I'm a very big fan of Danny Elfman, but I have to confess that when I first heard that he had replaced Mychael Danna as composer for the big screen version of comic book classic The Hulk, I was a little disappointed. Not, I should make it clear, because I particularly wanted Danna to score the movie (his brother would have been a better choice in my opinion) but more because I was beginning to feel that Elfman was just too safe for these kind of movies. I had hoped that someone a little different might be given a shot, as was the case with Howard Shore on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But no, the producers went for Mr. Elfman and I suppose I was anticipating something akin to Spider-Man, which while being a solid enough film score did not fill me with any real enthusiasm. Well, I'm here to tell you that this time the choice was a good one and Danny hits back with a fine, diverse, emotionally charged score, the kind of thing, come to think of it, that made me such a big fan in the first place!
The 'Main Titles' begin with middle eastern female wailing courtesy of Natacha Atlas, giving an early indication that this score is not as straightforward as one might have expected and then introduces a key theme, a distinctly Herrmannesque motif that is very dramatic and instantly memorable. Thankfully, the composer knows when he has something good to develop and skilfully uses a number of variations on this theme, particularly on 'Hulk Out!' and ' The Lake Battle'. What's more, there is another attractive motif woven into the fabric of the work, the gently emotive theme heard subtly at the very end of 'Betty's Dream' and later on various tracks such as 'Gentle Giant' and 'Hounds of Hell'. Elsewhere we are given a number of intricate suspense and action pieces interlaced with a tremendous amount of melancholic emotion and drama. The middle eastern vocal work, which could well have been something director Ang Lee had already pointed Danna toward before Elfman's arrival, continues in more overt form on pieces like 'Captured' and to powerful effect on 'Hulk's Freedom', while it is featured in a more poetic arrangement on 'The Truth Revealed' and although artistically this middle eastern element would seem to have little to do with 'The Hulk' that we are all familiar with, presumably in the film itself it will all make perfect sense. What's for sure is that it works a treat as pure music and Elfman is on top form with his rhythmic percussion, giving the stirring actions pieces real energy and charisma.
A potent, dynamic, fiercely moving work that reminds us, if we should need reminding, that Danny Elfman is unquestionably one of the great modern day film music composers.
Jeffrey Wheeler takes a rather different view:-
I've long appreciated Danny Elfman's recognizable and distinctive approach to film scoring. While "Hulk" is no exception, it lacks his usual spirit and cleverness. Like the green & oversized title character in the cinematic comic book Elfman agreed to score, the music seems like just another Hollywood special effect begging to be counted among dramatic art.
That is not to say it completely fails. The main thematic idea, an oddly Goldenthal-inspired descending motif for woodwinds, receives some wonderfully dark readings, and in the more action-orientated passages there are telltale signs of the composer's genius sense of rhythm.
Listen to the intimate textures and balance of drama in 'Bruce's Memories', or the machismo and thrills of 'Hulk Out!' Listen to the slow burn in '...Making Me Angry', which stands out as a small gem. Listen to the typically vigorous Elfman end credits, even if they are atypically brief.
Listen to the entire album, however, and the new rule is that the quality of the effects does not match the quality of the cause.
Strings and percussion are trusted with the bulk of musical theatrics. The brass hides away until called on to deliver a mundane four-note ditty or action pulse, or Generic Ominous Chords (trademarked by modern film and television composers?). Vocalist Natacha Atlas prominently features in a recurring, inexplicable Middle Eastern texture. Or is this some sort of unclear political statement injected into American film? More useless are the synthesizers. Apart from the commonplace synthetic percussion, the electronics contribute nothing to make their employment worthwhile. Even then most sounds would have been better handled acoustically.
Capping this musical mix is a heavy metal song, 'Set Me Free', contributed by a currently unnamed collection of band members from Stone Temple Pilots, Guns N' Roses, and Suicidal Tendencies. For most readers here, I believe that pretty much describes it all.
I suppose followers of Elfman's career like myself may take comfort that the appreciation is not wasted. "Hulk" would be a monumental and super-heroic step forward for the majority of film composers, including some of those deemed to be A-listers. But for Danny Elfman--composer of two Batman films, two Men in Black movies, Dick Tracy, Darkman, Spider-Man (and likely it sequel), and the main theme for The Flash --this is a melancholy and superficial step back.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
Like Mark was disappointed that Danny Elfman had been selected to score this movie, especially after
the functional but entirely unmemorable - I'd forgotten it before I'd left the cinema - score to Spider-Man. Yet
like Mark I've been won over, and I couldn't disagree more with Jeffrey's view - perhaps the American version of the
album contains entirely different music! I'll just say that I found this album far more rewarding and enjoyable than any
of Danny Elfman's previous superhero scores, and indeed it may well be the finest superhero soundtrack since the
halcyon days of John Williams forever unsurpassable Superman.