Give it up for Gotham!
Be warned … a great many BIG spoilers lurk in this comprehensive review. So read no further if you haven’t seen the film yet.
My love/hate relationship with the music of Hans Zimmer gets a massive boost in the love department with his delivery of the pulverising and euphoric score for The Dark Knight Rises. Broadening the themes and motifs that we have heard in the first two instalments in Christopher Nolan’s exemplary trilogy of Batman’s crime-fighting crusade, as imagined for current socio-political/economic/cultural climates, this becomes one of the most savage and energised scores that we’ve had in quite a while. It doesn’t deviate from the composer’s well-worn path in the slightest, but it complements the movie, its tones, its characters, its action and its sense of might, nobility and majesty. Admittedly, it doesn’t stray outside Zimmer’s own strict musical borders but, in this case, you really don’t want it to.
I’ve discussed the overall standard of superhero scoring already in my review for Alan Silvestri’s The Avengers, and the genre has taken a superbly colourful new turn with James Horner’s excellent music for The Amazing Spider-Man. Here, though, we find ourselves back on very familiar turf. Densely percussive, tectonically deep and utterly bludgeoning, Zimmer is in his comfort zone with his last outing for Batman. He is now working on Zack Snyder’s Superman movie Man of Steel, which will indeed take nerves of steel to come up with something that can follow on from John Williams’ immortally awesome music for the Big Boy Scout … but there is no denying that he has nailed the unique, urbanised cadence that makes Nolan’s Batman so potent and relevant.
There has always been grandeur and honour in his Dark Knight symphonies, but the elements have the appropriate sound of having been hauled through gutters, alleyways, caves and prisons, and the anguished pits of human despair and obsession. It has hurt as much as it has inspired, and this combination of trauma and triumph has helped shape Christian Bale’s personification of Bruce Wayne/Batman and the turbulent escalation that his actions have brought to Gotham.
For the final conflagration in this trilogy, Zimmer amasses a strenuous ensemble of players to create a riotously violent and venom-fuelled barrage of deeply-wrought aggression and sacrificial heroism. There have been complaints that many have made towards the score – that it is repetitive, that it merely regurgitates the themes from the first two films (which, obviously, is what it needs to do, so that complaint is immediately nullified) and that it is yet more evidence of Zimmer’s lack of orchestral imagination and over-dependence upon his mixing desk. This last accusation, which is something that I, myself, have levelled at his work on several occasions, certainly holds water, but we must also consider two things in this particular case. Firstly, this has been the “sound” of the Bale/Nolan Batman world since the first film. It worked monumentally well back then with all those Latin bat-monikered tracks, and it has remained a rock steady foundation and hugely emotive clarion-call for the saga ever since. Secondly, the notion that Zimmer has just sat at the mixing desk and manipulated a vast bank of samples is just plain wrong. For this score, especially, he has utilised the orchestra to pummel their instruments as though the very hounds of hell were nipping at their heels, creating an urgency, a poignancy and pace that has a genuinely life or death quality of apocalyptic performance. The fact that the resulting music is so tightly bombastic, industrially insistent and sonically wall-to-wall, and endlessly driving in tone is testament to how focussed he was to creating this essentially lava-singed zip-wire into aural chaos.
There are no woodwinds used in the score, and the synth cradles, cushions and caresses the fury of the brass, the twirling string ostinatos, the shivering horns and the planetary-core deep bass. Somewhat ironically it is as though Zimmer has made his orchestra sound as much like a synthetically created score as possible. Is this a composer set in stagnating ways, or someone who is intrinsically choosing to thumb his nose at his detractors in the most forceful and dynamic way he can?
Whatever. Here, for The Dark Knight Rises, his tactics pay off spectacularly.
The music has always been an integral character in this saga, the voice of the conflict between tortured nobility and wanton anarchy. Nolan has always blasted it up-front and with a dedicated take-no-prisoners attitude. The style is not to everyone’s taste, but it is one that matches the singular intentions of somebody as complex and obsessed as Batman. It has been a symphony of muscular tragedy from the start. Every heroic statement has been tempered with a twist of melancholy, and for every valorous, air-punching moment of euphoria there has been a surrounding suite of doom and sadness. Danny Elfman captured the dark gothic zeal of this grim comic-book hero, whilst Elliot Goldenthall threw eclecticism and often zany theatricality and splendour at him. Zimmer had to work in the realms of a gritty urban reality and the over-arching sense of one man’s destiny. The heroism afforded the Dark Knight could only ever be short-lived and it had to be in earnest. Zimmer understood that right from the start, and throughout three punishing and emotional scores he has stuck rigidly to this ethic and added more motifs and themes and more intricate shades of gun-metal as he and we have gone along right beside the battered Bat on the valiant road to glorious obliteration.
