Tag Archives: Danny Elfman

Rocks In The Attic #554: Various Artists – ‘Weird Science (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita554“She’s alive…!”

It’s not surprising how madcap a Danny Elfman film score can sound when you consider the output of his former band, Oingo Boingo. Their title track to this film is insane, and really sets the scene for such an off-the-wall comedy. I’m not really a fan of key changes in songs – or modulations, to use the correct term – but the one in Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science really amps up the song, and creates an excitement in those opening credits that sets up the tone of the film really well.

The rest of the record is the sort of passable ‘80s fluff that tends to dominate film soundtracks from this era. Cheyne’s Private Joy sounds like a poorly sung demo recording, Max Carl’s The Circle tries its hardest to be a Bryan Adams song, and the record just goes on and on like this. One wonders how much money they had to spend on the soundtrack, when it’s populated by such mediocrity.

Of course, this is still 1985 and the power of the 1980s pop soundtrack hadn’t really hit until that same year, with The Power Of Love from Back To The Future. Even a hit like 1984’s Ghostbusters soundtrack was populated by a couple of naff songs. I wonder whether the soundtrack to Weird Science would have been a little stronger had the film been released a year later?

Hit: Weird Science – Oingo Boingo

Hidden Gem: Eighties – Killing Joke

Rocks In The Attic #509: Don Davis – ‘The Matrix (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

RITA#509I love The Matrix. It’s one of my favourite films of the ‘90s; probably my favourite science-fiction film of that decade. It’s an awesome movie, but I think I like it more for what it represents than for what it actually is. For me, the Matrix represents a truly wonderful thing – the end of George Lucas’ reign over special-effects movies in Hollywood.

Yes, Lucas was responsible for a great deal of my childhood cinema: the three original Star Wars films, and the three original Indiana Jones films. A round of applause, please. But that’s it. Nothing else. His 1973 breakout hit American Graffiti might be an enjoyable slice of 1950s nostalgia, but Back To The Future did it much better in 1985. And let’s not get started on the Star Wars prequels or the fourth Indiana Jones film.

His legacy is one of the things that ultimately curses him: Industrial Light & Magic. The special effects house set up to handle the myriad of effects shots in the first Star Wars film ultimately came to monopolise Hollywood in the decades that followed. The company may have been trendsetters in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and they hit a peak with the groundbreaking effects in 1992’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but by the late 1990s they had lost their edge. Nothing was special anymore; they had become complacent. The company that had once blown everybody away were now resting on their laurels.

Then a film was released in 1999 out of nowhere. Titled The Matrix, it was written and directed by brothers Larry and Andy (now Lana and Lilly) Wachowski, responsible at that point for only directing one film, Bound (1996), a crime thriller starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon.

The Matrix came along with no hype. From the outside it looked like just another science-fiction film out of Hollywood, with a steam-punk aesthetic that we had seen before in dull gothic flicks like The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998). The lack of advance word even led to UK film magazine Empire relegating the film to its ‘Also released this month” section.

I saw the film at the cinema with my good buddy Stotty. Talk about being blown away. I was so engrossed that a Coca-Cola-induced urge to go to the toilet mid-way through had to be repressed. I wasn’t going to miss a second of this, particularly after being sideswiped by the film’s major left turn around twenty minutes in.

The idea, in retrospect, is simple: introduce the audience to the main character, then towards the end of the first act, suggest that the narrative you’re following is a fallacy, and that the film’s protagonist is being similarly hoodwinked. Hollywood had recently provided a film with a similar narrative hook, in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998). Truman Burbank figures it out for himself when he overhears some radio chatter, almost gets pulverised by a studio light falling out of the sky, and notices the regularity of people bicycling down his street, but in The Matrix, our protagonist relies on others to wake him from his dream. Films ever since have played with the elastic nature of narrative. It seems like they’re ten a penny these days, but back in the late ‘90s it felt refreshing and new.

Everything about The Matrix seemed well thought-out. The design, the cast, the music, the sound, the editing, everything; but what grabbed people most of all were the special effects. The Wachowskis rewrote the book, taking their lead from the infinite possibilities of Japanese Anime rather than traditional Hollywood special effects. Finally, seven years following Terminator 2: Judgement Day, here was something that we hadn’t seen before: Bullet Time.

John Gaeta from Manex Visual Effects, working out of Alameda, California, developed a prototype of the effect prior to the film, and the Wachowskis jumped on it. Gaeta’s concept was based on an old idea – that a moving image is simply a sequence of still images played at high speed – but Gaeta’s application of the method to film action sequences was ingenious.

