Nov 4, 2008

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT music composed by Alan Silvestri

What started out looking good on paper, ended up being just that and ten times better on film. It was everything in between that proved to be a complete nightmare for everybody involved in the 1988 classic, Who Framed Roger Rabbit With Robert Zemeckis at the director's chair, having proven himself a good bet at the box office with Back To The Future, as well as Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy as producers, the film was destined to be a success. Only it wasn't these big Hollywood names that would catch the public's attention, it was the seamless mixture of live action and classicly animated cartoon characters. A form of film which hadn't really been used that much at that point, other than Disney's Song Of The South and Bednobs & Broomsticks. Using original cartoon characters at the forefront was the easy part (well, not easy, infact quite difficult to film, but that's beside the point), it was the meeting of Warner Bros., MGM and Disney characters for the numerous cameos that became a legal nightmare for the producers, studio, animators, scriptwriters and director. In the end, everything came together, but would never be done again, although a sequel had been in talks for quite a few years but was eventually scrapped.
With the film winning numerous awards for it's special effects, other aspects of the film almost went unnoticed by most. Bob Hoskins, who held his own extremely well against his cartoon co-stars, as well as Christoper Lloyd, almost unrecognizable if not for his voice. Another performance that most people forgot about was the wonderfully performed colorful score by Zemeckis regular, Alan Silvestri.
At that point the composer had only worked on three projects with Zemeckis so far, those being the two films, Romancing The Stone and Back To The Future and a single episode of Spielberg's TV anthology series, Amazing Stories. He would go on to compose for all of Zemeckis' films afterwards, including What Lies Beneath, Forest Gump, Death Becomes Her and The Polar Express. However, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is his busiest, zaniest Zemeckis score to date.
The score album begins, like the film, grabbing your attention right away, with "Maroon Logo". An obvious tip of the hat to Carl Stalling, who scored pretty much every Looney Tunes 'toon you can remember, which in turn was a tip of the hat to avant-garde jazzster, Raymond Scott. This immedietly leads into the "Maroon Cartoon" score, which is a dizzying muscial ride into cartoon violence and suspense, with the tippy toe plucks included, something that made the old Tom & Jerry cartoons so great.
The album quickly takes a breather, which is needed fairly soon, with the somber "Valiant & Valiant", the perfect jazz piece to reflect the Hoskin's P.I. character, Eddie Valiant.
"The Weasels" is a sly, sneaky little piece, that Silvestri seemed to perfect as he showed in Back To The Future and Death Becomes Her. The brass section toots as the strings pluck away rather dastardly and finally meet in a swirling hurricane of trouble.
By now, you can feel the album working just like a cartoon score, with it's style changing every other second.
Silvestri's theme for "Judge Doom", while not very memorable, works extremely well for the characters itself. It's ascending horns and ominous death bells in the background, would certainly strike fear in me, if I were a cartoon bear....Dip be damned.
"Jessica's Theme" is a sultry little number for the Mrs. Rabbit, who's "not bad, just drawn that way". It's an instrumental variation of the "Why Don't You Do Right" song, heard in the seedy nightclub. I would have been fine without the song on the album and just the instrumental theme itself, but I might be alone on this one, as it is a pivotal moment in the film.
The second half of the album mostly consists of entertaining goofy action cues, which Silvestri perfected, as Danny Elfman would too, in the next few years to come. They juggle back and forth between jazz, cartoon madness and straight up orchestrated intensity, that almost sounds as if it came from Silvestri's Predator scores.
The "End Credits" is always a favorite for me when it comes to film scores, as it lets the composer go nuts with his themes without having to follow the action onscreen. And Roger Rabbit's End Credits are one of the best I've heard even up to this very day.
The official soundtrack release runs at 46 minutes, with 7 minutes of that being the "songs" from the film. Those songs I really could of done without, especially the annoying "Smile Darn Ya Smile" heard at the end of them film, but again it's the finale of the movie, so it had to be included. The two other non-score cues are Roger Rabbit's "Merry-Go-Round Broke Down", which I really can't see anybody listening to with careful attention, other than a six year old with ADD. Finally, there's "Dueling Pianos" which was performed by Donald & Daffy Duck in the film. I actually don't mind this, as it was one of my favorite parts of the whole film and apparently one of the most controversial, due to both duck's speech impediments, it's not clear as to whether or not they are muttering racial remarks to each duck white, the other black.
Again, there are two other harder to find releases of the soundtrack. First off there is 40 minute promo, of which I don't own as I never bothered to seek, so I don't know much about it. Secondly there is the 2-Disc Expanded soundtrack which clocks in at a whopping 1 hr and 40 minutes, which contains several alternate cues that are well worth the listen. The 2-CD Expanded set is next to impossible to find, so the official soundtrack release is your best bet. Anybody who enjoys old fashioned cartoon music or just a good musical ride, I highly recommend this little gem to you and your big wascally wabbit ears.