Those thinking that the omission of co-composer James Newton Howard, who perhaps no longer wanted to intrude upon the unbreakable relationship between Zimmer and Nolan after having supplied the more soulful elements on the first two chapters, might somehow lessen the core beauty of the score’s softer, more lyrically plaintiff moments need not worry. Howard’s contributions were certainly in the lesser ratio of a 70/30 split, with his Teutonic collaborator unmistakably calling the shots and urging the whole enterprise onward with his characteristic meter and batteries of percussion. But there are piano refrains to soothe the bruises and the manipulated voice of a boy soprano, Thomas Jesty, to add angelic elegance to certain nostalgic cues that hearken back to the origin story of the titular character, something that is also employed by the singer at the Gotham football match. “That’s a lovely, lovely voice,” Bane observes just before turning the playing field into a crater, and the irony with his own odd, mask-dislocated brogue is surely lost on no-one.
Going through the assorted tracks we have here and linking to their placement in the film is easy in some cases, and not so easy in others. Zimmer, as usual, has arranged his music differently than heard in the movie, blending a cue from one part of the film with a cue from another one entirely. Some tracks appear in variations or extensions. The film also repeats many themes and motifs over and over. The album cues make some attempt to spread things out a bit with judiciously placed lulls.It certainly helps to have seen the film before wading through this.
The album starts out placidly enough with a 37-second steam-hiss and echo that signifies that A Storm is Coming. Although we hear that terrific crunchy anvil thump that has been the Bat’s hallmark card since he first started to wage his war on Gotham’s underworld in BB, musically we are quite abstract and the coming storm sounds very distant indeed.
Zimmer’s album introduction continues with the low-key, long-line underscore of On Thin Ice. Hints of darkness prevail in the last part of the track with drawn-out deeper chords of tension and slow regret. These two cues play right at the start of the film – the opening logo and the brief speech we hear from Commissioner Jim Gordon reminding us of the necessary lie regarding Harvey Dent that has seen Gotham enjoying relative peace and harmony for the last eight years. Eight years in which Bruce Wayne and Batman have hidden away in the shadows of despair.
And then the pensive start to the score gets the greatest and most nuclear-jolting shot in the arm it could possibly have. Careful now … the big feller’s coming … and he ain’t dressed like a Bat.
Enter Bane, his backing group of uJam chanters and the drums from Hell.
By far and away the best element of this, otherwise, rather familiar score is the new theme for Tom Hardy’s bad boy, Bane. Zimmer found something unique for Heath Ledger’s Joker last time around – a strangled, whining electric guitar that serrated bone and nerves in one elongated, molar-rattling depiction of pure-blood anarchy and fervent insanity – and for the bulked-up Bane, a brutal strategist who could match the Bat both physically and intellectually, he had to acknowledge the pit-bull blood ‘n’ fury of the man who would break the Bat. His theme would have to catch hold of a veritable blitzkrieg of moulded, trauma-hardened aggression and do more than merely not let go. It had to instigate a revolution within your own soul. Whether you are with Bane or against him, this theme is something that gets you on your feet and pours nitro-glycerine through your veins. It is the music of destruction … and it is as exhilarating as it is threatening. Good guy or bad, this is the stuff that incites riots.
“The Fire rises!”Quite. And it is fanned by the most ferocious percussion, bass, drums – both real and button-switched – that you can imagine.
Cardiac-pounding, drivingly dynamic and combining an insistent, almost techno-pulse with the tribal fury of an endlessly primal rhythm, this is the sort of vital, inescapable anthem you can to go to war to. Once we reach the highly adrenalised mission-statement of Gotham’s Reckoning we could lose limbs and happily keep on fighting. This electrifying cue is heard in the film as Bane is revealed as a bogus hostage in Aiden Gillen’s CIA plane … and swiftly takes it over.
“Bat-fans, lend me your tonsils!”
In a move that I had originally thought was quite pretentious, Zimmer requested that fans send him recordings of them chanting, shouting, wailing, growling – whatever – so that he could blend them all into one ferocious chanting mix that would be used as Bane’s battle-cry anthem of atrocity. The result of this mishmash, led by C.J. Singh – which I will detail even more in the uJam Chant further down – is an ass-kicking tribal engine that sounds in part Arabic, in part hooligan and comes on like a stampede of Terminators. This touch of the exotic adds colour to the guttural force of the chanting. We are told the vowels roared out with military precision actually mean Rise which, of course, is the very theme of the film. It denotes Bane’s ascension from the pit, and his growing campaign of terror – “The Fire rises!” he declares to one of his sacrificial brothers left to die in the doomed hulk of the mugged CIA jet – but it also gives illustration to Bruce Wayne’s own escape from oblivion and, subsequently, Batman’s return to heroic glory. And if we are associating it with Batman, then it must also come to grace the fight back that Gotham, itself, stages to overthrow their brutish dictator, finally rallying-round their silent guardian and fighting for themselves when the city is on the brink of annihilation.
