In the last decade, Danny Elfman (Music) has become one of the most distinctive and original voices in Hollywood. A remarkable example of a rock musician seamlessly making the transition into orchestral film scoring, Elfman has brought bold and memorable approaches to films in every genre.
Having made a name for himself on the L.A. rock scene with the playfully macabre rock group Oingo Boingo, Elfman made a startling film scoring debut with the day-glo Tim Burton comedy Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Mixing the brash, ebullient sound of Fellini’s Nino Rota with the maniacal, obsessive quality of Bernard Herrmann, Elfman created an indelible new sound for comedy. He expanded on that palette and created a fiendishly dynamic title cue for Tim Burton’s life-after-death black comedy Beetlejuice, essentially laying the musical groundwork for most of the comedy scoring of the late ‘80s and creating a style that is still widely imitated today.
Elfman’s next assignment could not have been more unexpected. After almost exclusively scoring comedies, he and director Tim Burton tackled the fantasy / thriller Batman. Burton’s distinctive personal style, fused with a blockbuster mentality, became one of the decade’s biggest hits. Elfman’s Wagnerian score drenched an already dark film in pure Gothic splendor, while providing plenty of propulsive thrust in its elaborate action sequences. Once again, Elfman had defined a genre. In the numerous comic book-style films that followed (including Batman Returns, Dick Tracy and Sam Raimi’s Darkman), the presence of a Danny Elfman score was crucial.
Easily shifting between orchestral fantasy and high-energy urban jazz, Elfman provided the perfect musical punctuation to Martin Brest’s comic Midnight Run, and wrote a mesmerizing, delicately lyrical score to Tim Burton’s beautifully realized parable Edward Scissorhands, which still stands as one of the composer’s finest efforts. For the Burton-produced musical The Nightmare Before Christmas, Elfman not only produced a spectacular score but also wrote ten songs and provided the singing voice for central character Jack Skellington.
In the latter half of the ‘90s, Danny Elfman brought his unique vision to a diverse group of highprofile film projects. He wrote a rich, Vaughn Williams-esque score for the adaptation of the children’s book Black Beauty, while jarring explosions of atonality marked his brooding score for the Stephen King melodrama Dolores Claiborne. He blended ‘70s urban funk effects with orchestral suspense elements for the edgy caper movie Dead Presidents and wrote one of the most effective action scores of the ‘90s for Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible. For the biggest hit of 1997, Men in Black, Elfman provided the perfect tongue-in-cheek tone, winning him one of his three Oscar® nominations. His second nomination was received for his hauntingly subtle and atmospheric work for Good Will Hunting.
Other work includes adapting Bernard Herrmann’s famous score for Gus Van Zandt’s remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, re-teaming with Tim Burton for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Planet of the Apes, and re-teaming with director Sam Raimi for A Simple Plan and Spider-Man. Most recently, Elfman once again impressed audiences and critics with an original score for the film musical Chicago, garnering him his third Academy Award® nomination.
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