Reviews - Proof of Life

Review by the Groovy Yak

It seems fitting that the film Danny Elfman scored after a year-long hiatus is called Proof of Life since his score to the film proves that Danny is back and his music is full of life and energy. Not hearing a peep out of our favorite composer this past year has made his fans and film score and cinema aficionados enthusiastically crave a new score from his pen. And like with Sleepy Hollow last year, he’s delivered a wonderful mix of a touch of "old Elfman" with a very generous heaping of "new Elfman".
With Proof of Life, Elfman got to work with director Taylor Hackford again. (They previously collaborated on Dolores Claiborne.) The movie is a slightly lukewarm thriller that looks into the business of hostage negotiation. It’s a shame that the film itself was dwarfed by the public’s interest in the stars’ (Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe) off-set relationship. Nonetheless, the movie itself gave Elfman a chance to write some very effective action/thriller music with his robust compositional voice.
Like with just about everything else he’s done over the past few years, the score is a mix of many different types of instruments and styles. There’s a standard string orchestra with brass and woodwinds, piano for the tender moments, and a large array of electronics (mostly lots of droning and oscillating tones that I’ve never heard in an Elfman score before.) Also, since the movie takes place in South America, there’s lots of acoustic guitar, ethnic flutes, and most distinctively, the frame drum. This, I believe, is also a first for an Elfman score. The frame drum can produce a very pointed percussive sound (achieved by snapping one’s fingers on the head of the drum) and adds a lot of color to the score.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, there is a theme- and as with Sleepy Hollow it's the only theme in the entire score. It’s just a six note motif that can be heard in the opening seconds of the score. It’s nothing memorable but it serves its purpose as being musical glue to keep the score together.
The majority of Proof of Life is layered, complex, and yet oddly focused (for an Elfman score, that is) action music. It’s not nearly as choppy and schizophrenic as Instinct. The percussion is rough and tough and the clusters of orchestral sound can be violent (it should be noted that there’s nothing as shrill and dissonant as the action music in Mars Attacks! although sections do come pretty close). The end result is a frantic bundle of excitement that should thrill all true Elfman fans, but probably disappoint those expecting something a bit more tonal and traditional. (Who in their right mind would expect that, though?) The action highlights of the score are definitely the six minute “Main Titles” track and track 8, “The Rescue.” “The Finale” is not quite a grand as Elfman’s “Grand Finales” but it still is quite pleasing and does a nice job of wrapping up the score even if it does end somewhat abruptly. Still, the duet between the guitar and flute around (3:05) is quite nice and serene even if it’s nothing as awe-inspiring as Edward Scissorhands or Men In Black.
To balance out all of the raucous action music are a few very tender moments in the score with some nice piano passages and Claiborne-esque string chords and progressions. (Danny even quotes Dolores in the finale) Tracks like “Alice Breaks Down” and “The Miscarriage” are a nice break from the drumming and electronics. However, it doesn’t take long for the action to start back up again.
Proof of Life is clearly a Danny Elfman score. Fans of his scores to Mission: Impossible, Instinct, Dead Presidents, and Dolores Claiborne should be very happy. There’s no one else on this planet that writes music like this. The only major drawback to this album is the fact that it is only thirty minutes long. This was to be expected since this is a Varese Sarabande release. Also, as with many Varese Sarabande scores, the packaging is quite skimpy. It’s the music that counts, though, and if you’re like me and have been hungering for some new Elfman, Proof of Life isn’t a full course meal, but it’s definitely more than just a snack. Welcome back, Danny.
Rating: * * *

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