May 3rd, 2013

Summer Me

Unexpected Elfman and other pleasures ("Gremlins 2: The New Batch")

The most I was up to doing for a bit yesterday (Thursday) morning was getting out of bed, walking to the TV/DVD player, and popping in the library DVD I've borrowed of Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) so I could watch deleted scenes from it. My soft spot remains for that film; it's still insane 23 years later, though director Joe Dante has lamented that its version of cable TV wasn't really even satire by the early 2000s. (He is proud, however, of doing the film in the first place: and he opens his commentary by saying there's no way he could get away with making a film like that ever again.) It's strange, random, anarchic -- the kind of "ridiculous" that I love. And one of the things holding the film together is Jerry Goldsmith's score, where he took the original film's music in an even more Looney Tunes direction. But a Looney Tunes where characters might actually die.

I've internalized that music -- it has an odd significance to a seriously important time in my life -- and it plays through my head surprisingly often. It really might be the best comedy score Goldsmith ever did. (Unless you count The Swarm. Heh.) The surprise from the deleted scenes was hearing temp track music -- the preexisting music put over scenes in a film to show the kind of music the filmmakers think they want for each scene -- and it was temp track music by Danny Elfman. Some Pee Wee's Big Adventure, some Beetlejuice, playing where I'm still sort of expecting Goldsmith.

In the late Eighties and early Nineties, an enormous number of comedies had exactly that for their temp music, to the point of bothering a lot of composers...Elfman included. The other composers because filmmakers wanted to ape a very particular music style for their films, Elfman because it caused resentment. One point is, the musical approach too many filmmakers used at the time was very limiting; Elfman is Elfman, but a lot of composers felt pressure to sound like Elfman. (I think -- and hope -- that, say, 1994's The Crow had no Elfman music anywhere near its temp track. I'm an enormous Elfman fan, but that film needed what Graeme Revell did for it, not what some other composer had done for some other film getting sort-of-translated for that film.)

Goldsmith, I think, didn't ape Elfman nearly as much as probably some of the filmmakers wanted him to: he went more in the direction of his music for the Twilight Zone: The Movie segment "It's A Good Life," which took Looney Tunes-style music and sound effects and made them TERRIFYING. In Gremlins 2 they're not as terrifying; they're more terrifying in "It's A Good Life" because the TZ segment had to quickly convey the terror of people stuck in what we soon realize is a malevolent, all-powerful kid's imagination. We see Gremlins 2 already knowing the title characters are evil little shits; the fun comes in how they'll be awful, and they're creatively awful. Also more varied and interesting than they were in the (still pretty good) original Gremlins, which is closer to a genuine horror film than the second film (and also a kind of weird little fairy tale). Goldsmith's music is creative and varied, too: funny a lot, scary at times, epic more than once when there's the chance that the gremlins would swarm New York, and sounding like Rambo at just the right time.

This all reminds me of how much right Gremlins 2 gets. And how I can feel good about still liking the film a whole lot.