THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE – Lorne Balfe
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Considering the combined box office success of both the Batman movies, and the 2015 Lego Movie, as well as the fact that the former character enjoyed a memorable extended plastic cameo in the latter, it was almost inevitable that the caped crusader would get his own Lego spinoff. Directed by Chris McKay, the film takes a fairly standard animated movie plot trope – Batman having to drop the ‘lone vigilante’ persona and work with his friends to stop the Joker – and surrounds it with a never-ending stream of pop culture references, in-jokes, cameos, and one-liners, some of which come so thick and fast that they barely have time to register as being funny before the next gag hits. Parts of The Lego Batman Movie are genuinely brilliant, creative and clever, and very funny, but the whole thing feels like a movie designed by a hyperactive six year old on way too much sugar. Visually, the movie veers from being astonishingly good to being a brain-smashing mess, while the action sequences feel like they are edited with an average shot length of less than a second. It’s a movie which, by the end, has relentlessly hammered you into submission, and left you gasping for breath and crawling for the exit.
Many of the same criticisms can be leveled at Lorne Balfe’s equally hyperactive score, which contains numerous moments of genuine musical excellence, but tends to overstay its welcome just a little through the sheer unstoppable chaos of it all. Clearly, Balfe’s remit was to echo the energy and relentlessness of the film itself, and keeping those criteria in mind his music succeeds admirably. However, taken as a whole, I generally found the experience to be much too much – it changes tack and style with reckless abandon virtually every few minutes, such that it sometimes comes across as insufferable. Balfe’s approach was to throw everything at the score, including the kitchen sink – huge orchestra, huge choir, electronics, electric guitars, a rock drum kit, and more. There are at least three central themes – one for Batman, one for Robin, and one for the Joker – plus a plethora of sub-themes, as well as references to Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight Batman music, and even Neal Hefti’s original classic Batman theme from the 1960s TV show.
Batman’s theme, a four-note motif first heard on brass half way through the opening cue “Black,” is pugnacious but defiantly heroic, and is almost an amalgam of the styles of both Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. Batman’s theme is counterbalanced by the theme for the Joker, a wry (and probably intentional) send-up of Zimmer’s one-note Heath Ledger Joker theme from The Dark Knight, in which mewling voices slide down a descending scale of madness. The Joker’s theme first appears in the second cue, “Your Greatest Enemy,” but both it and the Batman theme re-occur frequently throughout the score, often playing contrapuntally against each other to highlight their extended conflict, in cues such as “Joker Crashes the Party,” “To Cage the Joker,” “Open for Business,” “Joker Manor,” and others. The cues which strongly feature the Joker’s theme also often feature some vaguely circus-like pipe organ arrangements to further compound the character’s edgy lunacy.
The theme for Robin is lighter, almost child-like, with a bouncy and optimistic melodic idea often rendered on woodwinds and piano, and which is similar in tone to some of the music Balfe wrote with Zimmer for Megamind back in 2010. It first appears in “The Arrival of Robin,” and receives straight-up action re-arrangements in the fun and exciting “No Seat Belts Required,” as well as during “Battle Royale”. There’s also a brief theme for Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, which is hinted at on several occasions, but finally receives a full statement during “The Babs Signal”.
To give the score it’s due, the score has energy a-plenty, and quite a lot of Balfe’s orchestral writing is dense, complicated, and technically proficient. The rhythms Balfe uses under his action sequences are, at times, staggering, with cues such as “Black, the swaggering grooves of “Chaos in Gotham,” the relentless “Lava Attack,” and the aforementioned “Battle Royale” being especially noteworthy for their thrusting percussive core and flashy, complex orchestrations.
The subtle musical hat-tips to all the previous incarnations of Batman are excellent too. Listen especially for the regular statements of Zimmer’s ‘deshi basara’ Bane rhythm throughout the score, the allusions to Elliot Goldenthal at 2:39 in “Black” and towards the end of “Batman’s in the Zone,” and the full-on statements of Neal Hefti’s theme in “No Seat Belts Required” and “Battle Royale,” the former accompanied by distinctly Elfman-esque choral accents. The chanting choir and Gothic toccata-and-fugue in “The Phantom Zone” and “Batman’s in the Zone” is cheesy, and could potentially bring back horrible memories of Leonard Rosenman and Robocop 2, but it somehow works in context as an intentional send-up of itself. Furthermore, the cello-and-chorus lament towards the end of “For Your Own Good” is unexpectedly beautiful, and stands out as one of the score’s more poignant high points.
