Reviews - Dick Tracy

Review #1 by the Groovy Yak

Riding on the success of his score to the 1989 summer blockbuster, Batman, Elfman scored the 1990 summer blockbuster, Dick Tracy. Dick Tracy is, overall, a nice effort by Elfman. However, it, along with his score to Darkman, have a weakness. They sound too much like Batman. (Darkman moreso than Dick Tracy) In the liner notes to Music for a Darkened Theater Volume 1, Elfman acknowledges that the score is based on the works of George Gershwin. I can definitely hear the influences of Gershwin's An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue in this score. The main title is very Gershwin-esque. Elfman also borrows from Mr. Benny Goodman in the track- Crime Spree. This is the highlight of the score. It's a fun swing cue with lots of great clarinet, piano, brass, and percussion playing (I love the timpani in this cue). It doesn't sound like anything that Elfman has ever written and it made me wonder if there is any type of music that Elfman CAN'T write!? But, I'm sorry to say, the fun stops there.
While the score works well with the movie, (Elfman really tries to breathe life into Beatty's stiff portrayal of Tracy) it is not particularly interesting on its own. Elfman does a good job of incorporating the main theme into many of the action cues. The strict march feel of the theme is exciting when it appears, but for the most part, and I really hate saying this about Danny Elfman's music, the score is boring. All of the themes are nice and well-composed, particularly Breathless' theme. Also, tracks 14 and 15 are slightly less boring than the rest of the score, but it's difficult not to think of Batman when you hear this music. Overall, this isn't a bad Elfman score, (there are few, if any of those) it's just not anything special.
Rating: * *

Review #2 by Ian Davis

Film swathed in primary colors with Batman-esque gangster-villains and cool soft-speaking hero seeks composer with fresh talent and recent international success in film music scoring. Cue Danny Elfman and a score which for the most part manages to remind one of his thunderous Batman score without actually being derivative in any fundamental sense: Dick Tracy's music is brighter, more clear in texture (more obviously homophonic). Elfman keeps the brass/snare drum military sound for overall heroics, but relieves it for a string-dominated glossy Breathless Mahoney (love?) theme.
I confess this score has taken some time for me to come to terms with. Its main weakness is that when incorporated into the movie all one can hear (and see?) are the above-mentioned Batman-esque influences. This does the music great discredit (and Elfman's reputation at the time could well have benefited from tackling a very different movie first-but that's Hollywood for you) because in my view Dick Tracy managed to be a very distinctive score both in thematicism and over-all texture. In terms of Elfman's growth as a film composer the technical film-to-music side stands some way between Batman and its sequel. Not quite as block-cued stylistically as the former, it comes nowhere near the intricately executed leit motif experiment of the latter.
It is on CD where the music breathes most life. It shows itself to be not as derivative as one might first suspect; and for me it helped that my recording is on tape rather than CD-I was able to listen to it as a much more continuous motion, rather than as a collection of separated cues. This is against the rules for film music in its traditional sense (the joining of disparate cues in a less fragmented listening comes closer to the idea of a John Williams-type suite than to that of the film genre) but it works for me, and it should work for the growing audience for film music heard as a distinct semiautonomous entity. The soundtrack is only a halfway house, linking partially bearable sound-only (success varies GREATLY!) to the visuals, script, plot etc. of film. The soundtrack's maturation from the next best thing to watching the film (before the advent of video and countless Bank Holiday repeats) to souvenir to a potentially explosive aural(/visual) and academic conundrum is what makes it such a fresh medium to begin with. Try listening to all post-Batman Elfman in this light and there will always be something new to get your teeth round.
My starring agrees with Tim's but for different reasons: it is a decent and individual score in its own way; its only real pitfall is that Elfman has done so much more with film scores since, and I must place my judgment in context of 1999 rather than 1989.
Rating: * *

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