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ScoreKeeper Unmasks Danny Elfman's NACHO LIBRE Score!!

Merrick here...

The awesome ScoreKeeper is back with a look at Danny Elfman's NACHO LIBRE score.

I enjoyed this movie much more than I expected to. I truly, madly, despise nearly everything about NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (director Jared Hess' previous film), and had the lowest of low expectations for this follow-up.

But NACHO's heart is warmer...and its pace brisker...than ND, and I found the film pleasantly engaging. By no means flawless, but a whole lot of fun. And, really, how can any self-respecting male not completely melt for Ana de la Reguera?

I also had a blast with the music..across the board...but I'll let ScoreKeeper tell you all about that...

Greetings! ScoreKeeper here unmasking Danny Elfman’s score for NACHO LIBRE.

Many people who follow film music keenly were never aware that Danny Elfman picked up the scoring assignment for NACHO LIBRE after the original composer, Beck, suddenly left the project. The stealthy switch occurred so deep in post-production and Elfman produced the score so quickly that his name has yet to make it on the majority of the marketing materials for the film including the official NACHO LIBRE web site. Other than a brief report of the recording session courtesy of, there has been very little geek-gabbing surrounding Elfman’s latest cinematic endeavor.

Having learned of his attachment to the project I was delighted to hear that one of my favorite working composers would return to the genre that once defined his career. Knowing Elfman’s music as well as I do, I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.

Throughout most of the film I thought they had simply cut in some rare retro-Mexican folk/pop recordings and I kept waiting to hear Elfman’s score. “Where was his music?” - I kept asking myself throughout the film. It wasn’t until the end credits that the long list of fifteen or twenty cues credited to Elfman did I realize much of this bizarre cornucopia of music was penned by Elfman himself. There was of course the obligatory pop song used here and there. A couple of them were scribed by canned NACHO scorer, Beck.

I have to say that Elfman continues to impress and amaze me. This isn’t the great Elfman score that makes me want to run out and buy the CD like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS or MEN IN BLACK did. This isn’t the latino PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, or pop-funky FORBIDDEN ZONE that some people might be expecting. There’s no rousing theme with strobing orchestral colors, whole-tone woodwind flourishes, or tritone-leaping bass lines.

No, this is the great Elfman score that works on a more cerebral level as an afterthought within the technical context of the film. It’s the score of a filmmaker who knows how music can completely compliment Jared Hess’ wry, expressionistic brand of humor. So many other composers would have a natural inclination to want to push the comedy forward with the music whereas Elfman counterintuitively pulls it back. He allows the seriousness of the comedy to blossom untainted by the music.

Elfman approaches the film much like a television sitcom - small, punctuating cues which are frequently interrupted or cadenced after a few small phrases. The music changes drastically on a dime to fit the dynamics of the scene and he’s careful not to over-saturate the film with unnecessary music. One of my favorite cues in the film finds our heroes Nacho and Esqueleto confronted by the knife-wielding bodyguards of a rival luchador. Elfman uses a flutter-tonguing harmonica to great effect which although is short-lived, complements the scene beautifully.

Contrary to my statement earlier I do want to run out and buy this CD. If anything, just to hear such smart music from Elfman apart from the film. Unfortunately there is no scheduled release of the soundtrack that I was able to unearth. Knowing Elfman’s clout in the industry and the fact that I think NACHO LIBRE will rival NAPOLEON DYNAMITE as a cult darling, I think it’s just a matter of time before it’ll be available to the public.

Many Beck fans will be disappointed in his absence from scoring NACHO LIBRE but many film fans will rejoice that those responsibilities were given to the very capable Danny Elfman.

Thanks, ScoreKeeper - very much appreciated! Looking forward to your next report.

NACHO LIBRE piledrives into theaters June 16.

Readers Talkback
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  • June 10, 2006, 6:46 p.m. CST

    Nacho Libre's score

    by seppukudkurosawa

    Hate to be a hating hater or anything, but you think anyone's watching this movie for the score? Not me anyway, I'm watching it for Jack Black's fake-tanned manflesh.

