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.