Although she had worked as a performer on Francis Ford Coppola’s art war film Apocalypse Now (1979), Shirley Walker didn’t really get broad recognition for her incredible orchestration and composing talents until Batman [M] (1989), a score written by Danny Elfman but perhaps rendered meaty and robust because of Walker’s firm grip on big orchestral sounds.
Even when Walker went solo for lesser works like Turbulence (1997), there was no doubt she was among the best composers in town, and one of the most underrated action composers in a genre dominated by men. Her themes and variations for the first three Final Destination films are brilliant works of sexy doom and gloom, and her commentary track for the Final Destination DVD is among the most enjoyable around; there’s simply no way one can’t be won over by the witty, relaxed person who gives a chronology of her own career as well as the thematic material within the film.
Batman put Elfman on the map, but it also resulted in him composing themes or full scores for a flurry of comic book films that exhausted what could be described as the Elfman Sound: a sweeping melody, a rush of brass, and frenetic pacing that spanned Batman, Nightbreed (1990), Dick Tracy (1990), Darkman (1990), and the TV series The Flash (1990-1991).
There are a lot of stylistic similarities among those projects, but The Flash is different because Walker could write her own material as long as it was stylistically tied to Elfman’s rousing theme, and remained within a grand orchestral sound. The show lasted one season before it was axed, and although its sometimes juvenile tone may have been responsible for its failure, the music was always first rate, and Big.
Walker issued a roughly 40 min. promo CD years ago, but it’s taken 20 years for her music to make to a commercial release, and not one track in this 2-disc collection disappoints. It not only evokes fond feelings for Elfman’s grand sound, but consistently makes one wish Walker had lived to a ripe old age (she died in 2006) and exclusively composed her own scores, thereby leaving behind a legacy that would impress future composers.
La-La Land Records’ The Flash set organizes cues into 8 episodic suites – Pilot, Captain Cold, The Trickster, Watching the Detective, Ghost in the Machine, Done with Mirrors, Fast Forward, and Tale of the Trickster – and the selected cues have been grouped into mini-narratives that show off Walker’s original material as well Elfman’s instantly hummable theme. The series was blessed with a substantial music budget, and Walker’s action and suspense cues are big, gutsy works with differing emphasis on percussion and brass, and every note is delivered with pristine clarity.
There are also some fun source cues (mostly written in a jazzy style) that provide some breaks between the action cuts, and the second CD presents the show’s title and closing theme with sound effects (as they appeared in the original TV version).
La-La Land’s mastering ensures the expansive (and bass friendly) sound of the original tracks will give the sound system a good workout, particularly the brief, quiet passages where Walker plays with low sustained chords and bits on soft woodwinds. The suites flow well from one to another, and the album never feels repetitive, even when moving along to CD 2.
Walker’s post-Flash work involved TV (notably Space: Above and Beyond [M] (1995) and mostly horror films (her final credit being the sadly inept re-imagining of Black Christmas, in 2006), but her scores for Batman: The Animated Series [M] (1992-1995) are rock solid.
The complete Flash TV series was released in 2006 by Warner Bros. Some of the episodes have nascent stereo mixes (often very subtle), but the set shows off the fine scores that many series fans remember so well.
Now that a 2-disc set is out, how about a Volume 2?
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan