Reviews - Spider-Man 2

Review by Mike Troxell

Spider-man 2, as a film and as a score, has managed to top it's amazing original. However, while scoring Spider-man 2, Danny Elfman seems to have gotten shafted. It is quite clear that director Sam Raimi wanted Danny to adhere closely to the temp track, as evidenced by many similarities between tracks and many omissions and edits to Danny's score for the film.
Because of this, Danny Elfman didn't make any grand, sweeping changes while scoring Spider-man 2. Instead, he seemed to take what worked best from the first score and tweak it, making the recently released score album especially pleasant. I believe that, due to the improvements, Spider-man 2 is a vast improvement on its predecessor. The heroic bits, especially in "M.J.'s New Life/Spidus Interruptus," "Train/Appreciation," and the end of "At Long Last, Love" soar to new heights, and the tender moments in tracks such as "Aunt May Packs" and "Armageddon/A Really Big Web" are infinitely more touching than the former score. In addition to these sequences, there are brand new motifs (I hesitate to say themes) for the series' newest villain, Doctor Octopus. I don't believe Doc Ock's music fits him quite as well as the Green Goblin's theme (which makes a wonderful, very disturbing appearance here) fit its villain. In fact, the Doc Ock motifs actually remind me a bit of the Penguin's theme from Batman Returns, but it's not terrible and is not distracting in the grand scheme of things. Overall, this album is probably the best listening experience we've had from Danny Elfman since 1999's Sleepy Hollow.
Unfortunately, the score does not translate well in the film, due in part to the filmmakers' tracking of music not written for the various scenes. I haven't seen this level of musical hacking and cutting outside of George Lucas's Star Wars prequels. In the film, instead of using Danny's excellent new material (or, as it may be, his slightly tweaked recordings), the film is littered with cues reused from the first Spider-man score, and entire cues were dropped. Two of the best cues on the album are "Aunt May Packs," a delicate and moving bit of score that was dropped completely from the film, and "Train/Appreciation," which was replaced in the final cut. "Aunt May Packs" begins with the slow strum of an acoustic guitar, with slowly building strings behind it. "Train/Appreciation" involves an improved version of the "Revenge" track from the original Spider-man score followed by what may be Danny's best action writing since 1989's Batman. The track concludes with choirs mourning the supposed "death" of our hero along with the people he just saved (and the viewers of the film). This hauntingly beautiful music would have suited the film better than what eventually ended up in the film.
The inclusion of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is a baffling choice on this album. It definitely doesn't fit the mood on the album, and was used as a gag in the film. Thankfully, it was not placed chronologically. It is easily omitted at the end of the album.
With the treatment of his excellent score in the film, I would understand if Danny were uninterested in scoring the third Spider-man film. It's a massive insult to a composer to hack up their carefully composed work and place it where it doesn't belong. The score is wonderful, but in the film it is nothing short of distracting.
Score rating: **
CD rating: ****

