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Mars Attacks! (1996)
Music Composed by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Add'tl Orchestrations by Edgardo Simone and Mark McKenzie
Conducted by Artie Kane
Recorded and Mixed by Shawn Murphy
Album Produced by Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek and Ellen Segal

Label (Catalogue): Atlantic Records, (82992-2)
Availability: Out of print
Purchasing options: Check secondary market at Amazon.com


"Getting back with him [Tim Burton] and doing Mars Attacks! was certainly a special treat. You know, when I'm scoring Tim's films it kind of doesn't feel like work in a weird way. I sit here going, "God, I'm getting paid for this? It's so much fun!" It's like too much fun to be considered work." - Danny Elfman



Danny Elfman fans waited a long time for Mars Attacks! to see a release on CD, and in the end it was well worth the anticipation. Elfman's return to scoring collaborating with Tim Burton is wonderfully weird and appropriately "out there". Mars Attacks! is loaded with all of the Danny trademarks that make his scores truly original and outrageous.

The album begins with "Introduction", wonderfully perverse as it ends, and then transitions into "Main Titles", what ends up being the top track of the disc. The orchestrations and writing here are one hundred feet deep. Too many noises - compliments of Elfman's burgeoning use of electronic wizardy - to count, they all weave into this lacksadaisical march as Martians wobble their way to earth. This newfound mastery of percussion and the wacky colours of the theremin and ondes martenot, adult chorus, and a wickedly crooked female chant makes this loud and brash "Main Titles" one of the composers most addictive.

"The Landing" covers the military's approach into Paruhmp, Nevada (rich horns and a cuckoo clock sound) and the grand entrance of the Martian Ambassador and his henchmen. A great deal of synthesized whisps and female voice are used to create an sense of epic fromage. Things get even more peculiar as the Martian Ambassador glides his way down his ship's ramp to greet an U.S. Army General (Paul Winfield). And in a turn of pure farce, when the Martian declares "We come in peace", a full bore chorus erupts in relief. Played straight, this comes off even more hilarious when you listen to it.

Elfman keeps you guessing with Mars Attacks!, shifting gears with the otherwordly "Ungodly Experiments", "Martian Madame" and "Martian Lounge", which harken back to Elfman's satirical imitation of late '50s style lounge music in Edward Scissorhands. With tracks like "Loving Heads", which gives Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan a triumphant love theme and "New World", which swells to resounding joy as Tom Jones ermerges from his post-apocalyptic sanctuary only to feed a nearby deer, you get the feeling that this sort of wonderfully perverse humor will only be lost on the masses!

Folks with a taste for lighter material might find tracks like "Pursuit" and "Airfield Dilemma" difficult to listen too due to their crushing orchestrations. They are indeed harrowing efforts to stomach, but for anyone who has handled any Elfman-chaos before, they should be little problem. Things are much more palateable with "Ritchie's Speech", a triumphant fanfare for Jim Brown's martian head stomp before returning back to his wife and children. The score concludes with "End Credits", which mixes percussiver portions of Elfman's score with vintage Slim Wittman. It really isn't the kind of large scale credits that encompass all the best cues from the score that made the ones from Batman Returns so enjoyable, however it does provide a substantial variation on the major themes.

The album finishes out with Slim Wittman's "Indian Love Call" and the immortal classic "It's Not Unusual" by Tom Jones. Both are wisely sequenced at the end of the CD as to not interrupt the score. A lot of people don't appreciate songs on their scores and most of the time I agree with them. But these are not everyday songs and after a few listenings, are almost strangely amusing.

When I originally reviewed Mars Attacks! in 1997 I felt the disc was mildly anemic. It wasn't as long as I would have liked, with a handful of essential cues missing (Jack Nicholson's show-stopping speech to the Martian Leader, and subsequent death, being one major highlight). However, if you consider the misfire this film was at the box office, I suppose any soundtrack album is better than no soundtrack album! In this case, Atlantic Records' album (sadly now out-of-print) is nicely recorded by Shawn Murphy and provides a solid narrative of a listening experience. If you loved the film, or were even one of the few who truly "got" it, Mars Attacks! is an essential Elfman score. There's a true love for the kitsch films Burton and Elfman are obviously paying homage to.



Warner Bros.' DVD release of Mars Attacks! features Elfman's score on an isolated audio track.

True story: After Danny Elfman and Tim Burton had a falling out over credit on Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton hired Howard Shore to score his next film, Ed Wood (1994). Fast-forward two years, and Howard Shore was once again signed to collaborate with the director, this time on Burton's lavish sci-fi spectacle Mars Attacks!. Strange but true, during production on Mars Burton dreamt that Elfman scored the picture instead of Shore. Apparently never one to ignore his dreams, Burton respectfully - and amicably - released Howard Shore from the project. Elfman was promptly hired, and director and composer, old friends, patched things up.

Feature: The complete 'Mars Attacks' score
Interview: Film Score Monthly - "Tales from the Darkside" by Doug Adams

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Click for enlarged CD artwork
Click cover to enlarge
01. Introduction (1:40)
02. Main Titles (2:22)
03. First Sighting (1:26)
04. The Landing (6:01)
05. Ungodly Experiments (:53)
06. State Address (3:06)
07. Martian Madame (3:02)
08. Martian Lounge (2:54)
09. Return Message (2:17)
10. Destructo X (1:17)
11. Loving Heads (1:20)
12. Pursuit (2:55)
13. The War Room (1:31)
14. Airfield Dilemma (2:05)
15. New World (1:45)
16. Ritchie's Speech (3:09)
17. End Credits (3:53)
18. Indian Love Call (3:08)
     Performed By Slim Whitman
19. It's Not Unusual (2:00)
     Performed By Tom Jones

Total running time: 46:44

Danny Elfman's music at:
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Contents Site Updates News Sound and Video Filmography Features Articles 99 Discussion Board Who Is Elfman? Links Send e-mail About This Site
Danny Elfman qoute from from FSM Vol. 2, No. 4, June 1997
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