by Matt Scheller
After eight long years of anticipation and speculation, another Batman film is finally here. Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (of Memento fame) has gone back to the roots of the character in order to "reboot" the franchise - a compromised decision made by Warner Bros. in order to apologize for the notorious Batman & Robin. Gone are the neon lights, bat nipples, homo-erotic influences and Joel Schumacher. Another ingredient that has been altered for this restart is the music.
Generally, when a person thinks about "Batman music," Danny Elfman's theme for Tim Burton's Batman comes to mind. Elfman's score solidified a new addition to the Batman canon. Cartoons, commercials, promotions, trailers- everything Batman related had that "Dark Superhero" niche Elfman pioneered. In Batman: The Animated Series, composer Shirley Walker constructed her own themes to accommodate Danny Elfman's musical style and textures. Even though the third and fourth films were composed by Elliot Goldenthal, the music still shared similar fanfaric qualities. Batman Begins, however, sounds nothing like any of the previous incarnations of The Dark Knight.
Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard have been long-time friends outside of their profession. For years, they have pondered what it would be like to work with one another on a film. They had their first shot last year with the Johnny Depp vehicle Secret Window, but due to scheduling conflicts, the pair was forced to put their collaboration on hold. Flash forward a few months later - Christopher Nolan asks Hans Zimmer if he'd be interested in scoring a little film called Batman Begins. Figuring that this would be the perfect film for collaboration, Hans brought James Newton Howard on board.
When it was announced late last year that Zimmer and Howard were locked to score the film, mixed reactions plagued Internet message boards. Some fans welcomed the new idea, while others despised the notion. Whether you are in the former or the latter group, a common question is shared - "What is the music going to sound like?"
Having seen the film, I can tell you Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard have crafted a sonic palette that flawlessly compliments the world Christopher Nolan has created. Instead of going the "Dark Superhero" comic book movie route, HZ and JNH have tapped into the psychological aspects of the story and, more importantly, the psyche of the main character himself. The score serves more to pull viewers into reality as opposed to create a sense of the fantastic (which, by design, was the same approach Chris Nolan used for the entire film).
While listening to the album, references to Zimmer's Black Rain, Hannibal, The Ring, and The Thin Red Line are apparent while the tender and emotional pieces echo James Newton Howard's Snow Falling on Cedars, Unbreakable, and The Village (among others). The score is dark, emotional, scary, action packed, and to put it simply, badass. Keep in mind, even though I've seen the film, I can't remember where all the music on the album shows up in the film so bear with me! Without further delay, SoundtrackNet is pleased to bring you our first listen of Batman Begins composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.
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1. Vespertilio (2:52)
This music accompanies the opening of the film. Right off the bat (pun whole-heartedly intended), the music lets the audience know that this film is not like the other Bat-flicks. The cue starts off percussively - each percussive hit sounding like a giant bat flapping its wings. As the music "flaps" through the left and right channels, the listener feels almost as if a creature is lurking in the darkness. This part accompanies the Warner Brothers and DC Comics Logos. As the percussion fades away, a brass chord (similar to the brass samples of past Zimmer scores) transitions the piece into a low but fast string rhythm interwoven with a subtle electronic pulse. A brass chord rises followed by a descending chord through out the track. This brass motif is a central theme.
2. Eptesicus (4:20)
Thomas and Martha Wayne are brutally gunned down in an alley leaving young Bruce all alone. Much like the soft tender moments of Snow Falling on Cedars, James Newton Howard utilizes the strings to reflect Bruce's loneliness and guilt. A calm piano melody enters as Bruce remembers his father. Half way through the track, Zimmer takes over with a building structure of strings reminiscent of "Journey to the Line" from The Thin Red Line and pieces from The Last Samurai. This music accompanies the training montage where Ducard (Liam Neeson) teaches Bruce Wayne the way of the ninja.
3. Myotis (5:46)
A cello starts off this cue and creates a moody atmosphere. Ambient orchestrations are heard until the action kicks in around the 2 minute mark, where Bruce Wayne attempts to escape the clutches of the evil Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and his ninja clan The League of Shadows. The action is clearly Zimmer - fans of The Rock and The Peacemaker will not be disappointed. We also get to hear the main theme for the first time which is tragic at the same time, driving and confident. After the action subsides, the track concludes with strings reminiscent of the training montage.