**** - for official soundtrack release
***** - for 2-CD expanded edition

Nov 1, 2008

SCREAM/SCREAM 2 music composed by Marco Beltrami

In the winter of 1996, a tiny little low budget film completely revitalized the slasher film franchise, which had been whimpering away since the last few dismal releases from The Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th franchises. Scream, scripted by Dawnson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, didn't have much in the way of expectations, but by word of mouth, it became one of the biggest hits of the following year, after it's re-release in April of '97. It was quickly followed in December of '97 with a sequel, which was equally as good and finally in Febuary of '99 with the lacklustre Scream 3 (here's hoping a 2010 release of Scream 4 never makes it past the pre-production stage). Of all the things I noticed of the Scream franchise, the one thing that really got in my head was the musical score. Up until then, slasher flicks never relied on orchestrated music, only bad synthesized blips and bleeps, which tend to outdate themselves rather quickly (with the exception of John Carpenter's uber-creepy Halloween theme). It wasn't until Marco Beltrami, then unknown, stepped up to the job to compose/orchestrate music for a slasher film. The results were an unbelievable success and has been emulated over and over again since.
Originally, we were only blessed with 3 and a 1/2 minutes of score from the first film and none from the second on the official rock band soundtrack releases. Finally, after two years of constant online petitions and fan mail, film score label, Varese Sarabande released a score album for Scream and Scream 2 on the same disc.
Unfortunally the album clocks in a few seconds shy of a half hour, which is ridiculously short for even one film score, nevermind two and it doesn't even include Danny Elfman's "Cassandra Aria", which he wrote for the second film (more on that later). However, as the album has it's extreme faults, it doesn't take away from the incredible music that is on track here.
Beginning with the first title, and the most memorable of the Scream trilogy's themes, is "Sidney's Lament". The track immedietely screamed out to me when I first heard it in the film...I knew I must own this score. With it's hauntingly beautiful solo voice, performed over some dissonant warped brass, Sidney's Lament would be what would define the Scream franchise's sound. Followed by "Altered Ego", a short but loud little ditty, with it's violent orchestral manipulations and brass jabs, this is just a taste of what's to come ahead. "Trouble In Woodsboro" sounds almost as if Trent Reznor and Jerry Goldsmith got together to rework Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana". With it's strange chain-rattling in the background, heavy guitars in the forefront and synthetic choir layered neatly on top, "Trouble In Woodsboro" is a definite album highlight. "A Cruel World" and "NC-17" are both interesting reinterpretations of "Sidney's Lament", but go in two different directions, one relying heavily on a gothic sounding piano and ending with a string and brass section lightly playing over it, while the latter track is "Trouble In Woodsboro"'s erotic cousin, with it's somber sounding piano played with an industrial beat one would expect to hear in a softcore porn film.
We then dig into the Scream 2 half of the album, beginning with "Stage Fright Requiem". This track is meant to be heard on a really good sound system or earphones, just to distract you from that fact that you've just wet your pants. "Stage Fright" starts off with a b-movie horror score rock beat and melts into one of the most intense frightening pieces of score I think I've ever heard. A loud gothic choir, mixed with an avant-garde brass section that almost sounds like raining blood and low pounding drums make this track a must hear. Following this terrifying track is yet another, which is equally as good if not better, "Love Turns Sour". It starts off with a sweet Ennio Morricone spaghetti western sounding guitar that would be Dewey's theme, (which by the way was replaced in the film by Hans Zimmer's Broken Arrow theme) and creeps into a loud, violent, pounding from the orchestra ending with a dramatic gothic choir. The string section in this piece blows me away everytime I hear it, with shades of Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Hermann, "Love Turns Sour" dares you to keep a relaxed heartbeat while listening to it. Other tracks further explore the Sidney and Dewey themes, while a few others are quiet, creeping tracks that are guaranteed to give chills The album ends, with a beautifully harmonic rendition of Sidney's theme, with "It's Over, Sid", which is like the bowtie on the present or the afterdinner mint...a pleasant little surprise at the end of this rollercoaster ride of a score.
In the end, there's only about 12 minutes of score from Scream and 17 minutes of Scream 2, which can only lead to disappointment for the score collector. Many collector's complained that Hans Zimmer's Broken Arrow theme was not on the album...idiots...go buy the Broken Arrow soundtrack then. Instead, we are graced with Beltrami's original Dewey's cowboy theme, which was never used in the film due to studio executive's believing Zimmer's music would be more listener friendly. Beltrami had his music replaced in a few more spots in the film, mostly with bad alternative rock songs, as the studio heads thought his music was a little too dark for the film. Danny Elfman's Cassandra Aria was absent from the album and still has yet to see an official release anywhere else. However, if you're like me, you will track down the underground complete score albums to both films and wallow in the musical goodness. Most tracks featured on the public release of the scores are edited down, so finding the complete score albums are a delight, especially with "Love Turns Sour" which has it's extra two minutes tagged to it, as well as Elfman's contribution. Another interesting addition to the complete score albums, are at the end, with some alternate versions of some cues and some orchestral nonsense showing the players warming up. If those aren't hard to find for you, another challenge, is to track down the expanded Scream/Scream 2 album, which adds 5 more minutes to each score (which is still too short), including the Elfman track, Beltrami's song "I Don't Care" which he wrote for the first film and Bjork's "Disorder" which was written for the 2nd film but never released on the official "Scream 2" soundtrack or anywhere else.
All in all, the official "Scream/Scream 2" score album is a pleasurable and frightening listening experience, but is unfortunally just too short. Even though the length of the album is extremely disappointing, this album has been a favorite of mine since it's release, just because the music itself is just so damned good.

