Film Music Review
The Sammy awards






MARS ATTACKS! (Expanded!) [Soundtrack]





Music composed by Danny Elfman.

32 Tracks (Playing Time = 74:48)




Orchestrated by Steve Bartek, Marc Mann, Mark McKenzie, Edgardo Simone, and Ron Vermillion. Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Steve Bartek and Artie Kane. Also includes “Indian Love Call” performed by Slim Whitman; and “It’s Not Unusual” performed by Tom Jones. Reissue produced by MV Gerhard. Recorded by Andy Bass. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy at TODD/AO Scoring at Studio City, CA. Music edited by Ellen Segal and Bob Badami. Reissue digitally edited and mastered by James Nelson at Digital Outland. Reissue CD Art Direction by David C. Fein at Sharpline Arts.


La-La Land Records1096

Rating: ***

Limited edition of 3000 copies.


You either love or hate Tim Burton movies, but you generally have to admire the director’s ability to create films with quite distinct visuals. For MARS ATTACKS! (1996), the director took his inspiration from an old series of Topps trading cards. It was one of his more ambitious projects, and seemingly most problematic to date. It took a while to get what would become an all-star cast in a film that was part sci-fi “horror” but mostly comedic, often based on what bizarre death the different stars experienced. It also featured a host of horridly bad dialogue that intentionally makes the film a parody of classic 1950s sci-fi while somehow honoring the memory. It is the sort of film we all would have flocked to as young teens. The film is also noted for the return of the partnership between Elfman and Burton. The two had split after THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS which led to Howard Shore writing another retro score for the director’s superb ED WOOD. Somehow reconciling their differences, the two re-united for this film.

What struck me when the film was released was the inclusion of the theremin for the opening titles, intentionally bringing to mind THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Elfman’s score does a great job of creating the appropriately eerie sounds needed to follow the Martians on their trek to take over Earth. He balances this with many amazing melodic contours, often just hinting at a theme, but focusing mostly on a general atmosphere, whether it be action, horror, or, most wonderfully, a sort of 1960s lounge sound with bongos and choral interpolations. The lounge music is what most might recall next to the opening titles.

La-La Land ’s expanded edition of the score adds some 34 minutes to the original soundtrack release, while keeping the original tracks present. The unreleased tracks tend to feature some intriguing orchestral writing, often with more specific detail instrumentally (like the bassoon writing in “Barb Shares/Ode BG”). Some of the more Russian sounding elements (like “Invasion”) tend to repeat music that appears thematically elsewhere but it features different instrumentation and intriguing blends of electronics and percussion ideas that are like a heavier BEETLEJUICE sound.

Of the expanded music provided for the release, there is roughly ten minutes of “bonus material.” Most interesting is hearing the original trailer music Elfman crafted (with orchestrations by Simone)—one of the rare modern times when original music for the actual film accompanied its trailer. There is an orchestral demo of the main title which allows you to hear the way these things are often presented in the early stage of production and a couple of alternate cues as well. The extras are preceded by the Whitman and Jones songs both important, humorously so, to the film. They essentially separate the end credits track from the bonus material. All of the unreleased tracks are standalone on the disc and are not remixed into the previously-released material. This allows you to program the disc to just play what was on the original release if you preferred.

The sound here is great and while there are no individual track analyses, Dan Goldwasser does provide an informative essay about the score. Most interesting is the discussion revolving around the difficulty of getting the theremin to work live with the orchestra and the different recording sessions that were needed to get the right sound. The score is an important one in Elfman’s career as it marks the first explorations of this lounge sound that would continue in later scores along with a new sense of rhythmic percussion writing that would reach an amazing peak in PLANET OF THE APES.


-- Steven A. Kennedy , 3 July 2009

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