Reviews - Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Review by Bluntinstrument

One word that best describes Elfman's score to Hellboy 2 is "difficult". The composer was brought in to add some fantasy (and perhaps some comedy) to the audio mix in preference to Marco Beltrami's darker, brittler Hellboy score. The one thing director Guillermo Del Torro got was his money's worth. In much the same way as he handled sci-fi for Men In Black, Elfman throws everything he has at Hellboy, attempting to match every nuance and glimpse of the fantastic just as he followed Will Smith's journey through a madcap America of aliens and gadgetry. By taking the path of mirroring and enhancing the action and drama on-screen so closely, he falls into the trap of presenting a score whose themes fail to rise above the sea of sonic invention, rhythmic gear-changing, stylistic nods, etc. The film easily survives this simply by being strong enough not to need tent-polling tunes, but on disc Elfman's music assails you with overwhelming extravagance, varying beauty, the grotesque (think Nightbreed), occasional excitement and touches of humour, without binding it properly to its thematic touchstones or even blowing you away with the kind of spectacle that ended MiB. There are themes, but they just seem to have got submerged in the lavish cathedral of sound.
That said, taken piecemeal, Elfman is still in top form, and it is interesting how little this score resembles that of Wanted, which it succeeds. Wanted relies far more on its themes, and its sense of rhythmic momentum - as much down to the smooth on-screen action as its hurried composition (Elfman even wrote some cues sans action for the director to add in at his leisure) carries it farther on disc, even though its textural leanness in places is less typical of recent action scoring. Hellboy II is the opposite: a melting pot, a cauldron of ideas exploding onto the canvass, not lurid enough to gasp at, but freakish enough to admire as yet another unbelievable flawed masterpiece.
Score rating: * * *
CD release rating: * *
Warning: the second half of the final track might be clever but feels utterly out of place and ruins the disc. When will the people who make these discs realise there is no such thing as a "bonus track", just a spell-breaker.
There are plenty of incidental and character themes in this score which could be teased out. I present here just a few recurring motifs of interest. Ex1-4 are developed, extended, and combined with other themes in varying orchestration. In recent years Elfman's motivic technique has increased in range and subtlety, perhaps focussed over the years with somewhat less-assuming projects - Dolores Claiborne, A Simple Plan and Serenada Schizophrana perhaps.
Ex.1 This theme is developed and extended considerably thought the score until on track 20 where is transfigured into a full-blooded melody.
Ex.2 This is an interesting little chugging motif which is used best as an accompaniment, but as with much Elfman, the texture so often has its own character and is important to his style.
Ex.3 Hellboy's theme?
Ex.4 As heard in track 9. 'Father and son'. Often combined with or adjacent to Ex.1.
Ex.5 A beautiful melody from track 13 (reprised in tracks 16 and 18). I have presnted it here with simple chord harmonies.

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