The Simpsons Movie: Good Film, Good Music

The Simpsons Movie

This past weekend, I saw The Simpsons Movie and must declare that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know it’s become a bit of pastime to bemoan the show’s decline, but honestly, you won’t find much cynicism coming from me with regards to the movie. The plot is straightforward, but fittingly expansive and engrossing for a motion picture. The jokes are actually rather good, largely avoiding the Homer-is-so-grossly-incompetent-that-its-not-funny-anymore humor that plagued the show for a long time. The film also resists the temptation to recycle material from the past eighteen seasons worth of shows, injecting new ideas and wit into the franchise.

All the family members receive a fair amount of screen time and character development, and that goes a long way toward helping the movie succeed. The Simpsons has always been at its best when it has shown the family being a family. With a running time that’s the equivalent of four episodes, The Simpsons Movie is afforded the opportunity to linger on that familial interaction. Heck, for the first 25% of the film, the audience is treated to extended scenes of the family members being themselves.

Bart and Homer hang out and the father-son camaraderie is endearing. Lisa campaigns to save Lake Springfield from pollution (and gets a love interest in the process). Marge is a domestic goddess who worries about everything while doing her best to keep the family together. And Grandpa is, well, Grandpa.

Everyone’s favorite secondary characters, Moe, Lenny, Carl, Burns, Smithers, Apu, et al, received their own choice moments and lines throughout. Even the show’s cavalcade of tertiary characters make appearances, but not to the point of distraction; for the most part they’re limited to simply being drawn in the background so that long-time fans can look and say “Hey, there’s that kid Gavin from the episode Marge Be Not Proud.” You’ll know this scene when you see it.

simpsons movie soundtrack

Simpsons theme at itunes simpsons movie music

And the music… I was actually surprised to hear how good it is. I was a little wary when I learned that Hans Zimmer was composing. His music is decent enough, though truthfully I’ve never found it that compelling (exceptions being Gladiator and parts of Mission Impossible 2), and in general, he’s just so… corporate. And safe. Whenever a big-budget hypefest needs some backing tracks, Zimmer seems like the man to turn to for music that’ll be inoffensive to the highest number of people.

Fortunately, my trepidation in this case was ill-founded. Zimmer does an excellent job of taking the “Simpsons sound” (developed by Danny Elfman’s theme and Alf Clausen’s eighteen years of television scoring) and expanding it to fit the big screen. The music, like everything associated with the film, remains in character, just embiggened.

The disc starts with a grand orchestral interpretation of Danny Elfman’s main theme, which at first feels a bit off-putting after nearly two decades familiarity with the original version. But that quickly fades as the new orchestra does it justice. Overall, the album tends to borrow a great deal of inspiration from Danny Elfman’s sense of playful quirkiness. The movie’s main motif is built around uptempo mischievousness, like if the Jetsons were playing a prank.

It’s not all fun and games though. Like any dramatic film, The Simpsons Movie requires its share of suspense and seriousness, which the music delivers effectively without being distracting. One of best moments on the entire album comes at the beginning of the track You Doomed Us All… Again, which features a tender, melancholy duet between piano and flute.

Through and through, this album impresses. The only sour spot of note is the album’s closer, a track called Recklessly Impulsive, which is a high-BPM techno remix of some themes from the film. After 40ish minutes of stellar music, it’s a little bit jarring and major let down.

Despite the somewhat disappointing finale, I look with just a little amazement at how well both the film and album turned out. I went in with an open mind, but I didn’t exactly have high hopes. Combined, the movie and the score might just be the best pieces of culture I’ve run across all year.

The Simpsons Theme (Orchestral Version):

Paramount Pictures closes Stage M

Paramount Pictures closed its legendary Stage M this past August.

The stage opened in 1932 and since then, many famous and notable film scores have been recorded on it, including The Ten Commandments, Out of Africa, as well as a great portion of Star Trek’s music. More recently, Danny Elfman’s score for Nacho Libre was laid down there. try this Google search to see some more examples of music that was recorded on the stage.

Paramount attributed the closing to the company’s financial redevelopment, but said nothing specific. From the article:

A Par spokeswoman attributed the closing to part of the studio’s ongoing efforts to “use the stage the best way we can, as we transform our business here on the lot.” What will happen to the space is anybody’s guess: “that has not yet been determined,” said the spokeswoman.

This is the type of story that, to me, brings home the idea that actual people create all this music I enjoy, that it’s not just academics and abstract relationships. In a world where the months of writing that goes into a symphony and weeks spent recording a rock opus are reduced to but a few minutes of play time, a handful of megabytes on a disk and a couple of lines in a database, that notion can be easily lost. It can all seem like a collector’s game when switching from Beethoven to the Bee Gees requires little more than a thought and a click.

Of course, I know that music is made by people. However, that’s completely intellectual knowledge. Before reading that story, I’d never heard of Stage M. Yet, based on its credits, it was a place that has brought me much listening pleasure in my life. But just as revelations grant power over the ephemeral, my discovery of the that specific recording studio’s existence suddenly makes much of the film music in my library feel more visceral, more real.

And while I can bemoan the passing of the stage, I can partially look at it positively, because if it had never closed, I probably would have never come to know it at all.

L.A. Independent has more on the closing and the history of Stage M.

The seemingly non-random preferences of my iPod

I’ve talked about this before, but it keeps happening and I need to remind myself that nothing nefarious is going on.

For the fourth time since I started the tunequest, I’ve had to question the randomness of my ipod. first, there’s cex’s being ridden and being ridden instrumentals, which were played pretty much back to back. Then there was Danny Elfman’s Batman scores. more recently, the device decided to play nothing but drum-n-bass for a while, despite that particular genre’s relative scarcity in my library.