  • June 10, 2006, 6:49 p.m. CST

    I couldn't read the article...

    by Jonesey1111

    I was too busy staring at Harry getting sodomized by Nacho.

  • June 10, 2006, 6:50 p.m. CST

    WTF is with that animation

    by wingman321

    seriously we get it, you're gay

  • June 10, 2006, 6:54 p.m. CST

    When Harry Met Jack...

    by Giz

    much love, jack. much love...

  • June 10, 2006, 7:15 p.m. CST

    Has harry's nephew seen the new animation?

    by _Kayser_

    I think it was his idea. This is what watching The Omen does to kids.

  • June 10, 2006, 7:28 p.m. CST

    that's disgusting

    by Holodigm

    oh huh? an article?

  • June 10, 2006, 7:29 p.m. CST

    You didn't like Napoleon Dynamite?

    by AwesomeBillFunk

    I'm so gonna cut you Merrick. Personally I loved it. Here is to Hess having a long and successful directorial career - this would be as apposed to Jon Heder's post Napoleon career, as I have no faith in that man being in a good movie ever again.

  • June 10, 2006, 7:29 p.m. CST

    Now, this is produced by NICKELODEON, isn't it?

    by Negative Man

    Which means it's just going to be kid level fart joke, gag reflex, people getting slimed and that type stuff? I'll save my money and buy some actual nachos when I go see Lucha Vavoom in a few short weeks.

  • June 10, 2006, 8:38 p.m. CST

    Elfman's love for Dia De los Muertos should suit this..

    by butnugget

    Well. Eventually he will get the Oscar he has so righteously been snubbed on previously. I seriously doubt this one will be it though but...Let's Take the Whole Day Off....

  • June 10, 2006, 11:24 p.m. CST


    by casinoskunk

    i love elfman!

  • June 11, 2006, 12:23 a.m. CST

    Chiming In

    by ironburl

    I saw the movie last night *Thanks Harry* and I had no IDEA that Elfman did the score. Really good! It doesn't have his "signature" sound, but instead uses a lot of groovy 60's and 70's mexican lucha libre film pastiche. What he achieved in matching the visuals of the film is pretty astonishing.I smell mexican Oscar

  • June 11, 2006, 1:14 a.m. CST


    by casinoskunk

    does it sound like some of the old boingo stuff?

  • June 11, 2006, 3:11 a.m. CST

    Blah...."Hulk Syndrome"

    by Freakemovie

    I originally saw the preview and found it very lame. And yet now that I've seen it about a billion times I almost want to see it out of sheer familiarity and spirit-breaking of the subconscious. The same thing happened with The Hulk, but I was able to ward it off and not see it. Hopefully this will have a happy ending as well.

  • June 11, 2006, 3:52 a.m. CST

    I prefer his older, funny scores

    by readingwriter

    I've rarely gotten through an entire Elfman orchestral score. Edward Scissorhands is pretty but it gets to be too much (I never cared for this "Poor artist who can't communicate and only want to be loved" fairytale, anyway), Batman is repetitious. The one exception is a score no one ever talks about--The Family Man. The movie is a variation on It's A Wonderful Life and is OK for a single viewing, but that score is amazing, very touching. Mission:Impossible is a cool take on action scoring but it's one of those scores I "get" more than I enjoy, which leaves Mars Attacks! as his most enjoyable fullscale orchestral score. But his score for Pee Wee's Big Adventure is bright and funny--and music that's funny is damned hard to write.

  • June 11, 2006, 3:53 p.m. CST

    Dolores Claiborne

    by blackwood

    doesn't seem to get a lot of mention, but I think it's one of his best. Equal parts menace and melancholy. Good stuff. Get "Music for a Darkened Theatre" if you want a great sampling of his earlier stuff. Dead Presidents was also surprisingly great.

