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SCROOGED – Danny Elfman

December 20, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

There have been so many different cinematic versions and variations on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol over the years, its amazing that people keep coming up with ways to make them new and fresh. In the winter of 1988, however, director Richard Donner and screenwriters Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue did just that with Scrooged, which re-imagined the story as a comedic tale of redemption set in the world of network television. Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a morality-free and highly cynical TV studio executive who takes perverse delight in designing increasingly tasteless programming while tormenting his employees. After one particularly heartless episode when he forbids his secretary from leaving work on Christmas Eve to take care of her sick son, Frank is visited by a series of ghosts, each of whom show him the error of his ways, teach him to be a better person, and allow him to feel the true spirit of Christmas. The film co-stars Karen Allen, John Forsyth, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, and Bobcat Goldthwaite, and has since gone on to be considered a seasonal classic which was somewhat ahead of its time.

The score for Scrooged is by Danny Elfman, who with this score was seeking to capitalize on the success of the score for Beetlejuice from earlier in the year, and further develop the new sound he had established with that score and earlier works like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. It’s interesting to look back on this score now; so many of Danny Elfman’s most successful and popular works have revolved around Christmas imagery, from Edward Scissorhands to The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Batman Returns, but Scrooged was actually the first score to contain that signature sound. Elfman’s music had to navigate a number of wildly fluctuating tonal shifts in the film – reflecting the seasonal setting, acknowledging the comedy, portraying Frank both as an amoral monster and someone with the potential for redemption, making the occasional scenes of light horror scary, and then eventually allowing itself to open up into broad sentimentality during the finale – but Elfman succeeded admirably.

The score is large, orchestral, and strongly thematic, and tonally is placed firmly in Elfman’s late 1980s and early 1990s sound. The main theme, as heard in the “Main Titles,” has two elements to it: a la-la-la-la sound for a female choir with magical wintry orchestrations (sleigh bells, celesta), and a four-note motif for slightly bulbous-sounding brass which acts as a recurring marker for Frank himself, and which can be first heard at the 0:25 mark. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with anything he wrote in this period will recognize this as being peak Elfman – there are compositional touches and flourishes that reference all the scores I previously mentioned (Batman, Nightmare, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice), as well as things like the theme from The Simpsons. It’s quite fascinating to listen to the genesis of this famous style, and fans of his writing will enjoy it thoroughly.

These two main themes get thorough workouts through out much of the rest of the score, but to Elfman’s credit he never allows himself to simply re-state them; instead, the themes are adapted and given different emotional and tonal directions depending on the scene in question – for example, Frank’s theme appears forcefully towards the end of “Frank’s Award and Eliot on the Street,” as a darkly heraldic fanfare in the middle of “Lew’s Arrival,” as part of a frenetic action sequence in “Wild Cab Ride” that foreshadows a lot of the similar-sounding music he would write for Batman in 1989, and with an ethereal chilly tone in “The Big Freeze,” when Frank discovers the frozen corpse of a homeless man he previously encountered at Claire’s shelter. Possibly the best variation on Frank’s theme is the one that comes during the unexpectedly disturbing sequence “Asylum/Luncheon/Crematorium/On Fire,” which underscores the scene where Frank is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and is forced to watch the depressing destinies of Elliot and Claire. Here, Frank’s theme is accompanied first by a ghostly sighing choir, then by detached harpsichords (“scrape ‘em off, Claire”), and finally with an overwhelming explosion of drama as Frank experiences the horror of his own cremation.

In addition to the two main themes, a couple of minor themes also exist. “Eliot Gets Fired” introduces the theme for Bobcat Goldthwait’s character Eliot Loudermilk, the put-upon network employee whose unfair dismissal by Frank triggers a revenge plot. His music has a languid, hangdog slur courtesy of saxophones, clarinets, jazz piano, and pizzicato strings, and re-occurs every time Eliot plays a part in the proceedings, such as in “Frank’s Award and Eliot on the Street” and “Elliot Gives Blood”. There’s also a pretty theme for Frank’s old girlfriend Claire, played by Karen Allen, which has a nostalgic and slightly wistful feeling to it, looking back with regret on the relationship that Frank let slip away through his ruthlessness and workaholic tendencies. It is usually performed on either piano or keyboards, and after its introduction in “Claire’s Theme” its most prominent performance comes towards the end of “The Big Speech,” when the former lovers reconcile during the live TV performance of Scrooge.