Today however, no sooner had Nirvana’s unplugged session finished than i was presented with Pearl Jam’s performance of the same.

To be fair, I have to remind myself that these sort of coincidences are completely natural. Indeed, four instances within the 135 days of the project thus far is nothing to get choked up about. Still I always raise an eyebrow when I notice a new pattern. In today’s case, maybe the iPod just wanted to further perpetuate the music-media-manufactured feud between Cobain and Vedder.

But believe me, I’m not complaining. Both performances are mind blowing. Come As You Are sounds phenomenal on Nirvana’s unplugged record and Pearl Jam’s unplugged rendition of Porch is the best one in existence.

elfman bats .500 this week

in baseball that’s great. on the tunequest, not so much.

mars attacks mission impossibletwo danny elfman scores from 1996 made their way through my ears to my brain this week: mission: impossible and mars attacks! and while i enjoyed both films more than the general public seemed to, i had a mixed response to their scores.

this week marked the first in the 4 years i’ve owned those scores that i gave them any serious attention. if that seems like a familiar pattern around here, it’s because it is. about one-third of the Great Music Dump™ of 2001-2002 consists of film scores that i would get, give a cursory listen, then file away with the assumption that i’d be back to revisit them.

well, it didn’t quite work out that way.

like classical music, film scores take a lot of effort to get to know and fully appreciate. with the rapidity that i was adding new music to my collection at the time, there simply wasn’t enough opportunity to give each score the attention it deserved.

which brings me to the strange reversal of expectations for those two scores. giving both a serious consideration, i find it funny that mission: impossible is a fairly serious film of action, adventure and intrigue, yet its soundtrack is clever and lively and downright fun to listen to (especially elfman’s robust rendition of the M:I theme),  while mars attacks! is a ridiculous and playful send-up of old sci-fi flicks, but its score is downright boring. i wasn’t even half-way through it before i was inclined to purge it from my collection, which was done.

so to recap: mission: impossible. yay. mars attacks! nay.

Danny Elfman – Men in Black

The score to the first Men in Black motion picture features the usual trademark quirkiness one would expect from composer Danny Elfman. This soundtrack is good, with stellar opening and closing title suites as well as good thematic material and interesting action cues. The score also noteworthy in that it’s one of the earliest examples that I can think of that mixes electronic percussion with a full-scale orchestra.

men in black at itunes

April 10 – 91 songs played. 5 removed.

what a day! 91 songs played and 5+ hours of listening. that’s what i need to be doing everyday. it’s not likely to happen, but it is something to strive for.

also, it seems that this tunequest page has managed to obtain a google pagerank of 4 in just over a month. from what i understand, that’s pretty good, so huzzah for tunequest!

  • bjork [selmasongs]
  • blind melon [blind melon]
  • massive attack [blue lines]
  • danny elfman [batman returns]
  • matmos [a chance to cut is a chance to cure]
  • franz waxman [bride of frankenstein]
  • danny elfman [batman]
  • savath + savalas [apropa’t]

i’ve mentioned before about the randomness of the ipod and, despite allegations that the device isn’t very random in the first place, one shouldn’t read too much into supposed patterns of play.

nevertheless, it is disconcerting that my ipod chose to play not only danny elfman’s batman and batman returns, but a performance of the adam west batman theme by the royal scottish national orchestra. the ipod even tried to play batman again after i was forced to stop and restart at one point. it’s all randomly possible, i know, but is still wiggy. not that it matters, elfman’s batmans are classics and his theme is, of course, instantly recognizable. recommended all around. •

speaking of scores, i had pegged bride of frankenstein as one destined for my dust bin. after a careful listen though, i must say that i am fascinated by it. it was composed in 1935 and sounds much more like an orchestral suite or ballet than a film score. it turned out to be quite the highlight of the day. •

also some good trip hop by the likes of massive attack and some excellent spanish-influenced melodic downtempo by savath + savalas (aka prefuse 73 amongst other things). •

and a final note about blind melon, a group whose music it seems i should have outgrown by now. i’ve had the album for 13 years now, and it is inseparably linked to and trapped in time with the alternative explosion of the early 1990s. sometimes i think it’s time has just come and gone, but fads aside, it features song really decent songwriting with catchy hooks and impressive guitar noodling. blind melon’s debut is more mellow, groovy and musically complex than many of its contemporaries. though i feel like i should let it go, but just can’t seem to make myself do it. •

March 27 – 66 songs played. 25 removed.

exclusively composed music today it seems, mostly from film and television, though the most excellent slavonic dances were mixed in as well.

  • bavarian radio orchestra performing dvorak’s slavonic dances op.46
  • joseph loduca [army of darkness]
  • alan silvestri [back to the future]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: in the beginning]
  • the boston pops performing select john williams compositions
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: the long night]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: sleeping in light]

sleeping in light is the last episode of babylon 5 and is also probably christopher franke’s best score for the series. it is contemplative yet sweeping in its composition, a fitting accompaniment to the episode that wraps up the character’s loose threads.

the babylon 5 scores, like the show itself, dramatically improve as the show progresses. the first season in particular is hard to enjoy. don’t get me wrong; i admire what jms was attempting at the time and ultimately what he achieved with the series, but the production value of those early episodes left a lot to be desired. and franke’s new-age inspired music for the first season didn’t help matters. however, as the action, suspense and intrigue mount of the course of the show, franke really steps up and produces some contemplative and engaging music.

if i had to recommend just one soundtrack, it would probably be sleeping in light. or maybe coming of shadows, just for the scene where the centari emperor has his heart attack. •

the army of darkness score is rousing and fun, just like the movie. it also contains the march of the dead by danny elfman, which hey, is good. •