#1 by the Groovy Yak
Exhale a sigh of relief. Our Danny’s back.
Ok, he never really left us, but after films
like Good Will Hunting, A Civil Action, and Instinct,
you’d have to admit we all wanted him to get back to more Elfman-suited
material- and Sleepy Hollow is about as Elfman-suited as you can
Tim Burton’s loose adaptation of Washington
Irving’s story sets Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) as a constable out to
solve the mystery behind the beheadings in the town of Sleepy Hollow.
However, Crane finds more than he expected once he gets closer to the
truth- the town is haunted by a headless Hessian soldier. Depp is in top
form as Crane, (I found his performance to be more entertaining than even
the exciting action scenes.) and is joined by an equally talented cast.
(Although I must add that Christina Ricci was somewhat of a disappointment.)
But as with most Tim Burton films, the acting and the plot take a backseat
to the sets and production design. If Halloweentown from The Nightmare
Before Christmas were to become real, it would look exactly like the
foggy and overcast town of Sleepy Hollow. From the giant windmill to the
lifelike scarecrows to the Crane’s odd tools and inventions, one can’t
help but be fascinated by Burton’s world.
The same holds true for Danny Elfman’s sound-world.
Elfman always does his best work for Tim Burton and once again, in Sleepy
Hollow, it shows. Sleepy Hollow is one of Elfman’s biggest
film scores ever. He must’ve used at least 500 musicians to record the
score. Besides the standard orchestra, Elfman uses male and female choirs
and a boy’s choir. (Much like Nightbreed, except without the ethnic
Now, I could go on for pages talking about
the references to other Elfman scores that you’ll find in Sleepy Hollow.
People claim to hear Nightbreed, The Frighteners, Darkman,
Mars Attacks!, and Edward Scissorhands just to name a few.
The two scores that I hear the most of in Sleepy Hollow are Dolores
Claiborne and the track "Edgar’s Truck/A New Man" from Men
in Black. There aren’t really that many score quotations in Sleepy
Hollow, though, as there are Elfman trademarks that make the score
instantly recognizable as a Danny Elfman score. Bells and celeste play
lullaby ostinatos in Elfman’s soundworld. The woodwinds hiss at you (flutter-tonguing)
while the low brass snarls and growls. There’s lots of string harmonics,
brake drums clanging, cricket shakers (a perc. instrument), trumpet triplet
figures...if you’ve heard it in another Elfman score, it somehow finds
its way onto Sleepy Hollow’s 68 minute album. Oddly enough, Elfman
leaves his keyboard unplugged for Sleepy Hollow. There’s few, if
any, MIDI samples found within this score. In terms of orchestration-
the old Danny has returned...
But, in terms of compositional style- Sleepy
Hollow is clearly NEW Danny. Sleepy Hollow doesn’t rely on
themes to steer the boat. There’s only one major theme. It does function
as backbone to the score- a piece of clay that Elfman molds to give different
meanings throughout. This is one of the more brilliant aspects of Sleepy
Hollow- the one theme masks itself as other themes. Confused? Elfman
uses the Sleepy Hollow theme to give the town of Sleepy Hollow a feeling
enchantment and mystery. He uses it again to underscore the relationship
between Crane and Katrina Van Tassel. He uses it in the action cues where
the Headless Horseman is decapitating yet another innocent soul. Then,
he uses it triumphantly at the end when the sun comes out of the clouds
and the Headless Horseman is no more. So much mileage out of one theme!
It’s the mark of a master composer. Besides the Sleepy Hollow theme, there’s
also two little 4-note and 3-note motives that function as Headless Horseman
themes- although they’re really more like themes to underscore fear and
In old Elfman scores, it was the themes
that were the stars of the score. Now (as was in A Simple Plan,)
the instrumentation is the main attraction. To keep with theme of "heads"
in Sleepy Hollow, Elfman uses a very large amount of vocal sounds.
Most of cues feature voice- whether it be adult choir, boy’s choir, or
solo boy or adult. There are few film composers in the industry better
at using voice than Elfman. Sleepy Hollow is definitely a treat
for those who loved the choral music of Edward Scissorhands, Nightbreed,
or Men In Black. Tracks like Into the Woods even blaze new trails
in Elfman’s choral music. The soloist changes from "ooh" to
"aah" in the middle of a note- creating a weird but interesting
Another star of Elfman’s Sleepy Hollow
are the violins and violas. Forget Dolores Claiborne as Elfman’s
greatest string score. Sleepy Hollow contains some of Elfman’s
best string writing ever. From a brilliant imitative section between a
solo violin and a viola (panned nicely on the album. Thank you Mr. Fernandez!)
to a chase cue that features the strings at their most frantic, Sleepy
Hollow lets the strings control much of the action in the score- rather
than blaring trumpets and trombones. Don’t worry, though, brass lovers,
there’s still plenty of fortississimo brass playing to keep you happy-
and your eardrums bleeding!
