September 29, 2005

Danny Elfman: The Corpse Bride Soundtrack

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Just as much as I am a fan of Tim Burton’s films, I am equally enthusiastic about his longtime partner in crime. No I don’t mean Johnny Depp, but Danny Elfman, the composer for almost all of Burton’s films. Naturally, I was eager to review the score from The Corpse Bride.

The score follows basic themes that we have seen before in Elfman’s music; minor keys, subtle bridges, strong strings and horns. The “Main Titles” are very reminiscent of Elfman’s previous works, especially the score from Edward Scissorhands. It consists of a chanting chorus accompanied by a flowing string movement. Later on in the song, a harpsichord takes over the melody. This then converts directly into to the movie’s opening song, “According to Plan” where the lead characters express their individual motivations for the wedding.

The harpsichord and organ featured in both songs continue throughout the score to express the sparse, Victorian nature of the living characters in the film and contrast with the blues and swing tunes that characterize the Land of the Dead. The swing songs played by the dead, especially “Remains of the Day” and the bonus tracks found at the end of the CD seemed to recall the music that Elfman composed for Chicago. “Remains of the Day” is by far the most enjoyable song on the entire soundtrack with its fanciful rhythm and catchy lyrics.

It appears that the only middle ground these two worlds can find is through Victor and the Corpse Bride’s shared use of the piano. The tenderness with which the two piano pieces are composed and played reflect their importance while the melody that comes from these pieces, especially “The Piano Duet,” can be heard as a common uniting theme in most of the film’s individual songs. “Tears To Shed” is a heartfelt expression from the Corpse Bride herself, however it lacks the vigor of the score’s other pieces and appears as a weak and unneeded link. Some songs, especially “The Wedding Song,” abandon Burton’s characteristic minor key style and actually resemble something from a Disney animated feature.

Although interesting, Elfman’s score for The Corpse Bride is not as diverse as his masterpiece for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which combined various styles of music, especially for the Oompa Loompa songs, with great success. The Corpse Bride score also doesn’t have the power of Elfman’s best-known work, the score for Batman, which took the same theme and used it frequently to create a feeling of continuity throughout the movie. The Corpse Bride Soundtrack is a worthwhile investment, but I doubt that Elfman’s composition will join the cannon of other great movie themes that are easily recognizable.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor