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?
Soundtracks are a minefield. You can have the great themes by composers like Bernard Hermann and John Williams, but those soundtracks can also be marred by short, unmelodic bursts of score that only serve the purpose of matching cues in the accompanying film. Then there are the soundtracks that just have popular songs on them, starting with American Graffiti and continuing through the John Hughes films of the 1980s. These types of soundtracks are all the rage these days (especially since Tarantino lent an air of cool to the process in the 1990s) as they’re easy to cobble together. Then there are composers who simply try to put across a mood or a feeling in their soundtracks. Clint Mansell is one of those composers.
Looking at the subject matter of this film, and the identity of the film’s director Duncan Jones (also known as Zowie Bowie), it would have been all too easy to plonk Space Oddity on the film’s soundtrack. Thankfully, this fantastic film was made in the UK, away from the clichés of Hollywood.