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The Groovy Yak and Ian Davis Review:

Danny Elfman's
Music For a Darkened Theater
Film and Television Music Volume One

Label: MCA Soundtracks (MCAD-10065)
Music Composed by: Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek
Album Produced by Richard Kraft and Bob Badami
Executive Producers: Kathy Nelson
Special Guest Producer: Steve Bartek
Second Assistant Producer to the Producer: Danny Elfman
The Groovy Yak's Rating for this Compilation Album: * * *

Track Listing

1. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (6'59")
Overture
Breakfast Machine
Clown Dream
Drive-In
2. Batman (8'23")
Batman Theme
Up the Cathedral
Descent into Mystery
3. Dick Tracy (3'01")
Main Titles
4. Beetlejuice (3'41")
Main Titles
End Titles
5. Nightbreed (7'01")
Main Titles
Meat for the Beast
End Titles
6. Darkman (6'52")
Main Titles
Woe The Darkman, Woe
7. Back to School (1'28")
Study Montage
8. Midnight Run (4'41")
Walsh Gets the Duke
Main Titles
Diner Blues
9. Wisdom (4'37")
Change of Life
Close Call in Albuquerque
10. Hot to Trot (2'20")
Main Titles
Wandering Don
11. Big Top Pee-Wee (5'23")
Main Titles
Rise 'n Shine
Pee-Wee's Love Theme
12. The Simpsons (1'29")
Theme
13. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Jar (3'19")
Suite
14. Tales from the Crypt (1'27")
Theme
15. Face Like a Frog (2'07")
Suite
16. Forbidden Zone (1'14")
Love Theme
17. Scrooged (8'42")
Main Titles
Show Time
At IBC
Elliot Gives Blood
Walter Ablaze
Wild Cab Ride
Luncheonette
Asylum
Crematorium

Reviews

ORANGE = Groovy Yak
GREY = Ian Davis
Words fail me when I try to think of a way to describe Elfman's early years as a film composer. Sure, the words "zany," "creepy," and "wild" come to mind. There's a lot more to Elfman's music than that, though. It's some of the most wild and bombastic music that I've ever heard. It's also some of the most beautiful music that I've ever heard. Danny Elfman's music is innovative. It's music created by a thinker and not a money-maker.
The world of Danny Elfman is like being trapped inside a Dr. Seuss book. The world looks familiar, but nothing seems quite normal. Instead of the standard orchestra of a John Williams score, in Elfman's world we get bongos, accordians, and la-la choirs. It's in these early years where Elfman had pure fun with composing and let his mind go free.
Elfman's first five years as a film composer are magical. I know that sounds a little corny but it's true. Music for a Darkened Theater Volume One captures that magic. It's not as great as Volume Two. Volume One combines each score into one track which is a little annoying if you only want to hear part of a score represented. It also contains only about half of the music that Volume Two contains. However, if you have a budding interest in the music of Danny Elfman. There is no other CD that I would recommend more than this one.
Rating: * * *
This disc provides ample opportunity for the casual listener to sample much of Elfman's best-and not so great-work from 1980-90. Each track is either a film/TV programme's opening titles or a brief suite.
Rather than playing in chronological order these tracks are mixed up. Why? Presumably so that an audience-friendly opener such as Pee Wee's Big Adventure can be used rather than the somewhat down-beat Forbidden Zone entry.
The downside to this is that for some reason the "meaty" scores (Batman, Dick Tracy, Beetlejuice, Nightbreed and Darkman) are bunched together, while the more varied tracks languish in their own ghetto. Which is a pity because although it may pander to the Elfman enthusiast who owns soundtracks for Batman et al and has really bought this CD for the curiosities, it makes a less satisfying experience for the virgin. If the tracks were ordered chronologically Elfman's general progress from synths to massive orchestras and his accumulation of thematic skill would be far more apparent, as would his ability to cope with large and small-scale projects of varied content. Imagine for example contrasting the two tracks of 1989: Batman and The Simpsons: 1 minute cartoon opener vs. a multi-million dollar smash action/fantasy film is as great a leap as any composer could make.
VERDICT: Clearly a must-have for all. Its variety alone is enough for me to recommend it to Elfman fans and newcomers alike, because it balances the trusty crowd-pullers with the more obscure. I would certainly recommend this to the Elfman fan more than its successor, which contains a lot more music from successful films (a symptom of Elfman's flourishing career) which is obtainable in more complete form on separate CD releases.
Rating: * * * 1/2

Track by Track Analysis

Below are track by track details of the album. It's basically a gauge to let you know how well the score is represented on the album. The rating is my rating for score. There's also a few realaudio clips to enjoy.
Track One - Peewee's Big Adventure (1985) * * * *
Peewee is nicely represented on this album. The most memorable cues are contained. If you enjoyed these first couple of tracks, you should probably consider buying the Peewee's Big Adventure/Back to School soundtrack- as you'll enjoy the Hitchhike and Studio Chase cues which aren't on the compilation.
My personal opinion is that the Big Adventure suite is more exuberant and fun than the Big Top Pee-Wee Suite (Track 11), but some may be swayed by Big Top for its imaginative use of orchestra with synths and accordion, together with its great over-blown ending.
Track Two - Batman (1989) * * * *
Again, my three favorite Batman cues are on the compilation. The three Batman tracks are great. "Descent into Mystery" is still Danny's greatest achievement in the world of film scoring. However, to really enjoy Elfman's work on Batman, you need to own the soundtrack. The Joker's music and love theme are left off- (Not to mention all of the fantastic action cues.)
This in fact is a decent representation of Elfman's score: dark and impenetrable. A miracle that it became classed as an accessible and popular work. The track choices here neglect the lighter side of the score, which was at best limited in a film dominated by concerns over show-casing Prince's album. Shameless marketing which led to the score's one weakness on CD: lack of sufficient contrast. The film, after all, is not all as dark as first impressions may suggest.
Track Three - Dick Tracy (1990) * *
This is definitely not one of my favorite Elfman scores, and judging from Elfman's quote, it's wasn't one of his favorite working experiences either. Besides the stellar "Crime Spree," which isn't included on MFADT1, the Main Titles is all you really need to hear from this dud.
Quite the opposite is the case here: a score which could at the time have been criticised as too close in mood and style to Batman (mainly due to the overbearing style and content of the film), Elfman invested a lot more than a rumbustuous theme. He gave a gloriously over-baked romantic theme which takes centre-stage here.
Track Four - Beetlejuice (1988) * * *
While Beetlejuice has a wonderful Main Title and End Title, everything in-between the two doesn't quite measure up. "The Fly" and "The Incantation" are good, but I think it was a smart decision by Elfman to include only the Main and End Titles.
One score which does rather well in a shortened version. Worth getting the "full" score, though, if only for the positively Groovy "The Fly".
Track Five - Nightbreed(1990) * * *
Once again, Elfman has picked the very finest parts of the score and included them on the album. The three cues segue nicely, almost as if it was an arranged suite of the themes. If you liked what you heard, there's plenty more on the soundtrack, including the track "Mayhem in Midian" - vintage Elfman!
I've only watched the film for this one, so couldn't tell whether anything of any real significance is missing from the selection, but from the ingredients here the effect is pretty complete. A beautifully made, often deeply tragic score for all the film's gruesome cruelty to its characters and audience, we are also provided with its flip side: the nightmarish "Meat for the Beast". The style here comes close to Batman Returns in terms of orchestral sophistication, but develops more of Elfman's "goof/grunge" character as exhibited in scores such as Nightmare Before Christmas.
Track Six - Darkman (1990) * * *
This is the first score on the compilation that I believe ISN'T well represented. From only hearing MFADT1, you'd think that Darkman is one long, sad movie with a very somber and lethargic main theme. This is simply not true. Darkman is a wild, roller-coaster-ride-of-a-score. Tracks like Rage/Peppy Science and Carnival from Hell are some of Elfman's most wild and zany cues ever. To balance that all out is the gorgeous love theme. Read my review. Listen to the sound clips. Then find the album!
I might have criticised this score, like the film, for being too much of a rip-off of Batman if it were not for the slower pace and more overtly tragic content. Still, it doesn't compare favourably with its illustrious predecessor or with it's masterful contempory, Nightbreed. Not a complete representation of the full score, but I wouldn't prioritise it for that kind of purchase.
Track Seven - Back to School(1986) * * *
The Study Montage is one of the best cues in the Back to School score and it's definitely the most popular. Missing from the compilation, though, is some of the fun marching-band-like cues and the over-the-top Triple Lindy cue.
Elfman hits the spot with his notes on this one: "Silly piece of music but I'm still fond of it." Filled with Eighties exuberance, it's cheap and cheerful fun, a nice antidote to the gothic overload of preceding tracks. And that alone makes it a nice addition to the compilation. It's well worth trying the "full" score if this tickles your fancy.
Track Eight - Midnight Run (1988) * * *
Midnight Run is a nice change of pace for the album. After hearing about 36 minutes of orchestral music, we get to hear a score with more of a Oingo Boingo-meets-Country/Western sound. This is a welcome change to the casual Elfman fan, while some who don't like a very 80's pop sound in their film music might want to skip this section. The better cues are on the album. Like with Nightbreed, the soundtrack contains a lot more of the same thing.
After getting used to the instrumentation, there's little real indication of any real originality in this score, any hint that Elfman could adapt his writing style to the needs of his embryonic film career. Thankfully his collaborations with Burton gave him a wider set of options than this instantly forgettable film.
Track Nine - Wisdom (1988) *
My least favorite Elfman score only surfaces for a few minutes on the album and it's still pretty painful to listen to. If you like hearing really dated electronic sounds that make even Jerry Goldsmith cringe, this score is for you. There's even more coming on this compilation...
Oh dear, Elfman brought the 80s bug in with him on this one. Guitars, synths, percussion sounds only. Rhythmically interesting, and perhaps a forerunner of Mission Impossible in embryo, but goes nowhere at all. Tim advises me not to buy the soundtrack unless I am intending to start an Elfman library.
Track Ten - Hot to Trot (1988) * *
Clip One - Main Titles
This score is similar to Midnight Run. While Midnight Run has a more energetic cross-country-car-chase feel, Hot to Trot has more of a steamy, humid, Louisiana feel. This could be attributed to the inclusion of accordians in the score. Hot to Trot is a fun little number on the compilation, while I hear that the movie itself isn't all that hot.
An accordion extravaganza with a big 80s feel. Enjoyable if you go for that sort of style, and goes well with the film.
Track Eleven - Big Top Peewee (1988) * *