Perhaps it’s the focus on instrumentation
and lack of themes and structure that hold Sleepy Hollow back a
little. It’s taken me many listenings to actually indentify which cue
I’m listening to without the aid of the jewel case. In movies like Batman
or Mars Attacks! the music had a structure, each cue almost had
its own personality. In Sleepy Hollow- it’s really hard to tell
what cue goes with its proper scene. There aren’t that many elements that
tie the score up into one neat little package. Without the Sleepy Hollow
theme, the score would almost seem like it’s a big heap of unrelated cues
pasted together. Even the main titles have a difficult time really unifying
the score. The End Titles, on the other hand, have a nice structure and
are one of the best tracks on the album. (Love the woodblock!)
But then again, maybe we aren’t open-minded
enough to Elfman’s new style of composition. Perhaps we’re too busy expecting
a Batman clone- that we’re blind to the genius behind Sleepy
Hollow. Sleepy Hollow marks another high point in Elfman’s
career. I have a strong feeling that in 5-10 years from now, we’ll place
Sleepy Hollow on a pedestal for being one of the best horror film scores
Rating: * * * *
#2 by Ian Davis
This is Elfman's seventh collaboration with
Tim Burton and when working with a director renowned for his visual flair
at the expense of plot, action and characterisation (an unfair criticism,
but some truth lies within), it is to Elfman's credit that he isn't wholly
a tone-painter. Indeed, his experience outside this celebrated collaboration
has enforced a sense of film scoring which desires voice in the cinema
and on disc. In the case of Sleepy Hollow the generous running time (a
feature which many I am sure would welcome with other scores) is a huge
stumbling block to a soundtrack which was, after all, written for a film
made up almost entirely of greys, with the odd dash of vivid red. First
impressions must always count in such cases, as in the cinema there is
often little else.
In theory, however, there is a preview of
the score which many will have heard, and this is the trailer. Despite
the traditional lack of an original score, the uses of tracks from The
Frighteners and Jones's music for Dark City are in fact fortuitous choices.
Whether or not Elfman was aware of them, it is surprising how well some
aspects of his score match the coupling: the opening of The Frighteners,
for example, although not used here, is perhaps the best previous example
of rhythmic forces driving a dazzling orchestral array of dissonances;
that used at the end of the trailer is from one of the child's-play spooky
passages, which have some stylistic resonance in parts of Sleepy Hollow;
the music used from Dark City is mostly notable for its now cliched take
on 'Mars' from Holst's The Planets Suite – i.e. a variety of rhythms (usually
including triplet and duplet) on a single note: very forceful, very war-like,
and it is precisely this effect which opens the film. Indeed the most
striking aspect of the main theme for Sleepy Hollow is its constant reiteration
and revolutions round one note, but far from stagnating the material,
it provides a link from rhythmic accompaniment to melody, and in various
shapes can suffice in thrilling, majestic and tender moments of the film.
That Sleepy Hollow is a horror film is more
than evident from the score: a more gritty, brooding, savagely violent
70 minutes of music is difficult to find, but it is leavened by the most
angelic of moments (usually embedded with a fairy-tale sadness characteristic
of Edward Scissorhands), mostly referring to dream sequences. It is more
comfortable on CD than might be expected, perhaps more so when compared
to the emptiness that such a transfer brings to recent scores such as
A Simple Plan. In some respects Elfman has returned to thematicisism with
a vengeance, but here his themes and motifs are more interconnected, and
the opening theme dominates the film: tonally reminiscent of Extreme Measures
in its fascination with the major/minor aspects of harmony, it is amenable
enough to suffer numerous rhythmic and melodic alterations (including
some very nice elaboration, truncation and subtle changes of harmonic
colouring), and part of it serves as a recurrent Headless Horseman motif.
Such is the flexible quality and melodic centering that it might be mistaken
for 20th century plainsong chant (illustrated) in a-rhythmic form.
