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Nolan's Batman trilogy is a monumental achievement in film. In reviews of the first two films (see my 'Nolan's Batman Trilogy' reviews) I drew comparisons with the likes of Star Wars, The Godfather and The Lord of The Rings - and rightly so. It stands tall amongst these giants, and in my opinion rises far above and beyond the Lord of The Rings films - but that's for another day. Nolan states in the sleeve notes of 'The Dark Knight Original Soundtrack' that one of the main reasons he returned after the fantastic 'Batman Begins' was because of the music; Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score was magnificent, and they built admirably on this in 'The Dark Knight', producing one of the most inspirational and trend-setting soundtracks of the 21st Century. Yet something has always intrigued me, although I think the answer is fairly straightforward; why, on the front covers of the 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' soundtracks, are the names listed like so: "Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard" - artists are more often than not listed alphabetically. But fears were realised when James Newton Howard's name did not appear next to the soundtrack for Nolan's finale: 'The Dark Knight Rises'. It appears that Zimmer's prominence, merely highlighted by the positioning of his name on the soundtrack cover, was superior to Newton Howard's. It was Zimmer, following 'The Dark Knight', who provided the soundtrack to Nolan's 'Inception', not Newton Howard, and it was Zimmer who would then go on, alone, to score 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Why is this the case? Although we can't know for sure, I wouldn't be surprised if Newton Howard decided against returning, for pride's sake; I did hear a story in concordance to this but it is somewhat unreliable, thus not worth dwelling on. Maybe Nolan didn't want Newton Howard back - but I doubt that. Either way, it was going to be a solo effort this time. How would it stand against the other soundtracks without Newton Howard's input, regardless of ratio? I went to see 'The Dark Knight Rises' upon its release, and my girlfriend bought me the soundtrack around the same time (before I'd even heard it!). It was a very special present because I consider the 'The Dark Knight' soundtrack to be my very first and one my favourites, and a great inspiration to me as I aim to embark on a career in the field.
'The Dark Knight' is still my favourite soundtrack.
-== Track Listing ==-
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
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
Total length: 51:20
-== The Review ==-
Hans Florian Zimmer is a German composer who is one of the most popular film composers in Hollywood at present. He began with 80s scores such as 'Days of Thunder' and 'Rain Man', and peaked with 00s scores such as 'Gladiator', 'The Da Vinci Code' and 'Inception', although his only Oscar-winning score came in 1994: 'The Lion King'. Arguably, his biggest popularity boost came with 'The Dark Knight' - and I fear that many people assume that he is the sole composer for the film. However, his input was fantastic, and it is an excellent score. Five years have passed, James Newton Howard has departed and a new story with a change of pace is introduced with 'The Dark Knight Rises'. The best thing Zimmer could do at this point is move on, quit while he is ahead; and that's exactly what he does (although not after having a final go at the sound with 'Inception'...). Unfortunately, while I have much respect for him for doing so, he just doesn't quite pull it off. The sound isn't massively dissimilar, but overall he presents new ideas and takes a fairly different approach, yet his techniques are mostly still intact.
The film of 'The Dark Knight Rises' is more closely linked to 'Batman Begins' than its direct prequel (I love that 'The Dark Knight' is the best film in the series and yet works very well as a standalone entity), thus Zimmer uses ideas presented in the first film soundtrack as a basis to one of his main ideas - this doesn't stop him from delving into his TDK pool of work. One of my main problems with the soundtrack is just that. Whereas other composers who write across connected franchises handle themes and ideas with tastefulness, whether that is direct repetition, variations or complete unrecognisable upendings, Zimmer seems to use his fantastic TDK cues to save those flopping in TDKR. Sometimes these are varied, but more often than not amendments are minimal, with the added brass burst here and there or a different sort of digital processing. The ideas that are carried through sound exhausted; I could happily listen to them over and over again in the TDK soundtrack, but there is certain staleness hearing them again when you expect to hear something new. Zimmer views synthesizers and digital processing as instruments in themselves, and fair enough; yet while he does try to create a new sound, the direct revisiting of cues from TDK differ greatly from the more heavily-synthesized sounds of TDKR, creating an uncomfortable contrast.
The opening three tracks are great, though, and flow seamlessly into one - and into track 4, but we'll get there soon. 'Gotham's Reckoning' presents the sound of Bane, the villain of TDKR - a beast of a man residing in Gotham's underground, planning to rise and take down Gotham, ultimately fulfilling his deceased master Ra's al Ghul's quest. Zimmer turns to heavy dry percussion (mainly synthesized drums), a haunting theme in a jarring 5/4 time signature and, most enigmatically, a chant: "Deh-shay deh-shay bah-sah-rah bah-sah-rah". Although presented as a non-diegetic element of the score, it is used as a diegetic element for the film, as it is something chanted by both Bane's henchmen and some prisoners. The recording of the chant was offered by Zimmer as an opportunity to groups all around the world, who could send in their recording of this chant to be used in the soundtrack; quite nicely, then, one can hear a variety of versions of this chant across the album. 'Gotham's Reckoning' boasts the above tone in superb fashion, combining the pounding drums with the chant, ominous synthesized sounds and harsh use of low brass & strings.
