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
Rating: * * *