THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – Hans Zimmer
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
The Dark Knight Rises is director Christopher Nolan’s eagerly-awaited final installment in the Batman trilogy he initiated with Batman Begins in 2005, and continued with The Dark Knight in 2008. Set seven years after the conclusion of the second film, The Dark Knight Rises finds the billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living in seclusion, having allowed his crime-fighting alter-ego Batman to take the blame for the crimes committed by the former DA Harvey Dent, including the murder of Wayne’s soul-mate, Rachel. However, Wayne’s self-imposed isolation is threatened by two very different interlopers into Gotham City: the formidable masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who seems to be masterminding a plan to undermine the very fabric of contemporary society, and sophisticated cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who breaks into Wayne Manor to steal a necklace, but comes away with much more. To combat the rising threat, Wayne is forced to become Batman once more, but is he strong enough – mentally, and physically – to face the challenge? The film has an all-star supporting cast, including Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, and has become one of the most popular and successful box-office hits of 2012, ending Nolan’s vision on an undisputed high note, but cleverly paving the way for future installments by different directors.
Returning for the third time is composer Hans Zimmer, now having firmly supplanted David Julyan as Nolan’s composer-of-choice. James Newton Howard is no longer credited as co-composer, but there is additional music by Lorne Balfe, Tom Holkenborg, Andrew Kawczynski, Jasha Klebe, Steve Mazzaro and Ramin Djawadi, as well as a whole cadre of conductors and orchestrators that take the numbers in the creative team to well over a dozen. I have been pretty tough on Zimmer of late, giving fairly short shrift to his work on the last Batman film, as well as the most recent entries into the Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. I’m not going to launch into a diatribe about Zimmer and what he and his multitude of underlings have done to the film music industry, because it’s all been said before, and I’d be as guilty of repeating myself as Zimmer seems to be these days. Zimmer is Zimmer and he’s never going to be anything else, and there’s enough astonishingly good film music being written for smaller independent projects that it’s just about possible to overlook his almost total dominance of the mainstream. However, the thing a lot of people tend to forget – and I have been guilty of this myself – is that Zimmer is more than capable of writing truly terrific music, and it is with that in mind that I find myself somewhat shocked to be writing the following statement: parts of The Dark Knight Rises are actually pretty darn good.
Of course, it follows the style and tone of the previous two films, restating the now-familiar two-note Batman motif, as well as several of the familiar action motifs heard throughout this film’s predecessors. The orchestral makeup of the score barely deviates from the pattern, with the endless churning cello ostinati, thunderous percussion hits, low-register brass calls, and multitude of industrial-sounding electronic textures overlaying everything, as we have come to expect. Where The Dark Knight Rises surprises is in its intelligence in the application of its thematic elements, which add an unexpectedly fulfilling layer of sophisticated subtext to Nolan’s already intellectually murky world.
Zimmer’s main new element is what is popularly known as ‘Bane’s Chant’, an unpolished male voice choir intoning the words “deshi basara” over an unusually-metered percussion loop. The chant, which translates from the original Moroccan Arabic as “he rises”, is an amalgamation of many different voices which were recorded by members of the public and sent to Zimmer over the internet, and forms the cornerstone of many cues, ranging from the portentous “Gotham’s Reckoning”, parts of “The Fire Rises”, the middle section of the wonderfully chaotic “Fear Will Find You”, and during the dramatic and relentless “Imagine the Fire”. At first, the theme clearly appears to be a recurring leitmotif for Bane; however (and here be spoilers), the application of the theme is actually much cleverer than that. Yes, the theme regularly accompanies Bane and his dastardly antics, and it provides a menacing herald for his appearances on-screen. However, the theme also plays when Wayne – cast down into a prison of despair in a remote part of India – makes his dangerous ascent out of the “pit”, conquering both the physical and mental barriers facing him. Later, it plays against scenes featuring the child of Batman’s nemesis Ra’s Al Ghul, who was forced to make a similar climb to freedom, and during the conclusive battle between Batman and Bane, it underscores their flying fists of fury. Considering the previous scenes it played against, you are never quite sure whose side it’s on during this conclusive mano-a-mano. Ultimately, the theme doesn’t really herald one particular character – instead, it’s an all encompassing theme for people who have overcome massive adversity, who have ‘risen up’ both figuratively and literally, as Wayne, Bane, the child of Ra’s Al Ghul all had to do. Although their life trajectories ultimately diverged greatly, they all had to conquer enormous obstacles to get to where they were.
The other major new thematic element is the theme for Selina Kyle, a sly, mysterious, slightly mischievous tinkling piano motif that, more often than not, is accompanied by the sound of a gently rattling metal chain in the percussion section. Following its initial, forthright appearance in “Mind If I Cut In?”, the theme takes a back seat for most of the rest of the score, only making fleeting guest appearances thereafter. In “Nothing Out There”, for example, the chain sound appears both on its own, and as a prelude to a restatement of the piano motif, and the same chain effect can be heard towards the end of the bonus track ‘All Out War”. Actually, Selina’s theme is much more prominent in the film mix than it is on the soundtrack album, and one can only surmise that the CD producers took an editorial decision to limit its appearances here. Selina’s theme, while perfectly serviceable, doesn’t quite have the same instant memorability as Bane’s Chant, and it is in these quieter moments that James Newton Howard’s creative touch is missed the most; the alluring, slightly twisted sexual chemistry between Wayne and Kyle is prime real estate for a composer of Howard’s deftness, and could have been something great as opposed to something just ‘OK’.
