Home > Reviews > BATMAN RETURNS – Danny Elfman


January 30, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Studios execs used a significant salary increase and offer of creative control to induce resistant Tim Burton to reprise his role and direct the next installment in the Batman franchise. Burton rejected a sequel, stating “I wanted to treat this like it was another Batman movie altogether.” So, a new Batman, new villains and a grim and darker Gotham City were introduced. The plot pits Batman against an evil tycoon Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), who seeks to enrich himself by monopolizing the city’s power supply, the pathetic deformed and inwardly mutated Penguin who harbors unresolved anger for being abandoned by his parents, and lastly the schizophrenic and mercurial Catwoman played by Michelle Pfeiffer. The film was not a critical success, however it was a commercial success and so spawned a third installment in the franchise.

Burton’s longstanding collaboration with Elfman ensured his selection to score the film. It was taken for granted that Elfman’s potent Gothic theme for Batman would return to ensure thematic continuity, and it does but with greater complexity in both it’s expression and orchestration. Elfman related that he created three inter-related themes with distinctive orchestral palettes which would have different permutations and moods; brass choir for Batman, low harp, twisted woodwinds and wordless female choir for the Penguin, and a cat like meowing of strings with hand percussion for Catwoman. Each had to not only be able to stand alone, but to also blend and play against the others. He states “In fact, they are subtly intertwined; the kernel of each theme is built off the first three pitches of a minor scale.” The score proved to be a critical success and Elfman was rewarded with his sixth BMI award.

“Birth of a Penguin/Main Title” is a complex cue thematically rich and a score highlight. The film opens with a sustained organ bass chord and a portentous five not statement of the Batman Theme by low register horns. As the scene shifts to parents, horrified of the sight of their deformed newborn (Penguin), we hear the Penguin’s Theme carried by wordless female voices, harp, contrabass and clarinet. Soon the theme assumes a darker expression as it is taken up by powerful organ, strings and incongruous twinkling celeste counters which juxtapose the parent’s sinister motives against their infant’s innocence. From here Elfman provides a truly twisted holiday passage of “La, La” female chorus, strings, horn counters and sleigh bells as we see the Penguin dumped into a sewer by his parents. The scene shifts again as sighing female voices and strings lead a return of the Batman Theme which gains potency by recruiting woodwinds and horns until at 3:04 mark heraldic horns, chorus and a cymbal crash usher in the iconic Batman March. As the propulsive march churns along we hear a wondrous counter play of the Penguin Theme carried at first by female voices and later joined by bells, woodwinds, xylophone, percussion and bass, each descending in their register as we enter the Penguin’s new subterranean world where he is rescued and nurtured by kindred penguins.

Penguin’s Theme reprises in many guises throughout the score; in “Penguin Spies” it is lurking and sinister “Shadow of Doom/Clown Attack” features classic Elfman writing. As the Penguin lurks in the sewers under Gotham Plaza we hear his theme carried by plucked harp and contrabass played over quivering strings, a hand bowed tam-tam and drum rolls. Tubas and horns enter as giant gift boxes are unloaded which soon explode releasing Penguin’s thugs. What ensues in this action cue is a truly frenetic, syncopated and dizzying rendering of the Penguin Theme borne by a kaleidoscope of exotic instruments including calliope, skeletal xylophones and organ with glissandi harp flourishes. A sustained bass and organ chord with horns ushers in an abridged and celeste accented version of the Batman Theme as Batman arrives to combat Penguin’s thugs. In this extended action passage the interplay of the Batman and Penguin themes is exceptional. The cue concludes with warm strings as Batman rescues Selina Kyle (Catwoman).

“Intro/The Zoo/The Lair” is another brilliant, innovative “through the looking glass” cue. A water gong, growling bass and plucked harp usher in a frenetic rendering of the Penguin Theme as Selina is kidnapped and rushed to Gotham City’s abandoned zoo. Bell tolls announce the arrival of the Penguin and we are presented with a full and extended statement of the Penguin Theme with exotic array of instrumentation that includes vibrato strings, harp, celeste, percussion, off pitch woodwinds and a perverse sounding flutter-tongued flute. I appreciate the creativity and complexity of this cue.

