Soundtrack Review: Batman Forever

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Composed by: Elliot Goldenthal

Conducted by: Jonathan Sheffer & Shirley Walker

Following complaints about the unpleasant nature of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, Warner Brothers replaced the director of the Batman franchise with Joel Schumacher, who provided a more kid-friendly blockbuster. Though Batman Forever was heavily criticized for its overbearing neon lighting and its poor Two-Face (played way too over-the-top by Tommy Lee Jones), I rather like certain aspects of the film. It was the first in the series to seriously explore Bruce Wayne’s origins (although many of the scenes that would have effectively explained this plotline were unfortunately cut from the film) Michael Keaton’s replacement, Val Kilmer, does a fine enough job as Batman aside from some really goofy and memetastic faces, Jim Carrey turns in a delightful, if over-the-top, performance as the Riddler, and Elliot Goldenthal comes in to do perhaps one of his best scores. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Batman Returns

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Conducted by: Jonathan Scheffer

Following the smashing success of Batman, Tim Burton was given more creative freedom in the sequel. Batman Returns has good acting and great visuals, but Burton infused a little too much of his own style, resulting in a film that, reportedly, caused many children expecting a normal action film to come out of the theaters crying. In recent years it’s reputation has become quite good and I’m among those who have learned to appreciate it for its themes. it does have flaws such as weak action and uncomfortable sexuality. It has a pretty strong cast, with Danny Devito as an odd mutant take on the Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and Christopher Walken being awesome as always as evil business and power mogul Max Schreck. Among the Burton tropes in Batman Returns are a circus, plenty of pale faces, Gothic designs, and a dark Danny Elfman score.

The score is quite different from the first, which is more traditionally heroic. Its emphasis is on bleak darkness, as represented by its two new, liberally quoted themes. Both are sinister, but with a strong hint of tragedy. The Penguin’s theme debuts in “Birth of a Penguin” and gets extensive treatment in “The Lair” and “The Cemetery”. It’s used so often that how much you like the theme will effect how you feel about the whole album. Catwoman’s theme has two parts. The first is high-pitched strings representing the feline meowing and screeching of a cat. The second part is a more tragic motif that dominates the more sweeping portions of “Selina Transforms”. Christopher Walken’s character doesn’t get a theme despite his prominent relevance to both Penguin and Catwoman. The Batman theme itself takes a much more subdued role. Whereas the 1989 film had plenty of lengthy, heroic iterations, this one sees smaller references, often without any of the heroic brass. There is an amazing version for the opening titles, with a dark choir lending some extra gravitas and atmosphere. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Batman (1989)

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Orchestrated by: Shirley Walker & Steve Bartek

Although he had returned to his grimmer, darker roots nearly twenty years earlier in the comics, Batman was still often perceived by the non-comic reading community as the campy crusader of the sixties TV show, battling alongside Robin against colorful villains while such words as “POW!” and “BANG!” lit up the screen. Just as the Superman movie franchise was dying a horrible death, Batman was brought to the silver screen by director Tim Burton, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson giving memorable performances as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Joker. My favorite bat-film other than The Dark Knight, Batman had its music done by Burton’s regular composer-collaborator, Danny Elfman. It was this score that made Elfman one of the biggest composers of Hollywood, and also established him as on of the top choices for comic book movie music. Elfman was an excellent choice, his dark, impressionistic style of film-scoring a natural fit for Batman. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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Composed and Conducted by: John Williams

Nearly two decades after Indiana Jones literally rode into the sunset with Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to revisit the franchise, a move with its fair share of controversy since Harrison Ford was noticeably much, much older. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has gotten mixed reviews, and is often cited as the worst movie in series. I have to agree that it’s the worst, but despite some serious flaws, especially its underwhelming last act, I think it’s an okay movie with some genuinely great scenes.

One of the most exciting aspects of Indiana Jones coming back was the return of John Williams, who at this point had just started to take it easier with his movie scoring schedule. As with his return to Star Wars, much time had elapsed since he scored Indiana Jones. Would his changed style of scoring affect how fun the score would be? Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Spectre

Composed and Conducted by: Thomas Newman

Spectre, as the title suggests, reintroduced the evil organization led by the cat-stroking Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Daniel Craig’s performance as 007 is even better, but the film is a mixed bag. It’s great for the first two-thirds, but gets mired by an attempt to link all of the Craig films together, as well as tying his origins to Blofeld and Spectre’s creation, an unnecessary move that wastes time and adds nothing. It’s not a terrible film, just an underwhelming one.

With Sam Mendes staying on for this film, it was inevitable that Thomas Newman would return too, making him only the third recurring composer after John Barry and David Arnold. Unfortunately, entire passages of music are recycled from Skyfall, though the album does focus on the more original material. For the third time the title song is not included on the soundtrack! This time it’s Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall”, which has good lyrics and fantastic music. Its main downfall is Smith’s singing voice, which just didn’t do it for me. I feel he gets way too high-pitched at points. Also, as with Adele’s “Skyfall”, Newman only uses the song once in his score, in an instrumental version that doesn’t even make full use of the melody. Perhaps there were production issues as with Skyfall that hindered him from utilizing it more. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Skyfall

Composed and Conducted by: Thomas Newman

The 50th anniversary for the James Bond film was marked by Skyfall, a rather good film that successfully meshed some of the old school tropes of the franchise with more recent sensibilities. It’s probably the most artistic entry in the franchise, especially when it comes to the lighting work. As it’s a Sam Mendes film, David Arnold was replaced by Mendes’ choice composer, Thomas Newman, a move which irked a few fans who had really been enjoying Arnold’s run.

