Danny Elfman’s score for Spider-Man (2002) has been something of a superhero soundtrack icon for years, from both the thunderously heroic Spider-Man and moodily malevolent Green Goblin themes all the way through to the exquisitely thought-provoking Responsibility motif, and now with La-La Land Records’ loving and long-awaited expansion and remastering; it’s altogether simply, utterly spectacular.
There’s no denying that Danny Elfman’s score for the 2002 Spider-Man movie is one of the most well-known superhero soundtracks around. And in fairness, what a score it is; from the moodily malevolent motif for Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin to the quietly hopeful piece for Peter Parker, all the way up to the thunderously, unapologetically heroic piece for Spider-Man himself, this soundtrack is quite simply a work of art, and has been since its first album release now twenty years ago. Late last year though, this work of art somehow got even better as La-La Land Records announced a complete expansion and remastering of Elfman’s score, covering all the missing cue bases from the original 2002 album and mastering them to spellbinding new effect, and it’s that new expansion that we’ll be tackling in review today. So, with the soundtrack stage now set, let’s dive in!
The expanded score presentation opens of course with “Main Title (Album Version)”, which is not only the most well known cue from the original soundtrack, but also the likeliest reason why Elfman’s work overall here has gotten so much merit since it released twenty years ago, and it isn’t without good reason. High-pitched strings open the piece, with a short, gentle rendition of Elfman’s Spider-Man theme sounding through before percussion starts to pound away in the background, and the full orchestral heroism of the score then steps emphatically onto the soundtrack stage. Grandiose vocals, swirls of now frantically triumphant strings and proud bursts of brass are central here, with Elfman utilising them to great effect to flesh out the two main themes of the film; Spider-Man first, and then Peter Parker’s (or as it’s more widely known, the Responsibility theme). The former motif is of course thunderously heroic and leads the action charge both here and across much of the album, while the latter Responsibility theme is quieter and more reserved (usually anyway, here it plays just as thunderously as the main Spider-Man theme), taking the forefront in the more emotional moments of both the film and the score. Both main themes introduce themselves rather brilliantly here, and if you haven’t heard it already I would highly encourage listening to Elfman’s “Main Title” piece as you read this. It is quite simply one of his best pieces of music.. ever.
Next track “On The Bus” is where this expansion begins to differ from the commercial album release, as it’s a previously completely unreleased cue. In fairness though it isn’t particularly difficult to see (well, hear) why it was missed off of the original release, as at forty seconds long and rather orchestrally ambient overall, acting more as background dressing rather than being thematically significant. The subsequent and similarly previously unreleased “Spider Bite/Deadlines” however is a bit more fleshed out at two and a half minutes long. It opens gently with optimistic piano notes and calming strings hinting toward a love theme that will come into play fully a little later in the score, before then rapidly building to a brassy and strings crescendo as the titular bite occurs. “Transformations (Film Version)” then picks up where this leaves off, with ominous vocals and worrisome strings building in a similar manner in the first minute with a short and particularly tense rendition of the Spider-Man theme then sounding through on crescendo a few seconds later. From here though the music then quietens and becomes more sinister, with high-pitched strings taking prominence until another, this time frantically worrisome crescendo is reached with crashing brass and emphatic percussion blaring until the music then fades ominously out at just under the four minute mark. The short “A New Man” then heads back into Spidey territory, with his theme playing wondrously on light strings in the first half and the Responsibility motif then taking prominence in the second.
“Something’s Different” reprises Spider-Man’s theme on now bolder, more dramatic brass in its opening seconds, though this optimism doesn’t stick around for long as the orchestra starts to take a more sinister turn in the cue’s back half, with quietly moody brass now hinting toward the opening notes of what will become the villainous Green Goblin theme. Hints are all we get at this point though, as the lighter side of the score then re-emerges in the subsequent “First Web” with emphatic piano notes now also joining the fray, all to persuade Peter to unleash that first iconic web sling (which he of course does, though accidentally). The Spider-Man theme then opens “New Powers” on hopeful brass and strings, with the former instrument leading Parker’s first wallcrawling display initially until a crash of percussion then suddenly unleashes a short burst of heroism with a fragmented Spider-Man theme leading the charge through the short back half of the track. “Web Slinger” then concludes this spate of power attempts, opening with a quietly nervous but hopeful rendition of the main theme that then descends rather rapidly into frenetic, worrisome action as of course the first web sling does not go as planned (in the film). Gentle piano notes open “Backyard Connection”, with the still-building love theme for Peter and Mary Jane Watson now becoming more apparent, but not fully formed yet on quietly romantic strings for much of the two minute piece.
