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Richly exotic, richly rewarding drama score from Elfman

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Album cover copyright (c) 1999 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall

An extremely silly film, Instinct is about a man (played by Anthony Hopkins) who seems to have turned into a gorilla (at a psychological level) after living with them for a couple of years in the wild, and follows a psychologist (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) attempt to bring him back to normality so he can face murder charges.  With a couple of scenes which are so unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny it is impossible to comprehend how the cast and crew actually managed to film them without rolling around the floor in fits of laughter, and the whole film revolving around a plot "twist" which is blatantly signposted from the opening moments of the film onwards, it really is very odd indeed.  Hopkins is as watchable as ever, but that's about the best thing you can say.

It is really not helped much by Danny Elfman's intense score, which sometimes only serves to heighten the silliness, but it's hard to think how any composer could have done much to save it and so at least this way he wrote a score which makes for a particularly enjoyable album.  It's an exotic, flavourful, exciting score which contains some of Elfman's most beautifully-constructed music.  The opening title piece encapsulates all of this, with the orchestra enhanced by a very large percussion section to create an African mood teeming with the spirit of the savannah, strings creating an air of mystery, flutes fluttering away adding to the exotic feel, brass adding the tension and excitement and finally a choir being sparsely-used for a sense of beauty.  It is an auspicious start indeed.

"Into the Wild" accentuates the exotic feel, with a particularly florid atmosphere rich in colour and beauty.  While much of it features the kind of modernistic music Elfman does so well, there's a great theme in there too as the strings swell, with female choir adding a heavenly feel.  I suppose in a way it's like Elfman doing Medicine Man (different continent, I know) - he gets the atmosphere of the jungle and the great creatures with as much skill as Jerry Goldsmith got the atmosphere of the rainforest in that score.  The composer was going through an experimental phase at the time he wrote Instinct, alienating a few of the fans he had picked up with traditionally melodic scores like Batman and Edward Scissorhands, but this was the score that seemed to "unite" his dual followings, both those who had enjoyed those early works and those who enjoyed the more challenging, complex work that followed.

"Back to the Forest" is another evocative cue, ending with a gorgeous passage for strings.  "Everybody Goes" begins as a more urgent piece with a hint of action, but the main theme soon swells in a spinetingling performance.  "The Killing", which underscores the film's pivotal sequence, begins with more beautiful jungle music before the score's most humanistic sequence (a lovely, short diversion for solo piano) before the ferocious action music kicks in - and boy, it's ferocious.  Great stuff, and Elfman constructs the piece so well.  "The Riot" is a subtler piece of action, with tension bubbling just below the surface before finally being released.

"Escape" is one of the film's "problem" cues, buying into the obvious (and obviously misguided) attempt to make the end of it feel like The Shawshank Redemption, but it's another one that works beautifully on album, making a fine, rousing finale to the score.  There's still time for a lengthy end credits piece which reprises many of the main ideas, particularly the jungle-based ones, ending with a warm, optimistic conclusion.  This is a score so full of different colours, it richly rewards those who give it time and listen several times over.  It's not quite on the top tier of Elfman scores, but is only just behind, and comes highly recommended to those with an interest in one of the most original and rewarding film composers of his generation.


  1. Main Title (3:18)
  2. Into the Wild (8:48)
  3. Back to the Forest (2:30)
  4. Everybody Goes (3:06)
  5. The Killing (8:56)
  6. The Riot (2:10)
  7. Escape (3:19)
  8. End Credits (6:25)