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Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Aug 3, 2008

  • Movies review

    1,676

    Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Soundtrack Review
    With Marco Beltrami not returning to score the sequel to the great Hellboy, Guillermo Del Toro turns his attention towards genre veteran Danny Elfman to furnish Mike Mignola's Big Red with some musical muscle and finds that the composer has brought along his customary eclectic mix of resounding and diverse percussion, ethereal swooning and profoundly lyrical harmonies. The resulting swing-shift between the two scores is actually nowhere near as traumatic as you might think, however. I know that I was disappointed when I saw that Elfman's name was attached to the project - not that I'm not a fan of the former Oingo Boingo smiler, because I most certainly am - but because I loved Beltrami's score so much that I couldn't bear the thought of his style's exclusion this time around. His music for 2004's Hellboy was possibly the best score of that year and is still one that I play very often, so it was with a huge amount of trepidation that I approached Elfman's take on the BPRD's ongoing mission to bump back at the things that “go bump in the night.”

    Commencing with a delightful and fanciful track that serenades the film's Introduction, where a young Hellboy is given a bedtime story from John Hurt's Prof. Broom that becomes the basis for the movie's plot - aggravated Elf-Prince seeks to activate the fabled Golden Army and eradicate the world of Man - Elfman is on very familiar turf. Shades of his Sleepy Hollow score whisper through, with tinkling notes floating before deep, resounding bass, eerie strings and a buffer of ethereal female voices. The track is diverse, however, mingling different moods - ominous, threatening chords with glistening mini-melodies and surging brass. Track 2, Hellboy II Titles, ignores Beltrami's Hellboy theme that lived-on into the two animated adventures and becomes a strangely brief, but ever-driving and forceful section of pounding rhythm that, funnily enough, recalls Silvestri's work on Beowulf. With titles that confirm Del Toro's fascination with clockwork contraptions - machinery and cogs working together, slamming and sliding home to produce a gleaming, hellishly industrial credit montage - the cue is brilliantly conceived and full of crisp instrumental detail.

    Elfman's music for Tim Burton's ill-advised Apes remake is firmly rehashed with Track 3, Training, in which Luke Goss's albino Elf warrior, Prince Nuada, perfects his sword-fighting skills in his subway lair. Lots of metallic percussion punctuate the powerful, yet nicely subdued chanting of the Metro Voices choir. Elfman's love of ethnic percussion has always been something that he strives to incorporate into his music and, during the first half of this cue, he really lets rip. The second half is more mysterious, with chanting male voices, a sinuous oboe and grim foreboding stretched out with a slow dirge for strings. The Auction House, track 4, is bolstered by yet more tense strings before a midway-point cymbal clash heralds dark deeds and murderous mayhem aplenty. Depth and percussion batter away at one another with Elfman presiding happily over the maelstrom and then cutting it out from under our feet, just when things were getting going. He likes to tease, does Danny Elfman.

    Track 5, Hallway Cruise, is quintessential Elfman. A short cue, this is nevertheless wildly humorous, instrumentally unusual and full of quirks. With a fantastic swing-shift into otherworldly “lounge” - think Mars Attacks! crossed with Willy Wonka and you are in the same exotically comical ballpark - Elfman has a right old giggle. On-screen, the casually filmed antics of much busier BPRD HQ than before match the carnival atmosphere of the music to a tee. Before it becomes violently super-charged, Track 6, also possesses some of this weird eccentricity, but once that change occurs, it takes on a truly punishing vigour as Hellboy, Abe and Liz are forced to battle a horde of demonic tooth-fairies. A magical chime is replaced with shrieking strings, delicate notes rammed out of the way by bowel-loosening bass and supernatural “oohs” and “ahhs” and Elfman-trademarked “la-las” from the choir blasted into oblivion by raucous brass. Curious little asides flutter through the chaos and the cue is certainly a terrific tour de force.

    Teleplasty is a glorious pastiche of many old sci-fi themes from the fifties. Warbling chords shimmer all over it, and the mesmerising sound of what could be a Theremin rises and falls, wafting across the cue like a cosmic feather. Fantastic and, again, very playful. Track 8, Mein Herring, covers the awesome introduction of the German ectoplasmic special agent Johann Krauss. A brilliantly daft pseudo Teutonic chant and fanfare lifts the score with yet another surprising flavour. Beltrami did much the same thing previously when granting the evil Rasputin some bygone Russian atmospherics. Here, the result is far more tongue-in-cheek, but completely apt as well. Track 9, Father And Son, is an epic slice of Faerie grandeur, with heavy, portentous chords combining with sweet strings to create myth and magic. The confrontation between Nuada, his sister Nuala and their father, King Balor, has ingredients of all that has gone before brought into play in this powerful cue. Treachery hangs in air and the mood of playfulness is forced out when the tone becomes one of anger and elemental rage. Whilst the heavier chords keep on reminding of the dread from Sleepy Hollow, shivering violins and processed moaning voices create an altogether different cadence that lends considerable weight to the motivations of the characters, something that, in the movie, comes across as slightly contrived. Elfman finds the core essence of the conflict, though, and gives it a believable scope. Swirling woodwinds hark back to Batman and the whole things ends with a troubled apprehension of the struggle to come.