At 2.32 minutes in, the pace, the speed and the fury churns into a feverish broth of molten testosterone, rapidly building to a crescendo that you genuinely believe will not stop. It then climbs back down again, although the let-up in sinew-taut machismo never loses steam. The drums and percussion beat out the same rollicking pentameter as the chanting. It sounds as though all manner of objects and surfaces are getting whacked. You can hear stone and steel and oak bleed!
But what I love most of all about this hyper-kinetic track is the hooting, trilling, wind-tunnel flash-past that the brass injects. It sounds like a speeding train hurtling past you, actually making you step back as though you’ve gotten too close to the edge of the platform.
Awesome. And the signature theme of the score and the film.
Here kitty-kitty …
The very start of Mind if I Cut in? utterly evokes Danny Elfman’s mysterious gypsy fiddle main refrain from The Wolfman, but this soon develops into the sly, manipulative and coyly sinister theme for Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Now Hans Zimmer has had a thing for Romany themes since the first Sherlock Holmes, for which he provided an outstanding score (his music for the second chapter, Game of Shadows, however, was a simply appalling drudgery), so this is a welcome, though hardly surprising new flavour. It certainly sums up the mischievous personality of Kyle’s super-crafty, dubiously connected cat-burglar. I am reminded of the subtle, but highly effective theme that Alan Silvestri created for Black Widow in The Avengers – equally sinuous and seductively feminine. The piano-led refrain tinkles with an air of playful confidence. What it doesn’t possess, however – and rightly so – is any trace of romance. Kyle’s Catwoman (never named as such in the film) is not that easily sidelined into love interest territory. She is her own person – instinctive, wilful, opinionated and unpredictable. Her theme weaves around these traits with an appropriately wry combination of delicacy and agility. We are introduced to this motif at the same time that we realise that one of the maids at the fundraiser being held at Wayne Manor is not quite what she appears to be – snaffling Bruce’s mother’s pearl necklace and lifting his fingerprints off the supposedly “un-crackable” safe, before kicking his walking stick aside and doing a very sexy spot of stocking-clad escape and evasion with the aid of a duped congressman. We hear it again, in the film, when she is caught at the airport trying to make her escape from Gotham before Bane puts his heinous masterplan into action.
With a steady, insistent beat marking out a determined core of Gotham’s resilience, the track Underground Army actually comes from much later in the movie, as Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Officer John Blake (Josepth Gordon-Levitt) begin to map out a plan to retake their city from Bane, tracking the bomb-trucks trailing around the streets and co-ordinating with a trio of doomed Special Forces troopers who have infiltrated the locked-down island. Zimmer’s album clearly no longer follows the pattern of the movie, with tracks interchanged and slotted-about to presumably create a smoother listening experience. He has made a point of filling the Batman scores with simmering, energised passages like this – low-level suspense cues that bubble and build with machine-like thumps and drum-loops, an engine going through a cycle of gear-changes. As with this cue, they are usually called upon to play over montages of surreptitious activity. For what are generally quieter spells, they are surprisingly catchy.
Now we cut further back into the film for Born In Darkness, the sad cue that plays over Tom Conti’s fellow prisoner telling the injured Bruce about the child who escaped from the Pit. It begins with a very subdued version of the Batman theme, stretched long and low and clearly swathed in pain and misery, and then twists into something slightly more exotic, though no less tormented. As the story unfolds, we see the younger Ra’s Al Ghul and hear of his tale of forbidden and doomed love with a warlord’s daughter, of the subsequent imprisonment of his wife in the dreaded pit and the desperate birth in-captivity of his child. Zimmer captures the pathos of the tale with mournful tones that gently undulate with quivering layers of grief. There is a hint of his ethnic world music from Black Hawk Down, and even Gladiator resonating within.
After this a change of pace is needed. And thus …
The Fire Rises explodes with Bane’s theme, plus plenty of exquisite anvil smacking, and a couple of gorgeous vortexes from the synth that whisk and whirl with demonic flourish. The merc and his cronies have done the dirty to Bruce Wayne’s investments at the Stock Exchange, via his pilfered fingerprints, and then catapulted away on motorbikes with temporarily attached hostages. But Zimmer isn’t playing by the film’s rules. This track doesn’t remain with this thrilling road-chase – in which Gotham’s cops and the resurgent Dark Knight on the Batpod go after the escaping felons – and instead morphs into more understated moods and slow, wary trepidations that hail from pensive moments elsewhere in the film, mixed-in to provide a breathing space, a stopgap between the musical body-blows. And then it all goes mean and meaty once again with a more assured and commanding version of Bane’s indomitable theme. This second burst of Bane in the track is actually the cue that plays over the montage when the ogre tells the shivering populace of Gotham – the one percenters - to rise up and take back what is rightfully theirs, and we see the wealthy hauled from their homes and the inmates of Blackgate Prison freed with the aid of a hijacked Tumbler. “The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests. Courts will be convened. Blood will be spilled.” The theme plays extraordinarily well above the unnerving sight of this uprising, closing around events like an unforgiving iron fist and sending a real-life shiver down the spine. We have been witnessing this type of thing on the news a lot in the last couple of years from places far and wide, and even very uncomfortably on our own doorstep in the summer of 2011, Nolan’s story a grimly prophetic reflection of growing global unrest.
