Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Film Score of the Week: Beetlejuice, by Danny Elfman (1988)

Few film score composers and directors have ever been more perfectly paired than Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, which is amazing luck, as Burton's first film happened to be the second film Elfman ever scored--Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Shortly after that, the duo went on an amazing three-film streak--Beetlejuice, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands--which their reputations have mostly rested on ever since. 

Personally, I'd say the first Batman (1989) is their best achievement as a pair--a movie with a pretty ho-hum script, but which looked and sounded better than any comic book movie before or since. But Beetlejuice is definitely the most fun either have ever had, a bonkers movie that taps into the most creative parts of their collective imaginations, with every weird idea they had just pouring out and finding voice in Michael Keaton's manic performance. Elfman's dark carnival-esque sounds are equaled by the perfect dark-carnival of Burton's design, and Michael Keaton makes for the perfect nightmare barker. 

Beetlejuice first came out when I was a kid, and I saw it around that time too. It made perfect sense to my seven-year old mind. Rewatching it as an adult, I'm amazed it exists. Can you imagine the pitch meeting where Burton tried to describe it to a studio-head? Or when they saw the first production and costume designs? Or first read the screenplay? Looking back, this and Edward Scissorhands feel like the only movies that really tapped into Burton's creative potential. 

Danny Elfman was also the lead singer/songwriter for '80s New-Wave band Oingo Boingo, but by the time his collaborations with Burton hit their stride in the late-'80s/early-'90s, he'd turned his full attentions to film composing, also churning out great scores to movies like Dick Tracy, To Die For, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man, Men in Black, and many more. He's been nominated for four Oscars, but hasn't won one yet. As a consolation prize, he wrote the theme to The Simpsons (also in 1988), which is probably a strong contender for Most Recognizable Television Theme ever. 

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