    A Link, Track 10, is a soft lament for gently plucked strings and a quiet, lulling piano. There is a hint, the most fleeting, most teasing hint that Elfman is about to produce a variation on Beltrami's theme for Hellboy and Liz Sherman here, but it is gone, vanished into the ether before any such connection can be firmly made. Sly, that.

    Something like Troll Market should perhaps have been even more flamboyant and demented - I was kind of expecting a track along the lines of Elfman's own music for Clive Barker's Nightbreed, which features a creature-montage sequence very similar to that found in Hellboy II, but the richness seems reined-in and not quite as imaginative. There is the choir, there are bells and whistles and some wild chiming and a beautiful ethnic woodwind instrument plays out the cue, but somehow, I had hoped for more. The following track, Market Troubles, which sees Big Red in a pulverising confrontation with Nuada's ogre henchman, Mister Wink, fares much better, even if it is really just an action cue. Whilst undoubtedly dramatic - and featuring some meaty percussive impacts to denote the big-hitting from both Big Red's Right Hand Of Doom and Wink's extendable arm-mace - there is a lot of fun to be had. Most of Hellboy's action scenes are partly played for laughs anyway. Beltrami actually fashioned two amazing action cues for the first film that, to this day, are still a couple of my absolute favourite tracks, but he kept such things much more intense, while Elfman can't resist heaving some brevity into the mix.

    A beautiful, yearning interlude then follows in A Big Decision. Piano and strings complement one another to perfection, with some gentle flute-work providing a mournfully pastoral canopy. The Last Elemental, Track 14, is filled with more heartfelt conflict as the result of another duel to the death has profound impact upon the minds and souls of the BPRD. A lush sweeping track that would be treading the same sweetly painful path as the likes of Edward Scissorhands were it not for the weightier, less airy melody that has wider issues to contend with and some harder spirits to touch. A brilliant piece of work.

    The Spear may be short at only 1.47 mins, but it is a marvellously crafty and exciting cue, nonetheless. A fight cue that hurls a lot of texture and orchestration at you, this is the type of thing that sets the pulse racing and then, just as abruptly, tails away and leaves you breathless, but wanting more. A Dilemma, track 16, displays pensive, touching sentiment regarding a crucial injury and conjures up a simply majestic aura of mystical serenity in the process. What is becoming apparent by this stage in the album - and the film - is that Elfman is not overly concerned with continuing any particular themes. In fact, none of those that he has started, perhaps the Main Titles especially, have been allowed to progress. Whilst this is most certainly not a sin - or even all that unusual in film scoring at large - it is curious in a genre score like this. Elfman, himself, is a manufacturer of some wonderful themes already - Batman, Spider-Man, Sleepy Hollow to name but three movies in which he literally propelled the plot with signature cues - so it seems strange that he addresses the Hellboy universe without striking up such character-based chronology. Mind you, the thing about this score is that it more than manages without such traditional trappings.

    Track 17, Doorway - which features some input from Halli Cauthry - is another great and moody piece. High sliding strings and then some shivery agitation give way to some regal and imposing drums that beat out a King Kong-type of apprehensiveness. A harp glistens and a sprinkling of bells and a triangle provide a lightness that belies the overall ominous sense of frightening exploration. A Choice, track 18, begins with some terrific hushed female voices chittering away from the shadows. A distant bell chimes and edgy strings tumble as things continually build, gathering eerie strength until yearning violins cut through the grave cloud of unease. Some impressions from Kilar's score for Bram Stoker's Dracula form - love, death and an endless battle - with Elfman's dark romanticism becoming earnest and quite moving. His take on Hellboy is much more lyrical than Beltrami's, his desire often to clearly pluck as many heartstrings as violin-strings.

    In The Army Chamber, the penultimate track on the score, is the grand action showstopper. With the Golden Army activated and our oddball heroes faced with their unstoppable, unreasoning might in a Faerie temple located underground near the Giant's Causeway, Elfman switches to symphonic ferocity after a bewitching first section that folds in the vocal waves from the choir - both male and female this time - around soft, melodious enchantment. The headlong rush from the final rousing action cues of Sleepy Hollow were very similar to this chaotic frenzy, but the lumbering bass and percussion that once denoted the Headless Horseman now thunders home the musical aggression of the huge robotic army of Golden warriors. Tremulous brass and bleating horns bounce throughout the insistent tempo of an advancing enemy, reinforcing its pitiless and relentless ferocity. This is a good cue, but not a great one, despite the wild activity it presents. Perhaps this is the point at which a returning heroic theme would have worked to Elfman's advantage. The closing battles of the first Hellboy were profoundly exciting because Big Red's indomitable, yet cool, theme came roaring back with rousing verve. Here, we are musically intrigued but not reassured by the furious denouement. Strangely enough, this seems to be a recurrent problem with Elfman's scores, in that his endings, bar those for the afore-mentioned Batman and Spider-Man, are nowhere near as good, as enthralling or as intelligently written as the main bodies of his scores. By far the best stuff on Sleepy Hollow and Planet Of The Apes, as well as a whole host of others, is to be found earlier on the album, and this gives the impression that the composer either runs out of ideas or just opts to throw everything into the melting-pot in the hope that some fantastic orchestral stew simply evolves out of all his ingredients. But this musical Frankenstein's Monster approach misses much more often than it hits.

    And, totally compounding this theory, comes the Finale, which is a very strange Celtic-cum-Arabic-style jingle-riff that sort of reminds us of the Troll Market. Set in two parts - though the tempo and the orchestration changes, both segments still form a whole - the cue is terribly unsatisfying and a really crazy way to end the score. Although called Finale, Elfman does not actually supply one ... in proper thematic and musical terms, at any rate. This bizarre track simply ends on a flat note and seemingly consigns the Hellboy II score to oblivion - like Johann Krauss' faceplate getting smashed and his gas-like self leaking out into the four winds, the music finds no comfortable closure and I'm afraid that this is the worst possible way to end an album. It might work reasonably well to play over some end credits that the majority of people have already walked away from, but it sure doesn't work as the end of a score divorced from its mother-movie. A terribly misguided final track, folks.

    But, barring this lack of direction and clarity at the end, it turns out that my initial frostiness was hugely unfounded. Elfman is, indeed, ideally suited for this type of score - indeed, he is one of the best proponents of such deliciously dark melodies and lush esoterica. Whereas the first Hellboy was more of a simple bruising-and-bash-athon and needed a score that was powerful and brooding, the second requires a far more baroque sensibility, which, again, is something that Danny Elfman excels at. Touching, resonant and fabulously creative, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an imaginative score that doesn't have to try too hard to match the visuals - Elfman, living up to his surname surely, knows this territory like the back of his hand and delivers a fine, eclectic and entertaining new voice for Big Red's on-the-fringe adventures. With two different scores from two hugely different composers already, it will be interesting to see what happens when Hellboy (hopefully) gets his third cinematic outing. Right now, I wouldn't mind Elfman returning to the BPRD, but, if I'm honest, I would much prefer to hear some thunderous action from Marco Beltrami.

    Still, for Elfman fans, Hellboy fans, and score-fans in general, this album comes very highly recommended.

    Full track listing as follows -

    1. Introduction 3:37

    2. Hellboy II Titles 1:18

    3. Training 1:50

    4. The Auction House 2:28

    5. Hallway Cruise 1:35

    6. Where Fairies Dwell 4:17

    7. Teleplasty 1:21

    8. Mein Herring 1:05

    9. Father and Son 6:02

    10. A Link 1:29

    11. A Troll Market 1:21

    12. Market Troubles 3:41

    13. A Big Decision 1:10

    14. The Last Elemental 4:11

    15. The Spear 1:47

    16. A Dilemma 2:55

    17. Doorway 3:35

    18. A Choice 3:58

    19. In the Army Chamber 5:47

    20. Finale 6:06

    Total Album Time: 59:33

    Verdict

    I didn't expect to enjoy Elfman's score for Hellboy II anywhere near as much as I actually did, such was my love for Marco Beltrami's still superior music for Big Red's first outing. But he achieves something here that definitely wasn't part of Beltrami's mission parameter, something far more akin to the flavour and atmosphere of the comic-books - a dark Faerie lilt that plays with mystery, hints at romance, threatens with the composer's typical percussion and sidles mischievously into realms of the decidedly other. Traces of Nightbreed leak through, as do aromas of Edward Scissorhands and even Planet Of The Apes, but the score does generate its own unique vibe. Personally, I adore the main theme from the original and kind of miss it here, but Elfman delights and surprises in equal measure with a composition that successfully embraces the weird and the wonderful and floats elegantly between action and the sublime qualities of the fantastique.

    As time goes by, I'll probably grow to love this score more and more, despite its lack of progressively maintained themes in favour of apparent diversity of structure. That woeful ending is a severe thorn in its side, however, and I feel forced to drop a point for it. Elfman knew what he was doing - I'm sure - but this was not the way to end a Hellboy score. Plus, he tends to self-reference quite a bit, which, for a score revolving around one of the genre's most "way-out" and individual sets of characters and scenarios isn't really in keeping with the visionary scope that the creators have aimed for. But the majority of the score works well enough to warrant its overall recommendation.

    The Rundown

    Movie

    7

    Overall

    7

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