Reviews - Extreme Measures

Review #1 by the Groovy Yak

Danny Elfman completed five scores, back to back in 1996. Extreme measures, a lesser-known Elfman score, is different from the rough and intense action scores of Mission: Impossible and The Frighteners, (Well, duh! This movie is a drama.) but contains many elements of those scores.
Starting with Mission: Impossible, Elfman's style went in a new direction. His scores became more MIDI-oriented and much more percussive. Dissonance became as frequent as consonance and the thin textures of scores like Beetlejuice were replaced by scores with multiple musical ideas occurring at once. (A good analogy would be the difference between a conversation with one person as opposed to a group of people talking to you at once.) Extreme Measures is somewhat like an extension of Elfman's score to Dolores Claiborne. We have a soft and mysterious main theme that the score is based on. The theme almost always occurs in the piano. This score is really full of piano- a nice change from Elfman's normal instrumentation. There is, of course, choir and many of Danny's trademark percussion instruments. The score fits the movie like a surgical glove. (Ouch! Bad joke!)
There's an element of mystery surrounding the entire score. The tone of the score only changes a few times, (for some of the action cues) making the soundtrack sound like one or two really slow and long cues. The music isn't particularly boring, but it's not exciting. The score is mostly comprised of small swells as the orchestra moves between a minor triad and its parallel major. If you're just listening to it and doing nothing else, your mind will wander and you'll find that you're probably a few tracks ahead of where you thought you were because the cues all sound alike. There are a few exciting and terrifying moments in this score to contrast the laid back feel.
All in all, the score isn't bad, and I would recommend it because of the soothing main theme. I do have a problem with the length of the soundtrack. It's just a little under 30 minutes long. Some composers have written movements of a symphony that are longer than this score. But if you are interested in a more serious Elfman score, and already own Dolores Claiborne, check out Extreme Measures.
Rating: * * *

Review #2 by Ian Davis

By No Means Extreme Measures
This is an Elfman fan site (obvious fact) and therefore Extreme Measures is hardly likely to be disliked by those who listen to his other soundtracks. However, I cannot recommend this CD to you. It is undoubtedly Elfman through and through but it lacks almost any real originality in the form we expect of him. 1996 may have been a busy year for our favourite film composer but we all get tough years, and Elfman has no excuse for saying "yes" to too many big projects.
The music for Extreme Measures is at least adequate for the film's purpose: it is slick and eerie and scary at appropriate times. However, both in the film and definitely on CD the music cannot help being honest about its self plagiarism. This is a bastardized concoction of Dolores Claiborne and Mission Impossible: it combine the brooding atmosphere (yet not as satisfying) of Dolores with doses of the dissonance, the rhythmic muscularity and instrumentation of both films (very nearly its saving grace in this case). We have the usual chorus, the piano and wild strings (Dolores), percussion (Mission) and various other elements. Thematically it is very weak (there is only one memorable theme, and the major-minor gimmick is not vintage Elfman) and falls back to a great extent on the orchestration and dissonance in an effort to cover for it. But whereas the film survives critically, the CD fails to hold interest--small scale athematic contrasts don't stay interesting; they become jarring and ultimately annoying. Indeed the brevity of the music (under half an hour! What were they thinking of?) is what rescues it from becoming a complete bore. Not all Elfman's ingredients are mixed into this cake, and the result is bland and overbaked (and there is little icing to be found). It's all mood and no substance; it has nothing that could surprise anyone who is familiar with Dolores or Mission; and it is all done with a great deal less flair.
To the Elfman fan I would say "what the heck, give it a listen for experience sake" but don't shell out good money: wait for the sales or get it from a library. One listening is almost more than it deserves.

Extreme Measures: An Alternative Argument.
This film soundtrack is an expert assimilation of Dolores and Mission, not limited to their orchestration, but plundering their respective melancholy and sweaty tension, and deliberately refusing to fuse the "melodic vs rhythmic" characters which each is most notable for. The result is a genuinely disturbing case of schizophrenia (in a less obvious way from that described in the official page To Die For review).
Extreme Measures is very brief but this kind of "extreme" music is not likely to be accommodating to prolonged playing without the visuals and plot for which it was written. In this respect it could be seen as a departure--as most Elfman music tends to transfer well onto disc--but in reality there are other works which could be said to follow similar paths (although with less reasonable excuses): Dead Presidents and Men in Black contain title music which is arguably the only part of the score which merits transfer (of music to CD, and our money to the retailer), and if Extreme Measures is rendered somewhat redundant in competition with Dolores for example, it still serves as a reminder that good film music (however well edited) should not rise too far above the pretensions of its medium's often restrictive requirements.
One thing which Elfman's music has benefited from greatly is the collaboration with Tim Burton. Burton's films (usually visually driven) somehow lend themselves perfectly to soundtracks which are almost as satisfying when unshackled from the film (and the recent Mars Attacks! proves he can still do it--if anything better than in its earlier closest relation, Beetlejeuce). In writing for other directors and other projects, Elfman has simply adapted to new requirements, and the style of the music in some cases (such as, yet again, Dolores and Mission) has benefited and matured. The drawbacks in approachability, especially in this reviewed soundtrack, are, I'm afraid, some inevitable side-effects of such a strong medicine.
Rating: * *

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