While the sequel isn't even 1/100 as good as its predecessor, Danny's score is still decent. Most of the good tracks are included, although my favorite, Elephant Ride, isn't. Still, it may be wise to stick with the compilation until someone can release the entire score without the annoying dialogue at the beginning of each track.

(See Pee-Wee's Big Adventure)
Track Twelve - The Simpson's Theme (1989) * * * *
Track Fourteen - Tales from the Crypt Theme (1989) * * * *
Clip One - The Simpsons Theme
Clip Two - Tales from the Crypt Theme
Now for the television part of the soundtrack. The compilation is worth its price just to hear these wonderful themes that turned Elfman into a household name.
(On Tales from the Crypt Theme) One which helped type-cast Elfman in the role of spooky/goofy along with its big screen antecedents such as the Pee Wee films and its darker descendants Scrooged (note some thematic similarities) and Beetlejuice. Good quality for TV, but (sorry Mr Yak) not a patch on The Simpsons.
Read the Groovy Yak's and Ian's Reviews of these themes at the Elfman on the Small Screen section
Track Thirteen - Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Jar (1986) * *
Clip One - Suite
This track comes between The Simpsons and Tales from the Crypt. It's nice and creepy, but still pretty bland. It's not nearly as good as Tales from the Crypt.
Does its job well: i.e. shiver-making. Despite what he says in the sleeve notes Elfman was seriously handicapped by the smaller number of musicians.
Track Fifteen - Face Like a Frog (1987) * * 1/2 | * * * *
While it is unbelievably bizarre, this little piece of music is actually kind of fun. It's completely synthesized and very much like listening to the soundtrack of a Saturday morning cartoon. I still enjoyed it. It's interesting to see how far Elfman's creativity can go.
This is my favourite track. It starts off sounding like a rather pathetic synth ditty but gets more and more crazy as it goes. Very original, very fun, very not-Batman!
Track Sixteen - Forbidden Zone (1980) * *
The love theme is the only part of this score that we get to hear and that's really misleading. It's a nice little piano piece that has a somewhat unsettling mood to it. However, the rest of Forbidden Zone is wild and weird. The album is almost unlisteneable to anyone who isn't a fan of the movie or Oingo Boingo. The Forbidden Zone theme (which plays as the main theme for the new Dilbert cartoon) would've been nice to add to the compilation, but other than that, this is a score that the casual Elfman fan should pass-up.
A graceful Satie pastiche. Nice idea, nothing more, nothing less. Even the strange major/minor clash ending is stylistically accurate of the old weirdo. Note that this is NOT a faithful representation of the rest of the score Mr Boigo returns with a vengeance).
Track Seventeen - Scrooged (1988) * * * * | * * *
Clip One - Main Titles
Clip Two - Crematorium
This score is the main reason to buy this album. It wasn't used too well in the movie and it didn't even get a score album of its own. It is, however, one of Elfman's better achievements. It adds the macabre of Tales from the Crypt and Beetlejuice with the wintery music of Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns. All eight minutes of the score are a delight. At some points it's zany Elfman music, and at other points it's creepy horror music. The final minute is a spectacular end to the score and the compilation album.
Every Elfman fan has heard the tales about this one: that the film benefited (?) from a massive face-lift from darkly humorous to feel-good star-vehicle, and that they forgot to tell the composer. Well, thank heavens they did, because this is a very good score, both witty and eerie. The opening hits us with nasty "la-la" children's voices (mood approximating The Frighteners), going on to the comic central section (lots of its contemporary Beetlejuice here) and finishing off (in "Crematorium") with an alla breve return of the main theme whose effect is comparable with that at the end of Men In Black (pre-credits).

Read Fan Reviews for Music for a Darkened Theater Volume One
Read the Groovy Yak's Music for Darkened Theater Volume Two Commentary