An array of light, cheerful percussion opens “Costume Montage/Web Practice”, with an electric guitar kicking off a spectacularly upbeat reprise of the main Spider-Man theme that then segues rather seamlessly into a similarly optimistic Responsibility rendition, all playing as Peter designs his iconic superhero outfit in the film. The short “Harsh Words/Peter Wins” then plays host to a quietly downtrodden Responsibility motif initially, with the Spider-Man theme then playing in dramatically grandiose fashion on brass to close the cue. “Revenge (Film Version)” is the first notably lengthy track on the expanded score at nearly seven minutes long, and of course underscores the harrowing moment and character choice that will go on to define both Peter and Spider-Man. Low-pitched, solemn brass plays a morose rendition of the Responsibility theme in the first minute before percussion takes over and the Spider-Man theme soars through on loud, thunderous brass, with said percussion then turning frantic alongside swirling strings as action takes centre stage. The theme then leaps through several breathtakingly grand renditions across vocals and orchestra over the next few minutes, with the track taking a darker turn around the five minute mark with a fragmented Responsibility theme in tow on loud, frenetic stabs of brass. Vocals then settle the score down just before cue’s end, with the Responsibility motif returning to quieter, more sorrowful territory as the music fades gently out.
The twenty second “Enter The Goblin” does exactly what you’d expect really, further establishing the malevolent Goblin theme on moody brass after first hinting toward it in “Something’s Different”. Subsequent track “Alone” then picks up where “Revenge” left off initially, falling deeper into strings-based melancholy with echoes of the main theme sounding through in the first half with gentle woodwinds then giving way slightly to hope towards the end of the track. A renewedly hopeful Responsibility theme then kicks off “City Montage (Film Version)” followed swiftly by a fist-pumpingly optimistic Spider-Man theme. This then kicks off a spurt of action over the next minute or so, with loudly grandiose brass and heralding vocals playing through several fragmented renditions of said main theme.
The similarly short “Moondance/Photography/City Stinger” then slows things down a tad with further strings-based hints toward the love theme, with “Norman Gets The Boot/Spidey-Sense” once again quietly but ominously playing the opening notes of the sinister Goblin motif. This all then leads into action setpiece “Parade Attack (Film Version”), as the Goblin theme, now fully unveiled, kicks off frantic percussion and bursts of worrisome brass in the opening minute. Spider-Man however then leaps boldly into the fray at this point, with both his and the Goblin theme exchanging multiple orchestral blows to spellbinding fighting effect over the next few minutes. As the thematic tension starts to reach breaking point with swirling strings and increasingly emphatic brass, Spider-Man then performs a daring vocal-heavy rescue and the music calms in a gently victorious manner, with both the Responsibility and love themes reprising on hopeful strings to close out the track.
Quietly moody strings turn to dramatic backing purcussion and stabs of persistent, aggressive brass in “Specter Of The Goblin (Film Version)”, with eerie notes from the Goblin theme unsurprisingly weaving in-between the instrumentation throughout until an almost horror-like, high-pitched strings crescendo is reached just at the track’s end. A burst of imposing brass then carries the Goblin theme, now in full-on villain territory, into the subsequent “Roof Chat”, where a rather ominous atmosphere descends for the better part of the cue interspersed with increasingly threatening renditions of the Goblin motif until a worrisome Responsibility theme then settles the music back down. Gently romantic strings open “Hint/Trouble/Kiss” with a crash of brass interrupting at the minute mark accompanied by swift, aggressive piano notes. From here a rather thunderous orchestra joins the fray, booting the music up into action territory for just under a minute of tense, propulsive score until a gentle whistle of woodwinds pulls the pace back down. In the final minute of the cue, the love theme then finally receives its first full playthrough on twinkling percussion and rising, hopeful strings, with almost triumphant brass also rising to meet it in the final few seconds. It’s a rather beautiful motif by Elfman, made great by the happily extraordinary rendition it receives here which overall makes this full appearance well worth the wait.
