Batman Begins Soundtrack Review
Movies reviewSRP: £11.99Well, the bizarre fire of hatred for Hans Zimmer and his Media Ventures group received some fuel with this score for Christopher Nolan's new take on the Caped Crusader, with Bat-fans getting all hot under the collar and instigating internet petitions against it. What gives, people? Is Danny Elfman's classic score for Burton's original 1989 version so sacred that Zimmer taking over the reigns for this re-imagining is a veritable desecration? In my opinion, certainly not. Elfman has created an indelible signature theme and a terrific gothic darkness that completely encapsulates one dimension of the Dark Knight, but now that times have moved on, and we have a brand new, and far more down to earth, grittier incarnation of the crime-fighter, we need a fresher, more hard-edged soundscape for his nightmarish world. And, in line with that, we get this fantastic collaboration from two of Hollywood's biggest hitters, premier synth-jockey Zimmer and lush melody-maker James Newton Howard. I love Zimmer's work - from Gladiator to The Thin Red Line, from Rain Man to Black Hawk Down - and I don't have a problem with his heavy, electronically-realised soundfields. His continual lambasting astonishes me as, over the last few years in particular, he has created some awesome, adrenaline-pumping action cues and a great, otherworldly feel of dissonance for times and places long forgotten. Howard, of course, remains untouched by such scathing, with his more conventional, fully orchestral approach. And I am completely happy with both elements - particularly in this shining example of such a hybrid score. Although, it must be stated here and now, that Batman Begins is predominantly Zimmer's work, his Media Ventures stylings densely bathing the score in a roughly 70/30 percentage between the two.
What the duo serve up with this score is relentless build-up, matching Bruce Wayne's search for a direction, a thrust for the immense rage within himself, and a haunting elegy for the life and love that he will never be able to hold onto. The tragedy is woven into the dynamics so intricately that even in full, aggressive flow we are never allowed to forget the sacrifice that Bruce has made. Taking the cue titles from the Latin names for different species of bat, we commence with a driving, forceful tick-tock rhythm punctuated by the incredible effect of batwings flapping and Bruce Wayne's odyssey begins in earnest. Track 2 welcomes James Newton Howard as his haunting piano-led motif for tragedy soothes and lulls before blending with Zimmer's awesome and relentless journeyman theme for the brutal training that Bruce undergoes in Ra's Al-Ghul's temple. This track is simply breathtaking. Full of insistent yearning for something that Bruce doesn't yet understand, but hungers for. The dramatic strings and brass that round off this epic cue are truly momentous. A standout track, folks. Track 3 may start off with some Gladiator-style underscore and some nice dark references, but it all culminates in a short, but brilliant, action cue that surges with dynamic, pounding verve - blaring brass and a solid, rapid-fire anxiety that sets the pulse racing. It's all a little bit Last Samurai-ish come the finale, but it's worth noting that Zimmer's main Batman theme makes its first appearance here, too. Another standout track.
Track 4 slows things down with Howard's lush hint of sadness and mourning, capped off with the somewhat subdued lamenting of a choirboy. But this cue still manages to go out on an incredible high - possibly the most rousing moment of the entire score. Signifying Bruce's realisation of what he has to do, who he has to become, this plays over the exquisite scene down in the cave when the bats surge all around him and he conquers his fear of them. Just listen to this and feel your heart pound. Once again, Zimmer's approach is simple, driving and dominating. Glorious stuff that climaxes with a brief fanfare that is possibly the only attempt this score makes at a conventional superhero flourish. Beautiful. Tracks 5 and 6 cater for the horror fans with scratchy, strings-shrieking accompaniments giving nasty acoustic life to the Scarecrow's hellish fear-toxin-induced visions. Lots of eerie whisperings and a demonic ambience fill these tracks and just listen out for the terrifying moment that covers Batman's first disastrous meeting with the Scarecrow, and his symbolic, and literal, fall from grace.
Howard comes to the fore once again in Track 7 to soothe away the night terrors of before, though it isn't long before Zimmer's driving sub-theme and tonal underscore take over. Unfortunately, these moments play far better in the movie than on the album as stand-alone elements. “It's not who I am, but what I do that defines me.” And Track 8 sets up that relentless, inevitable slide to confrontation in motion again as the score, once again, begins to soar, striving for the operatic-yet-gritty percussive pounding that beats in rhythm with Batman's rage. It may mimic Black Rain, but it still fits the main theme perfectly. It seems to tell us that he's out there, gearing up for battle.
Track 9 offers a slightly faster-paced tempo that feels a little TV cop show-ish, but is then transformed by those fantastic bat-flaps into a suspense-filled countdown and hissing underscore that really just serves as a pre-match breather, before the score really rips into high gear with the room-shaking Track 10. This track, entitled Molossus, dominates the disc as THE BIG ACTION CUE. Make no mistake, this is pure adrenaline super-kick as the Batmobile thunders around, through, and on top of, Gotham City. Superbly realised with solid, percussive thumping and a densely aggressive backbeat that conveys the chaos on the streets, the escalating panic of the Bat's pursuers and Bruce Wayne's own deep anxiety for his toxin-riddled love, Rachel. This is a race against time and is simply irresistible. Listen out for the magnificent stalling moment when the drive drops a gear before heaving back into furious action again for the finale of the cue. This is a cool respite that makes more sense in the context of the film, but still works well here.
The final two tracks, 11 and 12, are a serious come down from the glorious action and suspense and, in fact, we sadly don't get any more bombast for the rest of the album. This closing section seems to offer sanctuary from the storm, a partial resolution to the violence that has gone before and, despite a brief reminder of Batman's theme, it feels like a bit of a let down. It does end up with one final rousing flourish, and a nice continuation of the ticking countdown, informing us that this is all just the beginning of Batman's quest. But, for me personally, the score still lacks one major action cue, which is the train/fight sequence. Admittedly, this is really just a re-working of the escape from Ra's temple, but it is a great, exciting cue that would have benefited the album. Overall, though, this is a fantastic score that serves tremendously as an album in its own right. Very highly recommended indeed.
VerdictA triumphant musical re-establishment of Batman, containing some thunderous action cues, a striving, dominant main theme that underpins the score with a sense of raw anger. Where Elfman found the mythical grandeur of the Bat, Zimmer/Howard have managed to give him a flesh and blood reality. The album could, perhaps, have done with an extra action track to counterbalance the swathes of tonal underscore, but, as it stands, this is still an excellent compilation, impeccably produced and guaranteed to fire up the dormant hero within us all. I hope the duo stay on for the next instalment.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £11.99