Down in the Bat-Cave poor Alfred (Michael Caine) once again implores his beloved charge not to go chasing demons and to go out, instead, and find a life for himself – a normal one – but miserable Bruce just replies that there’sNothing Out There for him. This track appears very early on in the film as Bruce does some research on Selina Kyle after her theft from his safe. Zimmer takes the time to bring in those tragic lonely notes on the piano from the secondary Batman theme to remind us of the blighted existence that Bruce’s sacrifices have led to. Cold, desperate and with an inescapable sense of finality they play out as Alfred tells him of the hopes he had of, one day, spotting him with a wife and a couple of kids at a café in Florence on the banks of the Arno. This motif may as well be the Alfred theme – it always seems to essay the loyal butler doing his damnedest to gee the deadly serious and brooding Master Bruce up. It remains a very touching and heartfelt cue even if no longer has the guiding hand of James Newton Howard.
Is there a hero in the house?
Remember that heraldic, triumphant moment fromBatman Begins when Bruce stands up amidst the cyclone of bats down in the cave beneath the Manor, and Zimmer unleashes that main Batman fanfare at its most rousingly exultant – two enormously long brass notes that make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, and your heart surge with pride and strength? Of course you do. You want to hear it again? Of course you do. Well here it comes. You’ll find it in this most heroic of attitudes during Despair, which appears to be a track that mixes together a few cues from various tense moments. There is a touch of the superb Cat-and-Bat infiltration of Bane’s underground lair, and a few wallops of Batpod action from the motorbike chase. But the two-note fanfare makes a point of grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and making you stand proud, even if the Bat is going to come a serious cropper a couple of times before he can stand, unaided.
We hear it again during Bruce’s vertebrae-crunching languish in the pit of Bane’s far-away prison. And then again in Why Do We Fall? Here, with his back mended, his muscles toned and his anger now returned to its vengeful glory, he makes the ascent of the prison wall without the safety rope. Suddenly engulfed by a poetic wave of bats, which link him back to the realisation he made in the cave all those years ago about who he really was, he finds the courage to make the leap of faith to that unattainable ledge … and, accompanied by this awesome motif, flanked by pounding percussion, he rises to the sun-baked surface to do battle one last time. It also resurges when the Dark Knight saves Jim Gordon from Death By Exile (which is heard here as a very brief cue of glacial synth denoting the frozen river that the Commissioner and a slew of rebels are being forced to walk out on to) and has him light a vast burning Bat-logo on the bridge – the two-note fanfare signifying that he is back in town and on the hunt for Bane. The cue will come again at this chest-beating, take-on-all-comers level during Rise, when Blake/Robin finds himself in the Bat-Cave on an ascending platform, figuratively rising to meet his own destiny. Every time it appears, it will raise your own hopes and make you feel ten feet tall.
Incidentally, in one of the film’s most overtly reactionary and “on-your-feet” moments, Bruce is spurred-on to make the climb after the shocking image of three hanged men appears on the TV screen that continually tortures him. He scales the walls of the prison to Bane’s theme, which builds like it’s on super-steroids, driven by anger and rage, and then, when Bruce fails to make the leap and comes crashing down again, hanging symbolically, himself, at the end of a rope, the theme amazingly slows down like the throbbing of drugged blood pulsing towards a blackout. It is a wonderful piece that perfectly captures the onscreen action and the impetus and defeat that we, as willing accomplices, also feel.
We step further back into the film once again as Fear Will Find You commences thunderously with a skirmish motif that has been modified from the mob-tussle in the container yard from BB, which then develops into Bane’s bulging theme for the scene when Batman joins Selina for a rooftop fight with a circle of goons. Disarming Catwoman – “No guns. And no killing.” – he leads the escape from an advancing Bane and whisks Selina off in the Bat. The album is really playing fast and loose with film chronology now.
