Review by John Mullin -- Words to describe Danny Elfman's Spider-Man score, "Fun" is a good one. It's an entertaining listen that manages to be serious (and to convey the right amounts of dread and sentiment, when needed), but that never forgets to avoid taking itself too seriously.
"Modern" works as well. This isn't a traditionally styled superhero score; it's new Elfman, complete with samples, exotic percussion, and complex compositional ideas that the genre might not necessarily be used to.
"Intimate" seems appropriate, too, although even as I type it, I find myself a little surprised by that reaction. There are quiet moments in this score — delicate ones — which, for one reason or another, I wasn't really expecting.
Elfman's new opus will inescapably draw comparisons to another score he wrote for a movie of the same genre, Batman. Many of those comparisons might come with a comment or two suggesting that Elfman's "not as good as he used to be," or some other such rubbish. The truth is that Danny Elfman does not approach these movies the same as he did when he was first starting out, but were that not the case, would his fans still be as interested in his new projects? And when those projects paid off, would the results not be quite as mesmerizing?
Spider-Man pays off. Cues like "Costume Montage" and "City Montage" show an Elfman who's just as compositionally spry and inventive as ever. "Revenge" shows that he can still write action music with the best of them, and the last minute or so of Farewell proves that he's not lost the ability to cap off a movie with a finale that sends shivers down one's spine.
Themes. Oh yes, this score has them (despite what the chumps on Aint-It-Cool-News.com might claim), and most of them are damn effective. I've come to think of the "mid-to-late 90's" phase of Elfman's constantly evolving style as a time where he was testing the limits of what function themes and motifs could really serve in a film score. The results often led to more subdued music where the themes were not terribly conspicuous, thusly alienating even his core fan base on occasion, who mostly wanted him to crank out heavily thematic music as he always had.
Sleepy Hollow (1999) was a milestone in which Elfman took the lessons learned from all that experimentation and applied them to a big (and immensely satisfying) action / fantasy score. His subsequent projects have followed suit, leading to one of the most interesting and creative legs of his career. Although there have been occasional stumbles (I, for one, never really bonded with Proof Of Life), there have been more than enough Familt Mans (Family Men?) and Planet of The Apess (Planets of The Apes?) to keep me excited to hear what he's going to do next.
The themes of Spider-Man do not smack one in the face as boldly as Batman's did, but I'm of the mind that what Elfman came up with here is almost better. It's a more subtle approach that might not wear out its welcome so quickly. There's no one, big theme that blasts every time Spider-man does something cool, and repeated listenings make the material more complex and enjoyable rather than tiresome. Spiderman / Peter Parker himself has both an "A" theme and a "B" theme. The A theme is heard much more frequently and with a wider array of variations. It starts off quietly, right at the head of the "Main Titles", and gradually gets larger and more aggressive as the cue develops. In addition to being heard prominently in recent Hardee's commercials, it's usually present whenever Spider-Man himself is.
The "B" theme is much more muted and noble, and is usually heard in connection with Ben Parker and the idea that "with great power comes great responsibility." It makes its first appearance toward the end of the "Main Titles", but is perhaps most thrillingly is heard right at the head of "City Montage", and in a similar way, before the big crescendo which concludes "Farewell" (note: the version of "Farewell" on the score album is approx. 1 minute shorter then the version on the "songtrack" album). The Green Goblin's motif gets a lot of play in "Parade Attack" and "Final Confrontation". It has the feel of a demonic taunting, and constantly evokes the feeling that the character attached to it is unstable and sitting on a bed of explosive rage.
The love theme, to me, is a little reminiscent of my favorite Elfman score of late; The Family Man. The theme gets its most impassioned cover in "Revelation", but appears frequently both on this album and throughout the film, adding an element which distinguishes it from other Elfman superhero outings: tenderness. Indeed, this one theme alone shows the biggest difference between the Elfman of today and the one who did Batman 13 years ago. Thematic bombast, while enjoyable, makes way for something more thought provoking, and ultimately, with more depth.
I do have some minor grievances, though. The mixing on the album sounds a little "tinny" to me, although not as much so as on the song album. At 45 minutes, the CD has found an excellent pace, thanks partially to fact that some cues are NOT arranged in chronological order. Purists may complain, but one track flows smoothly into the next, and the album contains no noticeable "dead spots" that I can see myself wanting to skip over once the music becomes more familiar.
The only cue from the film that's conspicuously absent is the one that begins as Peter Parker climbs the brick wall in the alleyway while discovering his new powers. There were cool horn blasts that mimicked his initial movements, simply evoking the word, "cool." Not on the CD, but oh well.
Spider-Man is worth your money. Don't pick it up expecting Batman, but it's a solid Elfman effort just the same that offers something interesting to listen to while staying light, fun, and kick ass, all at once.
Music Composed by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Mark McKenzie, Edgardo Simone, and David Sloanaker
Additional Orchestrations by Marc Mann
Orchestra Conducted by Pete Anthony
Recorded and Mixed by Dennis Sands at Sony Pictures and Eastwood Scoring Stage
Album Produced by Ellen Segal and Danny Elfman
Label (Catalogue): Columbia/Sony Music Soundtracks, (CK 86681)
Availability: In print
Purchasing options: Available at Amazon.com
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