Release date: May 28th 2012
Running time: 53:50 minutes
Composer: Danny Elfman
Being a fan of the compositional style and works of Danny Elfman, I couldn’t wait to listen to his score for Men In Black 3, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.
Elfman’s use of unconventional yet pleasing to the ear harmonies, chordal progressions and combination of instruments, has always interested me. More than often, the emotional build up climaxing in a tremendous finale has kept me hooked throughout, particularly in his collaborations with director Tim Burton.
After hearing Elfman’s scores for the previous Men In Black movies, I knew that although this one would be different from the arrangements I was used to, it would still bear his trademark stamp – and I wasn’t disappointed.
The score opens with Men In Black 3 – Main Titles, the theme used throughout the three films which is heavily based around electronic instrumentation combined with stacatto string riffs and lush, flowing portamento string elements. Using a traditional rock style, the drum kit is basic; there’s the presence of an electric bass walking bass line and heavy use of electric guitar distortion. The portamento string sections provide contrast throughout, and establish this as an Elfman work due to the effective use of dynamics and instrument choice.
From here we’re led into Spiky Bulba which continues the rock theme before seeing the introduction of more traditional orchestral instrumentation such as strings, woodwind and brass. There’s still the presence of electric bass and percussion, often used at key points to add variation and contrast. Dissonant harmonies are used to create a feeling of unease.
The Set-Up continues with the same theme, and the slow glissando of instruments which culminates in a huge crescendo approximately halfway through the track made this one interesting for me. A playful and almost childlike xylophone and string motif follows a brief moment of silence to effectively bring us back to the original melodic material. From here it’s a combination of heavy brass riffs, pulsating string melodies and sliding portamento elements. This helps to create a feeling of tension, suspense and unease.
Headquarters sees the introduction, although only very briefly and approximately halfway through, of the trademark use of choir. It’s enough to establish this as one of his works, and the arrangement of strings and pleasing cadences and woodwind melodies in the sweeter parts of this track are in true Elfman style. The track diminishes to a more subtle string and chromatic percussion combination to lead smoothly into Regret, a track much more recognizable for the composer as it uses soft oboe melodies with majestic chordal patterns, and an acoustic guitar accompaniment which adds contrast. We then see the return of the original melodic material from earlier in the soundtrack.
Out On A Limb contains long brass and string chords, soft choir and demonstrates Elfman back on form. It contains short melodic motifs, heavy use of portamento and dischords. The contrast in dynamics and pace begins Time Jump, a combination of walking string bass lines, bold brass fanfares and high fast strings, accompanied by a choir. It’s Batman all over again, and is one of the more epic tracks.
Much to my pleasure, Griffin Steps Up takes us back to Edward Scissorhands. Pleasant melodies from the strings, chromatic percussion and choir carry us along through a slow, sweeping track that is pleasant to the ear and full of emotion, with contrast created through the use of dynamic variation.
The Mission Begins carries us through a military style procession, beginning with heavy use of percussion and bold brass melodies, whereas Mission Accomplished brings us back to a soft and beautiful flute melody, accompanied by sweeping strings and an acoustic guitar solo. This was probably my favourite part of the score, portraying emotion through the instrumentation chosen and the simplicity of the melodies and harmonies.
A Close One gradually leads us back into the opening melodies and the main theme, through the reintroduction of the electric guitar, electric bass and drum kit combined with heavy vocal motifs and culminating in a full orchestral climax before leading us back into the main title sequence.
The score is listenable, yet it doesn’t show Elfman in full swing enough. The melodies and build-up of instrumentation seem limited at times. However, we could presume this is to maintain similarities with the scores for the previous two films, and most likely to go nicely along with the on-screen happenings. It still displays the typical orchestral styles and compositional techniques, yet is nowhere along the lines of previous works such as Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Batman (1989). It has a strong resemblance in parts to the score for Mars Attacks! (1996).
Despite not being Elfman’s best, it’s certainly worth a listen. I think it will sit well amongst an enthusiast’s collection, and it will certainly be slotted in there amongst mine.
Phil is a 27-year-old classically trained musician from Sheffield with qualifications in Popular Music, Classical Music and a BA (Hons) in Creative Music Technology and Sound Recording. He likes nothing better than locking himself in the studio and composing music of all genres.
Phil became interested in composing after learning how to play the Cello and Clarinet at a young age, and has never looked back since. His favourite composer is Danny Elfman, whose unconventional harmonies and rhythms in scores such as Edward Scissorhands still manage to bring a tear or two to his eye.
You can find him on Twitter @PhilBlanckley.