Musings About Music In Film


Jackblackgoosebumps4 For a relatively simple concept, Goosebumps took a ridiculously large amount of time to produce. The film was in development ever since 1998. Back then, Tim Burton was still attached to direct. While that version never materialised, his frequent collaborators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote a script which is supposed to combine an entire series of books of R.L. Stine’s into one bigger story. Fast forward another seven years, the finished product, as helmed by Rob Letterman and starring Jack Black, is finally hitting big screen. Just in time for Halloween.

While Burton never got to direct this, his composer of choice ended up writing the score for Goosebumps after all. With his resume getting bigger and more varied than ever, it is still nice to have Danny Elfman working on those endearing off-beat B-grade films. Especially as breathers in between his more high-profile projects (like the recent Big Eyes or Avengers: Age of Ultron).

Typically, the very opening of the soundtrack album serves as an overture to the rest of Elfman’s score. He often makes the most out of it and Goosebumps is no exception. . It’s a fast paced piece and brings back the memories of older scores from the composer, especially Beetlejuice. It’s not as memorable in its melodic line, of course, but generates the same kind of busy energy that we used to associate with his older zany projects.

This main theme, while not that striking, appears in pretty much every single cue. Elfman takes time to derive countless variations from it. In an early action cue (‘Ice Rink’) he passes this tune between various sections of the orchestra. And there’s even a choral statement in that piece as well. In ‘Capture’, we hear some really neat brass performances of the same tune..

Goosebumps, while a fairly minor work in Elfman’s oeuvre, is an interesting example of the composer’s evolution. For a breezy children film, even a Halloween-themed one, it’s a really action packed score filled with numerous frantic sequences. Among the notable highlights are the intense ‘To the Rescue’, ‘Lawn Gnomes’ and ‘Mantis Chase’. The adult chorus performances, coupled with subtle hints of dissonance, they the score’s climax even more imposing (‘They’re Here’ and ‘Farewell’).

Elfman has developed his action music writing considerably over years. His first films sounded relatively crude in that respect. Since then, he’s moved towards his classic feather-like balletic stage (Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns). In more recent times, however, his music became more muscular and aggressive. The orchestral writing is now much more impressive and sophisticated, with interesting harmonic movement and confident orchestrations. His treatment of main thematic material might be now more elusive, as it tends to be buried within thicker textures. As a result, Danny’s later works might seem less memorable. In reality, though, he’s more versatile and skilled than ever.

Because most of its running time is devoted to Halloween craziness, the score tends to be quite short on emotional material. Among those rare moments is ‘Confession’, in which string section takes center stage. Another heartfelt cue, ‘Hannah’s Back’, gives Elfman an opportunity to draw some warmer and almost unrecognisable variations from his ever-present main theme. The second track (‘Ferris Wheel’) recalls the warmth of Charlotte’s Web in its gentle piano and woodwind performances.

The lengthy soundtrack album CD, while certainly enjoyable for the most part, is structured in the most bizarre way. The main programme is presented at the start and it runs for about 41 minutes. After the end credits track, we are treated to 22 more minutes from the score, mostly focusing on the more suspenseful side of Goosebumps. It is really a very frustrating programming choice and most listeners would probably need to rearrange all tracks to get the most satisfying presentation.

Ultimately, Goosebumps was never going to be a true Elfman classic. Not much surprise there. Having said that, the supernatural nostalgic leanings toward the 1980’s kid films give Elfman opportunity to create music that has slightly more weight. Short on truly memorable themes but rich with Danny’s ever-developing writing style in action sequences, this soundtrack album from Sony Classical is a mixed bag. It should, however, satisfy composer’s most devoted fans.

-Karol Krok

Goosebumps is out now from Sony Classical