Review by Ian Davis
In a flourish that shows he can still produce the kind of gung-ho flamboyant fantasy score not heard since the 90's, Elfman produces the ultimate film composer's pot-boiler: a video game theme cue. Where The Simpsons encapsulated his obvious unerring gift for hitting the mark with outrageous visual comedy accompaniment, Fable returns to the gothic soundworld all-but ignored since the hey-day of his post-Batman reputation, with small nods to the more recent Planet of the Apes. There is no need for the composer to consider long-term implications of themes, but merely to run with themperhaps a welcome antidote for the composer after his recent blockbuster marathon. There is no denying that this is a score in the good old Elfman tradition of ignoring trends and expectations in favour of the weird and retroand what could be a greater surprise than returning to pastures old, even to the extent of introducing a main theme which quotes, note-for-note, that of his score for The frighteners back in 1996.
At times there is something of the grim western in this theme's swagger, from the occasional "ta-dum, tadatata-dum" rhythm to the high-strings descant lines, but there is plenty of the minor-mode gloom, classic Elfman string arpeggios (recently re-employed in the Spider-man scores), racous brass, low percussion-and-wind combinations, and a hotch-potch of threads and wefts that weave a spell-binding fabric of music which is perhaps the most recognisably "Elfmanesque" score since Sleepy Hollow.
Now available on CD, the soundtrack to Fable showcases Elfman's theme on the first track. One to add to a wishlist for Music for a Darkened Theater 3, but despite its limitations, it still stands almost as worth the price of a CD. One just wishes this was not necessary.
Russell Shaw's Fable score seems to have been incubated apart from Elfman's theme, although it appears very mindful of his involvement (or at least his affinity with the fantasy genre) since many of the early tracks bring to mind the dreaminess of Edward Scissorhands (including high choir and dance-like rhythms), the gloom of Batman Returns, and even the darkness of Sleepy Hollow. What Shaw's music lacks, though, is Elfman's ability to surprise. Equally, there is more than a hint of Jerry Goldsmith's Omen scores set as precedent here, with some threatening choir, low strings and a touch of the tritone. Gradually, though, the more direct influences seem to be shaken off, and track 7's 'Bowerstone' is a neat Tchaikovskian pizzicato fluff highlight, track 11's 'Greatwood' is suspenseful but lively. It is strange, then, that this disc ends on one of its few flat moments: the 'Fresco Dome' might be a blissful end on the game, but on CD it has no power and ends very disappointingly for such a colourful score.
Elfman's theme as heard in the game: --