Everything comes together in the no-holds-barred carpet-bombing of Imagine The Fire. With an army of cops under his command (they’re not chasing him now, they’re fighting beside him), Batman takes the war straight to Bane and a thousand extras start brawling in the street outside City Hall. John Blake heads off to save the orphans from the church, Jim Gordon goes hunting for bomb-trucks and Lucius Fox starts punching buttons and anxiously waiting for a deadly device that he can deactivate. It’s all go and Zimmer enters this maelstrom with the various Bat themes colliding head-on with Bane’s. Bass dredges similar to Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers piston-grinding rush gouge the Earth’s crust, brassy roars lurch and tumble, percussion rattles the nerves of the Devil, himself, the synth coats everything with a thick layer of blood and sweat, the strings slice and cut back and forth (great sweeps from the bass cello come on like a Great White circling beneath you) … the chanting begins in earnest, both male and female this time, as Batman’s renewed vigour begins to take Bane down. This is a colossal cue that hurls everything in Zimmer’s nuclear arsenal right down upon our heads and … as usual … it does not play out exactly as you hear it in the movie. This is a suite (and sweet) encapsulation of this penultimate climax. The most identifiable section comes when Batman starts to gain the upper hand in his skirmish with Bane, knocks free a couple of anaesthetic tubes from his mask and kicks him through the doors of City Hall. The power of the track is immense and backed by the chanting, which now sounds more like a crowd of “real people” than militant extremists, gathers a cathartic pulse that is summoned out of chaos.
The downslide of betrayal and the film’s shocking twist (which we could all see a mile off) is heard during Necessary Evil when, on the cusp of finishing the floored Bane, Bruce’s new love interest, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) reveals herself to be Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, Talia, by sticking a knife between Batman’s ribs. With a haunting panpipe-like whistle and a truly mournful sustain for quivering strings and cello, we learn the true origin of Bane, Talia’s devoted, disfigured protector, and of her quest to avenge her father and bring about the destruction of Bruce Wayne and Gotham. Behind this tragic lament, a synth line wavers, the musical equivalent of salt in the wound.
But in a huge conscience-driven volt face, Selina Kyle returns and save Batman from execution in a lightning-quick despatching of Bane that, sadly, is a bit lacklustre after all the build-up. Things aren’t over yet, though. There’s still a bomb big enough to send Gotham all the way to Australia about to go off. Zimmer’s main album on disc, however, does not supply the music for the tremendously exciting chase sequence that ensues (“That comes later!”) in which the Bat and his allies catch up with the revenge-fuelled Talia. Instead it ends with the scintillating, tear-inducing and mightily humbling Rise.
The track commences with rapid-fire percussion and an emphatic statement of one of Batman’s several themes as he hoists the weapon of mass destruction out of the back of the trailer, carries it above the city on a cable from the Batwing and then makes the agonising last voyage out to sea. Following-on from the highly emotional finale to TDK and the devastating montage that rounded it off, Rise depicts with magnificence the terrible final sacrifice that Batman makes for the sake of his city. The boy soprano takes point as the Dark Knight flies the bomb out over the bay, taking it past the 6-mile blast radius. As John Blake looks on at the mushroom cloud that surely nobody could survive, Thomas Jesty’s voice makes the angels weep and Zimmer takes a back seat. TDKR then begins its last montage as we see how, in the months after saving it, Gotham comes to terms with its near destruction and the heroic act that thwarted such a dreadful end. As the various characters react, shell-shocked and grief-stricken to the events and the loss of their saviour, Batman’s main theme is given an achingly beautiful and tragic lament. The depth of this piece is staggering. Strings keen so high that they seem to gasp. Bass wails in tormented acceptance of an epic denouement. Listening to it as I write, after having gone through so much to get all of this down, reliving the saga again, it is profoundly difficult to describe just how emotional this finale is, even sans the visuals. The theme has always been one of intimate grief, but struck through with lightning bolts of valour and honour that make it painfully anthemic and powerfully affecting.
But the ace up Zimmer’s sleeve is the rousing return to the theme at its most ebullient, signifying that arrangements have been made behind the scenes, and that all is not quite how it appears. The Bat Signal that was smashed in TDK has been repaired. The pearl necklace is still missing from the Wayne estate. Lucius learns that the damaged autopilot had been fixed on the fleet of Batwings by Bruce Wayne before his explosive farewell. John Blake has received instructions upon how to enter the Bat Cave via the waterfall. And Alfred has got himself a table and a drink at that café in Florence … (cheers, Master Wayne!).
As each crescendo is attained, sending shivers down the spine every time, you can sense something else gaining vigour behind this lush sheet of anguish. And then, with pounding weight and a sense of flag-waving victory, those heroic steel-on-concrete wrecking-ball beats blast their way back in, the trombones and tuba roar out that swelling Batman statement and the veil is lifted on Bruce’s secret.
Cyclic. Symmetrical. Dominant. We end on a high that is incredibly brief, but incredibly jubilant.
