Saturday, July 7, 2012

Music of the Batman... 50 years of Batman themes!

Purely for fun, and purely because I was in the mood, I've compiled every relevant Batman musical theme since the 1960s.  One live-action TV show, three film themes, and four animated series themes. A few things of note.  First of all, that audio clip of Shirley Walker walking us through the Batman: The Animated Series theme is a treasure to behold, especially as she passed away several years ago (it's the last cut on the two-disc Batman: The Animated Series score collection, which yes I do own).  Secondly, and this is what inspired me to compile these in the first place, whatever misgivings you may have about Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Elliot Goldenthal's music should not be discounted.  His rip-roaring, more overtly comic book-ish theme is still a joy to listen to, successfully combining the lingering darkness from the Burton films with the more traditional Caped Crusader heroics on display in Schumacher's films (the rest of the jazzy, offbeat music for Batman Forever is pretty terrific too). Thirdly, however powerful and effective the Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard music may be for the Nolan Batman films, the themes are dreadfully challenging to hum, and I'd be lying if the Batman Begins 'action theme' didn't sound just a bit reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's theme to The Shadow (ironically best evidenced in this trailer for The Saint). Finally, despite the nine themes sampled below (and the fact that she's seen quite a few episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and the Bold), my daughter considers the 1960s Batman television theme to be the only 'real' Batman theme song and gets pissed when I hum anything else.  To be fair, I'm not exactly in a rush to show her Batman Returns or The Dark Knight (although she could probably handle Batman & Robin just fine).  Please enjoy and share your thoughts below.  What's your favorite Batman music?  Is it still Elfman above all else or has another later theme supplanted it?  What music do you hear when you think of Batman?

Scott Mendelson


Yan Parker said...

First of all, this is an excellent post, Mr. Mendelson, since nowadays barely any individual is paying a proper respect to the Dark Knight's symphonious side of things (aside from constantly mentioning only Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer). Correct me if I am wrong Mr. Mendelson, but I thought you meant James Newton Howard in the Batman Begins/The Dark Knight soundtracks, instead of James Horner (he never worked on the Batman films).

I have got to admit, that for a comic book character, Batman always had such a vast and rich choice of musical themes. Each one of them is unique, emotional and powerful in its own right. However, I do not enjoy some of them (for example, the one from the Adam West era is simply too cheesy for my taste; the 2005 theme from The Batman animated series is sort of pop-ish and dull, same goes for the Brave and the Bold).

I personally think, that Danny Elfman's work on Batman 1989 and Batman Returns is timeless. It has so much energy, darkness, drive, tragedy and suspense to it. No wonder that it is still so relevant and iconic. His epic music successfully represents various pieces of Bruce Wayne's life. Seeing how the very spirit of Elfman's theme translated so nicely into Shirley Walker's direction and the famous Batman: The Animated Series (1992) is absolutely incredible.

Now, I am probably in minority here, but I always had only warm feelings towards Batman Forever (it is by no means a perfect movie, but it is a rather entertaining one). Elliot Goldenthal did a fantastic job at giving his new Batman theme this glorious and truly heroic feeling. It certainly reminds me of times, when I was a child: reading my favorite comic books and playing with action figures. I also like how sinister and twisted his villain themes (Two-Face and the Riddler) are. It is sad, that Elliot had to reuse most of his Forever music samples for the next, infamous, installment of the Schumacher era.

Batman Beyond (be it the animated series or the terrific Return of the Joker DTV), however, is an entirely different beast. It is almost like an embodiment of the modern rock, high-tech technology, ghosts of the past, broken friendships, new beginnings and more. Brings a certain nostalgia to the table, considering the intense relationship between the old Bruce Wayne and young Terry McGinnis.

I do agree with you, that the Batman Begins and Dark Knight scores by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard are not memorable enough and indeed, difficult to hum, but on the other, more personal level, it is a very elegant, action-driven, deep, sad and heart-breaking piece of art. As a viewer, it makes me more connected to the character of Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale), rather than Batman.

In conclusion, every individual has his own preference, when it comes to his/her favorite Batman theme. In my opinion, it is related to a close connection with a certain period (as you can tell in my case, I am a child of the 90's). All in all, I am genuinely excited for what future holds for the Caped Crusader, but for now I will try to enjoy the last chapter of Christopher Nolan's legend of the Dark Knight, considering how unreal the new Zimmer samples are (this time he recorded the soundtrack on his own, without JNH).

Best wishes,

Yan Parker.

geha714 said...

Personally, Elfman wins. That theme is his finest work ever. Just brilliant.

However, the work of Zimmer/Newton Howard can't be dismissed. Specially in Batman Begins. In The Dark Knight the music took a backseat and with the exception of the finale, it doesn't make an impact of its own. Let's see what Zimmer solo can do on TDKR.

Outside of his distintive main theme, Elliot Goldenthal's work didn't do much for me, because it didn't fit well with Joel Schumacher's flamboyant style.

And the 60's theme is simply awesome. Timeless. In the next century, people will continue to sing: NANANANANANA BAT-MAN!

PB210 said...

"I'd be lying if the Batman Begins 'action theme' didn't sound just a bit reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's theme to The Shadow (ironically best evidenced in this trailer for The Saint)".

They imitated quite a few things from The Shadow for that film.

Comics Scene #49 (November 1994)

David Goyer noted that he wrote a screenplay for Doctor Strange in the 1990's. He noted that he wanted to follow the origin storyline -- a selfish, acquisitive man gets redeemed when going to Tibet and studying under a mystic. Then The Shadow came out in 1994 which featured a similar origin. "Batman Begins" also featured a somewhat similar origin (although Wayne was self-absorbed, he was not really acquisitive) -- and it was written by David Goyer!

Of course, since Conde Nast, not Time Warner, owns the Shadow, he does not have the advantage of direct to video animated films the film company marketing his film heavily reasoning that they will have a direct cut of the merchandise, etc. Nor did the Shadow have a child sidekick in pixie booties, shaved legs, golden cape; or appear in a cartoon with a money with a buck serving pointed eared twins.


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