In terms of orchestration, the composer
has clearly been given orders to deliver on the most lavish of scales:
a sign perhaps that his contribution to its successes was being taken
seriously. An orchestral tour de force is evident in Elfman's employment
of a great number of his favourite instruments and instrumentations, not
least among them them organ, and voices. Orchestral style is an aspect
of writing with which Elfman and his cronies excel (perhaps to the understandable
infuriation of more 'learned' colleagues), although it is unnerving to
note that there are no less than six orchestrators acknowledged in the
credits. Still more so is the fact that the composer's usual collaborator,
Steve Bartek, receives curiously little attention. Whether these peculiarities
are the mark of studio tampering or the director's cutting of the film
(or perhaps some other reason) is unclear to me, but the result is no
less pleasurable for all that. Elfman opts for dark tones with some small
points of light for the few bright scenes. The thickness of texture (vertical,
not horizontal) is very similar to that of MIB, yet the string writing
is brought a little more to the fore, and woodwind writing is suppressed.
String writing may have similarities in terms of experimentation with
Dolores Claiborne, but there is a richness (even in the more brutal moments
such as the end of track 8 with string quartet) that sets it apart. Although
perhaps Dolores suffers from a rather dry recording, some of the string
writing in it sounds quite a challenge to string players; in Sleepy Hollow
the impression is that the writing has improved enough to balance properly
in tone with the brass. There is a proliferation of swirling string passages
which hearken back to MIB, but have their roots in the descending arpeggios
of Elfman's earlier scores. The difference is that the arpeggiation was
more suitable for woodwind writing, despite its striking effect with violins.
The Frighteners may not bear particular
resemblance to Sleepy Hollow – at least not in terms of theme or orchestral
peculiarities (Frighteners throws itself between violence, comedy and
harpsichord background tapestry) – but both films are very aware of their
generic history. Sleepy Hollow capitalises on several features which The
Frighteners only began to explore: dissonance is certainly one, and another
is the use of voices for atmosphere. In a further stylistic recognition,
Elfman's score exhibits one of horror's growing cliches: the choirboy
voices. The use of voices as an eerie effect in 90's big-budget horror
(in films such as Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Alien3
et al ) is in opposition to the horror films of the 50s in which some
of the least subtle shock music ever was written. An undercurrent of this
tendency, however is the Hollywood composer's leanings towards vocals
in film scores in general, perhaps because of its novelty (unlikely by
now), perhaps because the genre might require it (the chorus as 'operatic'
cliche levels itself at fantasy in particular, as well as some sci-fi,
curtesy of John Williams and a few others), and perhaps because when a
film has a decent music budget ... well, why the hell not? Elfman certainly
leads the way by using vocal effects of varying descriptions in virtually
all his works for film, and in most cases he finds appropriate, if not
always essential, cues. Perhaps it may be said that when he is at his
most restrained he comes up with the best results (such as at the crux
of the plot in Mission: Impossible (CD track 10)), thus it may be said
that quality and not quantity rules this writing in terms of film technique.
However, in this instance the use of adult and children's voices is an
integral part of the score's identity.
Sleepy Hollow is a more unified score than
The Frighteners – a development indeed – in terms of both thematic and
orchestral usage. One of the main complaints levelled at Frighteners is
its schizophrenic pose, its refusal to remain in a consistent style for
more than a few seconds. Elfman, I think, perhaps tried too hard in following
the contuours of the action (shocks, chases, visual gags, and the like),
and although Sleepy Hollow is itself a far more coherent film in terms
of visuals and atmosphere (the period setting helps), Elfman has also
matured. The handling of athematic scoring and dissonance has vastly improved,
and experimentation is bold yet controlled: the result is less cluttered
and represents an effective ally to Burton's set-pieces.
The secret behind the success of this score,
though, is its momentum. Rhythmic muscularity (a staple of the Classical
Style as advocated in the music of Haydn, Mozart and, most of all, Beethoven
– but note that momentum does not imply speed) is returned to in gargantuan
forces for the first time since Batman, and Elfman's experience over the
decade shows. He delivers a score where rhythm drives the dissonant fast
episodes and where harmonic venture and progression sustain interest in
lyrical moments. All is bound by a main theme in various states (it is
altered, extended and fractured in harmony, orchestration, rhythms, speed
and notation, etc. – owing much to ye composer's motivic experimentation
in Batman Returns, and the more subtle approaches of Dolores Claiborne
and A Simple Plan. Unlike much of Batman there is no perpetuum mobile
– the orchestra rarely drives the music; instead the music is more of
a (mostly) unified collection of episodes. This is far more successfully
captured than in MIB as its more heavy-handed, though no less interesting,
What it has in common with A Simple Plan
is its complete solemnity. Despite the forces at work there is a single-mindedness
here, and this is perhaps the first fantasy score in which Elfman has
held back so totally from "goofiness" and playfulness. In this respect
it might linger in Batman territory, but even in that film the composer
indulged in some clarinet footwork and an ironic waltz. Sleepy Hollow-the-score
ignores the script's humorous touches and clunking dialogue and thunders
towards a hoof-stomping climax (through tracks 15 and 16) undimmed. Verdict.
