Film Score Friday: 'Dark Shadows' by Danny Elfman

Film Score Friday: ‘Dark Shadows’ by Danny Elfman

One thing will be certain in a few weeks. Once Summer starts there will be more high profile scores than Fridays and some good music might fall through the cracks. Which is precisely why I am so excited to bring you this early review of Danny Elfman’s score from Dark Shadows.

This score ranked as one of my most anticipated of the early summer season, and that anticipation was made all the more severe when we listened to the expanded preview a few weeks back. So suffice to say I am ready to dig into the 14th collaboration between Danny Elfman and Tim Burton.

That is a lot of feature film scores from a director with a very distinct style, and recently there has been a lot of concern about repetitiveness in Elfman’s music. You can only go to that stylized dark well so many times, and eventually it will be dried up completely.

So does this umpteenth collaboration yield beautiful sonic rewards, or is this little more than a Beetlejuice or Sleep Hallow remix album?

Before I answer that, I want to paint some context. Dark Shadows is based on a very old school super natural soap opera. Think classic Doctor Who production values mixed in with Days of our Lives with monsters. That Gothic series has a tremendous following that includes Burton and new film’s star Johnny Depp.

That lead people to have a very specific idea of what kind of movie Burton was making. A straight forward adaptation seemed right in his wheel house. Then the trailer was released and it caught everyone off guard. The movie looked like a campy romp through the 70’s, not the dour and serious adoption fans had hoped for.

So it is with those visions of a goofy Dark Shadows that I begin with in reviewing its score. Elfman and Burton have done goofy before, in fact I have really grown on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory score. So that is the type of music I was expecting. Those expectations were dashed about 20 seconds into the first track.

This score is not goofy, this score is not campy. It is dark, moody and even scary at times. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this film will have funny bone, and camp will play a major role in film. So the juxtaposition between music and tone seems severe, and I really, really dig it. If Burton can nail that quirky marriage the film could be stellar.

But that is pure speculation, for these proceedings I can only judge the score. Danny Elfman is one of the most steady and consistent composers working today, and that can be a double edge sword. On one hand he always brings quality to the table, and you usually know exactly what you are getting out of Elfman music. On the other hand you can earn the label of repetitive, and be put to task for sounding too much like yourself.

Dark Shadows steers clear of that whole pitfall by being genuinely good music that expands from the traditional Elfman/Burton styling. Which is weird to say, because in a lot of ways this sounds like a text-book Burton score, Elfman manages to stay in the stylistic range of Burton while still growing enough away from his trademark sound. An incredible feat considering how type cast an Elfman/Burton collaboration is.

If there is any true knock to be had it is in its lack of obvious themes. There are one or two in there, but they don’t jump out at you like Elfman is so gifted at doing. I really think dark and moody theme somewhere in-between Batman and Beetlejuice with a little of the speed taken down would have been great in context to the rest of the music.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Dark Shadows – Prologue by Danny Elfman – I do love this track, if for no other reason than it did such a great job at shifting my perceptions right off the bat. It is important to set the tone early on a score album, and this first track does just that. Whats interesting is that there is a quality to this track that I could have seen working in The Hunger Games. For those of you who don’t know, Elfman was originally going to do the music for that film, but couldn’t make it work with his Dark Shadows schedule. It would be very interesting to find out if any of the early Elfman Hunger Games ideas found life in Dark Shadows. If they did, my bet would be on this track having a ton of it.

Shadows Reprise by Danny Elfman – Wait, is Vangelis doing this score or is it still Elfman? Early on in this score you are immersed in this dark and brooding music that kind of has you on edge, but in a good way. Then out of nowhere this track blows into your headphones like a sonic bomb. There is a great synth-y rawness to this track, mixed in with some excellent percussion. If I had any complaint it is that the track is just to damn short. Any of those who read Film Score Friday regularly know I have an unnatural hatred of brief run time tracks, so it must mean this track is really something if all 1 minute and 8 seconds of this track finds itself among my favorites.

Widows’ Hill – Finale by Danny Elfman – Now this track has it all. If you wanted to boil down this score to its simplest form, this is the only track you need. It showcases the mood of the whole soundtrack perfectly, with a blend of the moody, a dash of the action and even moments of the emotional. Often a sign of a favorite track is me finding myself humming along well after I am done listening to the album, that was the cased with Dark Shadows, and based on those primitive noises I consider humming, this track stuck in my noggin the most.

Least Favorite Track:

Hypno Music by Danny Elfman – Imagine the cheesy music that usually comes with crazy person trying to hypnotize you. You have now heard a track from the Dark Shadows score. It is not that I dislike it, the music fits very nicely in context of the album. I just don’t ever see any reason why I would go listen to it purposefully on its own. It is also one of several sub one minute long tracks on the album, which seems silly to me. It is harmless enough, but I was hoping for better and unlike most of this track’s peers it did not deliver better.

At the end of the day Dark Shadows is one of my favorite Burton/Eflman scores. It might not have the strength in themes that so many other scores from these two have, but it more than makes up for it in sheer consistent quality. This score should appeal to all Burton, Elfman, and Gothic fans out there, and if you don’t count yourself in any of those categories, give it a tray. You might dig the heck out of it too.

Final Score for Dark Shadows

4 out of 5