Proof Of Life was notorious (I say "was" because the film came and went with nary a ripple at the box office) for the offscreen romance between it's leads - Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe. The real sizzle is on the screen - not in Meg and Russell's character's dynamic but in Danny Elfman's hammering and somewhat cynical score. It really cooks.
In 1995 Danny Elfman wrote what has now become the defining score of his current writing style - Dead Presidents. It was a departure into a darker soundscape of MIDI-driven rythms with a greater emphasis on atonal sounds and dissonance and less reliance on thematic material. Dolores Claiborne further explored these ideas but on a larger symphonic scale. It was hard to believe that a composer who had penned some of modern film music's most popular and memorable themes was leaving them behind. A mass exodus occured - Elfman fans with one foot in the pool quickly yanked them out and ran for the hills -- consuming in the process inferior Elfman imitations like James Horner's Casper and others (which I won't name here). Those who were faithful however lucked out on smaller more intimate gems like A Simple Plan (again a score which a few think are brilliant while most others were peeing their pants about Titanic. Shame on them - I bet they'd be embarassed to admit it).
Fast forward a few years and Danny Elfman reteams with director Taylor Hackford. The results are Proof Of Life, a dark and percussion laden effort that really doesn't deviate from Elfman's current formula. The biggest hurdle here is the lack of a major, dominant theme. There are hints at one, but don't expect a big, lyrical, Hollywood motif to come blasting out of your speakers during the finale.
The album begins with "Main Title" and introduces most of what Proof Of Life will be made of - various layers of ethnic percussion, woodwinds, string orchestra and a grinding synth effect that would make an early '80's Goldsmith proud. It's this oscillating synth effect that is most original to the score and it's used effectively throughout to lend a pop-ish element. "Main Title" is one of the album's biggest highlights - showcasing some truly harrowing string and percussion playing. It is as intricately woven as Elfman's Mission: Impossible but with the ethnic feel of his 1999 effort Instinct. Elfman's music here is many patterns forcing themselves against each other - often proving to be difficult to listen to. It's not "easy music".
"The Hostage Game" opens with soft guitar plucks that represent Meg Ryan's character. Things make a turn and seque into a hammering percussion line punctuated by shots from an ethnic flute. There's a moment here of harps that stretches back to his score for Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Jar -- fans will notice it. "Plane To Catch" and "Alice Breaks Down" represent some of the score's more serene moments (and invoke memories of Goldsmith's Medicine Man). They're pensive cues for orchestra and solo piano - with that synth groove making an appearance halfway through "Alice Breaks Down".
"Bullet In The Head" (nice title) returns things to a dark tone while "The Miscarriage" is probably the disc's most straight ahead cue with sad, slow rolling strings and piano. "Escape" starts out omniously with rumbling frame drum hits and various percussion elements that build into a cacophony (all backed by thrilling, swelling strings!) of dissonant brass calls. "The Rescue" is another major album highlight - a pure actioner that begins with a medley of percussion then dials in strings and anvil. "The Finale" - while good - is not quite up there with past Elfman finales (like those in Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Men In Black... Or just about any of his past scores). It still manages however to wrap up the album nicely (perhaps at 30 mins. a bit short, but with Union fees 30 mins. is a sad reality).
Of note is Dennis Sands' recording and mixing job. This is a fantastic sounding album - it's mastered at a meaty level. Varese's packaging, while containing all the necessary info on the back insert, is still anemic inside. A note or two is always appreciated.
The demise of Danny Elfman's film music has been greatly exaggerated - in fact it lives and breathes with as much personality and uniqueness as it ever has. The guy who wrote Batman, Edward Scissorhands and Black Beauty is the same guy who wrote A Civil Action, A Simple Plan and Proof Of Life. So where does the critical slack come from? The truth is the last three scores I've mentioned are as interesting listens on CD as they are integral parts of the films. Proof Of Life is no return to the hugely popular Batman, Dick Tracy and Darkman mode for Danny Elfman. Instead it carries on what he's been doing for the past 5 years, which is hard nosed, difficult yet often brilliant film music. I'm sure Proof Of Life will get lashed by some online critics who will dismiss this album so they can move onto their next quirky, import album -- but there is more than enough going on here that with patience, can be enjoyed and appreciated. - Review by Ryan Keaveney (January, 2001) from Cinemusic.net.
Proof Of Life (2000)
Music Composed by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone and Mark McKenzie
Additional Orchestrations by David Sloanaker and Marc Mann
Orchestra Conducted by Pete Anthony
Recorded and Mixed by Dennis Sands
Album Produced by Danny Elfman and Ellen Segal
Label (Catalogue): Varèse Sarabande, (302 066 208 2)
Availability: In print
Purchasing options: Available at Amazon.com
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