So, 15 tracks for the album you can pick up off the shelves. It hits the familiar main themes and, most importantly the new ones for Bane and Catwoman, and provides some excellent action. But, for the really dedicated Bat-battlers out there, more material is available if you know where to look … and, boy, is it ever worth it!
So, let’s have a gander at the extra tracks that Zimmer and Water Tower Music have so mischievously, and annoyingly scattered about various mediums. “Alfred! Get Googling!”
CD BONUS TRACKS
Buying the official hardcopy CD enables you to download the tracks Bombers Over Ibiza (Junkie XL Remix), No Stone Unturned and Risen From Darkness.
No Stone Unturned is a mighty track that incorporates music from the breakneck, hell-for-leather, race against time that the Bat and his Gotham allies are forced to make in order to catch the bomb-trailer coursing through the city streets. Found here is a reinterpretation of the gloriously exciting train-battle motif from Begins, which is perfectly apt as the Bat is now engaged in a similar high-speed, high-stakes attempt to save his city from a Ghul, this time the politely seething, coldly calculating vengeance of Ra’s daughter. I always found an amusing part of the track in the first film was the sound of the ticking alarm in the monorail control centre that frantically added a pulse to the racing score ... and you get something like that here too.
Things get super-charged with the pace of a runaway locomotive. Poor Jim Gordon is climbing all over the trailer. Batman is in the air, swooping all over the show in the uber-agile Bat and dodging missiles. Selina is astride the Batpod. And everyone is playing chicken with Talia’s bomb-truck in a desperate attempt to steer it to where Fox can deactivate the fusion-reactor. Amidst harsh, jaw-breaking percussion, a slower chant is delivered. Masses of synth-loops circle about us, drums rattle, the horns rise like storm-clouds overhead and the strings scissor like an army of battlefield surgeons. Zimmer giddily gives us a musically poetic finale for Talia as she takes a very similar death-plunge to her father before her. It is a rhapsody of destruction that is, once again, a suite and not a full-on recapturing of how it all plays out on the screen. It’s finale is a billowing sail of strings that herald sacrifice.
Risen From Darkness puts us in Batman action mode. This is the motif heard from TDK when the Bat swoops in to take out the clowns dressed as hostages in the tower, but given a slightly new sound with added effects work and and then blended into the marvellous Tumbler pursuit mix from BB, replete with rousing leap-through-waterfall crescendo. Yes, we’ve heard it all before, but it still sounds great, and given that Zimmer has supplied a new and throbbing drum-machine beat which is very acutely and pleasantly reminiscent of James Horner’s deliriously cool beat for Arnie in Commando, this becomes quite rewarding.
And, as a rather bizarre treat for Bat-ravers, there is the supreme euphoria dance track, Bombers Over Ibiza (Junkie XL Remix) that is a reference to Selina Kyle’s mispronunciation of the island’s name during her little prophetic dance with Bruce at the high society shindig. Now, you can argue all you want that this simply doesn’t fit – and you’d be perfectly correct. But it’s still pretty awesome in its own right. A complete change of tone for the Bat – he’s living it large and clubbin’ it with style. I love this stuff, personally. It takes me back to some … grand times indeed. In fact, I found myself drifting way off into halcyon reverie with the onset of this fluttering trance beat. Then things get big and phat for a little bit. This portion’s actually does reflect the score. It plays a lazy, heavy-pressing dance rendition of a recognisable theme that is amusingly backed by chanting. And then this flipping back and forth continues as we are deposited back in euphoric trance mode (with vapid, cloud-lifted chanting) and then, once again, into phat faze. I’ve got to say that I found this Rave from the Cave quite delicious, actually.
iTunes Digital-only Tracks.
Downloading the album from iTunes gets you three tracks over the 15 on the CD release. There is Bombers Over Ibiza again – which is worth repeating, folks – and then The Shadows Betray You and The End.
Although with its Bane-quoting title you might think that The Shadows Betray You is from the intense sequence when the Bat is broken – in which Bane says exactly that as he snatches our hero from the darkness – that pivotal scene is actually unscored in the movie, save for some creepy tones and textures that filter about during the very end of it … when Bane does the deed. It is possible, though as yet unconfirmed, that he wrote this piece precisely for that sequence because it has elements that would seem to fit the brutal crushing of the Bat. For the track as heard here Zimmer takes us on a very Transformers-esque journey. The mecha-beat here, as we heard in the track Imagine The Fire is that of Steve Jablonsky’s Skorpinok cue, but since Zimmer tutored him extensively in the first place, it is actually very safe to assume that this is, primarily, a Zimmer cue, through and through. Bane’s theme pushes its way through to take the lead ahead of an insistent metallic scraping.
