The Groovy Yak and Ian Davis Review:
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:
* * *
1. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
2. Batman (8'23")
Up the Cathedral
Descent into Mystery
3. Dick Tracy (3'01")
4. Beetlejuice (3'41")
5. Nightbreed (7'01")
Meat for the Beast
6. Darkman (6'52")
Woe The Darkman, Woe
7. Back to School (1'28")
8. Midnight Run (4'41")
Walsh Gets the Duke
9. Wisdom (4'37")
Change of Life
Close Call in Albuquerque
10. Hot to Trot (2'20")
11. Big Top Pee-Wee (5'23")
Rise 'n Shine
Pee-Wee's Love Theme
12. The Simpsons (1'29")
13. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Jar (3'19")
14. Tales from the Crypt (1'27")
15. Face Like a Frog (2'07")
16. Forbidden Zone (1'14")
17. Scrooged (8'42")
Elliot Gives Blood
Wild Cab Ride
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
½ minute cartoon opener vs. a multi-million dollar smash action/fantasy
film is as great a leap as any composer could make.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Ten - Hot to Trot (1988) * *
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.
extravaganza with a big 80s feel. Enjoyable if you go for that sort of style,
and goes well with the film.
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)
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
- 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.
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
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!
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.
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
Seventeen - Scrooged (1988) * * * * | * * *
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.
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).