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SK 93094

Artwork copyright (c) 2003 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



Mixed bag of treats from a composer seeming to revisit his work of a decade ago


Big Fish seems like the perfect project for both director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman (who may have been separated at birth) - a dying man's stories are relayed by his son and the audience is left to decide whether they're true or not.  A mix of fantasy and a heartwarming tale, the movie has provoked a mixed response, as has Elfman's score.  Because of the film's episodic nature it must have been a very difficult project for the composer to tackle and, somewhat inevitably, the album is a little bitty and schizophrenic, but by and large it is Elfman's most magical and melodic - and quintessentially "Elfmanesque", in the eyes of his fans from the early 1990s - score in a number of years.

There is no particularly dominant sound - each track is a little piece in and of itself, with its own mood and feelings.  These range from a deep south bluegrass feel to a magical fantasy sound to a humorous circus romp.  Many of the cues are very short - which doesn't help much, really, because each new identity is given so little time to settle in before a new one takes over - but those which are slightly longer are generally fabulous.  The beautiful, soaring "Sandra's Theme" will almost certainly tug at your heartstrings; the wonderful female choir in "The Growing Montage" will leave Elfman fans smiling as they remember all the great scores in which he used the device in the past.  There are frequent fiddle solos, which work well, with the highlight possibly coming in the short "Rebuilding", a piece of great momentum.  "The Journey Home" will no doubt prove to be one of the score's most popular pieces and crop up on Elfman compilations in future, a joyous piece that will remind people of the likes of Sommersby and Black Beauty.  The soft, touching beauty of the piano solo of "In the Tub" conveys a delightful sense of childhood innocence and expectation.  The eleven-minute "Finale" sums things up nicely (though its title is a little misleading, given that there are still three tracks left), bringing a long-lined, satisfying conclusion to the score.

There is another side to the coin, though.  There are some very solemn, somewhat drab pieces, like the funereal "Return to Spectre", which paints a somewhat depressing portrait.  There is a Thomas Newman hint to some cues, with the twinkling percussion evoking the atmospheric feel of some of Newman's most low-key efforts.  By its very nature, however, these moments don't tend to last long before being replaced by more of that irascible side of Elfman's music through which his mischievous personality so shines.

This is a good score, but there are flaws (primarily the very brief running time of most tracks - Elfman's music really demands a little more development than he is able to give it, and there is always a little disappointment when something is discarded just as it is getting interesting).  This is different from anything else he's written in years, though don't go in expecting another Edward Scissorhands - it's certainly not that.  The album presentation is reasonable, though the score portion is quite short; it's padded with various songs, which as ever seems somewhat pointless (is someone really going to buy the album just to get their 28th CD featuring Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up"?) 

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  1. Man of the Hour Pearl Jam (3:45)
  2. Dinah Bing Crosby (2:17)
  3. Everyday Buddy Holly (2:09)
  4. All Shook Up Elvis Presley (1:58)
  5. Five O'Clock World The Vogues (2:10)
  6. Ramblin' Man The Allman Brothers Band (4:57)
  7. Let's Work Together Canned Heat (3:14)
  8. Pictures (:46)
  9. Big Fish (4:32)
  10. Shoe Stealing (:56)
  11. Underwater (1:52)
  12. Sandra's Theme (2:26)
  13. The Growin Montage (2:41)
  14. Leaving Spectre (1:59)
  15. Return to Spectre (2:13)
  16. Rebuilding (1:19)
  17. The Journey Home (2:10)
  18. In the Tub (1:21)
  19. Sandra's Farewell (1:16)
  20. Finale (11:10)
  21. End Titles (2:38)
  22. Jenny's Theme (1:46)
  23. Twice the Love (1:48)