The End, as you would expect, is part of the final credits. In both former movies, there was a lengthy semi-ambient underscore of gentle melancholy that took up a large swathe of the end titles. This is the third incarnation. The tracks sort of wimps out just when it is about to become really moving. Truth be told, this isn’t up to much and is really just an extension of a variation on a theme – which is what Zimmer tends to do an awful lot of. Distant thumps and factory-like echoes can be heard reverberating or, if you like, the sound of a bombardment as experienced by those sheltering in a bunker. I’m reminded a little of Vangelis’ muted clanging during his opening music for Blade Runner. Bruce’s theme is given a very slow, very quiet, sort of fuzzy rendition, and at the end of the track there is an effect like Darth Vader breathing … or ... somebody on a ventilator.
And there is the MovieTickets.com exclusive track, All Out War.
Despite its awe-inspiring title this doesn’t quite reach the levels of excitement that you might expect. It gives a variation of the rapid-cut violin build-up suspense cue that has been with us since Begins, and then crispens with a glistening, crystalline layer of synth-frost – perfectly apt as Gotham, by this stage, is bleak with snow and ice.The rest of the cue maintains the quick-pulse climb of steadily boosted adrenaline as Batman talks tactics with the freed cops and then introduces Selina Kyle to the Batpod and tells her to blow her a hole in the debris blocking the tunnel entrance to provide an escape route, but we don’t actually hear anything that may be described as All Out War. This seems to be a stew of cues.
And that’s not all, Bat-fans.
Paddle-about in the digital realm and you’ll discover that we have specially composed trailer music in a couple of variations and distinct flavours, fan-tailored versions of The Fire Rises, entitled Prologue, and a unique new Epilogue and, most magnificently of all, two original uJam Chants which are clearly Zimmer’s initial amalgamation and test treatment of all those donated vocals that he asked for from the great unwashed. Now, for the first time, we can hear and totally discern the verbal make-up of what seems like a very simple chant. Like a practice run for the vocalists combined with a listener tutorial we hear massed male tonsils waggling to a broken-down version of the chant –
“Deshi!” belches C. J. Singh, and he is answered with a copycat rookie outburst of “Deshi!”
Followed by -
“Bas-a-rah!” and then copied with another cult-infected “Bas-a-rah!” of eager voices.
And this is repeated three more times, all backed by the cataclysmic sound of deep bass drums being absolutely sledge-hammered to death, until we have had a thunderous quartet of the intense choral chant.
Then we speed things up quite a bit and add considerable spit and venom until the chant sounds like the more familiar and freakishly fast “Ish-ish – basa-basa!” as we hear it in normally in the score and the film.
Zimmer’s violent terraces-inspired chanting is backed by a growing underbelly of deep bass that quickens in pace and intensity until it becomes the main piece of the cue. This choral armada then segues into an ancient-sounding wordless moan that pitches and rolls continuously like a treacherous sea. It is superb, folks. If you are into fitness training or lifting weights … then get this on repeat and go for it.
Seriously, if you can find it, this chant initiation is well worth getting hold of.
There is also a 10-minute “epilogue” suite entitled The Legend Rises out there. This intelligently and passionately put-together homage hails from the same source as the “prologue” suite, and is very good indeed. It is fragile, forlorn, introduced first by piano and then caught up in a massive, slowly yearning synth canopy. Although I know that there is a live performance recording from Zimmer and orchestra out there somewhere, this sort of fan-made treatment offers a great new slant to the themes that some commentators have even declared to be more enjoyable than the original material. For sure, there is a more uplifting quality to this, although the restive, floating sound of the long synth-lines lack the power and density of typical Zimmer, and the variations made of the trilogy’s main themes – a sampled female choir, curious instrumentation and differing tempos – can sound a little off to me. But this is still an interesting, quite moving, and simply leviathan addition to the now vast soundscape for the Dark Knight.
Further complicating the matter is the availability of an app for iPhone, iPad, iPod – whatever, I’m getting a bit sick of this detective work now, to be honest – that enables you to stream even more music that Zimmer and James Newton Howard have created for the Trilogy that consists of extended and alternate cues reworked into “lifestyle” suites that were written early in the scoring stage, and have now been designed to play alongside you, whatever you happen to be doing. Running, walking, hoisting weights, swigging beer, fighting criminals. Or so I’m told.
The score, however much of it you are able to obtain, is deep, dark and destructive. It avoids the crazed dementia of its predecessor and goes all-out to engage the fists and the feet in what has to be one of the most addictively pounding compositions that has ever bruised its way through a movie. Some people hate it. Some people have become completely obsessed with it. But it is highly unlikely that anyone could regard it with plain old indifference.
