Tag Archives: danny elfman

Frankenweenie (2012)

I was sick of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie before I ever saw it. The trailer was attached to nearly every film I saw in theaters over the summer, driving it into my head to the point that I would change the television channel whenever the trailer popped up during commercial breaks. I’m not traditionally a huge Burton fan, though I certainly enjoy films like 1989’s Batman and 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (story by Burton, also produced by him, but directed by Henry Selick), and this just wasn’t a film that was on my must-see list. With the approach of the Academy Awards, though, and with Frankenweenie‘s nomination for Best Animated Feature, I finally got a hold of a copy of the film on Blu-Ray and watched through…and I was impressed.

Frankenweenie is based on the live-action short film of the same name from 1984, also directed by Burton, and is about a boy (Charlie Tahan) whose only friend is his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is hit by a car and killed, the boy is understandably devastated…oh, and I forgot to mention that the boy’s name is Victor Frankenstein (hint hint). Victor sets out to bring his beloved best friend back to life and succeeds. Everything is right with the world until the word gets out that Victor has brought back his dog from the dead, and, suddenly, everyone wants in on it. Chaos ensues!

The close bond shared between Victor and Sparky is made very clear from the start of the film, making Sparky’s untimely death all the more devastating, but it also makes it that much rewarding when Victor succeeds in bringing him back to life. Victor’s character arc is a strong one, as he realizes that re-animating the dead is not necessarily the best option and that sometimes it is necessary to let go of the ones that you love – a lesson that we all learn at some point in our lives, whether it’s with a pet or with a friend or family member. Themes such as the strength of friendship and love, persistence, the implications of science, letting go, and family expectation are all addressed throughout the film, making it a sort of educational experience without it ever feeling like preaching.

Where Frankenweenie succeeds the most, however, is in its references to classic horror films – plus a reference to Burgermeister Meisterburger from the 1970 stop-motion Rankin/Bass film Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. While watching, I found references or allusions to the following horror films or actors: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Vincent Price, Jurassic ParkGremlinsDracula, Psycho and Godzilla…and I know that there have to be even more than that; I’m not as well-versed in classic horror films as I would like to be. It’s really quite impressive to see so many films referenced in one.

One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is that it is presented in black and white, likening itself back to the typical horror films found in the 1930s-1950s. The lack of color gives the classic sort of “Burton-esque” feel a refreshing new twist, deviating from the vibrant colors and extravagant set designs from more recent Burton films such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alice in Wonderland. The stop-motion animation is seamless, never feeling like a stop-motion film. 

I was quite prepared to dislike this film…it just didn’t seem to be my cup of tea, but Frankenweenie impresses on both technical and narrative grounds. The voice acting (from actors such as Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, and Catherine O’Hara) is top-notch throughout, and the story is both endearing and slightly disturbing. In my opinion, this is Burton’s best film in some time. Even Danny Elfman’s score is refreshing atypical of his usual work, managing to be more intimate than bombastic (for once). Will Frankenweenie win the Academy Award? It might…but we’ll see.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic elements, scary images and action

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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – James Horner

I bought this soundtrack last night before the midnight premiere but didn’t start listening to it until I got home after the movie had ended, and I’ve been listening to it on and off throughout today.

You’ll recall that last week I bought and listened to Danny Elfman’s scores for the first two Spider-Manfilms and was slightly disappointed with their lack of originality and similarities to Elfman’s previous Batmanscores, minus the Main Theme, of course, which is fantastic. I was hoping that James Horner’s score to the newly-released reboot film The Amazing Spider-Man would be much better, more original, and just overall better than Elfman’s, and, for the most part, it is.

I have to be honest right off the bat: Elfman’s Spider-Man theme is the better of the two. That’s not to say that Horner’s isn’t great, but it just doesn’t have the same sort of underlying excitement to it. However, in almost every other respect, Horner’s score runs laps around Elfman’s.

****EDIT****

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack as I’ve typed this…Horner’s theme is growing on me more and more. I’m not sure if I like one more than the other, but I’m starting to see the two on a more even level now, and Horner’s may soon become my favorite of the two…give them both a listen and see what you think!

