Monday, 16 February 2015


Check it out... if you seek a film score which presents classical composition methodology in a scoring setting to a somewhat positive effect, or are so infatuated with the literary or cinematic presentations that you're willing to check out and purchase anything to do with either of them

Skip it... if you require even a moderate semblance of uniqueness to your Danny Elfman works, his output here so insanely reminiscent of other composer's work that it feels less like Elfman and more like a hybrid of Korzeniowski, Thomas Newman and Giacchino (Pixar mode) at their individual, least inspired states 

"There's nothing that makes Fifty Shades stand out from the rest of its competitors in terms of plain compositional variety, thematic accessibility, melodic capability, emotive quality or general methodology."

It is rare for one to witness a cinematic release filled with such universal distaste that seems overtly unnecessary; Sam Taylor-Johnson's adaptation of E.L James' highly criticised erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has received an overwhelming quantity of negativity, few refusing to properly acknowledge the undeniable positives that lie beneath the filth that can be observed on the surface. The film, captured by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (responsible for highly lauded work within Atonement and last year's exceptionally good looking Godzilla reboot), looks utterly remarkable, the visual aesthetic of the picture sleek and vivid, the negatives popping at any given opportunity to deliver highly pleasant imagery that engages the mind of any avid McGarvey fan; a man whose work is within the higher calibre of American cinematographers. The lighting, sound editing/mixing, editing, production design and costumes are all utterly sensational and without fault, and provide a rich detail for the entire picture, making it hard to turn one's head away, even in the most explicit of sequences. Not to mention the immensely addictive soundtrack, featuring tracks from modern pop superstars that include The Weeknd (whose end credits track, 'Earned It', proves to be one of my favourite songs of the year so far) and Beyonce, the latter providing a slower and more carnal rendition of her famed 'Crazy In Love', which plays to exquisite effect within one of the many BDSM scenes throughout the film. What lets the film down is the deplorable screenplay and performances; the story, centred around a literature student named Anastasia Steele (a name which oddly sounds as if it's from an adult film star), who gets caught up in a rather stagnant relationship with billionaire philanthropist Christian Grey; a man whose preference in terms of his sexuality is rather eccentric to say the least (he enjoys the practice of BDSM).

Unfortunately, what could have been a rather steamy erotic adaptation comes off as bloated, boring and utterly inert. The chemistry between Dakota Johnson and Jaime Dornan, who play Steele and Grey respectively, is implicitly non-existent, and the screenplay provides absolutely no personality for the male lead of the picture. He is uninteresting, uncaptivating, and Dornan does not add anything to the role part his relatively impressive six-pack. The screenplay also features laugh-worthy lines, long sequences featuring little more than sterile sexual intercourse and an abundance of repetition; the question of "will she-won't she" in regards to Steele's submission to Grey loses any chance of captivation after it is continuously cited to no avail whatsoever. And the ending, which features an almost decent tie-in to the beginning of the whole damned escapade, sets us up for what I can only anticipate shall be another three sequels, all of the same standard. I say three despite there being only two literary sequels because, in customary Hollywood fashion, the final film in what should be a trilogy will be split into two separate pictures, to leech a few more hard earned dollars from the pockets of aunts, grandmothers and horny teenagers (your expert connoisseur included) everywhere. The joy of modern filmmaking; where quantity means quantity, in terms of profit that is.

In what many will probably consider one of the year's least anticipated major compositional releases, Danny Elfman's continuation in the form of vapid scoring for films he obviously isn't suited due to his eclectic music tastes and all is proving to be a thorough sore-point for film music fans abound. The same composer behind the ingenious works of art that included Batman, Alice in Wonderland and Edward Scissorhands was also the man who provided compositions for last year's late Tim Burton affair Big Eyes, which proved to dissatisfy many, myself included. Where was the creativity? The bustling vehemence of his usual output? The orchestral grandeur? 'Twas all lacking, and proved for an underwhelming listen. Yet still, according to numerous sources (some of questionable taste and opinion, I will be honest), his work was fit for the context it was constructed for. Its lack of personality molded well into the place it was fit for from the very beginning. The same can be said for Fifty Shades of Grey, which lacks an ounce of personality nor individuality, its most supposedly "creative" moments seeming to draw inspiration from various other scores of some sort. All the same, it certainly works for the context it was intended for, the lavish melodies and wistful orchestration accentuating the crispness of the entire visual exploit, the look of the film further emphasized by Elfman's direct and basic effort. So in those terms, commendation is due where commendation is due.

All the same, this website is dedicating to providing you advice for album purchases, and I provide a rating based on music presented within a separate context that shouldn't require the visual form to be considered good or bad. This is a work of music after all, and for lack of a better comparison for this kind of situation, one would not be reviewing 'Earned It' or Ellie Goulding's 'Love Me Like You Do' for its use within Fifty Shades of Grey, but on the merits of their own individual successes. And Elfman's Fifty Shades of Grey is a hopelessly conventional work that doesn't seem to possess any semblance of individual flavour. Every second of this well-adorned but insubstantial release has me fearing for Elfman's coming years, his work slowly but surely diminishing in the kind of unique value it has held for so very long. There is always time for him to refine his production, but at the rate of decreasing discernibility, his works becoming less and less acclaimed and distinguished as time has raged onwards, it's concerning to see this man lose his individual character over a number of scores. 

