Music For A Darkened Theatre Volume
I is quite simply, the best CD I own. Crammed into its 74 minute running
time is Elfman's genius and magic, and this release features music from
his best works. While I am still a fan of his work past 1990, I still
feel he was at his peak when scoring Tim Burton films and other films
with his traditional and original style. Elfman still remains one of the
most original and daring composers in the history of film, and is also
one of the most copied. Elfman got me hooked on film music with two of
his scores (Pee Wee and Beetlejuice) and this compilation is heaven
for any Elfman fan, as there is not a bad track at all.
The CD gets off to a brilliant start by
going back to Elfman's first real movie score - Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
This music is a joy to listen to, and Elfman obviously still looks back
fondly at this score. Elfman really made this film come alive with his
original and infectious score. The track "Breakfast Machine" is
absolutely amazing, it combines the Pee Wee theme with crazy orchestration
and makes for great listening. The thing I most love about the Pee Wee
music is that it is so creative and different. One of the best aspects
of the score is that while most of it is happy and light music, there
are still many dark moments which pop up here and there, shown in this
compilation with the track "Clown Dream". Elfman shows here what
an expert he is at combining the light and the dark, often at the same
time in his scores. This track is far too short, as the Pee Wee music
is addictive to listen to, but it gives you a good idea of what the score
is like overall.
The next track is music for the original
Batman. While most Elfman fans cannot speak highly of this score,
I feel that Elfman has done much better than this. While the "Main
Titles" are perfect, some of the other moments in Batman left
me cold and I don't rank this as highly as say, Edward Scissorhands
or Flubber. Elfman chose a good range of tracks to include on the
album. The Main Titles were a must, as they are easily Elfman's
second most recognizable piece of music (The Simpsons theme is
the first). The second cue "Up The Cathedral" is good, but I would
have preferred "Waltz To The Death" which is pure Elfman brilliance.
The third cue "Descent Into Mystery" is superb however. The voices
build up gradually with the music to create the most powerful moment in
the film, thanks to the music. The Batman track at 8:23 is a little
too long, but most Elfman fans can't get enough Batman music, so
it won't upset many people. I still think Elfman's score for Batman
Returns was a lot more effective. Still, I acknowledge how much this
means to most Elfman fans and how important this score was to Elfman's
career as a composer.
Dick Tracy is one of Elfman's weakest
efforts. There are two good tracks on the original release of Dick
Tracy. One is the "Main Titles" cue, the other is the old fashioned
"Crime Spree". The "Main Titles" cue is changed and is so
slow on this compilation, and "Crime Spree" isn't even used. I
think the main problem with this score was that Elfman was unsure about
how to score this film. At some points it sounds like his typical Batman/Darkman
score, at others it is old fashioned and romantic. This leads to the score
sounding disjointed and messy. There are just too many different styles
to this score to make it cohesive, but as far as the "Main Titles"
cue goes, it is slow and unmemorable. This is one of the weakest tracks
on the album.
Putting Dick Tracy next to Beetlejuice
means that you can listen to one of Elfman's poorest themes and his absolute
best theme. I would go as far to say that the Beetlejuice theme
is my favorite piece of music ever. Never have I been so hooked on a piece
of music. I could listen to this theme again and again. This theme is
what got me hooked on film music forever. I remember walking out of the
theatre after seeing Beetlejuice, and just amazed at the effect
the music had on me. I'd seen films before with brilliant music (Star
Wars, E.T) and never been effected like this. For some reason this
theme connected with me, so I am very biassed towards this track. I doubt
Elfman will ever write a piece of music that will top this. This track
moved me and made me appreciate film music more than anything in Batman
did, however the rest of the score to Beetlejuice could never live
up to the quality of the "Main Titles" and it doesn't. The track
"Laughs" from the original release is excellent, but doesn't make
it onto this release. The Beetlejuice track however gives us the
two main themes (the secondary theme is also excellent) and gives us a
chance to hear Elfman at his very best.
