Home > Reviews > BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO THE UNIVERSE – John Frizzell


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s scarcely believable now, but back in 1993 one of the most popular, influential, and controversial shows on TV was Beavis and Butt-Head. It’s a simple idea – two animated idiot teenagers watch a series of rock videos on MTV while snickering and making dumb dick and fart jokes – but it was incredibly successful. Creator Mike Judge was essentially satirizing his own target audience, and went on to have more success doing the same thing with shows like King of the Hill and movies like Office Space and Idiocracy. In 1996 Beavis and Butt-Head was spun off into a movie, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, which saw the titular doofuses get into all kinds of escapades while on a cross-country road trip, and was surprisingly good; now, almost 25 years later, we have a second film, Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, in which the pair are transported from 1998 to 2022, encounter parallel-universe versions of themselves in outer space, and are hunted by the US government.

One of Mike Judge’s long-time collaborators is composer John Frizzell, who scored Office Space, 27 episodes of King of the Hill, 16 episodes of the docu-series Tales from the Tour Bus, and the original Beavis and Butt-Head movie, and is now back scoring the sequel. It’s been quite some time since Frizzell had a major movie in release; he of course burst on to the scene in the mid-to-late-1990s with high profile scores for films like Alien Resurrection, Dante’s Peak, and then Gods and Generals, and followed those up with scores for cult horror films like Ghost Ship and Legion, but of late he has been working mostly on prestige TV shows, so it’s nice to see him back with a reasonably major movie. Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe offers a timely reminder of what a good composer John Frizzell can be when he is given the right project and the right canvas, because the score is great – like the score for the first film, it belies its low budget animation roots and paints on a broad, expansive, unexpectedly rich musical canvas.

To capture the surprisingly large scope of the film, Frizzell hired a 69-piece symphony orchestra (heh heh, sixty-nine), which he recorded remotely in Vienna as the COVID pandemic meant he was unable to travel. In an interview with Jazz Tangcay for Variety, Frizzell says: “The science-fiction aspect to the new film allowed me to really expand the intensity of the score, as dealing with time travel and parallel universes allowed for the music to be even more dynamic and expressive than the spy/action subject of the 1996 film. In particular, I wrote extensively for brass and was able to include a lot of powerful low trombones in addition to quite a few passages that feature trumpets. There is one, brief quote from the 1996 film in the opening credits where I used the ‘Butt-Kong’ theme. The new score also features a love theme and quite a few theremin solos. My goal was to have practically no comedy in the new score. The only time I broke that rule was when the unicorn shows up.”

There is a main theme that runs through large parts of the score, but overall it isn’t really one for recurring themes and motifs, and instead Frizzell scores the movie as a series of vignettes, enhancing each moment with a wide array of styles and techniques. Quite a lot of it is, understandably, inspired by classic Hollywood sci-fi, with everyone from Bernard Herrmann to John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith cropping up occasionally. The “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe Main Titles” sets the tone and has a large-scale sound that combines familiar genre orchestrations – including the aforementioned theremin, a choir, and intense percussion writing – with moments of real symphonic power.

There’s plenty of intense action, in cues like “A Tale of Two Heroes,” during the dashing second half of “NASA Has a Couple New Astronauts,” in the aggressively Goldsmithian “The Elaborate Dance of Seduction,” and in the dark and brooding and Herrmannesque “Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head,” which is clearly the most terrifying thing the boys could ever encounter. “The Return of Cornholio” is just as chaotic as one would expect, especially if you are threatening him – those brass triplets are wonderful! – and then “That Dirty Butt-Hole” has the atmosphere of an intense political thriller, tremolo strings and dark atmospherics punctuated by moments of nervous, ticking, percussive intensity.

There is solemn brass-led nobility in “I See Our Failures,” in the first half of “NASA Has a Couple New Astronauts,” in “Your Situation Is Critical,” and then later in the sweeping and reassuring “Destroy Their Records”. In fact, quite a lot of the music for the scenes set in the NASA space camp have a definite vibe of James Horner and Apollo 13 to them, with a magical twinkling element to the orchestrations, amid a sense of heroic scope and wonderment. The writing in “Disaster in Space” is really quite sophisticated, with unusual off-kilter rhythmic ideas that move around from piano to more traditional drums, and which give the cue an unnerving edge.