************

You might have realized by now that it bothers me when a composer’s score to one film sounds too similar to another score that he composed. I listened intently to Horner’s score, listening for hints of Titanic or Avatar…admittedly, those are the only two previous James Horner scores that I have exposure to. Fortunately, I didn’t hear either of those in The Amazing Spider-Man…with the exception of one or two moments. For example, about 31 seconds in to “The Ganali Device” sounds a bit similar to excerpts from Horner’s score to Avatar, but it’s not as similar as a Zimmer or Elfman score would be, so it’s forgivable.

I read somewhere online where Marc Webb chose Horner to compose for The Amazing Spider-Man because he wanted something with “both grandeur and intimacy” [found here]. The more I listen, the more I feel that that is the perfect description for this soundtrack. There are plenty of big moment that are fitting of the character, such as in “Saving New York” and “Oscorp Tower”, but there are also the smaller, more personal moments between Peter and family/Gwen/himself, as heard in “Secrets”, “Rooftop Kiss”, and “I Can’t See You Anymore”. Whereas Elfman’s score would often go for excitement over emotion, Horner’s has a pleasant mix of both that better captures the darker, more relationship-based world that director Marc Webb has envisioned for The Amazing Spider-Man.

Overall, Horner’s score is a score more appropriate for a Spider-Man film than Elfman’s. It enhances the world that Marc Webb created for our webbed hero in blue and red, and it does this all while sounding distinctly original and independent, something that is always refreshing in this market dominated by composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. For something different and exciting, check out James Horner’s score to The Amazing Spider-Man.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1.”Main Title – Young Peter”  4:54

2. “Becoming Spider-Man”  4:16

3. “Playing Basketball”  1:22

4. “Hunting for Information”  2:07

5. “The Briefcase”  3:14

6. “The Spider Room – Rumble in the Subway”  3:20

7. “Secrets”  2:30

8. “The Equation”  4:22

9. “The Ganali Device”  2:28

10. “Ben’s Death”  5:41

11. “Metamorphosis”  3:04

12. “Rooftop Kiss”  2:34

13. “The Bridge”  5:15

14. “Peter’s Suspicions”  3:01

15. “Making a Silk Trap”  2:52

16. “Lizard at School!”  2:57

17. “Saving New York”  7:52

18. “Oscorp Tower”  3:22

19. “I Can’t See You Anymore”  6:50

20. ”Promises – End Titles” 4:52

Total Length – app. 78 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of the film here!


Cars (2006) – Randy Newman

The score to the Disney/Pixar film Cars was composed by Randy Newman, who was also responsible for the scores to all three Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, andMonsters, Inc. However, like most of Pixar’s film soundtracks, there are a few songs in the track list that are lyrical.

In the case of Cars, nearly half (9 out of 20) of the tracks are vocal songs, and 4 of those were written specifically for the film. I’ll briefly walk through each of these 9 tracks before getting to the actual “score”.

The first track on the album is “Real Gone” by Sheryl Crow. This is one of the songs that was written for the film. This song, aside from just being lots of fun and making references to cars, has lyrics that fit Lightning McQueen’s character at the start of the film: “you got your blinders on”, referencing the things placed to side of a horse’s eyes so that it can only see straight ahead, refers to McQueen’s love for nothing but himself and his career.

Next is Chuck Berry’s “Route 66”, which is on the album for obvious reasons that I hope I don’t have to explain. John Mayer has another decent version of this song available on the album.

Rascall Flatts’ version of Tom Cochrane’s 1991 hit “Life is a Highway” is also included on the album for obvious reasons, but it also has a set of lyrics that fit in well with the themes of the film, found in the bridge:

“There was a distance between you and I

A misunderstanding once

But now, we look it in the eye.”

This chunk of lyric could fit either Lightning’s relationship with Sally, which grows from a mutual annoyance to a blossoming romance, or with Doc, which starts with a lack of communication/understanding but becomes a strong teacher/student or father/son relationship.

