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The Men In Black are back. This time, the film is shorter, the budget bigger, the score... Quirkier. After nabbing one of his first two Academy Award nominations for Men In Black, Elfman returns to score the sequel to 1997's highest-grossing box office draw. Never a composer to revisit sequel-land often, Danny Elfman's only previous sequel credit is Batman Returns, the follow-up to his hugely successful Batman score (Elfman did score Big Top Pee-Wee, the sequel to Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but a different studio produced the picture, meaning none of Elfman's material from the first film was integrated into Big Top Pee-Wee). Like the differences between the Batman scores, Men In Black II brings a considerable amount of different ideas to the table, while still retaining the suave retro-funk of the original. This time the laughs are dialed up instead of the action, making for a somewhat surprising, and light-hearted listen. The summer of 2002 marks a milestone for Elfman, as Men In Black II marks the second major blockbuster the composer has scored this summer -- the other, a small film you might have seen, was called Spider-Man. That score was a phenomenal success, creating a daunting task for anything to follow it. While Men In Black II can't measure up to Spider-Man's brilliance, it succeeds because it's of a different breed.

Perhaps the most distinct difference from Elfman's previous M.I.B score and this one is the absence of Herrmann-ish "bug" tones. Whereas the first score had towering brass clusters of dissonance contrasted against a grooving title theme and a soft, sentimental acoustic guitar theme for "K" (which makes a cameo in "J Nabbed/K's Back"), Men In Black II foregoes the heavy-hand for a more swinging lounge touch. What will you get instead of the Herrmann-homages? Plenty, and I mean plenty, of variations on the Men In Black main theme. You'll hear a permutation of the theme in every track on this album, from "Worm Lounge #1", to more pure versions in the "Titles", to the scattered version in "Sleuthing". Elfman makes sure to make each statement slightly unique, sometimes splitting the themes orchestration, with the pizz section playing it's part, and the bass line following. Sometimes with the brass fanfare, sometimes without it. The result is fresh, without the theme overstaying it's welcome.

The album opens with the hilarious "Worm Lounge # 1 (Worms In Black)", a bachelor-pad escapee complete with tongue-in-cheek '60s-esque vocal samples (singing along with the main theme), Elfman's percussion samples, woodwind trills, bongo rythms and chilled organ. The "Worm Lounge" tracks serve as source cues for the Worm Guys' apartment, where Twister is the game of choice while the diminutive aliens down martinis. The fact that this track is sequenced to open the album is as if Elfman's daring people who sample it in music stores, to buy the CD. Lunk-heads pining for the forgettable Will Smith song "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)" will shake in their boots once they hear a few moments of "Worm Lounge #1". It's the most subversive and brilliant case of commercial suicide in film music history!

Elfman's score opens properly with the soft "Logo" and segues into the "Titles", which alternates between cute, bombastic and ethereal. Halfway through the cue, a choir sings an Elfman trademark "la, laa, la" for the film's main baddie, Serleena (musically represented by reverberating vibes). It's a welcome quintessential Elfman moment, and one we haven't heard in a long time. Speaking of Elfmanish ideas, the adult choir appears here in a more substantial form then Elfman has used recently.

"Big Jeff" supplies one of the album's only genuine action cues, which is surprising as the previous Men In Black album was loaded with pyrotechnics. One of the album's highlights is in "Headquarters", where Elfman allows his choir to soar in a touching moment. This choir element is reprised in "J Nabbed/K's Back" and "The Real Story", as a secondary motif for "K". There's some genuinely touching moments in "Heart Thump" (the luuuve theme), and "The Light" (big read of "K's Theme" here). Elfman's "Finale" for Men In Black is one of his greatest cues, and unfortunately the brevity of the second film's finale doesn't allow the composer the opportunity to do the same. "The Finale" for Men In Black II is a brisk eighteen seconds! Following the lead in Planet of The Apes and Spider-Man, Elfman "revisits" his main titles cue (ahem, "Titles Revisited"), essentially remixing the piece, adding and subtracting along the way.

Danny Elfman should be given credit for not simply retreading his original Men In Black material. There's enough here to give this score it's own identity and the right to sit beside the original. While Men In Black II is a charming sequel score that evokes the spirit of the original, it doesn't necessarily eclipse the original in terms of sheer enjoyment. Men In Black II the film lacks a thoroughly menacing villain and a solid script, two things that obviously worked against Elfman's inspiration. But the composer delivers the goods nonetheless, adding resonance to the fleeting emotional moments, and enough drive to the action/comedy. Fans of the first score will find lots to like here. - Review by Ryan Keaveney from Cinemusic.net.

Music Composed and Produced by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker and Bruce Fowler
Conducted by Pete Anthony
Additional Orchestrations, MIDI Supervision and Choral Conducting by Marc Mann
Recorded and Mixed by Dennis Sands at the Newman Scoring Stage

Label (Catalogue): Columbia / Overbrook / Sony Musix Soundtrax, (CK 86295)
Availability: In print
Purchasing options: Available at Amazon.com

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Click for enlarged CD artwork
Click cover to enlarge
01. Worm Lounge #1
      (Worms In Black)
(5'58)
02. Logo (0'22)
03. Titles (5'01)
04. Big Jeff (2'25)
05. Headquarters (1'52)
06. Chop-Chop (1'59)
07. Heart Thump (1'50)
08. Customs (0'51)
09. Hunting for K (1'40)
10. J Nabbed / K's Back (2'20)
11. The Real Story (1'41)
12. Sleuthing (2'20)
13. The Defense Begins (2'47)
14. The Chase (3'22)
15. The Light (5'43)
16. The Finale (0'18)
17. Worm Lounge #2 (3'08)
18. Titles Revisited (2'54)
19. I Will Survive (3'00)
      Performed by Tim Blaney
20. Black Suits Comin'
      (Nod Ya Head) (4'20)
      Performed by Will Smith

Total Running Time: 53'31

Danny Elfman's music at:
Amazon.com






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