Holy Film Score Friday, Batman! It’s the Top 5 Feature Film Scores!

Greetings from The Temp Track on the Road!  A three-day road trip to my parents new house some 1200 miles from Temp Track plaza  provided me with plenty of time to evaluate the scores of all eight Batman feature films.  Now, some of you might be confused by that number…eight.  Well, here, fearless citizen, are the eight films under consideration:

Batman (1966, Leslie H. Martinson)
Batman (1989, Tim Burton)
Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm)
Batman Forever (1995, Joel Schumacher)
Batman & Robin (1997, Joel Schumacher)
Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan)
The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

 Basically, if it was released in theatres, I’m considering it here. 

Unfortunately, the hoped for information about the third Nolan film was not released at Comic-Con this past weekend, but it has been confirmed that the third film will start shooting in April of next year with a release date of July of 2012.  So, even though it’s not much, we do know that it is a go.

Despite this lack of new information, it is still well that I tackle this list this week for I have been reunited with my comic book collection.  There isn’t enough room at my current residence for the collection (especially my beloved Fantastic Four collection) so it has lived with my parents and was moved with them a month ago to a place even further away from me.  But they are none the worse for wear and after spending a few hours checking the boxes and putting things in order, my collection has established its new home.

But enough reflection on my geekdom.  Onto the five best Batman scores.  This time in countdown form.  Now, I know I’m going to make some people upset with this list, so I’ll just say sorry up front.

#5: Batman Begins (Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard) – The first score for the Nolan films, it introduced a new sound to the Caped Crusader’s universe and gave us a modern score for the films.  Zimmer/Howard gave us a score that eschews the heroic themes of Danny Elfman or Eliot Goldenthal’s scores and one based more on short motives and focused much more on sound.  It is almost minimalistic at times and the Batman music sounds like the old 1960s tv series theme passed through electronic filters and reflected through the lens of late 20th Century aesthetics.  It was a new sound for a new kind of Batman film.

#4: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Shirley Walker) – I’ve gushed about Shirley Walker’s Animated Series scores before on this site, and Mask of the Phantasm extended all that was good about them into the theatrical realm.  With the increased budget of a larger film, Walker added a chorus to the mix and even a 90s-tastic pop song, “I Never Even Told You,” performed by Tia Carrere.  Yes, that Tia Carrere, aka the Hot Girl from Wayne’s World.  Whatever happened to her?

#3: Batman Forever (Eliot Goldenthal) – The Joel Schumacher era of the Batman franchise is dark time for Bat-fans, but one bright light of the films were Goldenthal’s scores.  They took the dark, gothic sound of the Burton/Elfman films and made it to fit the over-saturated, pop world of Schumacher’s Gotham.  And I also love some of Goldenthal’s track titles, especially “Nygma Variations,” “Batterdammerung,” and “Fledermausmarschmusik.”  The Batman & Robin is a bit of a mixed bag, though, as much of the music seems to be recycled from Forever without much change, and I’m hard pressed to find new themes for Mr. Freeze or Poison Ivy.  But for as bland as Batman & Robin is in terms of new music, Forever is a score that fresh and innovative, but also respectful for the Elfman scores that came before it.

#2: Batman Returns (Danny Elfman) – This is where people might get angry with me.  I selected this over Elfman’s original score, and then decided to put Begins on the list instead of Batman.  Well, here is my reasoning.  First, I simply like Returns more than the original.  I like the children’s chorus and Christmas feeling to the score.  Second, I love the Penguin’s theme.  One of the things about the original Batman score is that there is no Joker theme.  Go back and listen, there is tons of Batman music, snippets of “Beautiful Dreamer,” but no Joker theme.  The waltz music can be said to be associated with him, not to mention many of the Prince songs, but still, no Joker theme.  This is what you get with Returns, some great villain themes…especially the Penguin.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Batman score, and Danny should have gotten an Oscar nomination for his efforts, but alas, I was only 9 at the time and had no power over the Acamdey…and I still don’t.  If anything, my #2 here should be combined Batman and Batman Returns, but I decided not to take the coward’s way out.  Lastly, if you haven’t already, go order this right now.

#1: The Dark Knight (Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard) – Two words: Joker Theme.  Okay, two more words: electric cello.  Seriously, in one, distorted note Zimmer establishes an entire character.  One beautiful, distorted, note.  That alone is an achievement, but to then weave that note in an out of the score so effortlessly, never let it feel old or repetitive, and never losing the menace established at the beginning of the film is nothing short of brilliant.  From that note, he builds a theme that is in many ways the evil foil of the Batman music established in the first film, full of strange accents and a dark, falling chord motif.  It is a score fit for what might go down as the best superhero film ever made.

Well, there you have it, love it or hate it.  I know this post is a bit lighter on content then some of my recent ones, but please forgive me, I’m on vacation.  Hopefully next week I’ll give you a revised list of the Star Trek film scores, but as I’ll just be getting back home on Thursday, I might be a bit late in posting.  Hope you have a good week ahead, and while these might not be the scores you deserve, they are the scores you need.

0 thoughts on “Holy Film Score Friday, Batman! It’s the Top 5 Feature Film Scores!

  1. You are absolutely right in your assessment that the Joker has no theme in Elfman’s score. He does, however, get a lot of his own textures; largely idiosyncratic, brittle-sounding orchestral textures that sound as if they could collapse at any moment and are generally associated with whole tone passages. Also, as Janet Halfyard pointed out in her study of Elfman’s score, the Joker generally tends to co-op other music both diegetically and non-diegetically.

  2. Perhaps because it was one of the first scores I was actually cognizant of its usage in the film, Elfman’s first Batman score has always been a favorite of mine.

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