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Good Will Hunting (Danny Elfman)

March 9, 2014

Cover_goodwillhuntingGOOD WILL HUNTING

Danny Elfman, 2014, Music Box Records
27 tracks, 44:38

Some seventeen years after Danny Elfman received his first Oscar-nomination for “Good Will Hunting”, a full score album has finally been released. Has it been worth the wait?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Gus van Sant, “Good Will Hunting” is famous for Ben Affleck’s and Matt Damon’s joint screenplay for which they received an Oscar. The pair also played the lead roles alongside co-star Robin Williams who took home his first (and the film’s second) Oscar. Fans of its composer Danny Elfman will remember that he received his first ever Oscar nomination for “Good Will Hunting” (incidentally alongside his second, which was for “Men In Black, during a brief period when the Academy separated the Dramatic scores from the Comedy ones). Needless to say he didn’t win, as every single award that year went to “Titanic”. Nevertheless, the Academy’s recognition for Elfman’s work proved a bit of a turning point in his career.

What does it sound like?

It shares some similarities with “Titanic” actually, in that both carry a strong Irish influence, but that really is where it stops. In Elfman’s score, the Irish whistle represents the city of Boston, known for its large population of Irish immigrants (I presume). The main theme, introduced right at the start of the “Main Titles”, is reprised many times throughout the score (in fact, in nearly every track) providing a sense of continuity and cohesiveness. I’ve always found it to resemble Elfman’s “Article 99” from 1992. It’s more polished and more intimate, but I feel there’s a definite connection.

With his “Main Title”, Elfman takes an approach that was quite typical for him at the time. It introduces the main theme, of course, but seems otherwise quite messy. Fragments of the theme are scattered throughout (as if sampled), whilst chords for strings and choir fade in and out. All the while, guitars are plucking away nicely in the background. The effect of it all is almost hypnotising. What follows is a score orchestrated predominantly for guitars, piano, flute and strings. Horns appear occasionally to broaden the sound; whilst Elfman’s typical cooing choir is also present.

After a string of ‘gothic’ scores for films such as “Batman”, “Darkman” and “The Frighteners” many people seemed surprised by Elfman’s sensitive work for “Good Will Hunting” (even though “Sommersby” and “Black Beauty” should have provided some clues as to his capabilities in this genre). However, it proved to be somewhat of a turning point in Elfman’s career as he suddenly became the go-to guy for intimate, sometimes even experimental little scores; such as “The Family Man”, “A Civil Action” and “A Simple Plan”.

In spite of its Oscar-nomination Elfman’s music for “Good Will Hunting” was never officially (or publicly) released, other than two cues on an album otherwise dominated by songs from the film. French label Music Box Records has now, finally, been able to release the complete score. Elfman’s music occupies 21 tracks, a few seconds shy of 30 minutes. Yes, that means a whole bunch of short tracks, which no one (other than Thomas Newman) seems to really like, but on this occasion I have to say it kind of works. The sound and style is so consistent throughout the album that it almost feels like one big piece (though to be fair, I have set up my player in such a way that it shortens the silences in between cues).

Due to its homogeneous nature, it is difficult to pinpoint any particular highlights, other than the jubilant “End Titles” which, towards the very end, offers the strongest performance of the main theme. The score as a whole is extremely pleasant, relaxing and quite mesmerising at times. It’s so innocent, full of hope and aspiration. There’s not a note of cynicism within earshot, which in itself is so refreshing. And subtle though the music may be, those who want to sink their analytical teeth into it will find quite a rich orchestration here. “Good Will Hunting” may sound understated and easy-going, but it is by no means simplistic. The constant play, call and response, between various instruments is absolutely fascinating.

Is it any good?

It may have taken over a decade and a half for Danny Elfman’s “Good Will Hunting” to get a full release, but it has most certainly been worth the wait. After all these years it still sounds as fresh, beautiful and captivating as it did back in 1997. It’s a heart-warming shot of nostalgia. Music Box Records have managed to fill a gap in many a fans’ collections with this release, which is filled out with six songs by Elliot Smith, who himself received an Oscar nomination for “Miss Misery”.

Rating [3.5/5]

Tracklisting

1. Main Title (2:44)
2. Genie Mopper (0:37)
3. First Calculation (1:08)
4. Theorem (0:42)
5. Kick Ass Choir (0:59)
6. Mystery Math (2:28)
7. Them Apples (0:57)
8. Jail (1:13)
9. Second Shrink (1:14)
10. Any Port (1:25)
11. Times Up (1:14)
12. Oliver Twist (1:58)
13. Staring Contest (0:49)
14. Secret Weapon (0:57)
15. Retainer (Part A) (0:58)
16. Retainer (Part B) (0:20)
17. Tell You Something (0:48)
18. No Love Me (0:47)
19. Fire Music (1:11)
20. Whose Fault (2:34)
21. End Titles (3:50)
22. Between the Bars (Orchestral) (1:09) – Performed by Elliott Smith / Arr. by Elfman
23. No Name #3 (3:04) – Performed by Elliott Smith
24. Say Yes (2:15) – Performed by Elliott Smith
25. Between the Bars (2:21) – Performed by Elliott Smith
26. Angeles (2:55) – Performed by Elliott Smith
27. Miss Misery (3:12) – Performed by Elliott Smith

Availability

Released by Music Box Records.

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