A simple stunt, for example one character jumping up to kick another character, could be transformed from something very simple to something extraordinary. A rig featuring dozens of still cameras would bet set up around the actors, and the cameras would shoot the movement in the scene, before being compiled together to form a moving image. By employing a fairly simple idea, the filmmakers created the illusion of movement around the action, capturing the shot at super-slow motion, but still travelling at high-speed, hence ‘bullet’ time.

There’s an element of The Matrix borne out of a clichéd Hollywood trope – that of the white male protagonist being the saviour of the universe, or the ‘one’ as Neo’s anagrammatical name would suggest – but despite this, the films manages to still feel fresh. The main protagonist is derivative to a degree, taking the base elements of George Lucas’ original Star Wars conceit – that our hero is possessed with a magical ability to transcend all evil forces – but there’s so much innovation in the film, it’s easy to overlook this. It’s like receiving a pair of socks on Christmas Day, but finding that they turn you invisible when you put them on. Erm, thanks Aunty Flo.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about The Matrix without mentioning the sequels. At the time, they were exciting but just like the Star Wars prequels from George Lucas (him again), they suffered from a preponderance of weightless digital effects and little in the way of practical effects. Most Hollywood sequels are lazy rehashes of the same ideas that made the first film so interesting. The Wachowskis couldn’t be accused of this though; if anything, they overthought their sequels, giving them a highbrow slant that hasn’t been see in a sequel since The Godfather Part II.

It’s great to have Don Davis’ score to the film on this lovely slab of green wax. I probably enjoy the score as much as I love the pop soundtrack, which despite a few timeless classics is starting to feel very much of its time. I’m not familiar with Don Davis’ other work, but this is a great score – and its refreshing for a big action film to be scored by somebody other than John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Welcome To The Real World

Rocks In The Attic #363: Prince – ‘Batman (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

RITA#363This was the first album I remember owning on CD. I think my brother bought it me for what would have been my eleventh birthday in 1989. Having owned it at such an impressionable age, the album resonates with me probably more than it should. I used to think the world of it, now I just hear a big mess – although that’s probably just Prince, isn’t it?

One thing’s for certain – this soundtrack is so ingrained with the style of Tim Burton, I can’t really imagine the film without it. Strangely, it fits perfectly with Danny Elfman’s score too. Imagine Prince’s soundtrack over Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film, Batman Begins – it just doesn’t fit. As much as I love the Nolan trilogy – there’s not a great deal of humour in them, so you can’t exactly imagine something like Partyman playing out over scenes of Heath Ledger as the Joker.

The messiest song on the album is definitely Batdance, yet I loved every second of this when it was released. To my eleven year old ears, it just sounded so unworldly. Try watching the music video of it on YouTube now, it’s just horrible. Man, I didn’t have a great deal of taste when I was eleven (some would say I still don’t).

The bad thing about the Nolan trilogy being so good is that it makes the Tim Burton films look so weak in comparison. It’s an unfair comparison though. That first Burton film was the first decent superhero film in a long time, possible since Superman II – that’s a staggering nine years. These days, there seems to be nine superhero movies every year – calm down Kevin Fiege, it should be about quality, not quantity…

Hit: Partyman

Hidden Gem: Trust

Rocks In The Attic #159: Danny Elfman – ‘Batman (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

This is a very busy score – but then again so is everything that Danny Elfman does. His theme for The Simpsons is all over the place, and there’s not really a better composer suited to score the madness that Tim Burton injects into his films.

I’ve never been a big Tim Burton fan – early on I spotted his inability to create a truly three-dimensional world. Beetlejuice made me laugh, but Edward Scissorhands left me feeling cold, and I’ve felt that way ever since about most of the stuff he churns out. 1989’s Batman however, is another matter.

I was very much into Batman at the time it was released, having just got back from a holiday in the USA where I had started to read comic books. So I eagerly awaited the release of the film, and I even remember going to see it on opening night, probably with my Dad. Since Superman II, there hadn’t really been a decent superhero film, so I literally couldn’t wait to see this. My impatience was demostrated by the fact that I read the graphic novel of the film, before I watched the film itself – a huge mistake I learned to never make again.

In hindsight, it isn’t a fantastic film – especially now that Christopher Nolan has shown how a Batman film should be made – but I still have fond memories of it. Part of the nostalgia I have for the film, is the music, which proved that a superhero score could be composed by somebody other than John Williams. The Batman Theme is great, and although it’s nowhere near as majestic as Williams’ Superman Theme, it seems to suit Batman as it’s darker, moodier, and more fitting to the whole Dark Knight ethos.

This score is a perfect companion piece to Prince’s Batman soundtrack (which I also have on vinyl). Where this is dark and full of shadows, Prince’s offering is more light-hearted and almost futuristic in its sound. Let’s broaden our minds…

Hit: The Batman Theme

Hidden Gem: Descent Into Mystery