Home > Reviews > FIFTY SHADES FREED – Danny Elfman


February 23, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Following it’s publication in 2011, the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James became a literary phenomenon. Originally a self-published and sex-filled piece of Twilight fan fiction, it eventually morphed into an original story that followed the relationship between mousy college student Anastasia Steele and enigmatic billionaire Christian Grey, who is an enthusiastic practitioner of bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism. The book and its two sequels topped best-seller lists around the world, with the first story selling over 125 million copies worldwide. Films inevitably followed; Fifty Shades of Grey premiered in 2015, the first sequel Fifty Shades Darker came along in 2017, and now we have this third and final installment, Fifty Shades Freed. James Foley returns to the director’s chair for the second time, and Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles as Ana and Christian.

Despite being enormously popular at the box office the films have – to put it mildly – not been critical successes. One reviewer called this film “two hours of cruel and unusual punishment” while another quipped “I wish I knew the safe word so I could escape the cinema early.” Interestingly, composer Danny Elfman has emerged largely unscathed from this fifty shades of critical carnage. He scored all three films well, and he seems to have done so by imagining a series of films that are much better and much sexier than the ones actually on screen, and writing music for them instead. Whatever his methodology, it definitely worked – Elfman’s music is more intriguing, more romantic, more erotic, more exciting, more everything, than the turgid tripe up on the screen, and the score for Fifty Shades Freed might actually be the best of the three.

Sensibly, Elfman has stuck with the same palette throughout the series, using a small string orchestra augmented by piano, guitar, percussion, marimba, and a bed of contemporary electronic tones and beats that range from pop-based to more dream-like and ambient. What strikes me about Fifty Shades Freed is just how conventionally romantic a lot of it is; Elfman’s music here is a lot warmer and more acoustic than the last installment, which allows for an overall listening experience that is more appealing and attractive. Like he did on recent scores such as Tulip Fever and, to a lesser extent, Big Eyes, Elfman writes little repeated motivic cells of music in that neo-minimalist style he has adopted of late. Cues like the opening “Freed,” as well as subsequent tracks like the second half of “A Spat,” “Anna Wakes,” “Welcome Home,” and “The Envelope” are really quite lovely, albeit without the classical sweep some of his best romance scores have.

Quite often Elfman injects some light rock and pop beats into his score, using contemporary percussive ideas, prancing strings, and more playful rhythms to underscore the unashamed 1%er lifestyle Christian and Ana enjoy; cues like “Makeover,” “Blueprints,” the toe-tapping “Car Fun,” and “Hiking,” often blend these modern styles with romantic pianos and gently sweeping strings, to enjoyable effect. “Blueprints” even makes use of some pseudo-orgasmic vocal effects, although this style of writing never quite reaches the heights that the wonderful “Bliss” track from the first Fifty Shades score did. In fact, the lack of any real moments of choral majesty – blissfully orgasmic, or otherwise – is one of the score’s few disappointments, considering how well they were integrated into the previous works.

Finally, the thriller aspect of the plot (which deals with a kidnapping and a ransom perpetrated by Ana’s former boss Jack Hyde – it’s not important) sees Elfman stretching his contemporary action chops to a small degree; after some slow, introspective cello writing in “Trouble in Paradise” cues like “Jack the Knife,” “Nightmare,” Bail,” “Ransom,” and most of the conclusive “Rescue” find Elfman pitting a bunch of tremolo strings against a set of aggressive electronic pulses. The finale cue actually builds up quite a head of steam, and is quite exciting when compared with the rest of the score, but in the bigger scheme of things this writing actually seems quite pedestrian and somewhat predictable, and is by far the least engaging aspect of the score. A lot of the action writing reminds me of things like The Girl on the Train or The Circle, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view.

It remains to be seen whether the Fifty Shades phenomenon will maintain its cultural relevance now that all the books have been published and all the films have been released, or whether the public’s love of furry handcuffs and ‘kinky fuckery’ will become just another passing fad. Whatever the case may be, Danny Elfman’s contribution to these three risible films is probably the most worthwhile thing associated with them. They don’t come anywhere close to being the best examples of their writing styles – he has been more romantic, more fun and upbeat, and more exciting on many scores elsewhere – but you won’t need that naughty film reviewer’s safe word to get out of listening to them, and you won’t need to hide them from your parents.

Buy the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Freed (2:10)
  • Makeover (2:21)
  • A Spat (1:35)
  • Anna Wakes (1:40)
  • Blueprints (1:29)
  • Car Fun (1:07)
  • Trouble in Paradise (2:35)
  • That’s Not Hyde (2:25)
  • Jack the Knife (1:15)
  • Welcome Home (2:39)
  • Hiking (1:09)
  • Nightmare (1:55)
  • Bail (3:05)
  • Seeing Red (2:43)
  • Going Gets Rough (2:34)
  • Ransom (3:57)
  • The Envelope (1:45)
  • Rescue (6:40)

Running Time: 43 minutes 11 seconds

Back Lot Music (2017)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Pete Anthony. Orchestrations by Pete Anthony, Philip Klein and Jon Kull. Recorded and mixed by Noah Scot Snyder. Edited by Bill Abbott and Angie Rubin. Album produced by Danny Elfman.

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