**1/2 for score as heard on the official "Scream/Scream 2" score album
*** for score as heard on the expanded "Scream/Scream 2" score album
**** for score as heard on "Scream" & "Scream 2" complete recordings albums

Sep 7, 2008

BEETLEJUICE music composed by Danny Elfman

From the opening notes of the Main Titles (incorporating Harry Belafonte's classic "Day-O") to the final notes of the End Credits that sound like the withering death of a twisted tango, Danny Elfman's Beetlejuice score put him on the list of one of the most sought after composers for the late 80's and early 90's.
After sucessfully scoring director Tim Burton's first feature length Pee-Wee's Big Adventure a few years earlier, as well as a few other forgotten films, such as Back To School, Summer School & Wisdom, it was time for Elfman to score the film that would introduce his sound to mainstream audiences everywhere. When the film first came out, the music couldn't help but astonish audiences and film score collectors alike with what sounded like a musical roller coaster through some sort of scary, yet comical, underworld. Many movie score buffs were quick to dismiss the score as nothing but an in-your-face orchestrated clash and bang composed by an untrained rock star (Elfman was the leader of the 80's off-kilter pop band Oingo Boingo). Elfman quickly proved them wrong the following year with his score for Tim Burton's Batman and the title theme to a little television show called The Simpsons. Danny Elfman and Tim Burton proved to be the perfect compliment to each other's work, sort of like a twisted younger version of Steven Spielberg and John Williams. Elfman had plenty of room to further explore his musical taste for the dark and zany, which he started with Boingo, with this film's tale about a recently deceased young couple who call for the help of a professional haunter to get rid of a yuppy city-folk family who had just moved into their beloved country home.
The score has several themes bouncing back and forth throughout the film. We'll start with the title character's two themes. While the character of Betelgeuse has only about 15 minutes of screen time througout the entire film, his themes are probably the most memorable of the lot.
The Main Titles theme is what most people will remember about the score. It serves as one of the two themes written for Betelgeuse. Simultaneously menacing and fun, it sounds almost like a classic Russian march, with strings, horns and an adult choir struggling to outdo eachother. Like many Danny Elfman Opening themes it starts off quiet, then builds up into a full-blown workout from the orchestra. The second theme, heard first in the second half of the third track "The Book/Obituaries", is pure tango, played with a viola in the foreground, which perfectly matches the character of Michael Keaton's slimey 'Ghost with the most' character. You wouldn't think at first that a tango would be a suiting theme for such a scumbag, but it works perfectly . It's interesting how over the period of the score, Betelgeuse's theme begins as a sleazy tango and morphs into a threateninly fun gothic march.
Secondly is the theme for the young dead couple, Adam & Barbara, first heard in the second track "Travel Music". Sort of a sweet little upbeat piece played with a small string section and piano. It's a sound Elfman will use once again in future projects as his suburban happy family themes, which I don't mind at all, as it works so well.
Several other themes come in and out of the score, including the silly Deetze family theme that falls a little short, but is still a joy to listen to the off-kilter waltz that it is, then there's Lydia's somber 'teenage-angst' theme played almost solely on the piano and ofcourse the Sandworm theme which is both loud, horiffic and shocking (which several of the scenes in this film prove to be to the unsuspecting first-time viewer...remember that fly and chocolate bar?).