Review by Blue Sky

Sequels generally tread on shaky ground. Thankfully not considered to be quite as sacrilege as the gasp-inducing "remake", sequels to successful films are as inevitable as me picking up another pack of chocolate digestives whenever I go to the Co-Op to buy bread. In general, some sequels are considered to fail because they stick too closely to the original material (Men In Black II). Some work because they decide to take completely new and surprising direction (Psycho II and III). And some were not meant to be sequels at all and simply had a quick name change at the last minute to tie it to a recently successful film and thus boost ticket sales (American Psycho 2).
Strangely, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 is none of these. Although keeping the "more of the same" policy, this sequel not only sharpened some of the more haphazard aspects of the original film (including the romance and special effects) but managed to divulge a plethora of engaging characters, situations and spectacular set pieces, working off the pre-existing material to fund these new developments.
Although confessing to not be a fan of writing for sequels, Elfman has proven in the past that he himself can meet these requirements when it comes to creating follow-up scores, as plainly evident in Batman Returns which features not only enhancements and variations on the pre-existing themes but develops and intertwines these with the new character motifs. On the flip side you get his score to the aforementioned Men In Black 2, which does not attempt to develop the thematic material so much as to continually re-orchestrate it in various offbeat and quirky ways, working relatively well when considered in conjuncture with the style and nature of the film. And then somewhere lost under the table you get Spider-Man 2.
It is not that the score to the Spider-Man sequel is simply "more of the same" carrying on from the previous film; for much of it, it just is the same, full stop. Though whether many of these cues were written as such by Elfman or were just temped over tracks from the original movie is unclear, and at odds with interviews Elfman gave at the time of writing the score where he made it clear that he was always striving for new variations and developments on the existing motifs. Apparently this either did not happen, or (as it is perhaps less painful to believe) many of his new cues were rejected and replaced with the stock track. Yet even the parts which are obviously new Elfman compositions are still rather disappointing.
The main titles to any of his films, for example, are always the stand out definition of an Elfman score for me, being properly self-contained mini-pieces free from the constraint of the flow of a scene, and therefore well rounded snapshots of easy-listening goodness. The Main Titles to the original Spider-Man was such a stunning piece of music, both technically and emotionally, that I for one was really looking forward to hearing a full redevelopment, or at least, re-orchestration, for the sequel. As it happens, although lacking the audio compression of the original and sounding generally beefier with heavier chorus, extra tinkling of glockenspiels, the odd electronic squeal, and a slightly new mix meaning that some of the subtler background material is more exposed, this new Main Titles track is pretty much exactly the same. Thematically the only difference is the replacement of the original subtly integrated Green Goblin theme with the new Doctor Octopus motif, which is rather less subtle in its placement due to being stitched into the fabric of the piece and which will no doubt stick out like a short haired bloke in a Games Workshop store to anyone familiar with the original version.
The new Doc Ock theme in itself is rather a let down, too. This rather mediocre and plodding descending motif performed by the lower brass never seemed to appropriately define the character it was assigned to, and although perhaps the power and strength of the villain was illustrated, the speed and agility was not, and nor was his multi-faceted schizophrenic nature (which was also undeveloped plot-wise as well). Although never really being a fan of the Green Goblin themes' bluesy rhythm and clichéd spider-like tremolo, its reappearance within the film not only served to prove to me just how effective it was in defining the character and the squirming, hidden demons inside, but also how bland the Doc Ock motif was by comparison. After the last sighting of the eight-limbed Doctor and his mysterious giant orange evil glowy thingy (what was that about?) I was actually quite glad that another refrain of his theme would not be forthcoming.
Also not forthcoming in the film are some of the cues originally written by Elfman but abandoned in the re-edit. The rescored pieces use some of Elfman's already existing motifs, and with the original tracks being made available on the CD release, comparison is positively encouraged. For the dramatic train fight sequence, the Christopher Young scored substitute cue seemed pretty non-descript to me, though whether I would have noticed a stylistic change if I had not known that it was a replaced piece is hard for me to say. The original piece for this scene as existing on the CD release shows a reworking of the "Revenge" cue from the original film, with the synth layer more in-keeping stylistically with the established style of the score. This unused piece also establishes a more exhaustive feel to the climax with the tired, slowing grinds of the double basses presumably indicating not just the decelerating of the train but of Spider-Man's own strength and energy, before leading into the "Appreciation" cue which contains a rather more beautiful Edward Scissorhands ethereal touch to that used in the film.
The CD itself suffers overall, I feel, by not containing enough of the overall variations which do exist in the film's score. Whereas the original Spider-Man fluctuated between its choral heights, synth percussive layers, and the odd moment of pure electric guitar grooviness (for example, the "Costume Montage" cue), the collection of cues on the new CD seem to me to be rather staid by comparison, especially considering some of the great gothic beauty which existed within the film, such as during Doctor Octavius' original experiment. Although written by Young and not featuring Elfman's Doc Ock theme, it is still a shame it was not included on the CD if just to provide some variation and to serve as a distinguisher between this score and the previous one, however patched an idea it might seem.
In the context of the film, however, the music used not only works, but works adequately well. In a movie where the constant barrage of tongue-in-cheek humour threatens to ruin the genuine horror of Raimi's skilful directing, Elfman's music holds the line with a steady, serious tone, enhancing the drama and action and keeping the comedy from becoming cheesier than camembert wrapped in an unwashed sock. The repeated cues, whether written as so or directly taken from the original score, are used for a reason: they fit the mood and emotions of the scenes, and any casual viewer would hardly notice the background music at all, let alone complain about how similar it is to the original movie. Of course this does not excuse what is the biggest crime in my eyes: a wasted opportunity for a development of one of Elfman's greatest scores in recent years. And as all signs point to behind-the-scenes troubles, it seems unlikely that Elfman will be contributing to a third Spider-Man and will hopefully just swing onto new rooftops; in time, the score to Spider-Man 2 will be seen as a discarded cobweb, and nothing more.
Score rating: **
CD rating: *1/2

