Home > Reviews > HULK – Danny Elfman

HULK – Danny Elfman

hulkOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Call me old fashioned, but I miss the old Danny Elfman. I miss his bittersweet sweeping melodies, his lyrical touch, the music he used to compose for films like Edward Scissorhands, Sommersby, Black Beauty, or The Nightmare Before Christmas. In recent years, Elfman has undoubtedly become more intellectual and technically adept in his scores, but in doing so he has lost some of the enthusiastic magic that so enlivened his earlier works. He seems much more interested in creating interesting orchestral effects, or new ways of using percussion, than on eliciting emotions. His score for Hulk is a case in point.

Directed by Ang Lee, and adapted by James Schamus from the classic Marvel comic books, Hulk is a new big-screen version of the well-loved TV series of the 1970s, which starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Australian actor Eric Bana plays Bruce Banner, the son of a brilliant gene therapy scientist who was raised in an adoptive family after his father mysteriously vanished. Now following in his fathers footsteps, Bruce and his colleague/fiancée Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) are carrying our similar research, when he is exposed to massive levels of gamma radiation. The shocking end result sees Bruce developing the ability to turn into a giant, green-skinned, super-strong monster any time he is angered – a secret the US military will do anything to keep under wraps.

Until a few weeks before its release, Hulk was to be scored by Mychael Danna, who had written and recorded a full score before the executives at Universal got cold feet and decided to replace him with a composer with a proven track record in the super-hero genre – Elfman. Whereas other critics have wondered quite why Danna was even hired in the first place, I personally was looking forward to hearing what he would come up with. And, even with his score’s rejection, I still think we are hearing echoes of what he wrote.

According to reports, Danna’s score was inspired by Arabic music, and made use of ethnic vocals and that currently in-vogue instrumental color of choice, the duduk (Armenian clarinet). It may come as some surprise to learn that Elfman’s score is similarly inspired by Arabic music, and makes use of ethnic vocals and a duduk. The most likely reason for this is probably because Ang Lee, who has worked with Danna many times before, wanted to keep the seed of Danna’s score intact, regardless of what the men in suits said. Similarly, it would seem that Elfman has a lot of respect for Danna as an artist, and wanted to create a semi-homage to the film’s original composer through his own music. If this is the case, I take my hat off to Elfman. Whatever the case, it certainly makes for an unusual-sounding score.

Elfman’s main theme is a descending six-note motif, and is similar to the style he developed for Planet of the Apes. The percussion heavy “Main Titles”, replete with big orchestral crescendos, is undoubtedly dramatic, but unfortunately heads off down the bubbly synthesizer road, shattering all the potency the opening chords created. Theme wise, the score is under-developed, and with the exception of the six-note motif (which re-appears with pleasing regularity), it relys mainly on tiny thematic cells which crop up ever now and again but have no meaning or truly memorable qualities.

Sadly, much of the score is like this – bursts of orchestral depth and action, surrounded by… well… nothing much really. Individual cues do have some highlights: ‘Prologue’ features some surprisingly attractive solo violin writing, both ‘Bruce’s Memories’ and the end of ‘Hounds of Hell’ feature some soft and low-key woodwind performances, ‘The Truth Revealed’ represents the score’s one true emotional high spot, while the opening of ‘Hulk’s Freedom’ represents one of the few occasions where Elfman shakes of his shackles and lets his orchestra rip. Natacha Atlas, who worked with David Arnold on Stargate, appears at selected intervals, lending her appealing vocals to ‘Prologue’, the hunt-like ‘Captured’ (which also does some interesting things with the brass section), and the aforementioned ‘The Truth Revealed’ and ‘Hulk’s Freedom’.

Ultimately, though, Hulk is just any old action score, with nothing truly remarkable to lift if out of the realms of the ordinary. The action music, in cues like ‘Hulk Out!’, ‘…Making Me Angry’ ‘The Hounds of Hell’ and ‘The Lake Battle’, is loud and frenetic, with big brass and percussion performances, but fails to disguise the fact that it sounds like it was written in a hurry, and uses speed and volume to hide its shortcomings. In addition to his tight time schedule, I think Elfman’s problem was in that there are only so many ways to score a super-hero movie and, having now done Batman, Spiderman, Darkman, and even Dick Tracy, one begins to wonder just how many different ways Elfman is going to be asked to skin the same musical cat.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles (4:36)
  • Prologue (4:38)
  • Betty’s Dreams (2:14)
  • Bruce’s Memories (2:45)
  • Captured (3:41)
  • Dad’s Visit (2:15)
  • Hulk Out (4:00)
  • Father Knows Best (3:34)
  • …Making Me Angry (4:02)
  • Gentle Giant (1:02)
  • Hounds of Hell (3:47)
  • The Truth Revealed (4:19)
  • Hulk’s Freedom (2:36)
  • A Man Again (7:48)
  • The Lake Battle (4:32)
  • The Aftermath (0:56)
  • The Phone Call (1:34)
  • End Credits (1:13)
  • Set Me Free (written by Scott Weiland, Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Dave Kushner, performed by Reloaded) (4:09)

Running Time: 63 minutes 50 seconds

Decca B0000633-02 (2003)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker, Bruce Fowler, Mark McKenzie, Jeff Atmajian, Pete Anthony and Robert Elhai. Special vocal performances by Natacha Atlas. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez and Dennis Sands. Edited by Ellen Segal. Album produced by Danny Elfman.

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