Next comes one of Elfman's underrated classics,
for a film which was also underrated. Nightbreed was an excellent
film, and the score fits it perfectly. The score as a whole is heavily
influenced by Batman, but you can't really tell from the tracks
chosen for the compilation. The "Main Titles" start very ominously,
but then the mood lightens and the main theme appears. It is odd for a
horror film to have such a romantic main theme, but somehow it works.
There are still traces of the darkness in the main theme that Elfman has
made his trademark, but that's all they are traces, the main theme keeps
a solid theme all the way through. My favorite tracks on the original
release were "Dream" and "Into Midian" which are typical
Elfman tracks, whereas the compilation focuses on the Main and End
Titles, with the track "Meat For The Beast" breaking up the
two. The "End Titles" are excellent with Elfman's choir making
an appearance, and as always the choir is amazingly effective. If you
listen closely to the "End Titles" cue, you can hear traces of
the theme for Mars Attacks!, which came six years later. All in
all, a very solid effort from Elfman, but for the compilation I would
have preferred a few darker tracks to be included.
Darkman is still one of my favorite
Elfman scores, but like Nightbreed this track chooses to include
slower, more dramatic cues. The track "Woe...The Darkman...Woe"
is excellent, but the album really starts cooking whenever a track like
"Rage/Peppy Science" and "High Steel" appears. This music
is as intense and fast paced as any I have ever heard by any composer
ever, and they are absolutely riveting listening. Darkman makes
scores like Batman look slow by comparison, but the track "Woe...The
Darkman...Woe" doesn't really show it. Darkman is another of
Elfman's scores which is heavily influenced by the success of Batman.
The "Main Titles" are effectively dark and brooding, but this is
one Elfman score where the title theme is not as memorable as the other
cues he wrote for the rest of the film.
Finally a score to lighten up things a bit,
as Back To School appears at the right time. This score is really
good, although I would have liked the "Main Titles" to appear,
as they are excellent and extremely catchy. The "Study Montage"
cue is probably the second best track on the album, and it gives a good
rendition of the theme. I think the score was of a good enough quality
to include both of these tracks on this compilation.
Midnight Run still sticks out as
something of an oddity. It is like nothing else Elfman has ever written
(it has a bit in common with Wisdom, but not much) and sounds a
bit like some of the music he used to produce with Oingo Boingo. The guitar
and instrumentation used are unique, and while this will never be remembered
as one of the great Elfman scores, it is still interesting to listen to.
My favorite track again was left out - "In The Next Life" which
has a tender rendition of the main theme. However, this track makes for
great listening to remind us how diverse Elfman is.
Next is Wisdom, which most people
don't like. I would say that my least favorite Elfman score is Dick
Tracy, and I would rank Wisdom above it simply because the music is
offbeat and different. This score may not be thematically interesting
or innovative, but the primitive feel that Elfman tries to bring to the
score is interesting to listen to. This music sounds a bit like Elfman's
work on Midnight Run, and while Wisdom won't be remembered
as one of Elfman's greats, it is still a good score. The two cues chosen
for the compilation "Change Of Life" and "Close Call In Alberqueque"
are extremely complex and while they sound interesting and different,
they are not exactly made for the most entertaining listening.
The next track Hot To Trot has a
good main theme, but when compared to Elfman's other work, it seems pretty
lightweight. The theme sounds a lot like Elfman's Pure Luck, but
isn't quite as memorable. The second cue on this track "Wandering Don"
is instantly forgettable, and makes one wish that they could have dropped
this in favor of the Back To School "Main Titles" cue which is
a much better example of Elfman's comic scoring.
More Pee Wee music is next, this time for
the awful Big Top Pee Wee, which while Elfman composed again, Burton
didn't direct. The music is fairly average compared to the brilliance
that is the first Pee Wee score. The circus setting means that most of
the music is inspired by circus music and this becomes a bit hard to listen
to after a while (especially in the "Main Titles" cue). The cues
in this track that are the most enjoyable are the ones which resemble
the first film. "Rise 'n Shine" is excellent, but "Pee Wee's
Love Theme" isn't really anything special. This track is ok, but the
original Pee Wee music was infinitely better.
