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Spider-Man - Danny Elfman - Soundtrack Review

This week, another score by Danny Elfman on my blog. Before Hans Zimmer became the regular composer for Superhero movies, it was Danny Elfman who was mostly hired. His first score for the “Spider-Man” franchise is one of his best soundtracks, so it is worth to have a deeper look at it.

The movie

“Spider-Man” is a 2002 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Directed by Sam Raimi from a screenplay by David Koepp, it is the first instalment in the Spider-Man trilogy, and stars Tobey Maguire as the title character, with Willem Dafoe as antagonist, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, and James Franco in an interesting role as Dafoe’s son and also Maguire’s friend.

Here is the trailer:

“Spider-Man” was always my favourite Superhero. In general, I am not a big fan of Superhero movies, and, for example, cannot understand the fascination about the Superman character. I always considered this guy as quite boring even though Christopher Reeves played him greatly. As a teenager, I liked Batman very much. He was dark and had this kind of split personality and the technical stuff, that was fascinating.

“Spider-Man”, created by writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Steve Ditko, first appeared in the early 1960s when teenagers in superhero comic books were usually relegated to the role of sidekick to the protagonist. Spider-Man took a new approach with high school student Peter Parker who suffered from the typical feelings such as rejection, inadequacy and loneliness". Furthermore, Peter has lost his parents in a plane crash and is raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. The movie also shows us the scene when a criminal flees and kills Peter’s uncle, and this bad guy is the antagonist in the third movie of the Sam Raimi franchise. My first introduction to “Spider-Man” was the television series directed by E. W. Swackhamer with Nicholas Hammond.

I was very surprised when Sam Raimi who I just know from “Evil Dead” took over. A director famous for this totally over the top Horror movie with a tree rape scene should direct this movie? I was curious and did not expect anything, so perhaps the best way to enjoy a movie. I cannot praise this movie enough! For me, this first movie is one of the best superhero movies ever, for sure one of the best Marvel movies, and still highly enjoyable.

Tobey Maguire is still the best actor for Spider-Man, Elfman’s music one of his best, and the whole storyline is just fantastic. These three movies make a fantastic franchise, and perhaps the best part of the third movie is that because of difficulties between Elfman and Raimi, Christopher Young was hired to compose the music. In the end, both composers worked on this movie, and Young composed with “Birth of the Sandman” a fabulous track.

One important aspect of this movie is also that it was altered in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks for the purpose of removing the World Trade Center from various special effects shots. This was the first time that 9/11 influenced the production of a movie as I can remember. Therefore, never forget!

The music

Danny Elfman seems to be the only choice as composer for this movie. He had already established a relationship with Sam Raimi by composing the music for “Darkman” (1990, another superhero movie, starring Liam Neeson) and “A Simple Plan” (1998, a neo-noir crime thriller, with an usual score because Elfman used a guitar in a very interesting way) , and was very well-know for this music for Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989), a score I discussed on my blog before and also in my book “50 Best Soundtracks”.

“Batman” and “Spider-Man” are both characters with a dual-identity, but because “Spider-Man” is a lighter movie than “Batman”, Elfman had not so much chance to composer gothic music even though we can find the typical suspense and dark music. Additionally, Elfman chose a technologically more modern approach with a lot of acoustics and electronics.

The “Main Title” played during the now famous title sequence for each Marvel movie starts slowly and builds up with the motif for Peter Parker. This motif is introduced with various variations, for example, by adding a choir, which will you hear more often through the movie, and provides an extremely dynamic start. Here is the Main Title:

“Transformations” continues with this dynamic approach, alternating with some quieter moments and combined with the typical suspense music by Elfman. One of my favourite tracks is the funny and quirky “Costume Montage”, underscoring the scenes when Peter Parker puts his costume together. With “Revenge”, we have one of the longest tracks of the score. I especially like the trumpet part from 0’45 which reminds you of similar heroic music by Jerry Goldsmith, before we go back to action again, especially the percussion is very busy in this second part of the track. Not always easy listening music, but with a great effect in the movie.

In “City Montage”, we have one of the best performances of the main theme, a really powerful and highly enjoyable track in the first part, with a nice use of various percussions again, combined with the piano and choir. Quieter moments again in “Alone” and back to action with “Parade Attack”, the energetic track to the big action scene. “Specter Of The Goblin” features the Goblin theme in a very dark track. The following “Revelation” gives us some quieter moments before we have with “Final Confrontation” the longest track of the score for the showdown: full-packed action music, very loud, very aggressive, typical Elfman in the usage of the strings and percussion, and with a very nice repeat of the Peter Parker theme to end the track.

“Farewell” underscores the last scene between Peter and Mary Anne. We hear the famous "with great power comes great responsibility", the motif introduced in the final panel of the first Spider-Man story. Some critics interpret this phrase as a statement after the attacks of 9/11.

The last track “End Credits” is unfortunately also one of the weakest tracks: it is just too short to bring this score to a convincing end. You would have wished a longer track that features the various themes in a more complex composed final track. The album consists of 45 minutes, but I read there is a complete score available which is 58 minutes long. I do not have it and could also not find any information where to buy this album.

I found a nice piano version of the main theme:

And here a live performance, with later Christopher Youngs music, again directed by the incredible Diego Navarro, and with the composer later on stage. You can really hear the difference between these two composers....

Even though, the score of “Spider-Man” has its weaknesses, the music works very well and was also responsible that this first instalment was so successful. Elfman continued to work on the franchise, but as you can read, he had a very bad experience during the second one, so he was not willing to return. Christopher Young with whom Sam Raimi worked before took over, but Elfman stepped in again. Here is not the time to talk more deeper about this because there are so many rumours spreading around. The score issues for the third one, puts a bad impression on the whole franchise, and therefore, it would be very satisfying if we finally get an album of the third “Spider-Man” featuring the music of both composers.

For all fans who want to listen to Christopher Young's music, here is the link to the website:

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2019, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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