The rest of the score, where these new elements are not present, follows the formula set down in previous Batman films, almost to the point where it seems that certain cues have been lifted wholesale from earlier Batman scores. The large-scale action sequences, of which there are many, repeat almost verbatim the thrusting, propulsive Batman action motifs from the earlier scores, with large sections of cues such as “The Fire Rises”, “Fear Will Find You” and “Imagine the Fire” mirroring the likes of “Molossus” and “Like a Dog Chasing Cars” almost perfectly. “Despair” contains the score’s most front-and-center performance of the 2-note Batman theme, accompanied by the now-familiar synthesized ‘wing-flapping” effect. Both the introspective “Born in Darkness” and the score’s emotional finale in “Rise” reprise the grandiose string performances first heard in the “Macrotus” and “Corynorhinus” cues from the original Batman Begins, the latter augmented by a boy soprano solo, consolidating the theme as a pseudo-love theme for the Wayne family, Bruce’s relationship with Alfred, and the memory of his parents.
These cues are certainly appealing enough in context, are undeniably imposing, and they do give the trilogy of scores a pleasing continuity, but it would have been nice to hear Zimmer step up with a new action riff here and there, rather than simply making his cellists churn their arms off for the 20th time. Really, the only new twist in the tale is the unusual ethereal synth performance of the 2-note Batman theme in “On Thin Ice”, but this is one of the few moments where Zimmer actually plays around with variations on his original thematic core. This is the same problem Zimmer faced on the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where he seemed content simply to restate note-for-note whole chunks of score from previous films, and he has fallen into the same disappointing trap here too.
The five bonus cues can be found via various different sources, either via the physical CD, by purchasing them online separately, or by downloading it from a special website on movietickets.com. Although it’s a pain to have to go to multiple sources to gain access to the full scope of the score (much like the Tron Legacy situation the other year), it’s worth tracking them all down as, in sum, they do give a much more comprehensive overview of everything the score has to offer. Cues such as “No Stone Unturned” and “The Shadows Betray You”, for example, contain several exciting variations on Bane’s Chant (the latter containing an especially dark, unrelenting electronic pulse and a brooding flipped variation on the 2-note Batman motif), while “Risen From Darkness” has a very cool moment where Batman’s heroic action theme and Bane’s Chant play in powerful counterpoint to one another.
In many ways, The Dark Knight Rises showcases both the best and the worst of Hans Zimmer’s musical personality in one all-encompassing score. On the one hand, the intellectual design and intelligent use of Bane’s Chant shows Zimmer at his creative best, taking a simple idea and working it around to suggest complex concepts and subtle changes in context. The three or four recurring themes from across the entire trilogy give the Batman persona a definitive musical identity, and it’s impossible to deny the sheer emotional thrill of feeling your seat rumble and your hair vibrate to this music when the theme kicks in during the film itself. On the other hand, you have the same old arguments: the Zimmer sound permeating the Hollywood mainstream to such a degree that composers as talented as Alan Silvestri and Patrick Doyle are being asked to ape the style; the fact that Zimmer himself seems to be stuck in a rut, writing what in effect are little more than variations of the same score on almost every action film he tackles; the over-reliance on electronic enhancements, ghostwriters, arrangers, and so on and so on. The bottom line is this: fans of the Zimmer style will love it, fans and of the current Batman style will love it, whereas anyone whose musical tastes tend to veer towards the predominantly orchestral will find a great deal of it boring, or unpalatable, or both. The exception to that rule, of course, is me: having been thoroughly underwhelmed with The Dark Knight, I fully expected to thoroughly hate The Dark Knight Rises, and I am as surprised as anyone to find that – despite the caveats and asterisks – I enjoy it as much as I do.
Buy the Dark Knight Rises soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- A Storm is Coming (0:37)
- On Thin Ice (2:55)
- Gotham’s Reckoning (4:08)
- Mind if I Cut In? (3:27)
- Underground Army (3:12)
- Born in Darkness (1:57)
- The Fire Rises (5:33)
- Nothing Out There (2:51)
- Despair (3:14)
- Fear Will Find You (3:08)
- Why Do We Fall? (2:03)
- Death By Exile (0:23)
- Imagine the Fire (7:25)
- Necessary Evil (3:16)
- Rise (7:11)
- Bombers Over Ibiza (Junkie XL Remix) (5:51) – CD Only Bonus Track
- No Stone Unturned (7:29) – CD Only Bonus Track
- Risen from Darkness (4:27) – CD Only Bonus Track
- The Shadows Betray You (5:20) – Digital Only Bonus Track
- The End (6:13) – Digital Only Bonus Track
- All Out War (3:17) – MovieTickets.com Exclusive Track
Running Time: 83 minutes 55 seconds
Watertower Music WTM-39313 (2012)
Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Gavin Greenaway and Matt Dunkley. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Walter Fowler, Kevin Kaska, Yvonne Suzette Moriarty, Rick Gioninazzo, Elizabeth Finch, Carl Rydlund, Andrew Kinney, Geoff Stradling and Ed Neumeister . Additional music and arrangements by Mel Wesson, Lorne Balfe, Tom Holkenborg, Andrew Kawczynski, Jasha Klebe, Steve Mazzaro and Ramin Djawadi. Featured musical soloists Andrew Kalu, Satnam Ramgotra and Martin Tillman. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster and Alan Meyerson. Edited by Ryan Rubin. Album produced by Hans Zimmer, Christopher Nolan, Stephen Lipson and Alex Gibson.