No stranger to superheroes and comic books, Danny launched the the most fertile period of his career with Batman, through to the early '90s with Darkman, Dick Tracy, Batman Returns and the theme for the television series The Flash. He would later collaborate with Darkman director Sam Raimi for 2002's biggest financial success, Spider-Man, making everyone at Marvel notice. The Hulk proves the Elfman formula is still viable, as his score is brilliant, matching the scope and tone of the picture, proving to be progressive, often exhilirating and touched with Elfman's unique brand of tragedy. The score is anchored by an often-repeated theme that is stated quickly in the magnificent "Main Titles" "Main Titles", first as a scientific-sounding 6-note descending motif for woodwinds and then later developed in the brass and strings ("Hulk Out!", "A Man Again"). Like Spider-Man, it's not an immediately obvious main theme, but it is there if you want to find it. This main "Science" theme is then put through it's paces in "Prologue", an extension of ideas from the "Main Titles", and the first appearance of the female vocals performed by Natacha Atlas. They do the work intended, adding an emotional gravitas to an otherwise loud and rambunctious summer movie blockbuster score, which is something increasingly rare. Action elements are surprisingly rare here, "Captured" introduces a bevy of percussion rythms overtop vocals and an Eastern-like string rythm. This might be the first time that Danny Elfman has written anything remotely resembling a Hans Zimmer-like action cue(!). "Hulk Out!" features the first real, balls-to-the-wall action scoring, with towering brass grunts overtop urgent strings coupled with frenetic percussion, concluding with a full-scale rendition of the main theme. Despite the fact that Elfman scores more mainstream films then ever before he still imbues his scores with flashes of his twisted sensibility, particularly in The Hulk, which features many dark passages, particularly for Bruce Banner's father in "Dad's Visit" and "Father Knows Best" (two of my favorite tracks), which churn with menacing synth effects. Additional highlights include the duduk-laced and tragic "The Truth Revealed", which features a heartbreaking statement of the "Betty and Bruce" theme. The track concludes with a gorgeous and warm reprise of Atlas' vocals. B-e-a-utiful! "Hulk's Freedom" brings back the vocals and percussion for a victorious and thundering fanfare. This album has a lot of challenges, it's short on hardcore action scoring, heavy on pathos, it's dark and not always pleasant. It's probably doomed to immediate criticism from the crowd of vanilla taste film music fans who populate message boards. There's something here though, something distinctly Elfman, that means a rewarding listening experience will develop. With each listen, this album opens up, reveals a new idea, and ties together two others. If you found that to be true while listening to Elfman's Planet Of The Apes or Spider-Man, you'll find it in The Hulk too. Expectations can kill a film score before anyone even hears a note. The Hulk strikes a balance between what you'd expect: percussive thunder and brass lightning, and what you don't: female vocals and Eastern influences. In short, it's typical Danny Elfman -- never the easy route!
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