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'Edward Scissorhands' is a film I love more than almost any other. A monument to the struggles of non-conformists everywhere. And Winona Ryder's stunning. But does the score evoke this classic on its own?
Yes it does. It's that simple. Listening to the soundtrack, you realise just how much Danny Elfman's magnificent job added to the film's already potent atmosphere.
Of course, you might be forgiven for experiencing a sense of deja vu with this CD. Elfman re-cycled bits and pieces from this score for Tim Burton's two Batman films, and indeed most of his recent output. Most recognisable are Catwoman's theme and the opening twinkly bits which were later to accompany the young Penguin's descent into Gotham sewers in 'Batman Returns'. But this was the first time he used them, so just sit back and enjoy the fact that you're getting several soundtracks for the price of one!
I find it very difficult to write extensively about incidental music without referencing the film heavily, even when the music is on such an epic, orchestral scale. Perhaps the most evocative track is 'The Cookie Factory' which reproduces Vincent Price's insane kitchen perfectly with its robots reproduced in the brass section, with shades of the 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' inspiring the slower, reflective ending.
'Ice Dance' is another perfect track, which sums up the dreamy quality of the scene perfectly. Again it's more than powerful enough to bring back the whole scene from the film before the mind's eye.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems with the soundtrack, as always. After the extremely varied first half, the last few tracks start to sound quite similar to my mind, as the tone of the film becomes darker and darker. The music even becomes a little over-dramatic in places. The playful quality of tracks like 'The Cookie Factory' and 'Edwardo the Barber' is lost in favour of a bombastic score, which only settles down at the very end to a slight reworking of the Introduction track.
This is fine for the film, as obviously events are moving towards a dramatic conclusion and it's only right that the music should reflect that, but listening to the soundtrack away from the accompaniment of Edward's increasing isolation from Surburbia, a bit more variety in the second half would add a bit of balance.
The other problem is the obligatory song on the album. The quality of what has gone before is suddenly compromised by an unremarkable Tom Jones number, 'With These Hands'. Not even Tom Jones fans are likely to enjoy this piece of work, and I loathe it, often leaping across the room to switch off the stereo before it can even start. Tom would later renew his association with Burton in the 'quirky' Mars Attacks! At least he was sensible enough to stick to his classics in that film.
One thing that should be a problem, isn't. My copy of the soundtrack contains a disclaimer which says that some tracks may be of poor quality as they've been copied from analogue tape. I've never noticed any problems, has anyone else? It seems strange to think of a Tim Burton film having its score recorded on old-fashioned tape, just a sign of how quickly our digital age has moved, I suppose!
I paid about nine pounds for this soundtrack years and years ago, I gather you can now get it for less than a fiver both in HMV and online. Highly recommended.
By the turn of the 1990s, Tim Burton had already sealed his credentials as an imaginative and quirky director with films like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman. Therefore it was only to be expected that his next film would be equally quirky and dark, and that it certainly was. Starring Johnny Depp along with Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, and Anthony Michael Hall, with Vincent Price as "The Inventor," Edward Scissorhands is a fairy tale-like fantasy about a strange artificial man with scissors for hands. From his lofty castle on top of a hill, he is whisked away by an Avon cosmetics saleswoman straight into the bright suburbs, where he is greeted with interest and wonder. It won't be long however when people start turning against him due to his naïve trust in others and his sharp scissorhands that cause a few unintentional moments of danger, resulting in a rather poignant though hopeful ending. To no small degree, it is the music of Danny Elfman that is one of the key elements that really brings to this film the magical and poignant feel of fantasy and innocence Burton was after.
Danny Elfman was a relative newcomer to the film scoring scene in 1990. Having scored a few quirky and comedic scores, he hit it big time when Burton's Batman came out in 1989. His hugely orchestral and gothic approach made an instant impact with its grandiose gestures, powerful main theme, and a level of energy that made you notice its presence. After Batman, Elfman became the number one choice to score superhero and comicbook films, with Dick Tracy and Darkman following soon after during the following year. But both of these (admittedly weak) scores paled considerably by Elfman's last entry of the year, Edward Scissorhands. In between his darkly gothic and quirky early style, Edward Scissorhands amazes you with its sweetly dream-like and gentle quality. It is music that is at all times hauntingly beautiful and lyrical, never really becoming unbearable or unlistenable. It is the most touching and personal of Elfman's scores, imbued with nostalgic sorrow of great beauty.
