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Epic
  • Composed by Danny Elfman
  • Sony Classics / 2013 / 53m

The eighth feature-length animation from Blue Sky Studios, 2013’s Epic – a kind of Ferngully: The Last Rainforest for this generation – was met with mixed reviews and the lowest box office take of any of the studio’s films.  John Powell had scored all but one of the previous films from the studio (that one being the first Ice Age, which boasted a fine score by David Newman) but he seems to be on a hiatus from film music (and frankly his recent scores for animations have shown he might just be losing inspiration on them) but the filmmakers found a more than able replacement in Danny Elfman.  Elfman has, after a period of working largely on more serious films, returned in recent years (since his wonderful score for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) to the kind of fantasy territory that proved so popular earlier in his career and Epic followed hot on the heals of Oz: The Great and the Powerful.  Surprisingly – given that Elfman is one of the most distinctive film composers around, who has forged an extremely strong signature sound – the opening cue of this score, “Leafmen”, sounds for all the world like he’s doing an impersonation of Powell, no doubt under instruction; it’s a kind of manic Irish jig (and there are celtic elements throughout the score, usually far more subtle) and I’m surprised a composer of his stature would do such an impersonation, but it’s still a nice theme and is used well through the rest of the score, in which thankfully Elfman’s voice emerges far more strongly.

An early highlight is “The Selection”, where an unmistakably Elfmanish choir is added to a more dynamic, dramatic arrangement of the fluid main theme.  But the echoes of Powell are heard a few more times – the very next cue, “Ambush”, could easily be by the British composer.  A key difference, particularly compared with Powell’s more recent scores for animations, is that there seems to be a greater structure to Elfman’s music – it’s still mostly at a frantic pace, but the composer keeps it all musical, the album isn’t a parade of tiny cues flitting all over the place – and that coherent sound certainly helps with the enjoyment.  When Elfman does slow down the pace, this offers some of the score’s most magical moments – “Tara’s Gift” is absolutely lovely (and you’d never mistake it for anyone other than Danny Elfman), “Antlers” is (appropriately enough) pretty epic, and best of all is the conclusion, the sweeping “Return”, which is approaching vintage Elfman.  The frequent action music is lively and energetic, indeed the whole album is entertaining, though it lacks truly the truly memorable melody that would elevate it to something a bit more special and allow it to be considered with the composer’s best.

Rating: ***

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  1. Cindylover1969 (Reply) on Sunday 13 October, 2013 at 11:06

    “the lowest box office take of any of the studio’s films.”

    That’s kind of a shame, really, because it’s a darn sight better than the “Ice Age” sequels.