Skyfall’s soundtrack has its fair share of difficulties regarding the song of the same name by Adele. First of all, it’s not on the actual soundtrack thanks to contractual issues, as was the case with “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale. Also, it was not completed in time for Newman to incorporate it into his score, which is a real shame because it’s one of the best songs, and features a strong, powerful tune. Newman did hold off on scoring one scene, just so there could be at least one reference. The track is “Komodo Dragon”, which plays the theme wonderfully before atmospheric material and some Asian string music. It’s one of the best tracks and shows what could have been if there was more coordination in the music department. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Quantum of Solace

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

Following the successfully realistic take on James Bond in Casino Royale, Ian Craig found himself the star of a rejuvenated series. Quantum of Solace serves as a second half to Bond’s origin story and continues the grittier style of its predecessor. It’s possibly my least favorite film in the series. It’s enslaved by modern action film conventions, the worst being the shaky cam and quick cuts which make the action scenes unwatchable. The plot and the villains are uninspiring as well. There’s little to no memorability to the whole film.

Scoring Bond for the fifth time, David Arnold faced a similar obstacle when once again, as with Die Another Day, the title song was created without any input from him. “Another Way to Die” is a duet by Alicia Keys and Jack White. It’s a so-so song, and I personally don’t find it as horrible as nearly everyone else seems to believe. Unlike Madonna’s song from Die Another Day, there is at least some melody, but it features un-Bondish wailing and voices that come across as a tad whiny at times. That being said, David Arnold does use pieces of it in his score, most notably towards the end of “Greene and Camille”, and the brief, but sexy “Field Trip”. However, while using bits of the song, Arnold also has his own six-note main theme (derived from the opening of a proposed song he made with none other than Shirley Bassey), a short piece introduced towards the end of “Time to Get Out”. As a result, his score has plenty of themes, but they don’t work as cohesively as they might have if Arnold only referenced one song. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Casino Royale

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After numerous complaints from James Bond fans regarding Die Another Day, the producers spent a couple extra years on the next film, ultimately deciding to go with a reboot that toned down the camp elements. Martin Campbell, director of the well-loved Goldeneye, came on to create this more realistic take on 007. Pierce Brosnan’s suave character was replaced with a more hard-edged and less quippy performance by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale is probably my favorite James Bond movie. I didn’t think I could ever be so engrossed by watching people play cards.

Coming over from the Brosnan years was David Arnold. His score for Casino Royale proves to be noticeably different from his previous scores, especially Die Another Day. For the third time he was allowed to help create the title song, and the result is one of the best Bond songs yet, and my favorite. Sung by Chris Cornell, “You Know My Name” is relentlessly energetic with awesome bad-ass lyrics. Unlike most of the previous songs, it doesn’t talk about romance or sleaze, but focuses on the dangerous life of a secret agent. Unfortunately, some legal issues prevented this wonderful piece of music from getting on album, and its absence is very frustrating since the CD now lacks its appropriate opener. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Die Another Day

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

After a good start in 1995 with Goldeneye, the James Bond movies starring Pierce Brosnan would lose their steam in 2002’a Die Another Day. Released on the 40th anniversary of the franchise, it met with commercial success, but was panned by critics and most Bond fans for heightening the levels of camp and throwing in a lot of CGI. The lousiness of the critical reception caused the producers to create a serious reboot in Casino Royale.

Also receiving some criticism was the music. Despite his proven successes with “Surrender” and “The World is Not Enough”, David Arnold had no involvement with this flick’s opening number. One of the worst atrocities of the film is the opening song “Die Anther Day” performed by Madonna. It’s the worst song ever to grace the main titles of a Bond flick. It’s greatest sin is the lack of an actual melody to incorporate into the score. It is instead a bunch of repetitive electronics frequently interrupted by distortions. The lyrics themselves are heavily auto-tuned and pretty atrocious. The song appears to be about shutting down your body and denying sex, with a random utterance of “Sigmund Freud” that has no place in any Bond song. Making matters worse is that the album version runs about five minutes long. Amazingly, the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra managed to make a cool instrumental of this song, so check that out. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: The World is Not Enough

Composed by: David Arnold

Conducted by: Nicholas Dodd

The World is Not Enough is generally considered to be a flawed gem. It has a pretty good and unique storyline, but thanks to some questionable choices (Denise Richards as a twenty-something nuclear physicist in hot pants is the film’s greatest error) a good number of fans don’t care much for it. Thanks to the smashing success of his music for Tomorrow Never Dies, David Arnold returned. After a great score for the aforementioned film, David Arnold was officially the new musician for James Bond, and was the first after John Barry to actually get to a second outing.

This time Arnold was able to provide the opening title song, which of course shares its title with the movie. It’s a good song, and weaves in a bit of the James Bond theme at the end. Usually only three notes, the “not enough” portion of the song, is used frequently, with the following melody distinguishing its use in certain scenes. There’s a romantic version that soars in Snow Business” which regrettably was only available via David Arnold’s website instead of the actual album. It is present on piano in “Christmas in Turkey”. There’s an action variation that is introduced in “Come in, 007, Your Time is Up” and more notably in “Ice Bandits”. Continue reading