Music in the movies: Elliot Goldenthal

The latest Music in the Movies column celebrates the work of Elliot Goldenthal, whose compositions have graced such films as Alien 3, Interview With The Vampire and Heat…

Like previous Music in the Movies subject, Elmer Bernstein, Elliot Goldenthal was a student of the legendary Aaron Copland. Whilst Goldenthal isn’t the most prolific of film composers, his distinct sound has accompanied some great films over the years and earned him three Oscar nominations and one win. A reason why Goldenthal hasn’t got the number of credits his contemporaries boast? He often alternates between film scoring and stage productions.

I haven’t included his Oscar winning score for Frida in the article, as I’m not a huge fan of it and there are other titles below that fit better with the rest of the series.

So, here are what I consider to be the most notable scores of Goldenthal’s career:

Alien 3 (1992)

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Having previously covered Goldsmith’s score for Alien and Horner’s score for Aliens, it made sense to get round to covering Goldenthal’s score for Alien 3.

He had an immensely tough job on his hands in following two excellent scores for the franchise, but produced a piece of work where arguments could be made that this is not only equal to its two predecessors’ scores, but surpasses them. Goldenthal’s blend of modernity and classicism suit the film incredibly well and help him strike a balance between beauty and intense unsettling passages.

Like many of the composer’s works, this is a challenging but ultimately rewarding listen that gets better with each occasion.

Interview With The Vampire (1994)

Awful Sympathy For The Devil cover aside, the music for Interview With The Vampire as a whole is very effective and earned the composer an Oscar nomination.

In a similar manner to how he approached the Alien 3 score, he doesn’t go for out and out horror, and instead goes for subtle and haunting pieces that portray the gothic and romantic tones of the film. There’s also a sense of passage of time throughout the score, which acts as a great accompaniment to the images on screen.

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Cobb (1994)

I first stumbled across this baseball biopic when surfing the channels a few years back and was sold instantly when I read the synopsis that contained the statement that Cobb was fuelled by whiskey and hate. Aren’t we all?!

Goldenthal’s score here is quite excellent and may often go overlooked, as it’s attached to a little known film. He portrays the characters contradictions by using a variety of different musical styles playing off against each other, which is much better than it sounds. In lesser hands this could have ended in disaster, but Goldenthal applies an expert touch to create a rich score that’s as layered and interesting as the character at the centre of the film it accompanies.

Batman Forever & Batman And Robin

For the first part of Joel Schumacher’s take on the Batman franchise the director hired Goldenthal before a script had been completed. The composer was encouraged to disregard Elfman’s previous scores and instead come up with orchestral pieces that would distinctly identify the new direction the franchise was taking.

Elfman set a standard with his work on Batman and Batman Returns, so it was always going to be a tough act to follow and Goldenthal’s efforts here are quite mixed. There are some excellent moments, but this, in large part, a wildly inconsistent score that lacks cohesion and some tracks are almost unlistenable.

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Schumacher’s second Batman film effectively killed the franchise for years and is widely regarded as one of the worst films of its era. Even if the film itself was an abomination, the score finds Goldenthal more at ease with the subject matter as he creates a more coherent and importantly listenable album that does a better job at capturing the adventures of the caped crusader. It’s just a shame that the action on screen doesn’t live up to his score.

If anything could be said about this, it’s that it sees the composer take more influence from Elfman’s great work, which the piece, as a whole, benefits from.

There are moments of interest on both scores, but it has to be said that these are the two poorest scores of any of the modern Batman films.

Heat (1995)

Eliot Goldenthal’s superbly judged score for Michael Mann’s crime epic finds him accompanied by the great Kronos Quartet (who later collaborated with Clint Mansell on Requiem For A Dream). Their collaboration gets the film off to a great start with the title cue that’s a slow build and is deployed throughout the film, gradually building up to the film’s climax.

Other guest turns include U2, Brian Eno, Lisa Gerrard and Moby, the latter of which produces the soundtrack’s two standout moments with his cover of Joy Division’s New Dawn Fades and God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters.

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Like the film, the soundtrack is a considered and introspective piece of work that is layered and detailed and demands to be experienced a number of times to get the most out of it.

Michael Collins

This score earned Goldenthal his second Academy Award nomination and ranks amongst the finest works of his career. It’s more overt than his previous works containing many anthemic and lyrical passages that provide an effective backing for battle scenes contained in the film.

It’s the battle scenes that bear the strongest resemblance to his previous scores, but the rest of the score is epic in scale, featuring soaring passages accompanied by female vocals from Sinead O’Connor. It hints at the Irish setting of the film, but doesn’t overplay the Gaelic elements, making this an unpredictable but hugely effective score.


While not a huge departure from some of his previous efforts, Sphere still remains an effective score for the film it accompanies. There’s an ominous sense of dread and tension running throughout many of the pieces that heightens the sense of drama on screen. There’s a simple piano motif accompanied by layers of brass and string to achieve the desired effects and is equally effective when it moves away from the slower paced pieces into and out of action territory.

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It’s one of the many scores that can get overlooked because of the quality of the film it accompanies. For fans of Goldenthal’s work or fans of sci-fi scores in general, this is an essential purchase.

In Dreams

One of the more challenging listens in Goldenthal’s back catalogue, his accompaniment to Neil Jordan’s In Dreams is an adventurous, bleak and rewarding piece of work that sees him create an impressive backing to the nightmarish dream world depicted on screen.

The orchestrations that are typical of his work are present here, but they’re supplemented with layers of electronics that create a distorted otherworldly feel.

Not one that I reach for to listen to away from the film often, but in accompaniment to the film, it’s magnificent.

Please add your Goldenthal highlights below…

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