One or two additional cues are worthy of attention. “Terrorist Attack,” the second half of the first cue, segues from a jolly rendition of Jingle Bells into a bold and throaty Lalo Schifrin-style orchestral jazz action piece for what is eventually revealed to be a spoof trailer for a Lee Majors TV action movie called ‘The Night the Reindeer Died’. In addition, cues like “The Hand Grab,” “Lew’s Reprise,” and “A Horror in Chez Jay/Highball/Waiter Ablaze” offer some moments of comedy horror scoring out of the Beetlejuice playbook, all of which are full of wild orchestral outbursts, Danse Macabre-style swirling violins, and frequent statements of the la-la-la main theme. Elfman also works a number of seasonal classic melodies into his underscore proper, ranging from carols like ‘Jingle Bells’ to classical pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (“Fairy”), Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” the Howdy Doody TV theme (“Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay”), and a darkly twisted version of ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town’ that underscores Eliot’s violent revenge rampage through the TV studio in “Eliot Stalks Frank”.

The soundtrack for Scrooged that came out at the time of the film’s release did not contain any of Elfman’s score and instead concentrated on songs – the big selling point was the cover of “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” by Annie Lennox and Al Green – which meant that for many years the only place one could hear it was in the 9-minute suite that appeared on the first of Elfman’s ‘Music for a Darkened Theater’ compilation albums. The good people at La-La Land Records finally rectified this oversight in 2011 with the release of the 32 minute full score, plus various bonus tracks and source cues, presented in a handsome package produced by Dan Goldwasser, and featuring detailed liner notes by Jeff Bond. This release of Scrooged fills a long-standing gap in Elfman’s discography, which allows fans of his music to finally hear the genesis of what would become his career-defining signature sound. It’s a fun, expressive score filled with all the ghoulish delights Elfman always brought to his seasonal efforts.

Buy the Scrooged soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles/Terrorist Attack (2:34)
  • Eliot Gets Fired/Loud and Clear/Frank’s Run (1:22)
  • Montage: Frank’s Award and Eliot on the Street (1:39)
  • Lew’s Arrival (2:03)
  • The Hand Grab (1:51)
  • Lew’s Reprise (0:51)
  • Claire’s Theme I/Claire’s Theme II (1:15)
  • Set Collapse (0:20)
  • A Horror in Chez Jay/Highball/Waiter Ablaze (1:20)
  • Wild Cab Ride (1:33)
  • Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay/Cupid’s Arrow/Change of Expression (1:33)
  • Eliot Gives Blood/Christmas Present (1:02)
  • Fairy (2:15)
  • Toast to Frank (0:32)
  • The Big Freeze (1:26)
  • Showtime at IBC (1:08)
  • Family Portrait/Ghost on Screen (0:49)
  • Eliot Stalks Frank (1:08)
  • Asylum/Luncheon/Crematorium/On Fire (3:48)
  • Hallelujah Chorus/The Romp (2:18)
  • The Big Speech (1:21)
  • Loud and Clear (Alternate) (0:30) BONUS
  • Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay (Alternate) (0:43) BONUS
  • Toast to Frank (Alternate) (0:34) BONUS
  • The Big Freeze (Alternate) (1:25) BONUS
  • The Big Freeze (Alternate Mix) (1:27) BONUS
  • Asylum (No Choir) (0:59) BONUS
  • Crematorium (More Percussion) (1:30) BONUS
  • The Big Speech (Alternate) (3:12) BONUS
  • Frank’s Promo (0:51) SOURCE MUSIC
  • Frisbee the Dog (0:57) SOURCE MUSIC
  • Chez Jay String Quartet (written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) (2:43) SOURCE MUSIC
  • Joy to the World (written by George Friedrich Handel and Isaac Watts) (0:55) SOURCE MUSIC
  • Jingle Bells (written by James Pierpont) (1:48) SOURCE MUSIC

Running Time: 49 minutes 28 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1195 (1988/2011)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Shirley Walker. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek and Steven Scott Smalley. Recorded and mixed by Robert Fernandez. Edited by Bob Badami. Score produced by Danny Elfman. Album produced by Dan Goldwasser, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

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