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