Parts of “Your Situation Is Critical” and “Word That Starts With ‘L’” are unexpectedly beautiful, with the former containing elegant string writing that brings some real pathos to the potential imminent deaths of the heroes, while the latter is the closest B&B will ever come to experiencing true love rather than scoring with a chick. “The Unicorn Ride” is, as Frizzell said, his one concession to comedy, and is a complete trip – round-up cowboy rhythms meets 1950s easy listening elevator muzak.

Perhaps the pick of the action tracks is the three-cue punch comprising “Now Let’s Go Score,” “Two Stupid Horny Teenagers,” and “The Entire Cosmos Shall Perish,” all of which make fantastic use of pounding Horner-style piano clusters, frantically thrilling string runs, and complicated, flashing brass, and that’s all before the theremin comes back. Rounding out the score are “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which is essentially a piano masterclass (Rhapsody in B-Vis?), and “ We Celebrate!” which sounds like it should be accompanying a monarch being crowned, with all of its soaring brass fanfares and regal pageantry.

Frizzell says that this score “is by far my favorite thing I have ever written and I‘m thrilled it is part of the world now. Beavis and Butt-Head have been a huge part of my life for a long time and I feel like they are practically family. I am very protective of them … Most of all I really enjoy that we make people really laugh. The entire earth really needs a good laugh these days and the boys are back to help bring stupidity to a new out-of-this-world level.”

And you know what? I entirely agree. Beavis and Butt-Head is a dumb movie about dumb kids doing dumb things, but that’s OK, and best of all John Frizzell’s music for it is far from dumb – it’s rich and powerful and expressive, and at times surprisingly emotional. It’s all parody of course – intentionally so – but it’s so good to hear Frizzell back doing what he does best after so long away from the mainstream, and the fact that he scored almost all of it completely straight, enhancing the drama and the sci-fi adventure, of course makes the comedy even funnier. Go get some TP for your bunghole, settle down, and let this score do its thing. Uh huh huh huh. You said score. We’re gonna score. Cool.

Buy the Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe Main Titles (1:21)
  • A Tale of Two Heroes (0:46)
  • I See Our Failures (1:15)
  • Space Camp (2:39)
  • NASA Has a Couple New Astronauts (3:20)
  • Disaster in Space (1:45)
  • Your Situation Is Critical (3:51)
  • The Elaborate Dance of Seduction (2:44)
  • Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head (2:41)
  • Clear the Room (1:15)
  • Word That Starts With ‘L’ (2:06)
  • It Really Is Them (0:49)
  • It Is We! (0:54)
  • Request for Toilet Paper (2:12)
  • The Return of Cornholio (1:19)
  • Destroy Their Records (1:24)
  • It’s Been a Long Journey (0:44)
  • The Unicorn Ride (1:01)
  • Captured (0:59)
  • That Dirty Butt-hole (2:34)
  • Now Let’s Go Score (2:17)
  • Two Stupid Horny Teenagers (2:22)
  • The Entire Cosmos Shall Perish (1:06)
  • The Greatest Story Ever Told (2:49)
  • We Celebrate! (1:19)
  • Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe Main Titles (alternate) (1:19)

Running Time: 46 minutes 53 seconds

Paramount Music (2022)

Music composed by John Frizzell. Conducted by Bernhard Melbye Voss. Performed by The Vienna Film (Synchron Stage) Orchestra. Orchestrations by Kevin Kaska and Nick Cimity. Recorded and mixed by Scott Michael Smith and Bernd Mazagg. Edited by Gary Krause. Album produced by John Frizzell and Dan Goldwasser.

  1. August 23, 2022 at 10:27 am

    Was not expecting this one to be as good as it is! It should say something about John Frizzell’s talents that this score is competing favorably with genre titans like Zimmer and Giacchino for spots in my yearly top 5. Just a really strong fantasy score all around, probably a **** – ****1/2.

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