Even before anyone had heard a note of it, Danny Elfman's score for The Hulk was mired in controversy. Late in post-production, Mychael Danna, who had been hired to score the film, was relieved of his duties, and Elfman, super--scorer that he is, was hired to lend musical expression to Ang Lee's ill-tempered green giant. Folks cried about how they wanted to hear what Danna, a unique choice to score such a film, had come up with. Was it merely the enticing opportunity of Danna's efforts, or the fact that Elfman was now on the film that had people so upset? No stranger to superheroes and comic books, Danny launched the the most fertile period of his career with Batman, through to the early '90s with Darkman, Dick Tracy, Batman Returns and the theme for the television series The Flash. He would later collaborate with Darkman director Sam Raimi for 2002's biggest financial success, Spider-Man, making everyone at Marvel notice. So, it was a wise decision on Universal Pictures and Marvel's part to go with a proven formula: "Music by Danny Elfman". The Hulk proves the formula is still viable, as Elfman's score is brilliant, matching the scope and tone of the picture, proving to be progressive, often exhilirating and touched with Elfman's unique brand of tragedy.
The score is anchored by an often-repeated theme that is stated quickly in the magnificent "Main Titles", first as a scientific-sounding 6-note descending motif for woodwinds and then later developed in the brass and strings ("Hulk Out!", "A Man Again"). Like Spider-Man, it's not an immediately obvious main theme, but it is there if you want to find it. This main "Science" theme is then put through it's paces in "Prologue", an extension of ideas from the "Main Titles", and the first appearance of the female vocals performed by Natacha Atlas, which are perhaps this score's most controversial sticking point. The motivations for the vocals (and later the addition of duduk) are not clear (without having seen the film). They could in fact represent the mental anguish and alienation that Bruce Banner feels, particularly his estrangement from Betty Ross. They could even be holdovers from Mychael Danna's original approach to the score, as per director Ang Lee's request. Female vocals are not entirely new for Danny Elfman, his score for Anywhere But Here featured a similiar solo, though with a more pronounced pop infusion. Regardless of why they're here, they do the work intended, adding an emotional gravitas to an otherwise loud and rambunctious summer movie blockbuster score, which is something increasingly rare. But wait, there's more -- Elfman also dials in a whispery theme for Betty and Bruce (heard in "Betty's Dream", "The Truth Revealed", "Gentle Giant" and the final minute of "Hounds Of Hell" and "The Aftermath") using vocals, tragic strings and a shimmering woodwind solo. The style here is reminiscent of Elfman's masterful Dolores Claiborne mixed with ominous Red Dragon touches.
Action elements are surprisingly rare here, "Captured" introduces a bevy of percussion rythms overtop vocals and an Eastern-like string rythm. This might be the first time that Danny Elfman has written anything remotely resembling a Hans Zimmer-like action cue(!). "Hulk Out!" features the first real, balls-to-the-wall action scoring, with towering brass grunts overtop urgent strings coupled with frenetic percussion, concluding with a full-scale rendition of the main theme. "...Making Me Angry" rises the tension with a great brass-rythm before going drum wild; more thrills in the crackling "Hounds Of Hell" (full of large-scale brass runs and martial-drum rythms), and "The Lake Battle", which closes out the action scoring.
Despite the fact that Elfman scores more mainstream films then ever before (remember when he'd mix up the big-budget projects with stuff like Freeway?) he still imbues his scores with flashes of his twisted sensibility, particularly in The Hulk, which features many dark passages, particularly for Bruce Banner's father in "Dad's Visit" (which seques immediately into "Hulk Out!"), and "Father Knows Best" (two of my favorite tracks), which churn with menacing synth effects. A little dissonance is dialed in for good measure in "Bruce's Memories" (complete with bass line!).
Additional highlights include the duduk-laced and tragic "The Truth Revealed", which features a heartbreaking statement of the "Betty and Bruce" theme. The track concludes with a gorgeous and warm reprise of Atlas' vocals. B-e-a-utiful! "Hulk's Freedom" brings back the vocals and percussion for a victorious and thundering fanfare, and Elfman continues the triumphant vibe in "A Man Again", stating the main theme without a hint of sadness, while Eastern percussion makes a return.
Decca Records has provided a generous sixty minutes of score. I personally believe that score albums that run from forty-five to fifty minutes play better, and The Hulk might have benefited from a little tightening. On the plus side, sixty minutes means a great deal more music to choose from, a very good thing when you consider the handful of cues from Spider-Man that never made it on it's own score album. Robert Fernandez's recording is beefy and Dennis Sands completed the final mix. Unfortunately, some of the more wilder passages sacrifice the orchestra for the electronics, the same problem that plagued David Arnold's Die Another Day. This is still a fine sounding album, with plenty of seperation between instruments but with an immediate presence. As a welcome change, there is only one song, "Set Me Free", on the disc. Performed essentially by the members of Guns N' Roses (known here as "Reloaded") minus frontman Axl Rose, who apparently has a surging career watching television. The song is nothing special, and will hold little interest for film music collectors.
This album has a lot of challenges, it's short on hardcore action scoring, heavy on pathos, it's dark and not always pleasant. It's probably doomed to immediate criticism from the crowd of vanilla taste film music fans who populate message boards. There's something here though, something distinctly Elfman, that means a rewarding listening experience will develop. With each listen, this album opens up, reveals a new idea, and ties together two others. If you found that to be true while listening to Elfman's Planet Of The Apes or Spider-Man, you'll find it in The Hulk too. Expectations can kill a film score before anyone even hears a note. The Hulk strikes a balance between what you'd expect: percussive thunder and brass lightning, and what you don't: female vocals and Eastern influences. In short, it's typical Danny Elfman -- never the easy route! - Review by Ryan Keaveney.
Music Composed and Produced by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Sloanaker, Bruce Fowler, Mark McKenzie,
Jeff Atmajian, Pete Anthony and Robert Elhai
Conducted by Pete Anthony
Score Recorded by Robert Fernandez / Mixed by Dennis Sands
Label (Catalogue): Decca Records, (B000063302)
Availability: In print
Purchasing options: Available at Amazon.com
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