In “Caught in the Act/Uh-Oh Max” off pitch tremolo strings with plucked bass counters create unease as we see Selina in Shreck’s office searching through his private files. Soon a four note descending string statement that later will evolve into Catwoman’s Theme is heard playing against dark piano which raises the tension. When Shreck discovers her we hear col legno battuto strings as he flings her out the window to her death.

“Kitty Party/Selina Transforms” offers the arrival of the Catwoman Theme. Awnings broke Selina’s fall and as she lay unconscious on in the pavement alley cats descend on her and proceed to both lick clean her wounds and gnaw on her fingers. Set to a repeating drum pulse with legatissimo strings played to mimic a cat’s meow, we hear a slowly intensifying cascade of exotic percussion that includes maracas, jawbone and güiro that play against the ‘Meow Motif’ to underscore Selina being ‘healed’. At the 1:09 mark a sharp orchestral crash concludes the cue and we shift to Selina’s apartment where the eerie Catwoman Theme with plucked harp counters begins to dominate Selina and signal her transformation and descent into madness. As Catwoman creates her new persona/costume Elfman augments the Catwoman Theme with another syncopated display of exotic sounds carried by glockenspiel, celeste and vibraphone. The cue finishes with several high string statements of the ‘Meow Motif’ with a concluding bongo trill.

“Penguin’s Grand Deed” involves a staged abduction of the Mayor’s baby by the Penguin’s thugs and a miraculous ‘rescue’ of the child by the Penguin. Harp and contrabass introduce the Penguin’s Theme that gives way to the circus motif heard during the abduction. As the Penguin rises up from the sewer holding the recovered baby we hear his theme take on a major key march like cadence that is soon set to regal and triumphant fanfare that befits for a hero. With Penguin reveling in his new found glory, Elfman cleverly ends the cue with a redemptive religioso organ statement that belies our ‘hero’.

“The Cemetery” opens in the Bat Cave where Bruce investigates the Penguin’s past. Vibraphone, tremolo strings and a fragment of Catwoman’s Theme add a sense of mystery until the Penguin’s Theme emerges on harp, strings and contrabass. As the scene shifts to the Penguin at a cemetery his theme intensifies and is taken up by organ and brass. As he waddles towards the graves his theme assumes a synchronous 3/4 rhythm – quite ingenious. When he falls to his knees at the grave site his theme blossoms into a most wondrous expression carried by woodwinds, strings and bell accents. A fleeting flute rises and draws in horns and woodwinds to bring this beautiful cue to an end.

“Catwoman Saves Joan/The New Woman” opens with an ethereal expression of Penguin’s Theme that quickly segues into a frenetic statement carried by woodwinds, pizzicato strings and xylophone. As the scene shifts to a street assault on a woman, rattling percussion, the Meow Motif and sinuous string strings declare the arrival of the anti-hero – Catwoman. We are next treated to an extraordinary passage that features an interplay of bongos, maracas and other percussion and the sinuous Meow Motif of Catwoman.

In “Penguin’s Surprise” our two villains, Penguin and Shreck meet to forge an unholy alliance. The cue features a twisted and yet comic rendering of Penguin’s Theme borne by a truly amazing array of instruments including glissandi harp, off pitch strings, contrabass, oboe, calliope and clarinet. The cue ends with a horn flourish as Penguin’s election headquarters are revealed.

“Bad, Bad Dog/Batman vs. Circus/Selina’s Shopping Spree” is a complex cue that features all three primary themes. The cue opens with bells and a dark and sinister presentation of the Penguin Theme that explodes with Elfman throwing everything in the mix but the kitchen sink! We hear muted trumpets, frenetic carnival percussion featuring wood blocks, low register piano runs, blaring horns, glissandi harp and crazed woodwinds. As the scene shifts to Catwoman raiding Shreck’s store, Elfman provides a robust expression of her feline prowess with energetic riffs of her theme accented with celeste and percussion. Soon Batman’s Theme is heard emoted by tuba and contrabass as he confronts the Penguin whose theme flows out from and replaces the Batman Theme. Yet another twist is added as a crescendo burst on snare drum and the Meow Motif herald the arrival of Catwoman as Shreck’s building explodes.

In “Cat Chase” we hear a confluence of the three primary themes as the principles engage in combat. We are treated to a torrent of feline strings, frenetic woodwinds and potent horn play as the Penguin escapes and Batman pursues Catwoman. With the departure of the Penguin, we hear an interplay between the Batman and Catwoman themes that culminates with a robust flourish by full orchestra as Catwoman escapes.

“The Plan/Kidnapping” is a most complex cue that features a queer seduction between Catwoman and the Penguin as she seeks to forge a most unholy alliance. The Meow Motif now expressed as chalk board screeching provides a truly repulsive and perverse foreplay as she attempts to seduce the Penguin. As this seductive tête-à-tête unfolds Catwoman’s Theme is heard with counters by distorted percussion. As they at last agree to forge common cause against their mutual enemy, we hear both themes achieve an evil synergy with Catwoman’s Theme carried in flute, vibraphone and flautando strings played against Penguin’s theme which provides a dark counterpoint.

In “Sore Spots/Batman’s Closet” harp and tremulous strings emote an alluring attraction between Bruce and Selina, a twist from the antagonism of their alter ego’s of Batman and Catwoman. The tête-à-tête of the Batman Theme and Catwoman Theme searches for a resolution and yet at the moment when Catwoman proffers a kiss, Batman’s theme reasserts itself as he deflects her offer. As the two disengage to reprise yet again the guise of their alter egos, we are treated to militaristic rendering of the Batman Theme played against a robust expression of the Meow Motif. The cue concludes with a powerful assertion of the Batman Theme as he parks and secures the renowned Batmobile.

“Roof Top Encounters” is a most complex and amazing cue. As Batman and Catwoman battle for the Ice Princess, Elfman provides a minimalist approach using exotic percussion and piano. After a scene change interlude of xylophone and tuba, we ascend to the roof where Penguin joins the fray. At the 0:20 mark a cymbal crash ushers in the Batman Theme as our hero arrives. After an interlude of minimalist tremolo strings and the Meow Motif a diversion by Penguin causes the Ice Princess to fall to her certain death. The falling scene is furiously scored with an amazing torrent of bizarre percussion effects, twisted horns and frenetic high register woodwinds. As Penguin releases more flocks of swarming bats, pipe organ and dark choir chant a sinister statement of the Penguin Theme. As Batman also falls we here a reprise of the falling scene motif that gives way to an extended rendering of the Meow Motif with harp accents as Catwoman pounces on and examines a comatose Batman. The strings twist as she indulges in a kiss and then sinks a claw into his chest for good measure to awaken him. This leads us to a potent interplay of the Batman and Catwoman Themes with wordless choir accompaniment. As Batman glides off the roof to freedom dark organ with percussion plays as Catwoman and Penguin at last stand together. We next hear a dark and unholy duet of the Penguin Theme by low register harp with screeching Meow Motif fragments as he attempts to seduce her. But she rejects his advance only to be kidnapped as Penguin helicopter umbrella lifts them off the roof. Again we here xylophone runs, torrents of percussion, wordless female voices, tuba and chattering woodwinds that end as Catwoman escapes and falls to a traumatic landing.

In “Batman’s Wild Ride” Elfman places the Batman and Penguin Themes into full combat mode as Batman struggles to regain control of the out-of-control Batmobile. Penguin’s Theme is carried by harp glissandi, contrabass, dancing woodwinds, twinkling xylophone and at times integrates the quirky Circus Motif while we hear horn and percussion counters over dark chords by the Batman’s Theme. Back and forth the Themes shift in an amazing tête-à-tête that includes some Cat Meow references. The cue concludes with a victorious statement of the Batman Theme as he regains control of the Batmobile.

“Fall From Grace” opens with a suspenseful dance between the Batman and Penguin Themes as Bruce and Alfred plan to foil Penguin’s speech to a crowd by co-opting his microphone to broadcast recordings of his private mad ravings. As we build up to the epic moment we hear tremolo strings and horns with vibraphone, timpani and flutter-tongue flute accents. A grandiose statement by horns at the 0:40 mark signals the co-opting of the microphone. Rhythmic muted horns, percussion and strings play as Penguin struggles to regain control. Low bass statements sound as the crowd turns and Elfman introduces celeste arpeggios to emote painful references of Penguin’s rejection by his parents. As he flees and jumps off the very bridge from which he was tossed by his parents we hear a darker and more intense refrain of the sleigh bells, chorus and strings of the “Prologue” with tuba now carrying Penguin’s Theme. A shift of the theme to a dark and tortured march with celeste, harp and wordless voices emotes the return of Penguin to his underground lair.

