Soundtrack Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Composed by: Hans Zimmer

The third installment of what became known as the Dark Knight trilogy took a little longer to hit theaters, allowing Christopher Nolan to make and release Inception first. The conclusion of his bat-trilogy, Dark Knight Rises, was met with divisive reactions, thought it still made plenty of money. I agree that a few plot points are awkward, but I quite like it. Tom Hardy’s intelligent and intimidating Bane was what fans needed after the bastardization of the character in Batman and Robin and there was a good lesson about fighting to live instead of embracing a martyr complex, a real maturation for the Batman character.

This time James Newton Howard has disappeared completely, leaving Hans Zimmer and Media Ventures in sole control. The one noticeable result of this is the absence of any strikingly heartfelt emotional cues such as the love theme or “Harvey Two-Face”. This isn’t to say that Zimmer’s work is bereft of emotion, it just doesn’t hit you the way Howard’s material does.

Zimmer thankfully doesn’t swamp listeners with a whole new batch of motifs for Batman’ character. The only addition, first appearing in “On Thin Ice”, is a somber motif that incorporates the two-note motif, representing the toll that being Batman has taken on Bruce Wayne. It does get a more triumphal treatment in “Why Do We Fall?” before swelling into the main Batman theme.

The most popular addition is the primary theme for Bane and his army of zealots. A simple, propulsive rhythm is rendered awesome by the incorporation of a chant which Zimmer claims to mean “rise up”. Though not disclosing the language, it has been attributed to a form of Arabic or perhaps even Mongolian. The chant consists of the words “deshi basura”, though sometimes “deshi” and “basura” are repeated multiple times before going over to the other word. To create the effect of a great host, Zimmer asked that fans record themselves singing the chant, using their voices in the final work. This theme appears most prominently in “Gotham’s Reckoning”. Despite its prominence in promotional materials, the chant doesn’t get many full-on appearances within the regular commercial release, though there is an awesome 20-minute suite you can find on Youtube called “Bane”. There is another motif which can be dull when the chant from the primary theme isn’t incorporated. It appears in “Underground Army” and is much more memorable in “The Fire Rises”. Zimmer also provides two motifs for Catwoman. The first, played on piano in “Mind if I Cut in?, is appropriately mischievous while the second is a string rhythm which appears about in the second half of “Fear Will Find You” and often serves as a backdrop for Batman’s two-note theme.

The album kicks off with “A Storm is Coming”, a very short track with the wing-flapping bat-motif, which then leads into three tracks showcasing the new themes. “Born in Darkness” is notable for returning the League of Shadows motif. “The Fire Rises” is the best action track, featuring various iterations of Bane’s motifs. “Fear Will Find You” is the most notable use of Bane’s theme after its introductory track. “Why Do We Fall?” is the emotional highlight from one of the film’s best moments. There’s another oddly short track called “Death by Exile” and I don’t understand why it needed to be separate as it’s just a bit of moody underscore. “Imagine the Fire” is the climatic action piece, with the return of “Molossus” from Batman Begins in epic fashion. It’s a hodgepodge of different cues from the film with only the last couple minutes being from the final fight, but its placement is appropriate, especially with the presence of the deshi basura chants.

The main weakness of the soundtrack is that it gets highly derivative of the previous entries. Several cues sound cut-and-pasted and can be awkward when juxtaposed to new material. This is a drawback of the use of very simple motifs, which don’t allow for much permutation and only benefit when they are incorporated into a larger theme of backed by one of the rhythmic motifs. Personally this made it difficult for me to focus on some of the music, especially “Despair”and “Rise”, the second example being very similar to “A Dark Knight” from the previous movie’s score. “Necessary Evil” starts off with action but slows down into a somber piece with Bane’s second motif.

In summation, this score is a mixed bag. The music isn’t necessarily bad save for a couple really dully moments, but too much of it is rehash. It’s a shame because some of the new material is great, especially Bane’s theme. If you like the music from the movies, I recommend still buying it or at least listen to it first and download the highlights. There’s also a lot of exclusives the enhanced edition and digital download versions, but these are probably all over the internet as downloads or on Youtube. Overall, the weakest musical entry in the series.

Rating: 6/10

Tracklisting

  1. A Storm is Coming (0:37)
  2. On Thin Ice (2:55)
  3. Gotham’s Reckoning (4:08)
  4. Mind if I Cut In? (3:27)
  5. Underground Army (3:12)
  6. Born in Darkness (1:57)
  7. The Fire Rises (5:33)
  8. Nothing Out There (2:51)
  9. Despair (3:14)
  10. Fear Will Find You (3:08)
  11. Why Do We Fall? (2:03)
  12. Death By Exile (0:23)
  13. Imagine the Fire (7:25)
  14. Necessary Evil (3:16)
  15. Rise (7:11)
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