IAB’s Favorite Film Composers Vol.4 IAB’s Favorite Film Composers Vol.4
After some site maintenance time, IAB returns with not news, but tunes. IAB’s Favorite Film Composers Vol.4

Hiya. We’re back, after a week or so of forced Christmas vacation. And the year is now 2016. So, happy New Year to all you readers!!!

Time for another IAB mixtape of a few selected pieces of works from my favorite composers working on film scores. And I guess you could call the two gentlemen I picked for this volume “masters of the macabre” or “the maestros of gothic”, perhaps. And let’s not forget that here are two guys who both scored a pair of “Batman“-movies.




I actually mentioned Goldenthal before – on a podcast regarding underrated composers. He is someone who might be best described as an…avant garde composer, because he really has made some of the most bizarre-sounding scores, using very peculiar combinations of techniques as well as instruments. He first came to public knowledge in 1989 with his scores to “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Pet Sematary“, but really made a splash in 1992-1994 with his work on “Alien 3“, “Demolition Man” and “Interview with a Vampire“. In the recent years, he seems to have focused more on operas and classical music, and only really worked on films made by his partner Julie Taymor (“Titus”, “Frida”, “Across The Universe”, “The Tempest”), which is really a shame because I feel the current blandness of the world of film scores could use some of his eccentric genius.

ALIEN 3 (1992)

Goldenthal’s cold, almost nihilistic sound makes a perfect fit with the images David Fincher put on screen. The music also gets downright aggressive – chaotic even – during the more intenser scenes. But there are also moments of serenity, as is the case with this piece that plays under the makeshift funeral of a few characters.


The film actually already had a score – made by Neil Jordan’s usual collaborator George Fenton – but it was scrapped at the last minute and the new composer Goldenthal had only three weeks(!) of time to make a new score from scratch. And he did it, too. Actually he did it so well that the score got an Academy Award and Golde Globe-nominations.


As much hate as the Joel Schumacher-directed “Batman”-films get, one thing is for sure: Goldenthal’s music is definitely the best part in them. The somewhat chaotic and ever-switching mood of those films gave him a good opportunity to use a whole slew of different styles; from epic choral sounds to something that might be best described as “Cartoon music”.

HEAT (1995)

Going into the moody, cold world of Michael Mann, Goldenthal enlisted the Kronos Quartet to perform a few of his compositions, as well as using a heavy barrage of electric guitars. This being a Michael Mann film, there was of course to be a large number of songs performed by artists like Moby, Brian Eno, Terje Rypdal, Einstürzende Neubauten and Lisa Gerrard – but Goldenthal’s music is pretty prominent. And Mann must’ve liked it too, as he hired Goldenthal again for “Public Enemies”.


Well, let’s get one thing clear: the movie was much ado about nothing. It’s almost like a CGI animation demo, and as everyone pointed out at a time, it sure as hell doesn’t have anything to do with the “Final Fantasy”-videogame series. But…the great thing about the DVD-release of the film is that it has an “isolated film score”-track, and it can be viewed as basicallly a music video to Goldenthal’s massively epic score.


DANNY ELFMAN (born: 1953)


Danny Elfman is, of course, most known for his collaborations with Tim Burton; having scored all but two of Burton’s films (the two being “Ed Wood” and “Sweeney Todd“). He started his career with the new wave band “Oingo Boingo” – a band which was founded by Elfman’s brother Richard Elfman as a performance art group titled “The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo”. Richard eventually left the group to focus on filmmaking, and that was to be Danny’s first break at scoring a film – “Forbidden Zone“, in 1980. But it was another 5 years before Tim Burton took notice and hired him to score his first feature film as a director: “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985. And the rest is history, as they say.


This would mark the first time yours truly heard music made by Elfman (and also my first introduction to the mad genius that is Tim Burton). And it’s a doozy. That main title theme is still one of those, what might be called “head-nodders” – as in it’s such a groovy track that it just makes you nod your head to the beat. And a damn proper introduction to the events that are about to take place on screen.