Brad Paisley wrote two songs for Cars the first of which is titled “Behind the Clouds”. The lyrics in this song talk about the silver lining that can be found in situations that appear bleak at first, i.e. Lightning getting lost and trapped in a near-ghost town in the middle of nowhere. Which turns out to be a blessing! Yay for songs that fit the story!

The third song on the soundtrack that was written for the film is titled “Our Town”, composed by Randy Newman and performed by James Taylor. This song, a Grammy winner and Academy Award nominee, reveals one of the morals of the film: what you have is only what you make of it, and no one can take it away from you. An awesome message, and one of the reasons why I love Pixar (even if Cars is far from my favorite).

“Sh-Boom”, a 1954 song by The Chords, is played during the scene where McQueen and the citizens of Radiator Springs restore the city to look the way it did in its heyday as a surprise for Sally. I wasn’t alive back then, but this song just seems to define the 50s for me. It’s relaxed and fun and perfect for this scene in the film.

The final lyrical song written for the film is another by Brad Paisley, this one titled “Find Yourself”. (On a quick side note, I now have Cars to thank for the presence of country music on my iPhone! Who’da thought it’d ever happen?!) This song, like “Our Town” is particularly poignant because it talks about how, though we may lose our ways in life sometimes, it’s at those times that we’re lost that we often discover who we really are and what we really want, as Lightning does in the film.

The final lyrical song included on the soundtrack album is Hank Williams’ “My Heart Would Know”, which, as far as I can tell, has no lyrical connection to the story, merely serving the purpose of establishing the setting/context/feel of the film.

And now we (finally) move on the the actual film score by Randy Newman. Unfortunately, Randy’s film scores are often like Hans Zimmer’s and Danny Elfman’s in the sense they sound the same a lot of the time (certainly not Randy’s themes, just his background music usually), and the first two instrumental tracks, “Opening Race” and “McQueen’s Lost”, do nothing to prove that theory wrong. “Opening Race” reminds me of some bits from Toy Story, while “McQueen’s Lost” has an entire 7-second section of music that almost sounds exactly like a theme from A Bug’s Life. (go to YouTube and compare :37-:44 of “McQueen’s Lost” to :34-:40 of “The Bird Flies”)

Luckily, Randy completely switches gears in the next track, “Bessie”, which suddenly turns into what could easily be mistaken for the intro to a country/western song. Thank you, Randy! Although there were hints of Toy Story again in the next track, “Dirt is Different”, and in a couple of other tracks later on, Randy sticks to a Western-feel, occasionally bluegrass-y, that is for the most part refreshing and different coming from him.

I don’t want to go into too much (more) detail, so I’ll sum it up.

Overall, while a bit familiar, the country feel to Cars’ instrumental score, in addition to the excellent vocal tracks that accompany it, makes this a better soundtrack than I initially expected. My favorite track is “McQueen and Sally”.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

1. “Real Gone” Sheryl Crow 3:22

2. “Route 66” Chuck Berry 2:52

3. “Life Is a Highway” Rascal Flatts 4:37

4. “Behind the Clouds” Brad Paisley 4:09

5. “Our Town” James Taylor 4:07

6. “Sh-Boom” The Chords 2:26

7. “Route 66” John Mayer 3:25

8. “Find Yourself” Brad Paisley 4:11

9. “Opening Race” 2:05

10. “McQueen’s Lost” 2:29

11. “My Heart Would Know” Hank Williams 2:27

12. “Bessie” 0:59

13. “Dirt Is Different” 1:28

14. “New Road” 1:17

15. “Tractor Tipping” 1:22

16. “McQueen & Sally” 2:00

17. “Goodbye” 2:42

18. “Pre-Race Pageantry” 1:31

19. “The Piston Cup” 1:52

20. “The Big Race” 3:07

Total Length: app. 53 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Danny Elfman

After listening through Danny Elfman’s score to Spider-Man (2002) yesterday, I checked out his score toSpider-Man 2 (2004) today. Again, this is in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Spider-Man reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, and Emma Stone.