Elfman's loudest, blackest, bleakest score yet for Burton. An achievement
in itself and a credit to the film, but not quite as effective on disc.
That said, the disc is recommended as it gives the fan ample opportunity
to soak up some old-style Elfman with a mature twist. Just don't expect
to live in the past with every score.
In film: * * * *
On disc: * * *
#3 by the Texas Ranger
For some bizarre reason, many Elfman admirers
seem to be under the gross misconception that because he doesn't rely
on thematic/melodic material, he has somehow matured. Time and again I've
read remarks to something of this effect: "Elfman does not rely on a theme
this time around, which shows how much he has matured as a composer."
I have no idea where this misconception started, but it has to stop! The
fact that Elfman does not rely on a major theme has absolutely NOTHING
to do with his maturity as a composer. I have heard many theme-less scores
that have been nothing short of a disaster (some by renowned film composers).
In addition, I have heard many scores relying on "pretty melodies" and
"grand themes" fall flat when listened to in the context of the film.
Long ago we learned that Elfman COULD write a theme-less score. Still,
the true question is whether he SHOULD. No, Elfman's abandonment of thematic
material is not evidence of maturity. The REAL evidence is that Elfman
is able to make the RIGHT decision as to WHEN he should use unthematic
material. That being said, he truly made the correct choice with Sleepy
Hollow - a score that is as convoluted and chaotic as the film.
Now the film itself was a total mess. It
suffered from a nonexistent romance, convoluted plot, incoherent story,
and one of the poorest performances by Christina Ricci I have ever seen.
Yet, somehow, it still worked, and I will certainly see the film again.
The score is also a mess - introducing little (if any) thematic material,
whilst continually combining old "Elfman-isms" with bizarre choral chants
and throwing them into some all encompassing witch's brew. Like the contrasting
critical opinion of the film, this can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage.
I tend to view it as an advantage, but others maybe put off by its inability
to give them something to hum. One way or another, it cannot be denied
that Elfman's mess is the perfect complement to Burton's mess. They merge
in a symbiotic relationship and startle both the viewer and the listener,
who become enveloped in the experience: marveling at how they can enjoy
something that under most circumstances would seem so wrong.
The mess is perfectly demonstrated in the
opening titles. There, Elfman uses a wide range of techniques to complement
the massive range of sequences. The film opens with a lawyer imploring
for help from New York - seeking an investigation into a series of beheadings.
Elfman uses numerous powerful crescendos of strings and choir to supply
the key importance the letter holds, and the impending danger looming
in the next scene (very reminiscent of the ingeniously blunt score to
Bram Stoker's Dracula). As the horseman makes his first appearance, the
viewer is introduced to his motif - a combination of massive brass stings,
loud adult choir bursts, and a small helping of anvil banging. All together,
this provides the perfect setup for the second credit sequence - which
is far more laid back in approach (Ichabod Crane journeys to Sleepy Hollow
via old trails along the Hudson). At that point, Elfman introduces a combination
of traveling music (used to add to the brooding atmosphere of impending
doom) and the "Witch" motif (usually provided by an ethereal solo from
a disembodied female voice). Together, these two techniques provide both
the dangerous and mystical side of the film - a perfect way to musically
sum up the battle between science and the superstitious.
As the film progresses, the viewer is dished
a hardy helping of action music - almost all of it revolving around the
Headless Horseman. Elfman uses the choir to his advantage, employing them
as a macabre introduction to the ghost's presence. In addition, a stomping
routine comprised of brass, anvil banging, and woodwind bursts (straight
out of The March of the Dead theme from Army of Darkness) works well to
accentuate the being's power and mighty stride. He also employs his classic
wind and string arpeggios to complement the motion of the Horseman's ax-wielding
murders. It's bold, brazen, terrifying and a true testament that Elfman
can capture raw energy and pure motion in his scores. The best pieces
are saved for the climax, though. It is there that Elfman pulls out all
the stops. As is typical of his motion laden scores, he delegates the
strings to a mid position - using them to reflect the speed with which
the horseman travels. Like Sommersby, though, the strings have an ethnic
feel (perhaps a reflection of the Dutch influence). They race with all
the pace of Edwardo the Barber and all of the passion of Birth of a Penguin.
The brass interjects as well, as do the woodwinds when the Horseman strikes.
It's brilliant chase music the likes of which I haven't heard since the
climax of Mission: Impossible (indeed, this piece seems like a symphonic
version of Mission's synthesized sequence).
