Release date (US): May 1989
Running time: 54:47 minutes
Composer: Danny Elfman
Like many who fell in love with the music of Danny Elfman, it was 1989’s Batman movie, directed by Tim Burton, which first brought him to my attention. I was just 10 years old, but even then the score stood out as something impressive, dramatic and seemed to fuel the action and other moments occurring in the film.
There was something in it that also reminded me of the old black and white movies I would watch with my parents, Elfman’s music was grand, theatrical, carnival-like at times and more orchestral than anything I’d heard in films from that current period. With its 110 instrumentalists and use of leitmotifs, the score made quite an impression on me.
In the years in between and following Batman and it’s 1991 sequel, Batman Returns, Elfman would go on to score some of my other favourite films including Dick Tracy (1990), Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Sleepy Hollow (1999), but it’s always his work on Batman that I keep coming back to. As a piece of work, it’s what can be referred to as ‘game-changer’.
Up until then it was rare for a film score to be released on its own, but so confident were Warner that this was something special, they went ahead with it. As result, the film was not only a success, but it launched Eflman’s career and cemented him as a composer whose work could stand alongside the greats such as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams.
Anyone who’s listens to the score can’t deny there’s something about it that demands more of your attention. It pulls you into the world of Gotham City, a place where heroes and villains each wear masks, and like Elfman’s music, there are layers upon layers to explore while it also underpins a sense of danger that surrounds every scene in the film.
This begins immediately with the opening track, The Batman Theme. In Christian Clemmensen’s review of Elfman’s score, he notes that while Williams is universally recognized as the musical voice of Superman, Elfman is the same for Batman. He also goes on to say;
Elsewhere on the score, there’s another favourite, Kitchen, Surgery, Face-Off. It’s a cue that covers three scenes in the film. It begins with Vicki (Kim Basinger) and Bruce’s (Michael Keaton) love theme before going into the scene where the Joker (Jack Nicholson) sees his face after his surgery. Moving from a beautiful, tranquil and romantic piece, it develops into a frenzied climax with piano, flute, violins and trumpets all creating an atmosphere suitable for a madman. It finally erupts with a waltz before dying out.
Later on we have Descent Into Mystery which comes as Batman takes Vicki to the Batcave in the Batmobile. It’s another dramatic piece that uses Elfman’s now trademark massed and strident brass instruments but it’s accompanied by a choral arrangement. Like many of the other pieces on the score, this one has a pulse – a beat which is used to drive the action we see taking place on screen. With this particular piece,
Further on there’s Love Theme where Elfman displays more of that romantic flare we heard earlier at the beginning of Kitchen, Surgery, Face-Off, but this one comes with a touch more of sadness and an enveloping air of tragedy.
As the score comes to a close with
Although Elfman’s later and more recent scores might not have lived up to expectations, how could they ever exceed the grandeur he accomplished with Batman? His themes here have become as recognisable as Williams’ Superman, Jaws and Star Wars themes. We hear them and we instantly know which part of the film universe they’re from, and we’re always ready to embark on that journey with them.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .