November 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Red Dragon  
Conducted by Pete Anthony Enhanced   OST
  DECCA 289 473 248-2   [57:08]
Crotchet   Amazon UK   Amazon US

red dragon

Though usually grand as a modern composer, Danny Elfman provides a merely serviceable underscore to "Red Dragon", the new filming of the Thomas Harris chiller that led to "Manhunter", and that predates the genuinely creepy "Silence of the Lambs" and its ridiculously grotesque sequel, "Hannibal". Anthony Hopkins reprises his portrayal as the erudite-with-an-appetite Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, but neither Howard Shore of "Silence" nor Hans Zimmer of "Hannibal" return for the music. Fortunately, like Shore and Zimmer, Elfman does not try to imitate his predecessors, but instead contributes his own voice to the canon.

Elfman is at his best when he taps into a flight of the imagination. Here, he presents an innocent main theme for serial killer Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), a damaged and dangerous man who fancies himself a dragon--hence the title, and a cause to musically accentuate the character's make-believe. That Dolarhyde's brand of pretend is particularly gruesome calls for the clever use of another extreme: melodrama, precisely the sort of thing Elfman provides with gusto! Tense strings, blaring lower registers from the horns, and the occasional shrieking trumpet put forth a secondary theme for Dolarhyde that many rightly dub Operatic. When Elfman pits the two themes against one another, the internal conflict is spectacularly externalized.

Stock shock effects and sustained chords bring nothing to those high points. Hollywood simply has not gotten away from the notion that musical suspense means holding notes till we must hypothesize that the musicians themselves suffered acedia. Those dramatic, grandiose moments that do rise out the morass make for terrific listening, but take too long to arrive (track five, 'The Old Mansion', is the first highlight on the disc) and are sporadic thereafter. Some of Elfman's rhythmic tricks are also starting to sound overused.

"Red Dragon" does have "bonus" features. Popping it into my CD-ROM drive gave me a slow graphical introduction and eventually a menu offering a mildly educational video with Danny Elfman, director Brett Ratner and, fleetingly, Anthony Hopkins--this footage exists in lieu of sleeve notes--as well as the movie trailer and a terribly unexciting photo gallery. Of course, the point of the disc is the music, and whilst I cannot recommend the album, honesty requires that I admit that there are tracks, including 'The Note' and 'The Fire' (no, not all of the best cues have titles beginning with 'The'), that I care to revisit.

  Jeffrey Wheeler


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