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 over-acting wacky 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.

In an unusual move, Nolan decided to have Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard to collaborate on the music. While an interesting pair, the music they make sounds like it could easily have been written by one man and I have no idea why two big-name composers are needed. It pretty much ends up being a  Hans Zimmer score, and he in fact has become Nolan’s go-to composer. Zimmer and Howard admitted to not really listening closely to any of the other Batman soundtracks, although the heroic and operatic style in those would not have matched the tone of Batman Begins. Zimmer and the Media Ventures gang take over most of the action and suspense while Howard provides the emotional core. Interestingly, all of the track titles are names of bat species (there’s also an easter egg in them as well), though this can make it hard to tell what scenes the different pieces of music are from.

Zimmer came up with the primary Batman themes. The first major motif to pop up is suitably dark, and sounds like the slow flapping of bat wings. It opens up both the movie and the album in “Vespertilio”. It later appears in “Atribeus” amidst loud clangs and sound effects as Batman surprise attacks criminals. The second motif also appears in “Vespertilio”, a simple two-note motif against a rhythm. The rhythm from this theme is used to its best effect in the training montage scene (“Eptesicus”). Despite being incredibly simplistic, these motifs are very effective at creating the proper atmosphere.

The only tune with any degree of complexity is a love theme created by James Newton Howard, which builds into a soaring motif in “Macrotus” and “Corynorhinus”. The League of Shadows gets its own oriental motif, which is very eerie and ambient. The Scarecrow gets no theme or motif, although unnerving sound distortions are used when his fear gas hits Batman in “Tadarida”. There are plenty of motifs which are recognizable, though it’s hard to specifically assign them to a certain idea or character.

The action and heroics are a little on the light side, with the soundtrack emphasizing dark ambience and emotional moments. The first notable action cue is in “Myotis”, but there are no true moments of heroism until “Antrozous” and more notably the propulsive “Molossus”.

One track I just love is “Lasiurus”. It starts off with a repeating, descending fanfare before going into the League of Shadows theme. The second half is one of the emotional themes repeating itself and growing increasingly louder and dramatic. The end is one very long note before the flapping motif from album’s beginning also closes it.

How does Zimmer and Howard’s effort compare Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthal? Danny Elfman is definitely better. It’s hard to beat his main theme and the sweeping gothic nature of his music. Elliot Goldenthal put much more thought in constructing his themes and motifs. This is still a solid score. The ambience and simple themes work well, but it’s a bit odd that two of the industry’s greatest composers couldn’t come up with something a little more epic and aside from some of the piano pieces it just sounds like Zimmer. Batman Begins is not the best bat-score, but I think it perfectly captures the feeling of the more recent comics.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklisting

  1. Vespertillo (2:52)
  2. Eptesicus (4:20)
  3. Myotis (5:46)
  4. Barbastella (4:45)
  5. Atribeus (4:20)
  6. Tadarida (5:06)
  7. Macrotus (7:36)
  8. Antrozous (3:59)
  9. Nycteris (4:26)
  10. Molossus (4:49)
  11. Corynorhinus (5:04)
  12. Lasiurus (7:27)
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