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SONIC DEATH MONKEY Soundtrack Reviews - Big Fish & Peter Pan

Sonic Death Monkey is seen every Saturday
by Michael Collins

For this week's installment, SDM looks at the soundtracks to Peter Pan and Big Fish. In the battle of the youtful fantasies it's the Big Fish soundtrack that comes out the winner with it's inventive arrangements and brazen song selection.

Magic, wonder and playfulness are the moods that come to the fore with the soundtrack to the latest version of Peter Pan. There's danger as well, but it's a playful danger not the oh-hell-I-think-they're-actually-going-to-die-this-time sort of danger.

The danger in this movie is of course pirates after Pirate of the Caribbean I kinda like the Pirates better now.

The danger and pirates are accompanied by booming brass choruses. Peter's Shadow and pretty much anything else accompanying Peter is much more fun and bright. To accentuate mischief and cunning there's lots of harps and percussion tinkering.

Speaking of tinkering, there is course Tinkerbell to consider. Her theme is not quite what you expect and it's probably the best thing on this soundtrack. It's a little old school. As if it belonged in the animated Disney film of the 50s. It's touches on themes of flying and darting through the air. Quietly hiding and then quickly darting out in the open again.

With the orchestral arrangements it comes as quite unexpected to hear keyboard, electric bass and drums kick in during Flying. It's only brief, but it's a bit of a surprise to hear these modern sounds come along. It suddenly gives the soundtrack an updated feel to it. It reminds me of the way that Craig Armstrong combines modern sounds with classical orchestras.

Another surprise was the final parts of Set Them Free. Initially it's going on just fine and dandy, but then there is a huge dramatic turn as things go black and a vocal chorus kicks in sending it in an entire different direction.

That direction is continued with Poison. As one might guess, this theme is quite dark and so provides a minor highlight for the soundtrack.

Peter Returns is gentle, as is Mermaids and Is That A Kiss. Again I'm struck by the by-the-numbers style of the soundtrack. There's not enough surprises on this soundtrack.

The classic animated version of Peter Pan back in 1953 had some equally classic songs like Never Smile At A Crocodile and A Pirate's Life. No such luck on this soundtrack. The music is nice enough with the occasional deft touch, but it will not be setting hearts aflutter with that memorable tune or melody as a lot of the classic Disney films contained. Despite minor flourishes it's quite a convention sounding score.

For a soundtrack it's kinda odd to have a few songs tagged at the beginning and then the score later on making up the bulk of the album. Maybe having one of the other would have been better and perhaps a rearranged track list would have been more effective.

Of the songs that are on there, it's quite an odd mix. We get Pearl Jam doing some serious-athon kind of a thing like they always do - And then straight after is Bing Crosby.

Well, obviously!

The eclectic mix of songs is evidently due to the time shifting going on in the film. The songs do have a novelty value, but you might struggle to be in the mood to listen to 30s crooning, 50s pop lite, and then Pearl Jam all in the one sitting. The mix is just too weird. Well hey, we're talking Tim Burton so I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

Having said that let me just contradict myself and say that I quite like the track selection that's been made. Presley does a nice version of All Shook Up, and Canned Heat's Let's Work Together sounds way awesome. Readers may be more familiar with the Bryan Ferry version that went under the name Let's Stick Together, but this version is nice, raw and bluesy. This song is definitely worth searching out. That's Canned Heat with, Let's Work Together.

So after the pick and choose yesteryear pop appeal of the opening tracks we then take a serious left turn (again, yeah, it's Tim Burton) to move into the orchestral score from the film. It's Danny Elfman at the controls for the score whom has worked on several of Burton's previous films including Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and Beetlejuice.

Not unlike Peter Pan, Big Fish has some magic and mythical qualities about it. Yet Elfman handles things a whole lot differently and much more imaginatively. Elfman's gone for a hint of a Celtic sound with solo violin moments. There's sprinkling of piano interplaying with the violin soloist and then there's the rest of the strings providing the back up with surprisingly some acoustic guitar in there as well. It's so much more interesting and far more successful than the Peter Pan soundtrack.

Once the score part of the CD kicks in there is far more consistency of mood. There's beauty, wonder and surprise yet there is a common thread going throughout the CD that will ensure that you'll want to listen to the CD all the way through.

The adventurous and gentle spirit of the film is beautifully captured on the soundtrack. You sense the changing moods in the music, but they are nicely understated so as to avoid any jarring effect in the listening of this CD.

As with Burton's films, this soundtrack is original, thoughtful and playful. It's Elfman's work that sets this apart from the pack.

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originally posted: 02/01/04 08:40:34
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