Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, July 29, 2001


Danny Elfman's "Planet of the Apes" soundtrack
bears his trademark sense of humor.

Movie soundtracks
fail to capture
meaningful emotions


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Review by Burl Burlingame

YOU'D THINK that the otherworldly themes and imagination stretches created by science-fiction and fantasy films would push composers to the limit. Yet these three soundtracks, by some of the best in the business, are disappointingly ordinary.

Soundtracks have a long way to go to match the creative high reached by last year's "Gladiator," one of the finest soundtracks ever re-composed for listening only, and certainly don't match that film's creative risk-taking.

The soundtrack for "A.I." finds John Williams mumbling along in too-careful, oh-so-sensitive arrangements; it's a study in studiousness. It matches the film in that regard. When was the last time you heard harps plucking away merrily as the hero "discovered" his true nature? Last time Williams composed, I guess. There are some nice creepy moments involving choral voices and electronic bleeps and buzzes; otherwise, this is routine stuff. There's almost no way to distinguish it from filler material on past Williams scores.

"Final Fantasy" follows the same arc as "A.I.," but Elliot Goldenthal manages to get some real loft out of his serve. The effect, with choral agonies, symphonic minor chords and brief fanfares of strangled woodwinds, remind one of Beethoven on a particularly down day. This suits the too-serious mood of the film well. Despite all the orchestration, there's a caged, cramped effect to the music, as if it's straining, and this also suits the film but doesn't translate well to a listening-only experience. There are some genuinely awesome moments here, though.

"Planet of the Apes" finds longtime Tim Burton partner Danny Elfman doing music that's all grown up. As Burton edges nearer to the mainstream, so does Elfman. This score could have been composed by a half-dozen writers. It has Elfman's trademark sense of humor and pell-mell melodic structures, however, and he uses a variety of tribal drumming and percussion styles to carry the themes, fattened up with symphonic effects. It suits the movie: scary, primitive, edgy.

And so, all three soundtracks are exactly what the director ordered but don't stand well on their own. Of the three, "Apes" is the most rewarding on re-listenings.

All three also have the obligatory song that plays over the end credits. Williams' "For Always" is a piece of Celine Dion-ish piffle and entirely forgettable. Goldenthal's "The Dream Within" is playful and has a vocal hook that's vaguely African. Curiously, Lara Fabian performs the song on both "A.I." and "Final Fantasy." Expect to see her perform both tunes (and lose) at next year's Oscars.

Certain not to be nominated is the "Rule the Planet Remix" from Elfman, which takes snippets of melody and dialogue and mixes them with roaring, thunderous hip-hop abandon, as if Elfman was reliving his "Grey Matter" days with Oingo Boingo. It's hugely fun.

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