  • June 11, 2006, 8:40 p.m. CST

    Mr. Diversity

    by bmsatter

    A lot of people like to peg Elfman as a composer who has this one distinct sound. But in truth, nobody in the modern film music industry is as diverse and as flexible as Elfman. His scores for "Dolores Claiborne", "Dead Presidents", "A Simple Plan", "Flubber", "Men In Black", "Family Man", "Mission Impossible", "Sommersby", "To Die For", "Big Fish", "Chicago", "Amazing Stories: Family Dog", etc. are all so vastly different from each other. There just aren't many composers left able to diversify themselves as much as Elfman.

  • June 11, 2006, 9:37 p.m. CST

    Here's the video

    by Orionsangels

  • June 12, 2006, 10:01 a.m. CST


    by readingwriter

    I agree that Dead Presidents was a terrific score, too. I think when Elfman stays away from orchestral scores he comes up with something interesting almost every time. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Elfman isn't diversity, though. His orchestral scores often lack distinctiveness from each other. My yardstick for diversity in a film composer is Jerry Goldsmith, and Elfman isn't in his league.

  • June 12, 2006, 10:17 a.m. CST

    Goldsmith definitely

    by bmsatter

    But I also mentioned that "nobody in the modern film music industry.." is more diverse than Elfman. Goldsmith is gone. And since he started in the late 50's can't hardly be qualified as modern (i.e. present day) anymore. I believe if Elfman scores 200 films over 50 years like Goldsmith his body of work overall will reflect the type of diverstiy that Goldsmith acheived. I can't even name another working composer that I can say that about. Most of Elfman's stuff is unique from each other (minus the first 10 or so films he did). All the films I listed above (and I could've listed more) you dont' confuse them with each other. I hear 2 bars of "Flubber" or "Dead Presidents" and it's obvious what those scores are. And I don't listen to either of them very much.

  • June 12, 2006, 1:05 p.m. CST


    by readingwriter

    ...but I wasn't claiming Goldsmith was alive, though he certainly could be claimed as being "modern" right up to the point where he stopped composing--his long life in his chosen field isn't a mark against him. I was pointing out that he is my yardstick for diversity. Flubber and DP are different from each other, but so are the comedy and urban crime scores of most any composer--that's really not a fair comparison. All three of Goldsmith's Omen scores are very different from each other--can one say the same about Elfman's two Spiderman scores? (Again, I'm using Goldsmith merely as a comparison, I'm not saying Goldsmith is alive and still composing.) James Horner isn't what I'd call a very diverse composer, but I'd never mistake his score for The Forgotten with Troy--that doesn't mean he's diverse. Elfman's Dead Presidents is an example of where I like Elfman to go, using the orchestra in surprising ways--when the strings arrive in the main title it's really striking, in the middle of that 70's funk organ. This isn't a debate, it's merely a comparison of likes and dislikes, and while I admire Elfman's skill, I can't get through many of his scores on disc, and find they don't contribute much in the final film. I found Christopher Young's material in Spiderman 2 to be far more evocative, and am glad he's doing the third one. (If you like some of Elfman's experimental stuff, check out Young's; his score for The Vagrant is quirky as all get-out, and his sinfonetta for toy instruments is wacked.)

  • June 12, 2006, 2:23 p.m. CST

    agree with all that

    by bmsatter

    Horner is a great example of one who is not very diverse (although I like him at times too). But I'm not necessarily even talking about mistaking certain cues as much as the overall approach. I would never mistake The Forgotten with Troy but within all Horner's music he approaches action pretty much the same in every film. He climaxes every movie the same, his main titles are very formulaic. His prhases always long, his voicings among the orchestra always the same, the role of the brass, strings and percussion sections, very much the same in every film, his chordal progressions, modulations the same....I could go on. I just don't find that with Elfman. In each film all these things are different. I agree this is not a debate, just a talking amongst likes/dislikes....The only thing I would say that is starting to "stagnate" his overall approach is his use of electronics. That's getting to be pretty cookie-cutter these days.

