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ARTICLE 99 – Danny Elfman


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

With all the political furore in the United States today about drug companies, health insurance companies, access to universal healthcare, and other related issues, it’s sobering to realize that this was already part of the national conversation some thirty years ago, and that little has changed in the intervening decades. Article 99 is a film which looks at those same issues – it’s about how corrupt officials try to deny vital healthcare services to US army veterans, and how a group of compassionate doctors at a veteran’s hospital break the rules in order to provide care to their patients by circumventing ‘Article 99,’ a bureaucratic cost-cutting administrative loophole that prevents veterans from receiving the benefits they deserve by stating that a vet is eligible for treatment only for injuries incurred in actual service. The film stars Ray Liotta, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, and Lea Thompson, as the doctors willing to risk their own careers to help others; the film was directed by Howard Deutsch from a screenplay written by Ron Cutler, and has a score by Danny Elfman.

Article 99 is one of Elfman’s nicest scores of the 1990s, and that’s not intended to be a pejorative or a back-handed compliment in any way. It’s a score which leans into the inherent goodness of the main characters and underscores their altruistic behavior with a series of warm, attractive, benevolent cues. It’s scored for a fairly standard symphony orchestra – conducted by Shirley Walker, orchestrated by Steve Bartek – with heavy emphasis on solo piano, light woodwinds, and warm strings, with brass and percussion reserved for the action sequences and moments of militaristic honor. The score is steeped in Elfman’s 1990s mannerisms, with numerous textures, chord progressions, and instrumental combinations that will remind listeners of earlier scores like Batman, Dick Tracy, and Edward Scissorhands, while foreshadowing later works like Sommersby, and even Mars Attacks, albeit with less soaring emotion and thematic memorability.

Everything originates from the score’s main theme, which is introduced in the “Main Title,” and is one of the most wholesome themes Elfman has ever written, a stirring and noble piece based around a rising 4-note idea. It moves between gentle and intimate pianos, bold and rousing horns backed with snares, tender woodwinds, and gentle harp glissandi, the latter of which make it sound more like John Debney or Marc Shaiman’s 1990s output than anything Elfman had written before. Cleverly, Elfman was still able to take this theme and put it through some interesting variations – for example, in “Death” Elfman manipulates the theme into something much more aggressive and dissonant through the use of intense piano clusters and menacing brass effects that give it a tone not too dissimilar from his score for Darkman. Later, the “Love Theme” is essentially a variation on the main theme, taken in a more conventionally romantic direction.

Meanwhile, cues like “Mayday” and the slightly more forceful “Rebellion” are more traditionally Elfmanesque, containing all the unique mannerisms and feelings of spirited mischief as scores like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. The scampering strings, spiky pizzicato ideas, bouncy piano lines, and hooting circular woodwind textures will be familiar to anyone who knows Elfman’s music from the period. The vague circus-like overtones and descending harp scales are pure Elfman, and the end of “Mayday” is actually very close in style to the action music in Batman, albeit with a less bombastic edge, and as such will appeal to anyone with an affinity for that score. Statements of the main theme weave through both cues too, giving them a pleasing sense of thematic consistency.

“Shooter” is an intense action sequence, again in the Batman mold, with some especially impressive writing for pounded pianos, snare drum riffs, electronic bass guitar licks, and muted horns. This music presents the identity of the shooter in question – a disgruntled military vet upset at his treatment by hospital administrators – with an appropriate sense of broken integrity. This style of writing continues through the solemnly patriotic “Salute” and into the climactic “Confrontation,” which is at times quite anguished and desperate, and contains some rather strained and twisted versions of the main 4-note theme, before it all eventually resolves in an appropriately cathartic way. Finally, the seven-minute “End Credits” offers a wholly satisfying summation of all the score’s main thematic ideas, often rising to some very enjoyable heights of power and emotional weight.

Article 99 is probably one of Danny Elfman’s most overlooked scores; it was not included on either of his ‘Music for a Darkened Theater’ compilations due to rights issues, the film itself is now somewhat obscure and forgotten, and the soundtrack album has been out of print for many years – although it is still available for reasonable prices on the secondary market. All of this is a shame because, as I wrote at the outset of the review, Article 99 is one of Elfman’s nicest scores of the 1990s – an earnest, sincere, pleasant tribute to the honest men and women who work in the American healthcare system, and who are willing to put everything on the line for the benefit of those most in need.

Buy the Article 99 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (4:00)
  • Death (4:23)
  • Mayday (2:47)
  • Montage (1:35)
  • Shooter (2:57)
  • Revelation (1:11)
  • Rebellion (3:10)
  • Salute (1:29)
  • Love Theme (1:00)
  • Confrontation (5:01)
  • End Credits (6:46)

Running Time: 34 minutes 19 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5352 (1992)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Shirley Walker. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Bob Badami. Album produced by Danny Elfman.

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