'Mind if I cut in?' presents the second leitmotif, for Catwoman. This is distinctly different to Zimmer's usual output. It's fitting, yet not brilliant. A soft melody that sounds tainted immediately opens the track in gloomy fashion, before a piano steals the melody quite cheekily. The most prominent part of the theme, however, is actually the worst part. It consists of a high-strings scalic semiquaver passage that climbs; yes, it is somewhat cat-like, but its as primal as melodies come and it is simply repeated (and maybe shifted down a semitone at certain points). Simplicity is absolutely necessary at times, and I encourage it, but generally speaking, Zimmer's theme for Catwoman is quite poor. The character is mainly good in TDKR, and works quite closely with Batman in the film, and at times, Zimmer combines her theme with Batman's, which in all honesty is not a particularly difficult task when you consider that Batman's theme (or rather, motif) is purely a rising minor third. Yet Zimmer thinks he's very clever combining these two alongside another of his ideas from the trilogy in 'Fear Will Find You', and dwells arrogantly on the passage. Batman's said motif doesn't receive a great deal of fresh treatment in TDKR, except for two instances: firstly, it receives its most drawn out and grand rendition in 'Despair', so drawn out in fact that I feel rather sorry for the brass players; and secondly, at the final few seconds of the album. And here is where the connection to BB ('Batman Begins'), and the logic behind Bruce Wayne's story, lies. In BB, Zimmer employed a choirboy to represent Bruce's loss of his parents and his inability to move past that point. When Zimmer concludes the album with a choirboy singing the Batman motif, he highlights that Bruce Wayne, despite many years passing, has still not moved past the tragic loss. The presence of a choirboy is first reintroduced in track 2 'On Thin Ice', although digital processing leaves the listener unsure as to whether or not the main voice is in fact a choirboy, and is furthered diegetically prior to the American football scene.
After the first three tracks, the best term to describe the soundtrack is 'dark ambience'. Zimmer combines similar murky attributes as heard in 'Gotham's reckoning' with electronica, and the occasional TDK-sound burst. It gets boring. Zimmer ably depicts the ruthlessness, rawness and brutality of Bane in his instrumentation and general tone, but his usual spark is non-existent. Zimmer's melodies and ideas have more often than not been rather poignant or outstanding in his scores, but the TDKR soundtracks lacks edge. 'The Fire Rises', at 5.33 in length, patiently explores dark sounds before shifting awkwardly into a section based on Bane's sound with a very poor melody in the lower instruments. 'Nothing Out There' simply revisits ideas from previous films (so, out of context, is quite enjoyable), while 'Despair' also offers little new material. 'Why Do We Fall?' is based on a motif of a falling (totally and utterly deliberate choice of word) second, which is one rather defining to TDKR. It's quite an exciting piece, actually, and one of the better ones on the album, with one of the few moments featuring a revisited ideas that is distinctly varied making itself known in the last 30 seconds, helped by a powerfully thick drum texture. Meanwhile, 'Death By Exile' is purely ambient, and at 0.23 in length, is surely only there to boost the track count. 'Imagine the Fire' is the longest track on the album, and begins with a very strange celebratory aura. The majority of the piece is made up of worn out sounds, inferior melodies and more revisits, and even features a few sections that sound very similar to 'The Kraken' from 'Pirates 2' - not a good sign when a composer subconsciously reverts to unrelated music in his discography. 'Rise' is the 'A Dark Knight' of the album [see my review on the TDK soundtrack: 'Gotham FM'], reviewing key themes across the trilogy, mainly those directly related to the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Accompanying the final scenes of the film, it journeys through a myriad of emotions, and while once again there are revisits to earlier material, it's perhaps slightly more permitted here, and Zimmer does offer some variation, even if at points it does simply come in the form of slowing it down. Zimmer conveys deep emotion and provides a superb grand finale; it aptly has the feeling of a closing statement, for all of those involved with the trilogy. Zimmer has said himself that he remembers as a boy, aspiring to be a film composer, he had a unnamed film in mind that, if he ever made it, he would remember that dream and smile, knowing that he has made it. Now, I would argue that he's scored his fair share of bloody good films, but he states that he felt this sensation whilst scoring The Dark Knight Rises, which is really great.
The album is over twenty minutes shorter than the TDK soundtrack, but to be fair, if it was any longer, it would become almost intolerable. Nonetheless, three tracks are available to retrieve from online with this CD or download, one of which is god awful remix, which Zimmer seems to be permitting with a lot of his soundtracks lately.
The Dark Knight rises, but Zimmer falls (could be an African waterfall, couldn't it? Or a brand of wine) - what begins as a refreshing approach to a new film soon becomes a dire mash of electronic ambience and dry and percussive orchestration. There are a handful of tracks that are really great on this album, but with the overshadowing of the soundtracks to 'Batman Begins' and in particular, 'The Dark Knight', this is clearly inferior. It's intrusive at times, yet Zimmer does get some 'sounds' and ideas very right. Whether or not the absence of James Newton Howard has a part to play in the downfall is personal, but you can't help but miss his beautiful TDK offerings when you're subjected to the relentlessness of Zimmer's TDKR soundtrack. It's not the worst soundtrack you'll ever hear; on the whole, it's quite cool - but when compared to his other Batman offerings, TDKR doesn't come close. The TDK score was loved and hated (almost) equally - I fear that TDKR won't be quite so balanced. While his dealing with Batman's motif is great and his initial establishing of Bane's sound is effective, prominent elements let this CD down.
-== Three to Download ==-
'Want to hear a taster of the score? The three tracks I would you recommend you check out are: 'Gotham's Reckoning', 'Why Do We Fall?' and 'Rise'.
-== Technical Details ==-
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Release date: 17 July 2012
Label: WaterTower Music