  • June 12, 2006, 2:51 p.m. CST

    You've got Horner down pat

    by readingwriter

    That's a great description of his stylistic quirks. Oddly, I find I've been buying more of his stuff on CD lately because it makes great background music for writing or reading. (The exception being the really beautiful Bobby Jones score.) Horner used to claim his longline themes were what made him different from other contemporary composers, and I have to agree, but all of his scores seem to me to be barely MUSIC. They're kind of the musical equivalent of an air conditioner hum--imagine a foley guy looking at a scene and something seems not quite right, and then he realizes there should be the hum of air conditioning going on, and then it all seems right. I don't mean to jump on the Horner bash wagon, but, well, he brings this on himself. And it's thus not surprising that his stuff makes great background music while I'm doing something else. I agree electronics in scores is starting to sound lame all around, probably because it's being used as an effect, whereas an orchestra, when used properly, is the conduit to a musical IDEA; when used improperly, of course, it's that air conditioner hum again, it's just there because it would seem like something was off if music wasn't playing in the background of a scene.

  • June 12, 2006, 5:41 p.m. CST

    even more perfect description of Horner

    by bmsatter

    "air-conditioner hum" that's perfect! I totally agree with that. I too buy a lot of Horner but I mostly listen to him when I'm also doing something else.

  • June 12, 2006, 8:44 p.m. CST

    Shocked that the score I like most these days is by Zim

    by readingwriter

    DaVinci Code is a good listen. Doesn't sound like a "hit the beats" movie score, but Zimmer's attempt at something with more heft to it. I seem to like one of every ten of his, and this one's a keeper. For Horner, all kidding aside, I seem to really enjoy one of every twenty scores.

  • June 13, 2006, 4:51 p.m. CST

    bmsatter & readingwriter

    by moviebrat


  • June 13, 2006, 5:58 p.m. CST


    by readingwriter

    Horner was really something back then because he made up for his plaigarism--self and otherwise--with enormous energy. Willow, for example, may not be the most original thing ever but the pure momentum of it makes it WORK. That Horner would be great for POTC2. Actually, the score that really hurt Horner was Aliens, because it was a huge rush job and a difficult working environment, and it seems to me he just said "Screw it, I'll rip off whoever just to get this done." He really stripped down his sound, ripped off a lot of people...and it's one of his most popular scores. Instead of Titanic I count Aliens as the one where he started to change. (Sure, Willow and others came after, but you can detect the change in his style beginning there.) I don't mean to come off as busting on him, because I think he was just dealing with the realities of the business--the sound mix, the shortened time frame. I mean, Goldsmith had four months, I think, to do Poltergeist, and two WEEKS to do Air Force One--the complexity just isn't there in the later score (though I still think it's got kickass action stuff in it, this IS still Goldsmith).+++++BTW, this is a convenient spot to discuss film scores, so we'll probably keep popping up here till the thread is pulled.

  • June 13, 2006, 6:29 p.m. CST

    Horner and Goldsmith

    by moviebrat

    I think you

  • June 13, 2006, 8:57 p.m. CST


    by readingwriter

    It's great to meet someone who appreciates that score. It's not an action or heavy SF score--it's a score about childhood, specifically the childhoods of some SF-loving kids who watched movies together and built forts or robots (or spaceships). I love that Goldsmith scored for the CHARACTERS and the smalltown atmosphere. (I love Matinee's score for the same reason.) Goldsmith engaged in some of the same streamlining as Horner did, but not to the same extent; even "Goldsmith lite" was still Goldsmith. His The 13th Warrior score is terrific, especially with the complete tracks not on the CD. Cassandra Crossing and The Challenge have some of the wildest, most hysterical (in a good way) action music of the time. I agree, too, that Apollo 13 has a really marvelous theme--the music during the launch is beautiful. I really enjoyed your post.

  • June 14, 2006, 4:58 a.m. CST


    by moviebrat

    Absolutely agree. This is what the Goldsmith / Dante combo always did so well. That childlike view of all things, both light and dark, that is so timeless. The scene in Matinee when that boy comes out of his bedroom after having had the bad dream of the atomic bomb to find his mother weeping while watching super 8 film of her husband who

  • May 6, 2007, 11:54 a.m. CST

    First Fucknutters

    by dundundles

    ...and almost a year later... hmmmmm.