"The Incantation" track is probably my favorite track, after the "Main Titles" ofcourse. It opens with a few loud musical stings which is quick to catch anybody's attention, then melts into some interesting usage of a gothic sounding pipe organ and synthesized choir, with swirling strings and blaring horns to fill in the gaps.
The "Showtime!" and "Laughs" tracks make wonderful use of the carnival sound, which Elfman is so fond of. These tracks, along with "The Wedding" can be described as the wildest musical roller coaster ride you'll ever hear in a mainstream film. The fusion of carnival music, a russian march, a tango, a gothic pipe organ and Wedding Bells is something that would only be heard in a Tim Burton movie. It's a seamless mixture which I can't even begin to describe accurately.
To top it off, Harry Belafonte's classic songs "Day-O" (yeah, you remember that scene...Jeffrey Jones, anyone?) and "Jump In Line (Shake, Shake Senora) are featured on the soundtrack album.
Sure Belafonte's other songs "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" and "Sweetheart From Venezuala", as well as the operatic "Regnava ne Silenzio" from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" aren't featured on the album, but if you really want them that bad, go out and buy the originals.
The soundtrack album runs at a short 37 minutes, with 30 minutes devoted to Elfman's score, which is a little disappointing, but it's soooo good I forgive and so should you.
For the really picky score collector, you should track down the hard to find complete score bootleg, which clocks in at more impressive 56 minutes. It is worth the hunt, if you're a picky geek like me and want the original "Main Titles" as heard in the film, rather than the slightly different version which appears on the official soundtrack album, then it is well worth seeking out.
All in all, this is an excellent score album and was the first to put Danny Elfman on my favorite artists list. Twenty years later and this score still sounds out of this world and unpredictable. It's a sound that belongs to Elfman and Elfman alone and marks the beginning of my obsession for the man and his work up till this very day.

**** for official soundtrack release
**** for complete score bootleg

* * * * * WELCOME * * * * *

Hey Kids! Do you like the rock n' roll? Too bad. This blog is going to be my personal little space where I ramble on about my love for film & television scores.
Well, that's the plan anyways...who knows? I might just steer off into a few different directions in the future (like hiding crudely drawn pictures of bunny rabbits eating other bunny rabbits in your local supermarket)...but for now, scores is what it's all about.
When I was kid I had a fondness for the scores from the Star Wars & Indiana Jones films by John Williams, but what kid, growing up in the 80's, didn't? Besides that weird little boy down the street, who liked to duct tape his head to fire hydrants...but we won't go there. Sure, I had old LP's and cassettes by Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and Pink Floyd (and possibly a few Raffi and Fred Penner albums as well...shhhh), but I found I quite enjoyed movie soundtracks as well. Ghostbusters and Back To The Future, being the first. Yeah, I liked the Ray Parker Jr. and Huey Lewis songs....but Elmer Bernstein and Alan Silvestri's scores sparked some interest for me as well.
It wasn't until 1988, when a ghostly little comedy starring Michael Keaton rolled into cineplex's everywhere and the opening notes of the main titles played over the opening credits, that's when I knew I must go out and buy my first real film score.
And that's where we begin...