, which he later lopped off and replaced with a chainsaw}] ), storm a medieval castle in order to retrieve the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead), and do lots of evil things with it. YES, IT'S THAT KIND OF MOVIE (For those who haven't guessed, I crave dark films)! Somehow, Elfman seemed destined to have some part in this bizarre trilogy.
The theme starts off with the now typical Elfman brooding music straight out of Darkman (an earlier Raimi film that Elfman scored). In fact, the whole first half of the theme, with its simmering use of heavy strings, oboes, and timpani, is nearly an exact copy of Darkman. The two themes even use the exact same brass stings! In addition to the self plagiarism, Elfman chooses a variety of instruments that appeared in the film's marching sequence, and cleverly incorporates them into his theme. Thus, as a pair of bagpipe toting, Scottish skeletons march past the viewer, the theme cuts to a short melody involving the bagpipes. The same technique is used for a skeleton playing the flute (made out of a femur bone). Finally, timpani comes in full swing as another dead soldier hammers out a tune on some skeletal percussion.
The orchestra builds to a crescendo at the midway point, as an army of thousands crest over the hills. Elfman's melody and counter melody work wonderfully together. The result is of the same caliber as the build up for Final Confrontation from Batman Returns (after the opening snare and timpani sections).
There is a definite style that Elfman was aiming for - Fantasy. Elfman's use of strings, brass, and woodwinds are such that they seem very reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's fantasy works (7th Voyage of Sinbad, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts, etc.), with a touch of John Williams' award ceremony finale from Star Wars. This makes perfect sense, after all, this is a fantasy film. Thus, the sound is not quite sci-fi, nor is it entirely classical/operatic. It's hard to describe the sound of a Fantasy motif, especially considering my musical knowledge is very poor and 100% questionable. The best score that can be used to describe this style would be Leonard Rosenthal's Lord of the Rings (a stellar fantasy score!) and/or any of Herrmann's Harryhausen film scores. In fact, the Lord of the Ring's main theme sounds eerily similar to Elfman's Army of Darkness theme in style and orchestration. Nonetheless, several musical signatures indicate this is truly Elfman's piece to the very end.
As the theme draws to a close, the music dies down into typical Elfman brooding mode. Celeste, bell tolls, and heavy woodwinds (or were they strings?) resurrect the Penguin's theme in a sort of Darkman/Batman Returns hybrid. All of this culminates in a finale as the skeletal guards unfurl their flags and reveal their leader. The brass and wind instruments blare as Elfman adds his final touch - those lovely descending string arpeggios! Altogether, the finale is straight out of Batman Returns' Final Confrontation part 2, and is a deviously triumphant way to end a march of death.
RANGER'S RESULT A stellar theme reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann, with a touch of John Williams, and the sound of Leonard Rosenthal's Lord of the Rings. Yet, this is truly Elfman's theme - and is a direct descendent of both Darkman and Batman Returns. Brooding, triumphant, gothic, and medieval, this is truly one of Elfman's best entries into the dark fantasy realm.
Note: Special consideration must also be granted to Joseph Locuda, who wrote a fantastic score to the film. He combined both swashbuckling adventure and horror motifs quite wonderfully. Ironically, his style is very similar to Elfman's. Hopefully, I'll be hearing more from him someday.
Theme as heard in the Film: * * * *

Review #2 by Ian Davis

What can be added to such a full review? I agree with just about everything Mr Ranger has to say about the music for this truly weird film but would like to add my penny to the pound. Like him I admired both the film (especially the cinematography and skeletons) and Elfman's full integration of music and diegesis (for those less pompous "diegesis" tends to mean the music which the characters in a film might hear).
I have only watched the film and not heard the CD (yet!!) but have a sneaking suspicion that Joseph LoDuca's music for the rest of the film bears more fruit than an Elfman fan would give him credit. Texas (the man, not the State) pleads for Elfman's brief contribution (barely a minute on CD) to be included in a compilation disc of his music, but I would rather buy the Army of Darkness disc if I can get hold of it. The sweeping grandeur of its main Korngold/Horner theme is fantastic and deservedly holds sway over the closing credits prior to the "alternative ending". I have to admit that I have never heard of LoDuca but if there's ever a fully-fledged film composer out there waiting to be discovered, it's him.
It's in films such as this that Elfman gets deliberately and unavoidably pigeonholed: bit-parts in films such as this and Scream 2 and Revenant do not do him or his fellow composer justice, and I always listen to these films wondering just how the other composer would have handled the cue had he had the chance. In Scream 2 the choice of Elfman over Beltrami for "Cassandra's Aria" is bewildering considering the younger composer's talent. In A.O.D. he at least contributes quality music (see Dr Ranger's review) but it is music that has little new to offer over Darkman and various other previous attempts at gothic fantasy.
Elfman's theme as heard in the film: * *
Buy the soundtrack CD if you can and make your own decision.

 

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