Yes, I know that the first “Batman”-film was a mega-hit and it sure as hell made Elfman the go-to composer for every and all comic book-movies – like Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy”, which pales in comparison. But it’s the dark and gothic sequel – “Batman Returns” – which I hold in higher regard. Both as a Tim Burton-film and also the score by Elfman. It’s really in this second film, where both guys really got to show all their strengths.


The first film in the Tom Cruise-led action franchise was directed by Brian De Palma. And was to be scored by Alan Silvestri. But – as is an evergoing theme with film music – Silvestri’s music was scrapped, and Elfman was another last-minute selection as a composer. Turned out to be a great choice. I think Elfman’s music has the proper whimsical, slightly larger-than-life quality that the movie needs. I’ve heard Silvestri’s ques – he recorded about 23 minutes of music and those can be found on YouTube – and I feel that his music for this particular project sounded a bit too generic.


“Sleepy Hollow” is a love letter to Hammer films for sure. It also gave Elfman a chance to do some real balls-to-the-wall gothic horror music. And I actually think that it’s – a few minor occasions notwithstanding – one of his last truly great scores. I mean – I hate to say it, but Elfman kinda fell into the pit of genericity and self-replication after the turn of the millennia. One of the few exceptions to that follows this cut, though.


I know, I know – “what the fuck is this doing here?!!?” Well, it’s quite simple really; “Red Dragon” might be a bit…workmanlike as a movie – which is no surprise really considering it’s directed by the ultimate workmanlike director Brett Ratner. But Elfman’s music is goddamn excellent. This is another case of why every DVD should have an isolated score track. It’s such a marvellously creepy score, that it really makes you wish that somebody made a better movie to go with it.


Well, that was my choice of cuts. I bet you people have some different suggestions(in fact, I KNOW you have!) so don’t be shy – have at it in the comment section.


Previous Volumes of this article-series:

Vol. 2
The October Special

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I Am Better

Coming from the frozen wastelands of Finnish tundra. Mr. Better seeks warmth from his television & home theater and all the wonders they provide. He occasionally dabbles in the arts of drawing and photography.

  • Very good choices, I love the Alien 3 score. Sleepy Hollow is such a great score too, maybe Elfman’s masterpiece.

    Do you know this one:

  • Funny, Sleepy Hollow was also Burton’s last outstanding movie.

  • I_am_better

    Well, I like the two stop-motion films he made after that. And “Big eyes” was all right

  • I_am_better

    Yeah, I remember seeing that film on VHS. I should try a revisit

  • Have not seen Frankenweenie to be honest.

  • I_am_better

    It’s a nice homage to both Toho-films and Universal Monsters

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  • Elliot Goldenthal IS THE MAN!!!! This guy’s talent is beyond compare. He’s one of the few composers who can work an atonal composition and make it into a tonal track and it works! This guy’s talent is supreme! I’m so at awe of him.

    Danny Elfman, i gave up on him since the late 90s. I couldn’t care less if he’s composing for a movie in fact, i take it as bad news he’s a film’s composer now.

  • I_am_better

    Yeah, I don’t know what the hell happened to Elfman there at the end of the 90’s. Ever since he did that generic score for the first “Men In Black”-movie, he started to repeat that “bass line & bizarre percussion instruments”-shit in every other project.

  • Stalkeye

    Danny Elfman’s score is one of the reasons why I didn’t care for Age of Ultron. He did a great job with The Hulk especially the intro theme but he’s lost his touch sometime afterwards. Goldenthal’s track for Batman Forever was just as good as Elfman’s previous work on the franchise.

  • I_am_better

    Elfman scored only half of “Age of Ultron” though.

  • Stalkeye

    Still, it was lacking. They should have stuck with Silvestri but hey, the sequel wasn’t all that anyway.

  • ErnestRister

    I liked Sweeney Todd and Big Fish (don’t remember if Big Fish was after Sleepy Hollow).

  • Dee

    I liked big fish the 1st time around, not si much on, but repeated viewings. Sweeney Todd felt a little perfunctory but admittedly musicals are wasted on me.