The album, on Watertower Records, features just under an hour of Lorne Balfe’s score, plus a dozen songs, some original, some cover versions, and some straight-up classics. “I Found You” is a vocal re-arrangement of Robin’s theme performed by Scottish schoolboy Fraser Murray (the older brother of Balfe’s godson). “Friends Are Family” is this score’s “Everything Is Awesome,” with the same sort of irritating pop-optimism. There are two versions of the song “Forever” – one by DNCE and one of the Jonas brothers, the other by songwriter Justin Tranter – and two new versions of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” The best, however, is the performance of the 80s classic “I Just Died In Your Arms” by the Cutting Crew, which I have always (genuinely) loved, and which is used hilariously in context as a love theme for Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon.
However, despite how much I can admire the technical acumen and compositional skill it takes craft to a score like this, I still find myself utterly exhausted by the time the score has finished. As a younger man, this sort of music would have been exactly my cup of tea, but as I have drifted into middle age I have found myself tending to prefer scores that are less animated and endlessly bombastic, and instead embrace a subtler state of mind. This is not to take anything away from Balfe’s craft; it’s remarkably well composed, clever, intricate, intentionally funny, fits the film perfectly, and pays appropriate homage to its heritage. And this is also not to say that I don’t enjoy some good, old fashioned bombast any more, because I absolutely do. At this point, it’s just getting down to personal taste, and speaking purely for myself, Lego Batman has too much willful craziness and overbearing obnoxiousness to make me want to revisit it with any regularity.
Buy the Lego Batman soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Who’s the (Bat)Man (written by Neal Hefti, Mansa Wakili, Brayden Deskins, Barry Pointer, Colton Fisher, Jason Rabinowitz, and Jaron Lamot, performed by Patrick Stump) (3:03)
- Forever (written by Justin Tranter, Dan Crean, Stevy Pyne, and Cole Whittle, performed by DNCE) (3:48)
- I Just Died In Your Arms (written by Nick Van Eede, performed by Cutting Crew) (4:35)
- Invincible (written by Lindsay Rimes and Kirsten Arian, performed by Kirsten Arian) (2:59)
- One (written by Harry Nilsson, performed by Three Dog Night) (2:21)
- Heroes (We Could Be) – Hard Rock Sofa and Skidka Remix (written by Alessandro Lindblad, Ebba Tove Nilsson, Brian Eno, and David Bowie, performed by Alesso feat. Tove Lo) (6:35)
- Man in the Mirror (written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, performed by Alex Aiono) (3:48)
- Friends Are Family (written by Chris Sernel, Madison Love, Hovey Benjamin, Jeff Lewis, and Chris Miller, performed by Oh, Hush! feat. Will Arnett & Jeff Lewis) (2:23)
- I Found You (written by Lorne Balfe and Antony Genn, performed by Fraser Murray) (3:34)
- Forever (Tranter Version) (written by Justin Tranter, Dan Crean, Stevy Pyne, and Cole Whittle, performed by Justin Tranter) (3:49)
- Man in the Mirror (written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, performed by Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine) (1:49)
- Everything Is Awesome (written by Shawn Patterson, performed by Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine) (2:02)
- Black (7:31)
- Your Greatest Enemy (2:41)
- The Arrival of Robin (2:52)
- Joker Crashes the Party (1:33)
- No Seat Belts Required (2:16)
- To Cage the Joker (1:58)
- The Phantom Zone (3:36)
- Open for Business (1:08)
- Chaos in Gotham (3:19)
- Lava Attack (7:39)
- For Your Own Good (1:44)
- Joker Manor (2:29)
- Batman’s in the Zone (4:39)
- The Babs Signal (2:24)
- Battle Royale (4:53)
- A Long Farewell (2:49)
Running Time: 94 minutes 32 seconds
Watertower Music (2016)
Music composed by Lorne Balfe. Conducted by Johannes Vogel. Orchestrations by Oscar Senen and Joan Martorell. Recorded and mixed by Stephen Lipson. Album produced by Lorne Balfe and Max Aruj.