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Spectacular main theme highlights witty Elfman sci-fi score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2009 Atlantic Recording Corp.; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
A film as lovingly crafted as they come, Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! has a number of things going for it. Visually it's wonderful - everything you can see in every frame has had so much thought go into it. The cast is as "all-star" as they come, with Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Natalie Portman and a host of other famous faces (including Tom Jones). Unfortunately, it does have one problem, and it's a big problem - the script just isn't funny. All the ingredients are there for this film to be a classic comedy, but aside from a couple of guffaws provoked by the visuals, there are few laughs to be found.
Danny Elfman kissed and made up with Burton to work on the film (they had not worked together on his previous film, Ed Wood, following a falling-out) and delivered just the score the film needed. The highlight is undoubtedly the main theme which accompanies the exceptional opening title sequence, as an army of flying saucers approaches Earth. It's one of Elfman's most memorable creations, a beautifully devilish theme with just the right blend of 50s retro and modern day fun.
In the rest of the score, Elfman continues that combination, though in different ways. He uses a theremin in tribute to the classic science fiction movies of the past, but combines it with some of his most modernistic writing up to that point. It seemed to be on this film that the composer really started to show his own voice and it's a style he has stuck with ever since, the complex orchestral arrangements and very impressive inclusion of electronics.
A couple of other good themes are mixed in - along with some nice Americana for the more patriotic moments (which I - and others - had assumed were intended as a parody of Independence Day, but Dan Goldwasser's liner notes say that actually this film was written before that one). The original soundtrack album for Mars Attacks! featured just over 40 minutes of Elfman's score, but has long been out of print; this new edition greatly expands on that, including a few alternative takes and the trailer music. If anything, the score plays better at this new length, with the amount of development Elfman did with his little ideas more in evidence now - amd the fantastic main theme is given an extra couple of airings. The two songs from the first album remain - they're important to the film, and indeed the use of Slim Whitman's "Indian Love Call" is by far the funniest thing in it.
It's a great score in the film and has some great moments away from it (the clever kitsch of "Martian Lounge", the fantastically over-the-top finale couplet "New World" and "Ritchie's Speech") but a large part of it is made up of very chaotic action music which can all become a bit much. Those parts are not the easiest to enjoy, but it's easy to admire the artistry which went into their creation, and indeed the terrific performance of the orchestra. Certainly recommended for Elfman fans - particularly those fans of his more modern style, much of which has its roots in this very score.