Reviews - Article 99

Review #1 by the Groovy Yak

One of the many things that I like about Danny Elfman is his willingness to score different types of films. Some composers confine themselves to only a couple of film genres. Elfman, on the other hand, has scored action, adventure, horror, animation, comedy, children's, and dramatic films among others. Article 99 is dramody (drama with comedy) and it required a score a little different from Elfman's famous macabre style.
Elfman proved that he was equal to the task. The main theme to Article 99 (a bad MASH ripoff) is in a MAJOR key- which was quite unique for an Elfman score at that time (1991). In fact, many of the tracks in Article 99 that feature the main theme sound like they were composed by someone like James Horner. (It's ironic that shortly after this score came out, Horner wrote a score that sounds a little Elfman-ish- Sneakers.) Track 7, Rebellion, in particular, is filled with such a soaring sense of patriotism that it sounds absolutely nothing like Elfman has ever done before.
The score is divided distinctly into two parts. One part is the aforementioned upbeat and patriotic music. Like Elfman's other dramatic scores (Extreme Measures in particular) the piano is featured against sustained strings. There's also an abundance of horn in the score- used much in the same way as in Williams' Saving Private Ryan. Not all of the major-key material is particularly upbeat. Tracks like Death (track 2) or Revelation (track 6) seem restrained with a touch of sentimentality. Nonetheless, this aspect of Article 99 is quite uplifting, and while some parts drag a little, it's interesting to hear Elfman write in this manner.
The second part of the score is much more like the Elfman we know. These sections contain that frantic and madcap Elfman sound that we Elfman fans love. Tracks like Mayday (track 3) sound quite a bit like most of Elfman's future material- Batman Returns and Flubber among many others. I immediately detected characteristics of Mission: Impossible and Men in Black, not to mention previous scores Darkman and Edward Scissorhands. In that sense Article 99 is like a seed that sprouted some of Elfman's most memorable film scores. After hearing many of the aforementioned scores, these sections of Article 99 aren't as enticing as they probably once were.
Nonetheless, Article 99 is a good purchase for those of who are interested in hearing Elfman taking a crack a writing "happy" music. It's very difficult to find and probably will be worth something in the future. If you find it in a store, I suggest you pick it up.
Rating: * * *

Review #2 by Ian Davis

If it wasn't for the fact that this is a Danny Elfman score, the music for Article 99 could be criticized for its incongruously weird style for such subject matter. To be fair to the composer, the film is as much to blame as the music. Its unconvincing sub-M.A.S.H. fusion of gallows humour with (this time) post-'Nam hospital tragedy&heroics leaves Elfman with a mass of contradictions to smooth over. Elfman, however, seems rarely to have been one for compromises (and certainly hadn't been before Batman Returns), and the fragmented result is far from satisfactory in a presumed true-to-life type film.
His early GOOFY STYLE is employed to accompany the comic element (if indeed that was the director's intention)--but as the most successful part of the film score, it does not make entertaining enough listening on disc (eg track 3) to compete out of context with Beetlejeuce. It does, however, lend the film's situations a certain surreal atmosphere and some much-needed kinetic energy.
There are thematic hints of Flubber, a later score which marks a surprising return to goofy Elfman, with the addition of greater experience. How much freshness the style has retained is a matter for discussion (please do!). The piano is employed in this score both in its Flubberish high-tinkling and (eg track 5) in its dark low registers. Track 5 also introduces a MILITARY TONE (snare drums, march rhythms..) in an atmosphere of such doom that the addition of MIB-type bass pizz almost overcomes its jazz/blues connotations. As the tide of good turns in track 7's "Rebellion", however, this tone shifts from war to PATRIOTISM, and at 1'44 the pizz bass suddenly reminds one of Pink Panther (!).
And then of course there's the slushy music... SLUSHY MUSIC?! Yes, if you want to hear Elfman have a mid-period (so far) stab (and I think the word "stab" is appropriate here) at run-of-the-mill oo's and ah's (ie. losing the poeticism of Batman's romance, and the irony of Dick Tracy's) this is one of the few places to look. Thematically he's on surprisingly solid ground, but this music (especially track 9's "Love Theme") often reeks of pastiche in the most unflattering sense of the word. The result is not comfortable Elfman. [Other attempts at pathos and serious empathy have proved astonishingly good: from poignant fairy-tale in Edward Scissorhands to romanticism in Sommersby to teenage introversion in Good Will Hunting--but this is just a decent effort with a few genuinely inspired moments.]
It is the sickly sweet tenderness which overcomes the goofy style by the end of Article 99; it combines with the patriotic theme (how close the word patriotic and patronizing are..) introduced in track 1 to form a somewhat cliched bombastic tearfulness (the kind that Alan Silvestri and James Horner have done many times - and usually with greater success) which peaks in the "End Credits" of track 11.
[Perhaps it is my imagination (and totally irrelevant to this review) that such confident U.S. patriotism music (for the English stiff-upper-lip version see Malcolm Arnold, William Walton and co. of yester year) has been transferred to recent movies such as Independence Day and Deep Impact (David Arnold and James Horner respectively) which add to the impression that world crises are now only a worry/responsibility of Americans. (For example, mention of the English alone took up c1'30 of ID4 and about 0'00.5 at the end of Deep Impact.) Of all movies on this theme and scale it seems only Mars Attacks! had any inkling of the effects of doom elsewhere in the world. Thank heavens for Tim Burton. However, Elfman's music made no discernible attempt to reflect this "innovation". Please correct me if I'm wrong.]
In a breath...
In the past Elfman fans have been somewhat starved of non-fantasy music from their favourite film composer, and Good Will Hunting (with perhaps Black Beauty) still appears to be just another isolated exception to the golden rule. No one should complain: thrillers and fantasy tend to lend themselves to extended tracks of deeply involved music. But perhaps when he scores a few good romantic comedies (is there a brave director out there?) we can all breath a sigh of relief and consign this one under "well done but no war-medal".
Rating: * * (for effort)

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