August 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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  OST; Conducted by Pete Anthony
  COLUMBIA CK 86681   [45:03]


Since establishing himself as an A-list film composer following his score for Tim Burton's "Batman", Danny Elfman's career continues on an eclectic course. Still, his best bets remind us of that "comic book" soundtrack, which surprised moviegoers and music-lovers with sophisticated bombast. Elfman's return to the genre's heroics with "Spider-Man" bridges the various threads from his repertoire from "Batman" to the recent "Planet of the Apes".

Elfman's previous collaborations with director Sam Raimi gave us the under-appreciated "Darkman", the appropriately admired 'March of the Dead' from "Army of Darkness", and the frequently odd "A Simple Plan". Now, caught in a sticky yarn about a young man with arachnid superpowers, the composer faces the creative limitations of his situation as well as explores the avenues of escape. He welds his own omnium-gatherum of powers and combines them to a new degree of effectiveness. One cannot mistake this for anything other than a Danny Elfman score. We know the drill: massive rhythms, loud brass, frenetic strings and woodwinds, big choir, multi-layered orchestrations, electronic enhancements, etc. Meanwhile, the author knows how to innovate.

Amid the vintage themes and actions cues--by turns bold, bad, bashful, and befuddled--are quirky crossover moments between the traditional orchestra and the more "current" Elfman sound. Consider the track 'Costume Montage', which plays the mysteriously noble and heretofore symphonic "Spider-Man" theme on electric guitar. Could this be an original idea? Not a chance, but it appears so unexpectedly, enthusiastically, and distinctly that it might as well be a new invention. The composer transforms his style, and it sounds like he enjoys doing so. That joy quickly spreads, possibly regardless of whether electric guitars make you squirm.

Some romantic blooms appear, most notably in the first half of 'Revelations'. Humorous selections break the tension, as well. At less than minute in length, 'First Web' manages to express more musical wit than most so-called comedy scores do in their entirety... And on the subject of wit, Elfmaniacs will be happy to note that the 'Final Confrontation' track title returns yet again (probably not for the final time). These are good trimmings.

Danny Elfman consistently provides an individual, imaginative filmusic voice. While one could easily trace the ancestry of specific moments, his work on this soundtrack is tremendously distinctive in its complete form. It is a gem. "Spider-Man" is individual, and incredible.

Jeffrey Wheeler *****

Paul Tonks adds:-

Once again this is a score album delayed and obscured by a song compilation. Sometimes it seems as if an orchestral score is an inconvenience to record labels, such is their lax attitude toward releasing and marketing them. For a major summer picture such as this it's quite ridiculous. Especially for one of the most bankable A-list composers.

Despite all this obfuscation of the product itself, Elfman's Spider-Man is a thrill ride that ties together numerous strands of the composer's developing style. The needs of Sam Raimi's interpretation are very well suited by this style too. The goofy, un-confidant nature of Peter Parker is something Elfman is very familiar with (Edward Scissorhands / Pee Wee's Big Adventure). So is the derring-do of comic book heroism (Darkman / Dick Tracy). And the sweetly soppy family / love story (The Family Man). And the insane inner turmoil of Norman Osborne (take your pick of movies!) Mixed together, the result is something that clearly inspired him to have more fun in his writing than has been possible for some time.

Planet of the Apes was inarguably a step forward for his samples / percussion fascination. On an alien world that could run as rampant as he liked. Back in a contemporary New York it's reigned in by the need for a familiarity of environment and emotion. With the "Main Title" this is all illustrated by an overture encompassing: locale, motivation and the score's most successfully captured emotional reaction wonder.

I have read numerous reviews that can be summed up as negatively accusing the score of being without themes. I remain at a loss to understand this oversight. On the contrary, there are several important recurring motifs. Parker's and alter ego Spidey's frequently go hand-in-hand. For example, Parker's is adapted to characterise the love for Mary Jane even when it's Spider-Man getting the kisses. Conversely, Spider-Man's Theme plays when Peter is resolved into suiting up. In counterpoint to these is the dark and dangerous material for Osborne / Green Goblin. It seems Elfman took his musical inspiration from the same source as Osborne for his costume headgear, from his collection of tribal masks. Hence some powerful rhythmic drumming.

The only way it seems possible for these strong motifs to be missed is down to the often-fragmentary way in which they're used. Too many people seem to have expected the patriotism of Superman or the operatic repetitiveness of Batman. Spider-Man is a quite different character and film. It's representative of a different era of film making too. The album of songs is one indication of that.

Ultimately, there's much to admire in the score. In many ways it's a better listen with the film, but this is still an album with plenty to engage. Spider-Man 2 is a more exciting prospect for Elfman than MIIB ever was!

Paul Tonks


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