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. There was also a good lesson about fighting to live instead of embracing a martyr complex, a real maturation for the Batman character in light of how his comic book counterpart is still stuck in his brooding and untrusting rut.

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. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: The Dark Knight

Composed by: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight is still considered by many to the not just the greatest Batman movie but the greatest superhero movie of all time. For me the film does live up to the hype, and was certainly better than Batman Begins with stronger villains (especially the deceased Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker), clearer action scenes, a heavily intense story, and great performances by Gary Oldman as James Gordon and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent.

One area that did not  necessarily improve from Batman Begins is the music. Once again collaborating with James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer and Media Ventures was now in even more control, with Howard only rarely showing his style. When deciding who would get what of the two new main character themes (Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face), Zimmer got the big main villain. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Batman Begins

Composed by: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Eight years after the disastrous Batman and Robin, Warner Brothers released the Christopher Nolan-directed reboot of the Batman franchise: Batman Begins. Batman Begins successfully returned the character to his darker roots. The new film universe was also much more gritty and realistic, with no neon lights or wacky over-acting villains. The best thing the reboot did was make Commissioner Gordon (played wonderfully by Gary Oldman) an important character. The movie does have its flaws, such as a weak third act and a potential to engage in pretentious dialogue, but I think it captures the Batman of the last thirty years perfectly. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Batman Forever

Batman forever original soundtrack - elliot goldenthal.jpg

Composed by: Elliot Goldenthal

Conducted by: Jonathan Sheffer & Shirley Walker

Following complaints about the unpleasant nature of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, Warner Brothers replaced the director of the Batman franchise with Joel Schumacher, who provided a more kid-friendly blockbuster. Heavily criticized for its overbearing neon lighting and its poor Two-Face (played way too over-the-top by Tommy Lee Jones), I rather like Batman Forever, the first film to seriously explore Bruce Wayne’s origins (although many of the scenes that would have effectively explained this plotline were unfortunately cut from the film) Michael Keaton’s replacement, Val Kilmer, does a fine enough job as Batman aside from some really goofy and memetastic faces, Jim Carrey turns in a delightful, if over-the-top, performance as the Riddler, and Elliot Goldenthal comes in to do perhaps one of his best scores. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Batman Returns

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Conducted by: Jonathan Scheffer

Following the smashing success of Batman, Tim Burton was given more creative freedom in the sequel. Batman Returns has good acting and great visuals, but Burton infused a little too much of his own style, resulting in a film that, reportedly, caused many children expecting a normal action film to come out of the theaters crying. In recent years it’s reputation has become quite good and I’m among those who have learned to appreciate it for its themes. it does have flaws such as weak action and uncomfortable sexuality. It has a pretty strong cast, with Danny Devito as an odd mutant take on the Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and Christopher Walken being awesome as always as evil business and power mogul Max Schreck. Among the Burton tropes in Batman Returns are a circus, plenty of pale faces, Gothic designs, and a dark Danny Elfman score.

The score is quite different from the first, which is more traditionally heroic. Its emphasis is on bleak darkness, as represented by its two new, liberally quoted themes. Both are sinister, but with a strong hint of tragedy. The Penguin’s theme debuts in “Birth of a Penguin” and gets extensive treatment in “The Lair” and “The Cemetery”. It’s used so often that how much you like the theme will effect how you feel about the whole album. Catwoman’s theme has two parts. The first is high-pitched strings representing the feline meowing and screeching of a cat. The second part is a more tragic motif that dominates the more sweeping portions of “Selina Transforms”. Christopher Walken’s character doesn’t get a theme despite his prominent relevance to both Penguin and Catwoman. The Batman theme itself takes a much more subdued role. Whereas the 1989 film had plenty of lengthy, heroic iterations, this one sees smaller references, often without any of the heroic brass. There is an amazing version for the opening titles, with a dark choir lending some extra gravitas and atmosphere. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Batman (1989)

Composed by: Danny Elfman

Orchestrated by: Shirley Walker & Steve Bartek

Although he had returned to his grimmer, darker roots nearly twenty years earlier in the comics, Batman was still often perceived by the non-comic reading community as the campy crusader of the sixties TV show, battling alongside Robin against colorful villains while such words as “POW!” and “BANG!” lit up the screen. Just as the Superman movie franchise was dying a horrible death, Batman was brought to the silver screen by director Tim Burton, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson giving memorable performances as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Joker. My favorite bat-film other than The Dark Knight, Batman had its music done by Burton’s regular composer-collaborator, Danny Elfman. It was this score that made Elfman one of the biggest composers of Hollywood, and also established him as on of the top choices for comic book movie music. Elfman was an excellent choice, his dark, impressionistic style of film-scoring a natural fit for Batman. Continue reading