“Revealed/ Party Crasher” features a wonderful interplay of the Batman and Catwoman themes as they dance together at a ball as Bruce and Selina. As their eyes lock under a mistletoe, they are disarmed, all pretense dropped and their alter egos revealed. We hear the Batman Theme ascend from the low register as Catwoman’s Theme descends from the high register until an exquisite duet is realized. The moment is shattered by a horrific explosion, which heralds the bravado entrance of the Penguin with a stylized Baroque rendering of his theme. The cue concludes with a dark expression of his theme with bass, tremolo strings and organ as he descends from whence he came.

“Umbrella Source/The Children’s Hour/War” is a complex cue and score highlight. We see Penguin in his lair with Shreck held prisoner, where he intends to lure the first-born children of Gotham’s elite to their death with a siren song. And so Elfman provides a wonderful childlike rendering of the Penguin Theme that highlights glockenspiel. But this is short lived as dark bass intrude as we shift scenes to see children loaded into cages as the Penguin Theme plays to dark organ, bass with trombone counters. Soon Batman’s Theme arises this time carried by bells only to be drowned out by wailing trombones countering with the Penguin Theme. As the scene shifts yet again we hear Penguin’s Theme emoted with drums and horns as a dynamic march with a counter of the Batman Theme carried by horns – just exquisite! In the final sequence War we hear an amazing orchestral battle of the Penguin March and Batman Themes as the prelude to the final confrontation unfolds.

“Final Confrontation/Finale” is a dramatic cue that opens with percussive piano, frenetic woodwinds, harp glissandi and drums as Batman confronts the Penguin. Penguin’s Theme dominates carried by horn statements with string, celeste and drum accents, but he is no match and so plunges out of sight. Next, powerful horn chords are then heard as we see the Gotham City Zoo destroyed in a fiery cataclysm. After a light interlude, Catwoman’s Theme returns as she pounces with vengeance to confront Shreck. Yet Batman swoops in to a potent statement of his theme, unmasks himself and solicits Selina to leave with him. We hear her theme slow, soften, and finally transform into a warm, accessible and poignant lyrical statement. But the moment is fleeting as Selina’s humanity is overcome. Catwoman resurfaces and pushes Shreck into a generator that incinerates them both while her theme fragments and dissipates over shattering brass chords. At the 6:35 mark a metallic clash sounds as Penguin ascends to strike with his last dying breath a fatal blow against Batman. Yet he fails, and as he falls to his death Elfman provides a moving religioso rendering of his theme set with tolling bells. As an Emperor penguin moves to comfort the dead Penguin, we hear his theme full of pathos carried by English horns, celeste and oboe. This gives way to a lengthy lament by full orchestra as his theme is brought to a tragic end.

“A Shadow of Doubt/End Credits” provides a poignant interplay of the Batman and Catwoman Themes as Alfred drives Bruce home. When Bruce mistakes Selina’s cat as Catwoman, he orders Alfred to stop, picks up the cat and resumes his journey home full of regret. Elfman provides a moving lament with a stirring duet of the themes that features the celeste and concludes with tolling bells and an anticipatory prelude of the Batman Theme carried by muted horns. At the 2:19 mark a cymbal clash ushers in the Batman March with wordless choir, which instead of rising to a bravado statement, instead dissipates. We hear counters from a saddened Penguin’s Theme that rises up from the lower register to coalesce into a dark march and a glorious Catwoman’s Theme which descends from the higher register – a remarkable synergy that ends with a fade out.

The remaining alternate and unused cues are for the most part inferior to the final score and so I will not comment on them in great detail. “Face-to-Face” is a song, which features the three primary themes. It was co-written by Elfman and performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees. “Cat Chase (Alternate Ending)” displays the Batman Theme lead in to the finale’s crescendo, while “Roof Top Encounters (Original)” failed to provide sufficient dramatic impact.

