Review #1 by the Groovy Yak
Well, I've had the soundtrack to Beetlejuice for a quite some time now. I was a little bit hesitant to put up this review for the fear of getting flamed. I've talked to some friends and a lot of Danny Elfman fans on the net about this soundtrack and I've found that people either really love it or really hate it. (Most people really love it.) I, on the other hand have mixed feelings about Elfman's score to this movie. I think that the main theme and the secondary Beetlejuice theme deserve 4 stars. (For those who aren't sure, I'm talking about the two themes you hear on Music for a Darkened Theater Vol. One) However, I've found most of the score to be too disjointed or fragmented with little material holding everything together. Don't get me wrong, the music works great in the movie, but it's uninteresting on the soundtrack. Another problem I have with the score is the fact that it sounds like it was performed by a 5-piece orchestra. Of course I'm exaggerating, but the score has a very thin sound.
The score isn't a complete disappointment. There are a few big orchestra tracks and there's also a few that are very good. I REALLY enjoy "The Fly" and "The Incantation." Plus, the two Harry Belafonte tracks are great! The calypso theme really works well in the movie and gives it its zany Burton-esque personality. Beetlejuice is my least favorite Tim Burton film. That probably has something to do with my feelings for the score. Nonetheless, I'm giving this score three stars because the themes are very good. Everyone should own a copy of the Beetlejuice theme. However, that may be as far as the average soundtrack fan will listen. I'm really into Elfman's crazy style, but this may be a bit too crazy for me.
Rating: * * *
Review #2 by Stephen Hoskins
It is my personal opinion that the best score ever done by Danny Elfman without a doubt would have to be the score to Beetlejuice. It is pure genius. No song of his appeals to the imagination more than the song played in the opening titles. What is so astounding about the music played in the opening credits is Danny Elman's ability to instantly capture my attention. I can instantly tell what kind of a movie it is going to be just by listening to it. It's pure musical genius, and I can't be the only one who thinks so because apparently Disney has used that sound track many times (and very indiscriminately I might add) to solicit some of their movies. While I may feel that this use of his purely original soundtrack is degrading and an insult to his intelligence I nonetheless believe that this is one of his best songs. His score sets the mood so well for the characters in the movie that it makes the acting virtually unnecessary. In this score he introduces new musical concepts never even attempted before which is just pure creativity such as in the track he wrote "The Fly" which has a kind of James Bond sort of sound to it. In addition he stuck in various other soundtracks such as "Jump in Line" and "Day-O" each performed by Harry Belafonte which I think fits into the movie so appropriately. His use of the organ and the violin also fits in very appropriately for this kind of a movie.
Review #3 by The Texas Ranger
After listening to Beetlejuice - or Betelgeuse - or armpit (whatever), I didn’t quite know how to react. I’ve read many reviews of the score, all of which seem to either praise or smash the work. Ironically, I didn’t love it or hate it; I was more or less indifferent to it. So before I sat down to type this review, I searched for a word that would best fit this score. Unfortunately, eight hours of searching through a plethora of thesauruses merely augmented my commodious and rather protracted vocabulary. Finally, I caught sight of a Cartoon Network advertisement which stated, “Screwy, Ain’t it?” That is how I view this score: SCREWY!
This movie score boggles my mind, and ears for that matter. I could spend an eternity listing all of the sources Elfman could have drawn from to produce this work. Off the top of my head I can recall hearing sounds reminiscent of “Busy Bumble Bee”, “Baby Elephant Walk”, “Day-O” (obviously), Nino Rita, “The James Bond Theme”, “Wedding March”, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, “Faust”, “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony”, “The day the Earth Stood Still”, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, the “Unsolved Mysteries Theme”, any Irish folk song, the music of Philip Glass, and numerous Bernard Hermann piano pieces - and that’s the short list! Yet it’s not where Elfman draws from that necessarily makes his music great, it’s how he puts it together.
Danny Elfman once again draws from the musical pool, and combines the distilled water with his own strange mixture in such a way, that it seems original and, well, Elfmanesque. The Main theme (1), as usual, is brilliantly conceived and executed. It’s fun, creepy, goofy, spooky, country, techno, pop, and wild all at the same time. He mixes the themes used in the movie excellently: Day-O and the afterlife motif for the opening, the raucous beat and brass for Beetlejuice, and the fiddle arpeggios for that good old small town feeling.
Travel Music (2) is a great throwback to the thirties and forties style of scoring, with sweet, rolling strings accompanying the young couple’s journey into town. The Fly (5) is a rolling, racing, extremely entertaining medley that seems reminiscent of “Busy Bumble Bee” and “James Bond.” The Incantation is a supernatural mix of medleys which is amazingly creepy, yet triumphant, at the same time. With the gothic organ and climactic brass, this piece was definitely the prologue and source for one of Elfman’s greatest pieces, “Up the Cathedral” for Batman. The Wedding (17) is a great romp combining a rather darkly twisted, “Wedding March” with the goofy conclusion to the Beetlejuice theme. Finally, let’s not forget Harry Belafonte, whose music gave the movie a wonderful little extra kick.
In addition, I consider this to be the first, true, Elfmanesque score. Until Beetlejuice, I feel Elfman was still in an experimenting/defining stage that began with Forbidden Zone. For the first time, Elfman’s style is completely laid out and would influence all later installments including Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Men in Black.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Like many of Elfman’s earlier works, the theme is great, but the score is lacking. Many of the tracks, including The Book (3) and Enter the Family (4), sound like small montages from “Unsolved Mysteries.” Others are long, drawn out pieces that remind me of Yanni, or Philip Glass’ tiring works. The tracks Showtime (15), Laughs (16), and Beetle Snake (9) all worked well in the movie, but not on the CD. Like the Bug Theme in “M.I.B”, Beetle Snake just annoys me with its creepy percussion and wind instruments. I had this problem with a lot of eighties scores. Two of my favorites, Dune and Star Trek II, have long sections that just sound like noise and not music; Beetlejuice occasionally suffers from this as well.
Other problems dog the score as well. First, Juno’s Theme (9), isn’t really Juno’s theme at all! It’s a compilation of the second half of the model sequence (it’s not that big of a deal, but it annoys me). Finally, Steve Bartek’s orchestrations seem all right, considering there’s only seven instruments he has to deal with! I’m exaggerating, of course, but the score has a weak, hollow sound to it. Without the choir, the Main Theme could be performed by a John Phillip Sousa Band at half strength!
Overall, this score has some great screwy moments, and some annoyingly screwy features. The Beetlejuice theme is brilliant, and has been used in wide variety of ways: from theme park attractions, to movie trailers. Yet many tracks lack a driving force, sound too much like noise, and drag on for eternity. Those who can take a little noise, and a brash amount of supernatural goofiness, maybe in for a real treat. Those who want the same driving force with less country wackiness (and a more up to date pop/rock flavor), should try Elfman’s later work - Men in Black. Definitely the first truly Elfmanesque score.
Note: In the book, “Burton on Burton”, Tim Burton claims that the score originally tested as too dark. The studio executives decided not to change the music. This surprised Burton, who was quoted as saying, “those guys usually listen to those screen tests, it’s everything to them.” As for the people who voted the score too dark - What the hell did you guys and gals expect from a movie that showcases a slobby zombie in eternal limbo; a dead couple constantly trying to scare the new owners by decapitating themselves; a chronically depressed, suicidal teenager; and Robert Goulet!? SCREWY, AIN’T IT?
Music on the CD: * * 1/2