Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spotlight On: Batman

Previously on Spotlight On, I took a look back at the music of the Harry Potter films, now Batman gets his turn.  The music in the movies is often as talked about as the films themselves.  Within those movies, we get signature scores by Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.  Let's glimpse back at a legacy of the Caped Crusader on the big screen and the music that goes with each film.
       
Batman (1989)
Music by Danny Elfman

Joining director Tim Burton was relative new composer Danny Elfman. Elfman created a gothic score to match the dark setting of the film, with a strong main theme for Batman. While the film issued a second album of Prince songs, Elfman's contributions are the most memorable. The last half of the film is wall-to-wall excellent music, featuring the great Batwing sequence, and the Joker's Waltz. The Batman Theme won the Instrumental Composition Grammy in 1990. Highly recommended. (Just listen to: Batman Theme, Flowers, Attack of the Batwing, Up to the Cathedral, Waltz to the Death)

Batman Returns (1992)
Music by Danny Elfman

For Batman Returns, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman returned to their dark world of Gotham. With Catwoman and the Penguin as the villains, the music turned even darker than the previous score. Catwoman's motif features a lot of high string harmonics and sliding strings. Penguin's music has a lot of circus and Christmas elements added into the score. The score is more complex, with variations on the original theme. (Just listen to: Birth of a Penguin, Selina Transforms, Rooftops)

Batman Forever (1995)
Music by Elliot Goldenthal

With director Joel Schumacher directing the latest installment, Elliot Goldenthal was brought on board for the score. The film's tone changed, as well as the score. The score features a lot more strange upbeat music, with a heroic sounding Batman fanfare. Besides that, there aren't many themes in the scores, but many motifs mixed in various scenes. The Riddler does have a motif that goes throughout which is full of theremin. It was nominated for a Grammy for Instrumental Composition. Side note: The original score album has some ridiculous track titles. (Just listen to: Main Titles & Fanfare, The Perils of Gotham, Batterdammerung)

Batman and Robin (1997)
Music by Elliot Goldenthal

Goldenthal returned to Batman with this score. His Batman fanfare returned as well as the big brassy and jazzy sound from the previous score. With the score to Batman Forever not hitting quite the mark, no official score album was made for Batman and Robin. The only track released was called A Batman Overture on the song album. Regardless, there were a few new themes. His theme for Poison Ivy had a jazzy sound, and Mr. Freeze's wife contains the more emotional cues in the film. His heroic fanfare returned, but not enough to save this score.

Batman Begins (2005)
Music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Fast forward to Christopher Nolan taking over the rebooted Batman series after the Schumacher debacle. Hans Zimmer tapped James Newton Howard to collaborate on the score. Such big names working together certainly is rare in a Hollywood score. While it is tough to pinpoint which composer did what, the score features many moments of Zimmer's signature sound and Howard's thematic work. The ostinatos do work with this grittier film world, and the soundtrack is full of electronic/sound effects. The score is probably the most underplayed in the franchise, with it sometimes coming in and going when you didn't even notice. Side note: The track titles are all Latin names of bats, which is irritating if you want to know what scenes they belong in. (Just listen to: Eptesicus, Marcrotus, Molossus, Lasiurus)

The Dark Knight (2008)
Music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Following up their collaboration on Batman Begins, Zimmer and Howard returned. The film was instantly embraced by fans, while the score became a hotly debated topic. Returning to form, The Dark Knight features more thumping and bumping and ostinato strings. The score is far more in-your-face, but the material hadn't changed much. Zimmer proudly used a two-note theme for The Joker, and Howard scored more of the softer Harvey Dent scenes. This arrangement worked nicely for the duality of the characters, but made the score not work as well as a separate listen. The album won a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack Album. (Just listen to: Why So Serious?, Harvey Two-Face, Aggressive Expansion, A Dark Knight)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Music by Hans Zimmer

For the final film in Nolan's trilogy, Zimmer was the sole composer. The score is another hotbed of discussion, with many traditional film score fans turned off, and a new generation of score fans introduced. Bumps and thumps aplenty, the score also features new villain motifs. For Bane, there is the chanting throughout and for Catwoman, a solo cello and even solo piano. This score does revive a few small themes from Batman Begins, which really begin to tie the films together. The boy soloist in the score is one of the highlights - a light voice in the soundscape of loud noise. Throughout these Nolan films, the music does it's job and functions pretty well. Side note: If you want to hear more of the score, it's scattered in various bonus downloads, soundtracks etc. (Just listen to: Gotham's Reckoning, Mind If I Cut In?, The Fire Rises, Rise)
Batman by Jeff Victor

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