Home > Reviews > MEN IN BLACK II – Danny Elfman

MEN IN BLACK II – Danny Elfman

meninblack2Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s nice to see Danny Elfman being silly again. I don’t mean Pee-Wee Herman silly; God forbid, the music was great but if he ever scores another movie like that something very wrong will have happened to the world. It’s just that, for the last few years, Elfman seems to have become a very serious man, scoring dark and weighty films such as Proof of Life and Sleepy Hollow and Planet of the Apes. Returning to the sci-fi chaos of the Men in Black universe has allowed Elfman to metaphorically let his hair down and go a bit wacky. He’s probably at his best when he does.

MIB was a surprise hit back in 1997, taking millions at the box-office and establishing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as an unexpectedly effective comedy double act. Five years later, and the two are back battling evil aliens again – this time in the shape of Surleena (Lara Flynn Boyle), a shape-shifting alien who has taken on the form of a lingerie model. Surleena is searching for something called “The Light of Zartha”, and will stop and nothing to find it – even if it means destroying the Earth. The Men in Black are called into action, and Agent J (Smith) assigned to the case. The only problem is that J’s former partner Agent K (Jones) is the only one who knows where The Light of Zartha is, and he was neuralyised and sent to work as a postman at the end of the first movie. So the hunt is on, to find K, de-neuralyse him, and stop Surleena before it’s too late.

Somewhat surprisingly, the album opens with Elfman’s crazy, likeable ‘Worm Lounge’ music, all sleazy trumpets, hip rhythm section and doo-wop vocals. It’s probably the kookiest single cue Elfman has written since the “Mambo del Flubber” from the score of the same name, but great fun nevertheless. What’s most surprising about Men in Black II as a whole is its inherent funkiness – its almost like Henry Mancini suddenly returned from the grave and wrote a score about Peter Gunn in space. For a sci-fi action comedy, there’s very little spaciness, and very little action – instead, the electric guitars and rhythm section Elfman liberally douses the score with act as a sort of musical echo of Will Smith’s character; he looks cool, he acts cool, so by god we’re gonna make him sound cool too. It’s almost like Elfman wanted this score to be the “new hotness” to the first movie’s “old and busted”.

One could almost say that Men in Black II was a one-theme score; a quintessential theme and variation work in which the Elfman’s bouncy main title theme is revisited throughout the score in various permutations, providing a thematic anchor to virtually every cue. Its standard, straightforward statement in the ‘Titles’ set the scene; it acts as the thematic anchor for the steaming action cue ‘Big Jeff’; the rapid triplets and cooing female choir rollicking along and acting as a recurring leitmotif for the agents in further cues such as ‘Sleuthing’. Some typical Elfman-style choral crescendos punctuate the score, in ‘Headquarters’; ‘Heart Thump’ and ‘The Real Story’ offer some surprisingly warm and tender diversions as K tells the tale of the first true love in his life; while the guitar motif for K from the first movie returns, albeit briefly, in ‘J Nabbed/K’s Back’.

The four-cue finale – from ‘The Defense Begins’ through to ‘The Finale’ is a superb musical amalgam of the MIB March. The opener really generates a head of steam as it develops, there’s some delicious dissonance in ‘The Chase’, and ‘The Light’ is truly wonderful, leaping from tender moments of guitar-led intimacy to thunderous brass led-action, recapitulations of the main theme, and choral majesty with ease. It’s cues like these which show why Elfman is held in such esteem.

Rounding out the album are two songs; one featuring actor Tim Blaney performing a new version of Gloria Gaynor’s great feminist anthem “I Will Survive” in character as Frank the Pug; and a quintessential Will Smith rap anthem “Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head)”, which much to my own dismay I actually quite like. One thing worth mentioning is the fact that, unlike the original movie, Elfman’s score is the only soundtrack release accompanying the movie – there are no arbitrary song albums, or marketing ploys to annoy score fans this time around. Three cheers for Columbia Records for having faith in Elfman’s work.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Worm Lounge #1 (Worms In Black) (5:58)
  • Logo (0:22)
  • Titles (5:01)
  • Big Jeff (2:25)
  • Headquarters (1:52)
  • Chop-Chop (1:59)
  • Heart Thump (1:50)
  • Customs (0:51)
  • Hunting for K (1:40)
  • J Nabbed/K’s Back (2:20)
  • The Real Story (1:41)
  • Sleuthing (2:20)
  • The Defense Begins (2:47)
  • The Chase (3:22)
  • The Light (5:43)
  • The Finale (0:18)
  • Worm Lounge #2 (3:08)
  • Titles Revisited (2:54)
  • I Will Survive (written by Dino Fekaris and Frederick J. Perren, performed by Tim Blaney as Frank the Pug) (3:00)
  • Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head) (written by Will Smith, Mark Sparks, Ron Feemster, Lennie Bennett, Lance Bennett and LeMar Bennett, performed by Will Smith introducing Trâ-Knox) (4:20)

Running Time: 53 minutes 19 seconds

Columbia/Overbrook/Sony Music Soundtrax CK-86295 (2002)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker, Bruce Fowler and Marc Mann. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Bill Abbott. Album produced by Danny Elfman.

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