There are two elements in particular that really define this score and its fantasy elements. The first is the tingling celesta that underlies practically the entire score. It opens the score, appears often in the connection to Edward's theme, and it finally plings the final note of the end credits. This kind of twinkling has since become a standard staple in depicting magic, fairies, or dream sequences and Elfman himself has used it on numerous occasions followind Edward. The other notable element is the use of a boys' chorus, which is one of Elfman's trademarks ever since Beetlejuice. The fact that Elfman doesn't use a full adult choir creates a sense of childlike innocence that personifies Edward perfectly as still being a child in essence due to the fact that he has lived alone in seclusion ever since the death of his creator in the cue "Death!". The dominating theme for Edward is one of a melancholy waltz introduced in "Introduction (Titles)." Apart from this more grandiose presentation of the main titles, Edward's music is most often heard in a more gently happy, yet touching presentation, first heard in "Storytime" and appearing throughout the score. The highlight moment for this theme comes in "Ice Dance," a moment of absolute magic where it is fully expanded upon for the first time, a beautiful and moving moment that unfortunately comes to an abrupt end as the scene is suddenly interrupted.
Apart from this more melancholy music, there are a few instances when the score is lifted from the sadness. "Beautiful New World/Home Sweet Home" features Edward arriving to the Suburbs accompanied by a chippy little tune, which however does not last long before Edward's theme appears again as he enters his new home. In a similar vein is the loungy "Ballet de Suburbia" that sounds more familiar Elfman, even taking a page from Beetlejuice (he would later re-use the same kind of music for the main titles of Desperate Housewives). The bongo drums make for a particularly interesting and amusing little detail among the orchestrations. "Edwardo the Barber" is another outlandish cue as Edward makes a number of unique haircuts with his hands. The Spanish elements that surface in the beginning and end have baffled some people but according to Elfman's commentary on the score, there really is absolutely no reason for the castanets and the Spanish melodies to appear here. "It was just a fun idea that remained in the film." Also the middle part of the cue features a Paganini-like virtuoso violin solo that must have required quite a lot of precision and virtuosity from the player.
On a more dark note comes "The Cookie Factory," a quirky cue of conveyor belt rhythms and a sense of the macabre that is echt Elfman. The lengthy "Castle on the Hill" features a recap of the main title music a shade more darker and featuring the choir in a little more harshly dissonant style. The second part of the album concentrates more on the darker material found from the latter half of the film. The cues "The Tide Turns" and "The Final Confrontation" are both in the vein of standard action music that is very dark indeed. As Elfman said, he was so captivated in writing this finale music that he descended in a state of depression and anguish, basically being submerged in the darkness of it all. However, the absolute highlight of the entire score comes at the very end. "The Grand Finale" brings us a grandiose and very emotional climax on Edward's theme, an emotional release that always makes my spine tingle. And when coupled with the film, it is a moment that will bring tears to your eyes, no doubt about it.
The original MCA album offers some 47 minutes of score and is still widely available today at very reasonable prices. There is a mention that the album has been transferred from analogue tapes and there might be some minor hiss. This however in not very noticeable, the only time really being in the final score cue "The End." The score is followed by an unfortunately horrific Tom Jones song "With These Hands," that completely destroys the magical feeling created by Elfman's music. It is another example of the stupidity of the producers who want to increase record sales by including these nonsensical songs that nobody really even cares about. Still there is no denying the beauty and poignant loveliness of Elfman's score. It is a masterpiece that continues to enchant even today and remains, alongside Batman, possibly Elfman's best score ever, the beauty of which he has rarely managed to surpass. As Elfman said when scoring 1994's Black Beauty: "I love sad music;" and Edward Scissorhands truly is a great testament of this philosophy. A must-have in every single soundtrack collection and in many other CD collections as well. Highly and fondly recommended!
1. Introduction (Titles) (2:36)
2. Storytime (2:35)
3. Castle on the Hill (6:25)
4. Beautiful New World/Home Sweet Home (2:05)
5. The Cookie Factory (2:14)
6. Ballet de Suburbia (Suite) (1:17)
7. Ice Dance (1:45)
8. Etiquette Lesson (1:38)
9. Edwardo the Barber (3:19)
10. Esmeralda (0:27)
11. Death! (3:29)
12. The Tide Turns (Suite) (5:31)
13. The Final Confrontation (2:17)
14. Farewell (2:46)
15. The Grand Finale (3:26)
16. The End (4:47)
17. With These Hands (horrible song performed by Tom Jones) (2:43)
Music Composed and Produced by Danny Elfman
Orchestrated by Steve Bartek
Conducted by Shirley Walker
Featured Boys' Choir: The Paulist Choirsters' of California
Chorus Master: Dr. Jon Wattenbarger
Recorded and Mixed by Shawn Murphy
Recorded at Columbia Music Scoring, Culver City, CA
Music Editor: Bob Badami
Assistant Music Editor: Margie Goodspeed
Additional Engineering by Dennis S. Sands and Bill Jackson
MCA Records, 1990 (MCD 10133)
© berlioz, 2005/2007
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Introduction (Titles)
3 Castle On The Hill
4 Beautiful New World / Home Sweet Home
5 The Cookie Factory
6 Ballet De Suburbia (Suite)
7 Ice Dance
8 Etiquette Lesson
9 Edwardo The Barber
12 The Tide Turns (Suite)
13 The Final Confrontation
15 The Grand Finale
16 The End
17 With These Hands - Tom Jones, Les Reed, Orchestra