Friday, 2 April 2010

Go ask Alice...

Alice In Wonderland
Soundtrack by Danny Elfman
2010 Walt Disney Records 5099962854429

There have been some truly great and memorable director/composer partnerships in cinema history. Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann for example. Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone might be another. Or how about David Cronenberg and Howard Shore?

Yes, these composers and directors still shine when working with other people... but when they’re working with that special person who is in sympathy with their own ideas, the work usually takes on an artistry which nears perfection... and sometimes not.

Tim (Mr. Helena Bonham-Carter) Burton and Danny (Mr. Bridget Fonda) Elfman are just such a perfect collaborative partnership... most of the time. Burton, it has to be said, can be a bit hit and miss. Always unique but not always quite nailing it. Elfman, too, can seem to be on fire or a little cooler from one project to the next... but he’s usually pretty good when he’s working with Burton.

However... this time the perfect partnership had a rare miss...

It is my sad duty to report that, in terms of watchability, entertainment and something to inspire, Tim Burton’s movie hotchpotch of shakily referential Lewis Carrol allusions seems to fail on all counts. It’s sad to see something which should have been so up Burton’s street deteriorate into something you just want to end.

It is, however, my happy duty to report that Danny Elfman’s score to this celluloid cure for insomnia is... quite possibly... his greatest score ever and certainly one if his best “stand alone” listens.

The main theme song which opens the album provides the coda, proper, for a listening experience which keeps bringing that theme back in for constant reuse, weaving it through the score and using it to familiarise the audience with the main character in exactly the way good movie scores used to do... before modern producers started to use their music as wallpaper.

The album hits all the usual Elfmanisms (Herrmann meets Penderecki in a fairy tale setting) but loses a lot of the subtlety and really beats you over the head with it in an Edward Scissorhands filtered through Spiderman kind of way. Elfman’s Alice theme is like a tapeworm in your head... it is so infectious you’ll be whistling it all day. It never outstays it’s welcome and it comes back in full form a lot but it is also a brilliant starting block from which to build the rest of the score. I don’t know what Elfman’s working process on this particular score was but it seems to me to be clearly evident that he must have written that main theme first because the rest of the cues are just so reliant on it... in a good way.

A cohesive and consistent listening experience for once, for a post millennium score, and definitely one which will be spinning in my player for a good many years.

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