Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Composed by Danny Elfman, Christopher Young, and John Debney

Spider-Man 2 has been regarded by many as one of the best superhero movies, or at least was until the explosion of the genre with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’d say it’s still up there as one of the greatest of all time. The film incorporates the famous “Spider-Man No More” storyline. Peter Parker’s personal life is turning into a shambles because of his duties as Spider-Man. Feeling the pressure, he gives up his superheroics, only to learn that this was the wrong decision. While this is going on Dr. Octopus, surprisingly portrayed as a sympathetic character by Alfred Molina, is trying to conduct an experiment which would tear New York apart. Unfortunately this movie destroyed director Sam Raimi and composer Danny Elfman’s long friendship. Raimi grew obsessed with the temp track and kept pressing Elfman to change some of his cues to sound like the work of another composer, Christopher Young. Elfman told him to just hire Young. Raimi actually did so, bringing in Young and also John Debney to rescore a few scenes. Elfman was so upset that he broke things off with his longtime friend.

This resulted in a unique album situation. As with the first film there was a lengthy “music from and inspired by” album with a 45-minute score album following a month later by an original score release. The first album had two edited together suites of Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus’ themes. The score album itself actually has music not from the film. These include most of “Dock Ock is Born,” “Aunt May Packs,” and “Train.” Continue reading

Spider-Man (2002)

Composed by: Danny Elfman

The superhero movie genre was still struggling to find its place at the dawn of the 21st century. The Batman series had fizzled out and X-Men, while successful, wasn’t blowing the general audience’s minds. Then Sam Raimi, a big Spider-Man fan, brought the beloved web-slinger to the big screen with smashing success. Spider-Man was established as one of the first truly great superhero movies. Some say the film hasn’t aged well. I admit it’s cheesy, but Raimi uses the cheesiness to his advantage. I just love this movie. There’s Willem Dafoe’s deliciously maniacal Green Goblin, J.K. Simmons’ flawless performance as J. Jonah Jameson, and really good supporting work from characters like Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man/Peter Parker really gets across the character’s awkward dorkiness, though he’s distractingly too old to be a teenager (thankfully the film is quick to get him out of high school). Raimi worked with one of his long-time collaborators, composer Danny Elfman. Elfman had already established himself in the superhero genre with the Burton Batman films and Raimi’s cult classic Darkman.

Surprisingly there was controversy amongst film score fans over Spider-Man’s theme. There was a claim that he didn’t have one or that is was hard to find. It’s true that the character has several themes and motifs, but there is a main identity clearly established very early on in “Main Title.” It breaks out at heroic moments in “Revenge” and “Parade Attack” and closes out the score dramatically at the end of “Farewell.” Perhaps one cause for the confusion is that Elfman often only utilizes the first few notes before bringing in thumping action music or another motif. The fullest version of the theme also doesn’t appear that often, reserved for certain moments such as the final web-slinging sequence in “Farewell.” One of the more notable uses of the theme is in “Costume Montage.” Elfman has the theme played on electric guitar as Peter Parker draws out various designs for a cool costume. 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