“Fall From Grace (Alternate Ending)” provides a much darker rendering of the Penguin’s Theme while “The Lair Parts I and II” only differ from the film version by incorporating the original Zoo cue. In “Selina Transforms Parts I and II” and “Batman vs. The Circus”, film editing lead to a rewrite and a better statement. “Cat Suite” offers a combining of “The Cat Chase”, “The Plan” and “Selina’s Shopping Spree” cues. In “A Shadow of Doubt (Alternate)/End Credits (Alternate)” refulgent harps prelude the Batman Theme instead of accenting it and we hear a sublime choral statement of the Penguin’s Theme that was edited out of the final version. Lastly, we hear the 1981 classic song “Super Freak” by Rick James and Alonzo Miller with a funky jazz twist with an accordion of all things.

I must commend La La Land, Neil S. Bulk, Dan Goldwasser and M.V. Gerhard for providing a superb reissue of this classic score. The score was re-mastered by James Nelson from Shawn Murphy’s first generation three-track digital mixes and the sound quality is pristine and excellent – a most welcome development given the poor recording of the original. In Batman Returns we see a significant maturation of style as well as more complex and sophisticated orchestration. Elfman not only builds upon the foundation he laid in Batman but introduces several new themes from which he intertwines and plays against each other with extraordinary effect. While the original film was all about Batman, in this sequel, the villains are more prominently featured and the score reflects this. The themes of the three principal characters are as much a part of them as their very sinews, and the score is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery. I highly recommend this score and believe it to be one of the best efforts in Elfman’s canon.

Rating: ****

Buy the Batman Returns soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Birth of a Penguin/Main Title (5:28)
  • Penguin Spies (1:09)
  • Shadow of Doom/Clown Attack/Introducing the Bat (5:01)
  • Intro/The Zoo/The Lair (6:00)
  • Caught In the Act/Uh-Oh Max (1:58)
  • Kitty Party/Selina Transforms (5:30)
  • Penguin’s Grand Deed (1:50)
  • The List Begins (0:45)
  • The Cemetery (2:56)
  • Catwoman Saves Joan/The New Woman (2:03)
  • Penguin’s Surprise (1:43)
  • Bad, Bad Dog/Batman vs. Circus/Selina’s Shopping Spree (5:42)
  • Cat Chase (2:12)
  • Candidate Cobblepot (0:58)
  • The Plan/Kidnapping (2:32)
  • Sore Spots/Batman’s Closet (3:22)
  • The Plot Unfolds (1:15)
  • Roof Top Encounters (4:49)
  • Batman’s Wild Ride (4:19)
  • Fall From Grace (4:17)
  • Revealed/Party Crasher (3:18)
  • Umbrella Source/The Children’s Hour/War (7:53)
  • Final Confrontation/Finale (9:15)
  • A Shadow of Doubt/End Credits (6:15)
  • Face to Face (written by Danny Elfman and Susan Ballion, performed by Siouxsie and The Banshees) (4:18)
  • The Zoo (Alternate Version) (1:00)
  • The List Begins (Alternate Version) (0:45)
  • Cat Chase (Alternate Ending Version) (2:13)
  • Roof Top Encounters (Original Version) (4:49)
  • Fall From Grace (Alternate Ending) (4:17)
  • The Lair (Part I) (0:57)
  • The Lair (Part II) (4:51)
  • Selina Transforms (Part I) (1:12)
  • Selina Transforms (Part II) (4:15)
  • Batman vs. Circus (2:35)
  • Cat Suite (5:43)
  • A Shadow of Doubt/End Credits (Alternate Version) (7:02)
  • Super Freak (composed by Rick James & Alonzo Miller, performed by Rick James) (3:23)

Running Time: 137 minutes 50 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1153 (1992/2010)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Conducted by Jonathan Sheffer. Orchestrations by Steve Bartek and Mark McKenzie. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Bob Badami and Bill Bernstein. Score produced by Danny Elfman and Steve Bartek. Album produced by Neil S. Bulk, Dan Goldwasser, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

  1. February 11, 2011 at 7:05 am

    I never picked up this score previously because of the sound issues, so I jumped on this release. i really enjoy it, maybe even more than the first one. I like all the colors that Elfman uses here, and he interplays them so well. It’s a perfect fit for the film which was more Burton than Batman, but you know what, that’s what I like about him. Only Tim Burton can make Tim Burton movies.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. June 30, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Buon articolo ritorno a leggerti byebye

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