I didn’t really have any expectations for Elfman’s sequel soundtrack, so I went into listening through it with a fairly open mind. I’m wrapping up my second listen-through as I type; I’m pretty unimpressed.

That’s not to say that I didn’t really enjoy it, though. It just fell victim to the Danny Elfman/Hans Zimmer Effect: it sounds the same as the first. The Main Title, as exciting in the second film’s score as it was in the first’s, is overused throughout, and much of the music seems to be a basic rehash of what was done in the first film’s score. I didn’t feel like I was listening to a different soundtrack like I should have.

That being said, Elfman managed to compose a couple of tracks that stand out as being pretty fantastic. “Doc Ock Is Born” introduces a theme for arguably the best Spider-Man villain, a theme that is used again multiple times throughout the film. “At Long Last, Love”, is a pleasant mix of emotion and themes from the first film – a moment that is appropriate for the main theme to be used. Despite the overuse of the main theme, Spider-Man 2’s score manages to improve just a bit on the first film’s score.

Overall, as enjoyable and fun as Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man 2 score is, it isn’t much different than his score for the first Spider-Man film, with a couple of exception tracks. However, it IS better-composed than the first film’s score, so bonus points for that. If you’re debating on buying it, take a listen to the tracks on YouTube or Spotify first and decide whether it’s different enough for you.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  1. “Spider-Man 2 (Main Title)” 3:21
  2. “M.J.’s New Life/Spidus Interruptus” 2:31
  3. “Doc Ock Is Born” 2:23
  4. “Angry Arms/Rebuilding” 2:51
  5. “A Phone Call/The Wrong Kiss/Peter’s Birthday” 2:06
  6. “The Mugging/Peter’s Turmoil” 3:21
  7. “The Bank/Saving May” 4:27
  8. “He’s Back!” 1:50
  9. “Doc Ock’s Machine” 1:42
  10. “Train/Appreciation” 6:16
  11. “Aunt May Packs” 2:51
  12. “Armageddon/A Really Big Web!” 6:28
  13. “The Goblin Returns” 1:36
  14. “At Long Last, Love” 2:59
  15. “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” – Performed by B. J. Thomas 3:14

Total Length: app. 48 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad


Spider-Man (2002) – Danny Elfman

I bought this album today in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, and Emma Stone.

The score for Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, composed by frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, initially unimpressed me. Aside from the Main Title and the occasional awesome musical moment, it felt rather bland. In fact, lots of it was reminiscent of Elfman’s score to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film; Elfman’s music frequently sounds the same (thus the reason for me dubbing him “a quirky Hans Zimmer”), so this came as no surprise to me.

I must admit, however, that most of the time I was listening today was in my car with the air conditioner on full blast and in the shower, so I was never one-on-one with the music. So, to be fair about it, I put on my over-the-ear headphones so that I could hear every detail and gave it another listen.

This time around, I enjoyed it a lot more. The Main Title was as excellent as ever, but I noticed the more intimate moments found within tracks such as “Revenge”, “Revelation”, and “Farewell”, as well as the more fun/exciting “Costume Montage”, “Parade Attack”, and “Final Confrontation”, closing with a fairly satisfying “End Credits” track.

Overall, while Danny Elfman’s score to Spider-Man (2002) may not be the best superhero score out there (I’ll get to that in a later post!), it provides just what the audience needs to enjoy Spidey’s crime-fighting adventures that much more.

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

1. “Main Title” 3:31

2. “Transformations” 3:31

3. “Costume Montage” 1:19

4. “Revenge” 6:13

5. “First Web” 0:56

6. “Something’s Different” 1:17

7. “City Montage” 1:50

8. “Alone” 1:37

9. “Parade Attack” 3:54

10. “Specter of the Goblin” 3:47

11. “Revelation” 2:32

12. “Getting Through” 2:05

13. “Final Confrontation” 7:19

14. “Farewell” 3:11

15. “End Credits” 1:54

Total Length: app. 46 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad