Elliot Goldenthal: A Composing Enigma

Elliot Goldenthal’s one of the more obscure composers I know of. That’s partially because he hasn’t worked on a major film since at least 2003 and the bulk of his work was in the 90’s. I didn’t know who he was until I started learning more about Batman and Robin. Despite his relative obscurity among film fans, Goldenthal’s music isn’t half as obscure as you may think. Some fans consider his score for Alien 3 to be the franchise’s best and he created an original theme for Batman.

Despite the fact I like his scores, I don’t consider him a great composer. He’s in the honor roll in the “My Favorite Film Composers” post and for good reason. Goldenthal’s accolades include four Oscar nominations and an Oscar win, three Golden Globe noms, two Grammy noms, 6 ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) awards, and an Emmy nom. Quite a collection.

I’ll go into brief reviews of a couple Goldenthal scores while also discussing what made him such an enigma among even today’s composers.

Experimental film scoring is nothing new. Ever since people started putting music in movies composers have added little twists and tweaks to make their scores sound a little different. Goldenthal was very much an experimental composer, and it became his trademark style. Although he utilized a full orchestra, you’ll hear synthesizers, drums, or electric guitars every so often, and maybe a choir. Keep in mind, that’s just instruments. Arranging/orchestrating is where things become downright zany. To understand why, let me introduce you to the score for Alien 3.

Directed by David Fincher (the same one who later did Gone Girl) in his major film debut, Alien 3 was the result of studio oversight, a script literally everyone had suggestions on and an inexperienced director. Enter Goldenthal, who would also make his major film debut. He worked on the score for a year in LA which happened to coincide with the famous LA riots.

Warning: Alien 3 is a very experimental score. I’m not sure how many composers used a combination of guitars, synth, choir, and brass in one track orchestrated/arranged a zillion different ways in 1992, but I’m betting not too many. And the score doesn’t sound dated in the slightest today. It remains dark and creepy with constant brass, plenty of “did I hear that?” moments, and plenty of Goldenthal nuttiness.

Goldenthal’s main composing trait is throwing layers into his pieces. Imagine you have icing, chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, and chocolate in a layer cake. Music-wise that could mean anything from beats changing on the fly to some instruments playing one tempo when others pop in at a different tempo! And over top all that are more instruments! “Chaotic” is a good word to describe some of his work. I can only imagine what playing his music must be like.

For the rest of the ’90’s Goldenthal scored films such as Demolition ManHeat, A Time To Kill and Titus. However, his most lasting works came in the superhero film genre.

In 1995, polarizing director Joel Schumacher picked Goldenthal to score Batman Forever, the third film in the successful franchise. The composer decided to create his own themes for the movie, ignoring Danny Elfman’s classic tunes. His resulting score is certainly unique. Forever‘s score used much of the same experimentation and style from Alien 3. Its a mixed bag of dark and lighter tracks filled to the brim with his usual style.

Goldenthal’s superhero ‘sophomore effort’ happened to be the score for the notorious Batman and Robin. If you listen to both scores back to back, you’ll quickly notice many themes and cues from Forever were reused for Batman and Robin. Goldenthal did write a couple original themes and they do their job well.

If you want to know my full thoughts on both the scores of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, check out “Soundtrack Review: Batman Forever/Batman and Robin”.

In the 2000’s, Goldenthal scored Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and won an Oscar for Frida in 2003. His name popped up in 2007 when parts from one of his tracks from Titus were blatantly reused by Tyler Bates for his score to the cult hit 300. The copyright issue was later resolved. Goldenthal went on to score The Tempest in 2010.

Nowadays Elliot Goldenthal’s more or less retired. Here’s a composer who, for a little over a decade, scored films in a way other composers had yet to pick up on. While I don’t consider Goldenthal among the all-time greats, he’s a unique piece in the film scoring puzzle. Scores like his have become more commonplace. A couple decades ago, however, his music was something new and different. So go listen to his scores and see what you think.





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