The score doesn’t stick in romantic territory for long however, as subsequent track “Fire” dives headfirst back into frenetic action with bursts of tense brass and rapid crashes of percussion. A heroic Spider-Man theme jumps emphatically in at just under the sixty second mark, then almost hyping itself up orchestrally over the next few seconds until worrisome action then rolls back into centre stage. It isn’t long before the typically moody Goblin theme then rises up to meet Spidey, with several sinister renditions then overtaking the rollicking action for the remainder of the three minute track. Minute-long cues “Drop Of Blood” and “The Clue” then continue in this vein with several short, increasingly horror-like playthroughs of said villain theme, with “Norman’s Troubles” then briefly hinting toward hope with the Responsibility theme until a crash of percussion and ominous brass then signals the malevolent return of the Goblin motif to close out the track. With the action finale of the score now fast approaching, the Responsibility theme quickly reprises on slow, hopeful strings in “The Revelation” with the love theme then following softly suit in “Getting Through (Film Version)”, as the aforementioned strings take point alongside wistful woodwinds for much of the cue until a loud burst of brass calls to action right at the end.
The twenty second “Father And Son” hints moodily towards the Goblin theme before, after much hinting, “Danger/On The Bridge” then kicks off the action finale of the score. Low-pitched brass and increasingly frantic strings open the piece, with a loudly victorious and happily lengthy rendition of the Goblin theme then thundering through at the minute mark. This then leads straight into the subsequent “To The Rescue” as Spider-Man emphatically joins the fight, with both his and the Goblin theme engaging in well-crafted orchestral battle over the course of several breathtaking minutes after the superhero triumphantly introduces himself on brass at the start. Overall, these and the finishing “The Final Confrontation” cues offer a pretty substantial expansion on the original “Final Confrontation” track from the 2002 soundtrack album, altogether coming in at a whopping eleven minute runtime versus the original’s seven, with swirling Spider-Man and Goblin themes abound until the Responsibility theme then brings the lengthy fight to a rousing finish. “Farewell (Album Version)” then offers an extended look at the Responsibility theme to close out Peter’s side of the story, with “End Credits (Extended Version)” showcasing an ever so slightly (literally a few seconds) expanded view on Elfman’s two minute end credits piece for the film, with the Spider-Man, Goblin and Responsibility themes performing one final, triumphantly orchestral encore to close out the expanded album.
Overall, Danny Elfman’s score for the 2002 Spider-Man movie was something of a superhero icon itself even before La-La Land Records’ loving expansion and remastering here, and so with it, it’s now an absolute orchestral triumph. Everything from the composer’s proudly heroic theme for Spider-Man through to the quietly reflective and melancholic Responsibility and love themes, all the way across to Green Goblin’s mischievously malevolent motif – they’re all just sublime, and the way they all interlink and engage with one another over the course of the expanded score’s eighty minute runtime is quite simply a joy to listen to. Elfman’s orchestrations in particular here are just so gorgeous, and now with La-La Land Records’ remastering they somehow sound even better. Speaking of which as well, it’s great to now finally get the missing pieces from the original 2002 soundtrack album – the expansion of the final battle across the “Danger/On The Bridge”, “To The Rescue” and “The Final Confrontation” cues in particular is something I’ve been after for literally years. All-in, it’s a pretty exquisite job for an absolutely spectacular soundtrack!
To finish then, I have but one humble request for La-La Land Records if I may – Spider-Man 2 and 3 please.
Standout Cues: 1. “Main Titles (Album Version)”/ 31. “To The Rescue”
Buy the 3-CD expansion for Danny Elfman’s score right here, published by La-La Land Records.
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