4. Barbastella (4:45)
This cue begins with a gloomy tone. A boy soprano vocalizes the main theme and some more string material enters followed by a solo piano rendition of the main theme. The string rhythms from the first track return as Bruce investigates the well he fell into as a little boy. Inside the well, he finds an opening which leads him into a cave (wink wink). Bats swarm through out the vast cavern and the brassy two note chord motif returns along with goose bump inducing percussion as Bruce stands among the bats, understanding his destiny.
5. Artibeus (4:19)
One might think this cue would be suitable for a horror film. Dissonant voices chant as the lurking bat-wing flaps. The music is played at a low register when suddenly, ferocious string clusters, much like George Crumb's "Night of the Electric Insects" used in The Exorcist, accompany the scary hallucinogenic images of the Scarecrow's (Cillian Murphy) victims.
6. Tadarida (5:05)
Martin Tillman's cello work opens this piece which is overcome by the bat-wing flaps. Batman has his first confrontation with the Scarecrow and things don't go so well. Scarecrow gases the Bat with his hallucinogenic chemical and the Dark Knight begins to see what he fears most; bats. A bat-wing flutters and harsh voices are whispered as terrifying images of these winged creatures cloud our hero's vision. A tragic string piece along with a solo soprano is heard as Batman fails for the first time.
7. Macrotus (7:35)
The first two minutes of this cue are clearly JNH's music. The music sounds like dramatic pieces from Snow Falling on Cedars and The Village. A beautiful melody comprised of strings builds as a solo piano accompanies the motif until it crescendos into Zimmer's synth material. This is a perfect track to hear the two composers' styles blend together.
8. Antrozous (3:59)
Around the one minute mark, the action kicks in once again. Fans of Zimmer's music will find this particular action cue familiar. It's the exact action motif Zimmer coined in the film Black Rain. The trailer for the film featured a really cool action theme that unfortunately is only heard in the end credits of the film. Even more unfortunate, that particular piece of music is not on this disc but a variation of the theme is briefly played through a Martin Tillman cello solo played against some interesting percussion. Aggressive sting rhythms play as trademark Zimmer brass strike.
9. Nycteris (4:25)
A percussive electronic loop plays underneath some cool string writing. The opening title music appears once again in a different variation, building to a string version of the two note chord motif and JNH's soft string/piano theme is heard once again.
10. Molossus (4:49)
By far the coolest track on this disc; the action starts and never quits. An aggressive electronic pulse is looped underneath striking brass notes as the strings go crazy with a forceful rhythm. Batman's main theme is heroically played by the brass and the two note brass chord also makes a comeback. The music is constantly building and driving full force. Also throughout the track, the Black Rain action motif provides an extra jolt of adrenaline as Batman fights his way through ninjas and glides through the night sky to catch an elevated transit train. Great stuff! Have fun with it!
11. Corynorhinus (5:04)
JNH's wonderful string material is heard once again after a gentle solo piano opens the cue. This piece reflects the troubled fate of Bruce's relationship with love interest Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). Bruce reminisces about his father and the calm piano melody heard in "Eptesicus" plays along the images of Bruce's memories. The opening theme returns as Batman meets Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) on top of police head quarters, after being summoned by the bat-signal for the first time (yay!), where Gordon explains that strange "theatrical" villains are starting to emerge as a result of Batman's victory. Strings and brass build to a heroic crescendo as Batman makes an iconic exit.
12. Lasiurus (7:27)
The majority of this track is tonal and atmospheric featuring most of Zimmer's string work. The strings constantly build until they reach an emotional catharsis, once again akin to "Journey to the Line." After the catharsis culminates, a rousing vibrato of strings begins from silence to a loud climax. This inspiring music accompanies the iconic image of Batman standing atop a skyscraper watching over Gotham- the city he has sworn to protect against evil. The disc concludes as the flapping of bat-wings fade out.
I'm aware that not everyone is going to like the musical approach for this film. There most likely will be uproar in the fanboy community because their beloved Danny Elfman theme is no more. I must admit, Elfman's theme for me is the definitive Batman theme, but Elfman's sensibilities are completely inappropriate for this film. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard did a marvelous job on this picture. As a fan of Batman, I'd like to express my gratitude to the composers, and the other craftsmen involved on this project for finally creating the definitive Batman film.
Special thanks to Brenda Falitz at Warner Bros., and Kristen Chin at Chasen & Co. for their help with this article.