Next comes Elfman's second best theme ever
- The Simpsons. This is easily his most familiar theme among the
general public and deserves to be. His homages to the great animated themes
of the past are easily recognizable and fun to listen to. Elfman himself
stated that he wanted this theme to be a mix of the themes to the Flintstones
and the Jetsons, and you can pick up traces of each theme in the
Simpsons theme. The music sounds even better on CD than it does
on TV, and this is definitely one track that you could listen to all day
and not get sick of.
Next is music that I didn't even know existed
until I got this CD, music for the TV Show Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
I still haven't seen the episode in question that Elfman scored and Burton
directed, titled The Jar, so I don't really know what context this
music is used in the episode. The music on its own isn't brilliant, but
pretty good. It was written in 1986 and shares a few similarities with
Wisdom, in that it sounds vaguely similar, which was composed the
same year. There are however, a few touches of brilliance that could only
have been composed by Elfman, and they occur towards the end, with the
music building up towards a good crescendo before ending. I would still
like to see the episode before making a final call on this track.
More successful TV scoring is next as the
Tales From The Crypt theme makes an appearance. Absolutely brilliant
scoring and a very memorable theme is all I can say about this. When I
first heard this theme years before I got the CD or had ever seen the
program, I identified this as being Elfman music, it just sounds so much
like his trademark style and is a perfect theme for the tone of the show,
not exactly a straight horror theme, but at the same time, it isn't entirely
comic. This theme deserves to more widely heard, as it is an excellent
TV show theme in these times where most themes are old songs and not really
themes at all.
Face Like A Frog is next, another
track I had no idea existed before getting the CD. It's weird and certainly
different. You can tell that Elfman must have had fun composing this.
It kind of reminds me of Elfman's work on Freeway, it doesn't exactly
sound like it, but both scores are crazy and have no real structure, they're
just noise, and while most people would hate this, Elfman fans mostly
embrace this odd style of scoring. Face Like A Frog also has small
traces of a few notes from the Simpsons theme here and there, and
is enjoyable to listen to and own, as it is a rare Elfman piece.
Forbidden Zone is a film I have never
seen, but I am told it is quite strange. The music here - "Love Theme"
sounds like a typical love theme and not like Elfman at all. I would have
liked a track which would have typified the film better and maybe a bit
more music, as the cue only goes for just over a minute. However, it's
always enjoyable to hear some of Elfman's early work.
Saving the best (are rarest) for last, Scrooged
closes off the album. I was always disappointed that there was not album
available for the score but there was only 21 minutes of score in the
film. It always seemed like there was more as the music was so memorable
in the film. This track has eight different cues from the film and covers
all the important scenes in the film. The "Main Titles" cue has
always been one of my favorite Elfman pieces, with a driving main theme,
and other cues like "Wild Cab Ride" are pure Elfman. The track
finishes off on an excellent note with three brilliant cues "Luncheonette",
"Asylum" and "Crematorium" which are used to score the dramatic scenes
with the Ghost of Christmas Future. A lot has been said about the tone
of this music and how it didn't really match the tone of the film, and
how the tone of the film shifted late in production. However, I think
that the music fits perfectly into the film, and works very much the way
Elfman's score for To Die For worked, in that it is comic and serious,
often at the same time which is a very difficult thing to achieve. Perhaps
there could have been a bit more lighter music in Scrooged, but
as it stands it is still a brilliant score to a very underrated film.
Once again, this CD is absolutely a must
have for even the most casual Elfman fan and the die-hards like me should
buy at least two copies (in case one is damaged, you'll have a back up
ready to go). This album is a bit more impressive than the second compilation
from Elfman, only because the music here is a lot better. I still wish
this compilation could have been stretched over two CD's, but as it stands
it is one of the best listening experiences I have ever had. With this
compilation, Elfman reminds us time and time again why he is still the
most impressive and creative composed working today.
Rating: * * * *