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Soundtrack review: Fifty shades darker (Danny Elfman – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Fifty shades darker (Danny Elfman – 2017)

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“Fifty Shades Darker” is a 2017 American erotic romantic drama film directed by James Foley and written by Niall Leonard, based on E. L. James’s novel of the same name. The second film in the Fifty Shades film series, it is the sequel to the 2015 film Fifty Shades of Grey. The film stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, respectively, with Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Kim Basinger and Marcia Gay Harden in supporting roles. While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her. Danny Elfman returned to write the score.

Even if I enjoyed the first movie (this second one, not so much) I really disliked the Danny Elfman score; for a love story and an erotic thriller it lacked any spark or emotion and I am hoping this second one is better. In the context of the movie I only noticed a few piano motifs, nothing special. The opening cue “Nightmare” brings them to the standalone listening experience as well, together with a simple and quiet guitar motif. The mood of this opening cue fits the emotionally restrained nature of some of the moments in the movie. The problem is that there is nothing but restrained emotion in this score and as nice as the music sounds sometimes, it’s not enough to give it meaning as a standalone listen. Once again I expect some sort of seduction and mystery in the movie, something playful, something to suggest eroticism, violence, envy, anything. Danny Elfman’s music is dark, I’ll give it that, but settles in a quiet and forgettable mood where the only thing I like is the moody sound of the piano. When the music gets in investigative thriller mode I seem to enjoy it even less. There are innocent melodic moments like “1st sex” which I like because of the piano.

As with any score I hear I try to look for the positives and find what I like and what works for me; in “Fifty shades darker” it’s the innocent piano motifs and, sometimes, the overall ambient mood of the album. I like the piano, I always like the piano, no matter how much or how little it plays. I say sometimes because this mood shouldn’t been the dominant one in the score as it’s ok for a few cues but not enough to sustain the entire album. There are no bursts of emotions and energy and the score sounds lifeless most of the time. I am sure Danny Elfman decided (or was asked to) provide just a musical undertone instead of enhancing and supporting the story because otherwise I can’t explain why such a great composer would write such a forgettable score.

Cue rating: 76 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 4 / 42

Album excellence: 10%

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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