Yet, besides the numerous action pieces,
Elfman also adds a mystical touch during numerous dream sequences. The
solo female voice is appropriately surreal, and seems to be a direct descendant
of his manipulations in both Flubber and Mars Attacks!. In addition, he
uses a children's choir, soft strings, and bells in the exact same manner
as his Good Will Hunting theme. The effect can only be described as enchanting!
In fact, one could even surmise that there is an Edward Scissorhands influence
underscoring all of those fantasy filled flashbacks.
If there is one point where the film and
score are lacking, it is in the romance department. Now, despite popular
belief, I will NOT chastise a score for having unthematic material - my
review of A Simple Plan provides plenty of evidence for that. Still, there
is a time and place when a score needs a strong theme to help support
scenes that are lacking in emotional depth. This was the case with Sleepy
Hollow - where the romance failed utterly due to poor script writing and
bad acting. I feel that had a stronger theme been placed in key moments,
perhaps Elfman could have had the power to manipulate the scene and give
the audience "a clue" as to what they were supposed to feel emotionally.
He certainly proved he could accomplish this with Batman Returns - where
the infamous Finale music alone told the audience how to perceive the
passing of the fowl villain: Penguin. Had Elfman used that talent to his
full advantage here, perhaps he would have been able to save the romance
in ways Burton couldn't. Perhaps not. Unfortunately, "filler" music comprised
of light strings and a flute didn't suffice without a descent melody.
That aside, Sleepy Hollow is as complex
as it sounds. I now realize how foolish it was of us, the attendees at
this site's messageboard, to try to pinpoint what the score truly sounded
like from sound clips. Many claimed it was reminiscent of The Frighteners
and Mars Attacks!. I claimed it had an influence from Darkman. The truth
is, as much as I appreciate the dedication the author of this site has
put into posting numerous sound clips, they just cannot do the score justice!
Sleepy Hollow is an experience that must be listened to either in the
theater, or on the CD. The sound clips perpetuate a falsity that the score
sounds like a specific earlier work of Elfman's. In actuality, this score
is the equivalent to his work on Men in Black. Whereas that score was
a vast collection of every electronic stunt Elfman had pulled in the past
decade, Sleepy Hollow is a collection of every symphonic trick he has
used in his career. It is not merely reminiscent of ONE of his earlier
works, but reminiscent of ALL of his earlier works. The long string passages
from Delores Claiborne, the adult choir from Mars Attacks!, the bells
and children's choir from Good Will Hunting, the anvil banging from Army
of Darkness, the brooding heaviness of Darkman, the intensity of Mission:
Impossible, the frenetic brass stings from Batman, and many more are all
found within this score. That is why this score cannot be done justice
through little snippets. It must be allowed to consume the listener in
its world, and overtake the audience with its vast wealth of material
and purely chaotic tone. Like the impressionist landscapes of Sleepy Hollow
itself, any hint of reality is totally eliminated - leaving only the vast
world of Elfman's long musical career as a guide. There's no escaping
from his richly textured world of dark fantasy. This is Elfman as close
as possible to the fantasy world of Bernard Herrmann since Edward Scissorhands.
In the end, Sleepy Hollow is not the true
Burton classic we have all been waiting for. The same holds true for the
score. They both come close to reaching that that state of pure perfection,
but are never able to make the final trek across the covered bridge. That
is not to say that they are poor examples of film-making or film-scoring.
Both the film and the score are excellent, and certainly far above 99%
of the mediocre tripe that Hollywood seems to dish the American public
every year. Despite its negligible flaws, this score deserves an Oscar
nomination far more than Good Will Hunting and Men in Black ever did.
Though, those goons at the Academy wouldn't recognize REAL talent even
if it burst in on horse-top, wielding an ax, and started indiscriminately
chopping off heads.
Finally, Danny Elfman provides a brassy
and percussive theme-less score that is far superior to the lazy, downright
sloppy action nonsense of Mars Attacks. Creepy, atmospheric, chaotic,
and a combination of everything Elfman has had to offer symphonically
for the past fifteen years; Sleepy Hollow is a massive score that is expertly
performed by the Sinfonia of London and is one of the best dark fantasy
scores in a long while. It TOTALLY envelops the listeners in Burton's
world and won't let them go!
The Bad and the Ugly:
The romantic portion of the score is weak
and added little to the film.
Not the most magnificent Elfman classic,
but truly one of the greater scores to be released in the 1990's. After
the dismal failure of Mars Attacks, Burton and Elfman prove they still
have the mystical touch.
Music as Heard in the film: *
* * 3/4