Danny Elfman’s Road To ‘Oz’

Oz the Great and Powerful marks the fifth score that Danny Elfman has contributed to a Sam Raimi film (sixth collaboration overall).  1990 marked their first collaboration, the sleeper hit Darkman.  Over the next 23 years, we’ve been treated to some amazing music as well as seeing their relationship hit a bumpy yellow brick road that would eventually lead to Oz.

1990 was a busy year for Elfman.  He scored Dick Tracy for Warren Beatty, Nightbreed for Clive Barker, and Edward Scissorhands for Tim Burton.  Elfman also scored Darkman for Sam Raimi.  He provided a score that would prove to be a perfect match for Raimi’s film.  His “Main Titles” sets the tone for the film, a theme for Darkman that conveys the unusual scientific research being conducted by Dr. Peyton Westlake as well as captures the tragic nature of the character once he becomes Darkman (adding a Phantom of the Opera vice to it; Elfman even throws an organ into the orchestra).  Elfman underscores the drama in a similar style to 1989’s Batman (not a complaint) and throws in a carnival aspect to highlight Darkman’s internal struggle as he hopes to perfect his synthetic skin formula so that he won’t look like a “freak” anymore (this comes together beautifully in a sequence where Peyton takes his girlfriend Julie to a carnival).  Elfman handles the action cues well, and overall provides a memorable score (his themes would be used by Randy Miller in the sequel scores).

1992 would technically mark their second collaboration as Elfman provided the “March of the Dead” theme for Raimi’s Army of Darkness (aka Evil Dead 3).  Franchise composer Joseph LoDuca composed the rest of the score.

1998 was another busy year for Elfman.  He adapted Bernard Herrmann’s score from the 1960 version of Psycho for Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake, and he scored A Civil Action for Steven Zaillian.  He also reunited with Sam Raimi for A Simple Plan.  Elfman used a minimalistic approach to the score in order to match the film’s bleak Minnesota environment.  Two themes are introduced in the “Main Title”; the primary theme being a fragmented (if not quirky) motif that represents the landscape and the secondary theme is a more comforting motif that develops later in the film.  His score serves the film well, creating a disturbing, alienating feeling while using unusual instrumentation (brass and percussion sections were replaced with additional woodwinds) to underscore the unraveling of the four characters’ seemingly simple plan to keep the millions of dollars they found in a crashed plane.

Elfman made a cameo in Sam Raimi’s 2000 film The Gift as a fiddler (I’m not sure if he was originally supposed to score the film or not; Christopher Young ended up with the scoring duties).

Yes, that’s Danny Elfman in Sam Raimi’s “The Gift.”

In 2002, he had a busy year, scoring Men In Black II for Barry Sonnenfeld, Red Dragon for Brett Ratner, and Chicago for Rob Marshall.  2002 also marked another collaboration with Raimi for Spider-Man.  Elfman was considered a superhero specialist by this point in his career, and he tackled Spider-Man a little differently than the way he tackled Batman.  He infused more electronics into his score, in part to represent a modern superhero in the 21st century.  His “Main Titles” introduces two themes, a heroic one for Spider-Man (not immediately, but slowly builds up to it in a satisfying fashion) and a more somber one for Peter Parker.  Elfman also makes use of a chorus (particular highlights includes the cues “Parade Attack” and “Farewell”).  In addition to the Spider-Man theme, he introduces a love motif for Peter and Mary Jane (highlights include the cues “Alone,” “Revelation,” and “Farewell”), as well as a villaious motif for the Green Goblin (highlights include the cues “Something’s Different,” “Parade Attack,” and “Specter of the Goblin”).  Elfman also provides some great action cues (“Revenge,” “Parade Attack,” and “Final Confrontation”).  Overall, Elfman provides a memorable score with a clever mix of orchestra and electronics, as well as some wild instrumentation in several cues.

With the massive success of 2002’s Spider-Man, it was a no-brainer that Elfman would be brought back for the sequel, 2004’s Spider-Man 2.  Elfman brings back revelant motifs for his sequel score (with some slight alterations in orchestration).  He introduces a new theme for Doc Ock (highlights include “Dock Ock Is Born,” “The Bank/Saving May,” and “Train/Appreciation”).  His love motif for Peter and Mary Jane gets more time in this film, and his action cues are just as agressive as those in the first film.  Elfman completed a terrific score, but post-production problems would lead to the replacement of a good portion of his score.  Sam Raimi had apparently loved the temp track used when putting the film together, particularly the pieces from Hellbound: Hellraiser II that were used for some scenes with Dock Ock.  Raimi brought in Hellraiser composer Christopher Young (whom he had collaborated with on 2000’s The Gift) to re-score those scenes, adapting the Hellraiser material (complete with chorus).  This led to a falling out between Raimi and Elfman.  Elfman would describe Raimi as being the normal guy he knew who was one day replaced by a pod and became a totally different person (an Invasion of the Body Snatchers reference).  There was also some late editing that required some portions of the film to be re-scored, but Elfman had already gone off to London to work on Tim Burton’s next two movies (2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride).  Young and John Debney would re-score the newly edited scenes, adapting as much of Elfman’s material as possible.  When it came time for 2007’s Spider-Man 3, Elfman refused to return, and Raimi brought back Christopher Young to write the score (with the producers insisting on the adaptation of Elfman’s themes).

In the years since Spider-Man 2, it would seem that old wounds had eventually healed.  Disney was producing a new Oz movie that would serve as a prequel to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.  The producers from 2010’s very successful Alice In Wonderland were on board to produce, and Sam Raimi was chosen to direct.  A key crew member from Alice In Wonderland was composer Danny Elfman, who had provided one of his best scores in years for that film (and should’ve been nominated for an Oscar).  It would seem ideal that the producers would’ve wanted Elfman to score Oz the Great and Powerful, and with the official announcement that Elfman was on board, it seems that Elfman and Raimi patched things up.  The score album is available from Intrada Records (in a continuing partnership with Disney), and based on the samples on their site, I would say that Elfman has created another magnificent and rich score (one that I hope gets him nominated for an Oscar).

Also, check out this mini-featurette featuring Elfman discussing his involvement with Oz the Great and Powerful:


2 responses to “Danny Elfman’s Road To ‘Oz’

  1. I’m expecting great things from the score, not so much for the film. Great article my friend. 🙂

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