That said, Fifty Shades of Grey isn't overtly bad, as the same could be said for Big Eyes; there's just nothing that makes it all that good, either. It's recorded to a pristine quality, the orchestration is fantastic, the use of classical instrumentation nothing new (obviously) but still refreshing in-and-amongst the usual tiresome electronics utilized within the January and February period of time. That said, there's nothing that makes Fifty Shades stand out from the rest of its competitors in terms of plain compositional variety, thematic accessibility, melodic capability, emotive quality or general methodology. The central thematic concept which represents the titular male lead of the film, delved into initially within the opening offering, 'Shades of Grey', is a two bar semi-quaver piano and string melody that plays over the top of a smooth two note bass guitar ascension. It reminds me of the conventional work provided within Dickon Hinchliffe's Locke (a minimalist work that I seem to adore for some strange, unexplained reason), except in this form, Elfman makes it seem less appetizing for some unknown reason. That isn't to say that all of its inclusions are without value, for this is most certainly not the case. You can garner a number of exquisite utilization of the concept within the montage track 'The Contract', or the cue 'Variations on a Shade', the latter which I assume is just a collation of various thematic and melodic ideas that Elfman collated together for a suite; this is furthered by the fact that it's the final piece on the album and doesn't contain the same music found in the final scene of the picture. Seeing as the music is quite indistinct within context, it's not consequential to presume such a thing. The theme for the female lead of the picture, Anastasia, is presented to us within 'Ana's Theme', and it's minor, lacking anything that even somewhat resembles peculiarity. A three note melody is delivered, and its smallness perhaps reflects the submissive quality of the protagonist of the picture, especially in contrast with Christian Grey, a dominating male figure. His theme absolutely dominates the running time (pun intended), variation on its being arriving steadily throughout, and the tone of his elegant material always remains in the forefront of Elfman's compositional style for the entire duration. Whilst it's not a bad central leitmotif (I'd be willing to vouch for its addictive quality), it isn't anything particularly out there or deserving of major acclaim. 

The rest of the score is a strange mish-mash of various contemporary orchestral forms, ranging from dark and moody bass hits which render some dazzling moments of soft rock, ambiance immediately reminiscent of a Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross work (though far more applaudable, as is to be expected), and piano and string work that is either delivered with grace, emotion and depth, or basic comedic timings that do little but slow the pace of the album down considerably. The former is observable within great portions of the album, namely 'Did That Hurt?' and 'Bliss' (though 'Bliss' is much more choral in its execution, the strings accenting the piece greatly), and the latter conceived most prominently during 'Going For Coffee'. I must admit that the central idea within the aforementioned 'Did That Hurt?' that appears half-way through, as well as its subsequent reprise within 'Show Me', is instantaneously evocative of the cue 'Evey Reborn' from Dario Marianelli's V for Vendetta (a cue which recently received a great deal of exposure due to its use in a trailer for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar). It does hurt a little when the most immediately powerful work on offer appears to be heavily based upon another composer's astonishing work; it's also rather irritating when you notice this during the film, and you can't help but be taken out of the present predicament and focus solely on this one element for a number of minutes.

As I've made note of numerous times here, the score as a complete package is not wholly disappointing, a number of exceptional works providing some solace for fans of Elfman who fear complete condemnation from myself or any film music commentator. There's a dark atmosphere about much of the score that entrances me and leaves me begging for more (pun most certainly intended). This is nothing different but its certainly worthy of appraisal in a number of particular sequences. The largest and most abundant issue here though is the lack of individuality. Much like Big Eyes, though to a lesser extent within Fifty Shades of Grey, one is undeniably going to remember little about the most awe-inspiring or terrible of inclusions throughout its duration but a few hours after a listen. At least when I've finished with Gone Girl, I can remember the good and bad oh so vividly; here, I'm not going to be able to remember what I did and didn't like a number of weeks into the future. It's a work which never stands out as particularly impressive and achieves few entirely fulfilling notable melodic inclusions. For fans of Elfman's more understated efforts, or those who desire a more classical approach to film scoring without sacrificing relatively decent thematic consistency, Fifty Shades of Grey is a welcome addition to a collection. For me, I'd much rather purchase an Abel Korzeniowski, Dario Marianelli or Victor Reyes work, examples of what Elfman was seeking to attain, than this here final product. It's finely tuned material that, like the film it serves as a backdrop for, proves to be technically proficient but too narratively inadequate to achieve a positive recommendation. You can purchase Fifty Shades of Grey on Amazon here.


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