For over a decade, Hannibal Lecter has presented film composers the rare opportunity to dive into the mind of a refined, polite, brilliant, and debatably evil killer. For The Silence Of The Lambs, composer Howard Shore accented Lecter’s character with string arrangements that were disturbing in their intensity, and nothing short of unnerving. Around a decade later, Hans Zimmer wrote a thoroughly classical yet equally dark musical accompaniment to Lecter’s grotesque exploits for Ridley Scott’s Hannibal. So, when Danny Elfman, famed for his complete mastery of dark music, was hired to score the latest Lecter themed film, Red Dragon, the film score world applauded director Brett Rattner’s selection. Then they heard the score.
Frankly, if the listener is expecting musical similarities to Zimmer’s classy Hannibal or Shore’s moody The Silence Of The Lambs, then they’re likely to be disappointed. Unlike the aforementioned films, Red Dragon does not revolve around Lecter’s character, and Elfman’s score does not try to mock either of the previous works. However, Red Dragon is excellent as a stand-alone score, and it should be approached as such.
From the opening notes of “Logos”, the listener can tell that this is an Elfman score. This track (barely a minute long) sets the tone for the entire score--- suspenseful, brimming with intensity, and jumps around every corner. Musically speaking, Red Dragon presents a departure for Elfman, who is dominantly known for his fantasy-themed works. Dolores Claiborne is the only one of his past works that bares any thematic resemblance to Red Dragon. And so, taking into account the general repulsion Dolores Claiborne received, people should make sure they are fans of Elfman’s more emotionally dark scores before purchasing this dense baby.
Red Dragon contains three dominant themes, all of them revolving around the films serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, played by the always interesting Ralph Finnes (it seems odd calling him the main character, so I’ll stick with what I got). There is one that represents his painful childhood (“Logos”, “The Old Mansion”, “The Book”), one for his steamy yet strained relationship with his co-worker Reba (“Tiger Balls”, “Love On A Couch”), and, the granddaddy of them all, the ferocious theme for Dolarhyde’s Dragon alter ego (“Main Titles”, “Enter The Dragon”, “Devouring The Dragon”).
With these three themes interwoven in nearly an hour of music, Elfman has crafted what is sure to be one of his best works of the last few years. Elfman combines his command of brass, his chaotic string writing, and his unmatched knack for electronic (although they are used sparsely and to great effect) for a fine listen for a dreary day. The album explodes in the final four tracks. “The Fire” and “He’s Back” serve up the frantic action cues that Elfman so excels at. All of this reaches a peak in “End Credits Suite”, which revisits the Dragon Theme in grand fashion.
All in All, Red Dragon is definitely worth a listen. Elfman fans are sure to revel in the chance to revisit the emotional intensity that made Dolores Claiborne and Batman Returns so great. Beware, however, this is not The Silence Of The Lambs or Hannibal. Both of those scores were very different in style and tone, and so is Red Dragon. This Elfman we’re talking about, so expect something all its own.