I long to hear Zimmer come up with something profoundly orchestral, richly thematic and full of colour and texture, though. Just something different from this nonstop energy and all-encompassing wall of highly processed, bass-solidified sturm and drang that he unerringly indulges in. It is perfectly fitting for Batman, but it has also overpowered so many other scores, and its ceaseless kick-in-the-teeth ethic has impregnated so many other composers from his stable that it is easy to understand how his detractors loathe his practices so vehemently. I could easily grant his score for The Dark Knight Rises a full 10 out of 10 because of the might and excitement that it delivers, and the sheer power of it all. But then I can just as easily imagine struggling to give his next score a measly 4 out of 10 because his core sound has not altered one iota and his immense dearth of originality and imagination has resurfaced.
Yes, I love this score – and those for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – but we also have to remember that this is a composer who regularly promises to deliver so much that is fresh and radical and groundbreaking, and with versatility and panache, yet constantly fails to deviate from the same wall-of-sound approach which inevitably struggles to adapt to each new project that comes along. With Man of Steel, he just can’t employ this approach. My hopes for that score are, therefore, hugely guarded because I doubt that he can shake the style.
But, be this as it may, I have to say that this is profoundly wild and enjoyable stuff. The familiar themes are delivered with grace and emotion, the action leaves you feeling like you’ve just gone 12 rounds with Bane, and the cumulative effect is one of back-breaking, self-sacrificing glory.
I won’t give it the full 10 for various reasons, but I am definitely left smarting because of the messy, irresponsible manner with which it has been released. Most score-fans know that, at some point down the line, a two, or even three-disc edition will come along that will rope in a few more of these disparate, runaway tracks, but to muck about with fans in this way is, at best, discourteous.
Regular Tracks: (51:18)
• 1. A Storm is Coming (0:37)
• 2. On Thin Ice (2:55)
• 3. Gotham's Reckoning (4:08)
• 4. Mind if I Cut In? (3:27)
• 5. Underground Army (3:12)
• 6. Born in Darkness (1:57)
• 7. The Fire Rises (5:33)
• 8. Nothing Out There (2:51)
• 9. Despair (3:14)
• 10. Fear Will Find You (3:08)
• 11. Why Do We Fall? (2:03)
• 12. Death By Exile (0:23)
• 13. Imagine the Fire (7:25)
• 14. Necessary Evil (3:16)
• 15. Rise (7:11)
CD-Only Bonus Track: (17.47)
16. Bombers Over Ibiza (Junkie XL Remix) (5:51)
17. No Stone Unturned (7:29)
18. Risen From Darkness )4:27)
Digital-Only Bonus Tracks (17:24)
Bombers Over Ibiza (Junkie XL Remix) (5:51)
The Shadows Betray You (5:20)
The End (6:13)
MovieTickets.com Exclusive Track (3:17)
All Out War (3:17)
I despised Zimmer’s score for the second Sherlock Holmes adventure, A Game of Shadows, and gave it a royal pasting, but I’m happy to report that I adore his third triumphant outing for Batman.
He doesn’t venture out of the protective bubble of all-out ballistic cacophony that has been his hallmark since Christian Bale first “adopted the dark” in Batman Begins, but he stays perfectly true to the singular, percussion-focussed drive and relentless rhythm of tragic heroism that has depicted the saga of Gotham’s Dark Knight from the outset. Power. Nobility. Honour. And brooding devotion to duty. These are the exemplary qualities that Zimmer bestows upon the Bat, and here they get the workout of their thunderous lives.
But the cornerstone that distinguishes this score from its predecessors is the addition of Bane’s pulverising theme – a blitzkrieg tsunami of all-out tribal aggression that once ignited simply doesn’t stop … and never takes prisoners. The sly and mischievous new theme for Catwoman is also a treat for fans of Zimmer’s bold and ever-muscular approach, providing something fresh and Romany-like. With action coming thick and fast, and with the momentum of a rampaging T-Rex, it is also very satisfying to find that emotion has not been left behind. And this is certainly the most poignant, heightened and heartfelt that he has allowed the Bat to go.
There are moments when the heart surges with pride and moments when it breaks like a dry twig. From a composer who stays determinedly down in the depths of the bassiest bass, this becomes all the more affecting and haunting.
To mark the end of Chris Nolan’s triumphant Batman Trilogy, this score had a lot to live up to. And it has delivered more than many of us hoped for. The weird way in which it has been marketed – a regular CD, some downloadable bonus tracks, some exclusive extra tracks beyond that, a digital edition with even more material, and a plethora of other cues hurled out into the world – has not been a wise move, and one that has angered and infuriated many people. But, like the Bat, the dedicated fan must persevere and play detective to root out the extra goodies. And they are worth it.
However you get it, the full score – or as close as you can get to it – is monumental in terms of power and emotion, and will leave you battered, bruised and breathless. And euphoric. It is music to make a gallant last stand to.
Very highly recommended.
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