Review by Bluntinstrument: score-in-film

Contains Spoilers (only warning once)
2004.07.18 version
Whatever might be said of Danny Elfman's track record, it has never previously been proved that he plagiarises. There are many homages, notably to Bernard Herrmann, and occasional references (conscious or unconscious) to previous scores, but these pale behind the composer who wills never to repeat himself. This is what makes his sequals all the more perilous. For Batman Returns, he used Tim Burton's added fantastic grotesquery and array of characters to bring surprising invention to a familiar sound world. In Men In Black II, he brought added glitz and humour to his score, and even with a film whose tone barely shifted an inch, Elfman's score refused to lapse into the security of repetition. It is therefore a bit of a shock to hear a score for the new Spider-man movie which features generous helpings of music lifted (perhaps even directly tracked in some places - a whole crunch of existing cues flash by when Spider-man and his nemesis begin to fight over the second experiment) from its predecessor, and at key moments too. Furthermore, due to fate, time constraint or whatever damnedable reason, there are cues very obviously not written by Elfman - those for the pizza delivery chase, the first experiment, and the extravagantly shot train fight are mostly (though not entirely) bereft of linkage to the sound design and themes which anchor Elfman's score to the Spider-man universe.
And because these monstrous intrusions are placed in so noticeable scenes, they obliterate any progress the composer is making elsewhere in the film. Doc Ock's true theme (not that used in the experiment, composed by Christopher Young and very reminiscent to his score for Hellbound) has immediate potential, but its effect is hamstrung by not having that initial association with Octavius or his intelligent arms. Its usage in place of the Green Goblin theme in the opening titles is a poor substitute, and the first scene where the arms show a will of their own (in hospital) plays without score, letting the theme slide into view immediately afterwards. This is an opportunity badly missed.
Elsewhere hints can be gleened of a score still vibrant, slightly more playful and insistent in its action scenes, perhaps following the more cartoonish acrobatics of the combatants. The Doc Ock theme has a variant which stomps as he rampages, and really sets his character appart from Spidy's previous nemesis. All this is is evident in the bank scene. It is such a pity that Elfman is denied so many other opportunities, with some rather canny pop choices made by Raimi and many unscored dialogue scenes taking up the slack, and the glints of invention hidden away are smothered by the repetition and rent-a-cue shame listed above. This was, after all, a nice little earner for the composer, but as a fan of his music in film as well as on disc, I find this a poor excuse for an Elfman score, whether the reason is creative or circumstantial, and fans should be warned in the strongest possible tone.
Score rating: *

Review by Bluntinstrument: score-on-disc

It is a lesson learned the hard way with Elfman fans that his scores can give a very different impression on film to their commercial soundtrack state. Oddly enough, this normally has only a little to do with music left out of the CD or with the varying mixes between the two (and sometimes this is quite noticeable). No, normally it is because Elfman scores have gradually tied themselves closer and closer to their film subject, to an extent that occasionally one either forgets to listen to the music, and at other times its twists and turns translate poorly to an extended listening experience. Remember that although film music fans might complain at having only roughly half a score on CD, first what they often miss out on are the small bridging cues, and second, the average symphony even at the end of the Nineteenth Century, rarely crossed the 45 minute mark, and these works could be months in the making. An audio-only experience must know its limit in engaging an audience depending on its technical skill, thematic invention and sense of proportion.
With this in mind, we can excuse much of what this soundtrack release presents to us. The way cues are often paired up enables for more satisfying track lengths - this approach was effective as far back as Batman Returns, and is a saving grace here, since what we have is a rather good listening experience. Free from much of the final-cut film's repetition of music from the first Spider-man score (there are still some examples of re-use, the first minute of track 9 being a prime example, using the End credits music of the first film), Elfman's music is exposed as a quality extention of the same soundworld. This is no sequal (Men In Black II obviously strived to outdo its predecessor), and neither is it a reworking (as Batman Returns could be described), so a huge contrast cannot be expected. This is a big imposition on a composer who prefers contrast and new challenges.
Most helpful in maintaining the composer's sanity was obviously the new double-theme for Doc Ock: the first a playful mutation of the opening call from Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra (e.g. track 3); the second a comic-book oom-pah stomp (e.g. track 6). These themes are easier to hear and enjoy than the Green Goblin's theme. It may have been more menacing (although track 4's 'Angry arms' does attempt with some success to emulate), and used to greater effect in tandem with the Spider-man theme, but it dulled the impact of the soundtrack release. The new thematic material isn't, though, enough to create a track or pair of tracks that really shine with freshness and originality, like the 'Costume montage' and 'Revenge' tracks aimed for in Spider-man. In Elfman's defence, Raimi blunts his weapon by choosing to use (rather cannily chosen) pop songs in scenes where the composer really could have gone to town, and in a final insult denies the composer the pleasure of writing some End credits music.
But while the film keeps Elfman's new score material fighting for space, the CD allows it to breathe and what we have is a decent listening experience by recent Elfman standards. The niggling feeling that an opportunity has been missed lingers, though, and nowhere more than on the unused 'Train' cue. Although it uses some stylistic rungs from the first film's 'Revenge' cue, its momentum is continuously broken, and I was continuously reminded how much more dramatic the 'Zoom' tracks were in Mission: Impossible. Young's replacement cue on film lacks some of Elfman's finesse, but competes well with sound effects and has a little more of that shove missing here. Likewise, in the aftermath to the runaway train, Elfman's 'Appreciation' cue is touching, but (as much as the purist in me hates to admit it) the replacement material used on film, consiting mostly of a medley of very obviously tracked music from the first score, is more effective.
OVERVIEW: All in all, despite the huge handicaps laid on the score itself and on Elfman's normal inspirational preferences, this CD is more balanced than its predecessor, however unrepresentative of the film it may be. It only lacks the spark that lifts other Elfman scores from merely 'inventive' to 'evocative', and which makes a CD purchase essential.
CD rating = **1/2

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