I leaned over to my companion as we left the theater after seeing Tim Burton's
fanciful showpiece about a preternatural horseman (who happens to be quite
cunning for a guy with nothing up top). "'Who did the score?' is a bit of
a no-brainer," I told her, grinning.
"Danny Elfman sure used his head..." she replied.
The score for "Sleepy Hollow" is massive. There are very few breaks in the
musical narrative, the orchestrations are possibly the most complicated to
appear on an Elfman soundtrack, and the thematic material, though phenomenal,
is repetitive, yet is so widely arranged to cover emotions as disparate as
horror to mystery to elegance to romance that it never grows tiresome. The
percussive & bold low brass and strings are wonderful effects, and the
choral lines (performed by the Metro Voices and the London Oratory School
boys choir) are atmospheric, but not in the hokey manner indicative of the
horror genre's lower-rate productions.
There is also structure to the growling brass and quivering strings. The
music builds slowly over the course of the film rather than building, pulling
back, and building again. (The closest Elfman comes to this is the track
'The Story...' which is basically a miniature score unto itself, telling
a crucial, but seemingly separate, tale. This track, the main title overture,
and the rantipole 'The Chase' are direct, accessible examples of the film
scoring craft at its best.)
Danny Elfman freely admits to cadging musical textures from his heroes. However,
he presents one of his most original creations here. There are bits of his
primary inspirations, the music of Bernard Herrmann and Igor Stravinsky,
as well as past Elfman scores (and their nods), but these are not distracting
and fit together seamlessly in surprisingly novel ways. It is a quodlibet
aimed at generating supernatural moods, whilst unmistakably an Elfman soundtrack
Soundtracks that one cannot 'get into' initially, yet reveal exciting secrets
upon repeat listening, are horribly underrated -- dismissed too easily by
listeners intent on quick fixes and condensed albums. They are like the
proverbial ugly duckling turning into a graceful swan. The methodical nature
of the "Sleepy Hollow" underscore and the hour+ length of the disc may force
the work into this category by some, but are blessings in disguise. Focusing
on the music's flow, it becomes radically listenable. The joy and drama driven
forward by the intent are perfectly illustrated by the execution. "Sleepy
Hollow" is well accomplished.
Ian Lace agrees:-
Danny Elfman has reached deep into his magic bag of grotesqueries and pulled
out truly impressive Gothic writhings for this score that threatens to
out-Berlioz, Berlioz in his Witch's Sabbath mode; and grisly enough
to make Mussorgsky green with envy. This huge dark score spins the traditional
horror/ghost genre score out to, what one must imagine is its absolute limit.
Elfman's Sleepy Hollow is tremendously complex and richly textured
with impressive use made of the voices and a lone soprano in the extremis
of a lost soul. I will not cover Jeffrey's ground again save to add a note
about just three of the tracks. 'Into the Woods/ The Witch', 'The Tree of
Death (9½ minutes duration), and 'The Windmill' are all highly evocative
with Elfman delivering mind-boggling effects. The few serene moments are
equally convincing with a nicely understated 'doomed' romantic theme.
Prepare to be scared, really scare for this is truly the stuff that nightmares
are made of.