The Dark Knight Rises (Hans Zimmer)

Final Musings: Zimmer’s score for the long awaited finale presents the same problematic issues of its predecessors while introducing some new ones. Consequently, much of your opinion of the score will be based on what you thought of the franchise’s sound. But with a lack of any keen sense of musician direction, little attention to thematic development and direct passages lifted from past scores, this work has very little going for it. And to top it off, its contextual merits are rather questionable. Zimmer once again leaves much of his work’s potential untapped. 

The world held its breath in anticipation of the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Riding on the incredible success of the impressive feat that was The Dark Knight, the successful director took it upon himself to finish what he had started and write out an end for the caped crusader. Fans salivated at the reports of the grand scale of what was to be Nolan’s most ambitious project. Hollywood knew a storm was coming, one that was ready to break all sorts of records. Unfortunately, the ill-fated morning was greeted by yet another psychopathic serial killer on the scene of the Colorado showing of the film. The tragic incident notably went on to hinder the film’s opening weekend performance despite its success. And although it fared well with critics, it wasn’t quite on par with its predecessors.

Regardless, the hype generated for this film was undeniably massive, making it one of the most anticipated films of the decade. And drawn into the media frenzy is of course veteran composer Hans Zimmer. The composer has become quite the celebrity in the last couple of months, appearing in numerous interviews as a media favourite. And while Zimmer’s humorous yet modest personality is quite suitable for the limelight, the man has a tendency to make statements that are rather hard to make much sense of. To hear him speak in front of the camera about The Dark Knight Rises is truly the most sensational thing. Listeners have heard him describe the extraordinarily epic scope of the new score, the entirely unique direction the music has taken and the revolutionary genius of his work. Even the harshest of Zimmer’s critics found themselves on the edge of their seats in curiosity for what he had in store for the world. But alas, living up to his reputation of gross exaggeration and false promises, Zimmer continues to be more talk than show. As discussed further in this review, the final product unsurprisingly brings the fictitious nature of his bloated claims to light.

With this final film, Zimmer tackles the task alone, with the exception of the usual crew of ghostwriters of course. Having consistently contributed to the previous films of the franchise, James Newton Howard was curiously excluded from the now notorious collaboration between Zimmer and Nolan; likely due to another case of ‘creative differences’.  Regardless, there really isn’t anything new to be said about this score. Essentially, much of your opinion of Zimmer’s work will be based on what you thought of the previous entries of the franchise. The Dark Knight Rises is more or less of the same. The now famous two-note theme is still stubbornly stuck at two notes. The all too familiar mundane, melodramatic pounding returns with a vengeance, this time with a vociferously abrasive drum kit in its arsenal (“The Fire Rises” is perfect substitute for a migraine). And to nobody’s surprise, the score ventures even further into the experimental atmospheric writing that has become somewhat characteristic to Zimmer’s recent output.

In all fairness though, it would be ridiculously naïve to propose that Zimmer break the stylistic grounds he already established for the previous films. In fact, the attention to musical continuity here is even admirable to a certain degree. Nevertheless, The Dark Knight Rises lacks several of the merits of its predecessors, undeniably making this the weakest entry of the franchise. One of those merits pertained to James Newton Howard’s work, whose voice is sorely missed here.  Amidst the endless barrage of noise on Zimmer’s end, Howard’s poignant writing offered refreshing interludes to relish in the past. Unfortunately for this film, Zimmer doesn’t quite manage to express the complex emotional interactions of the narrative with the same finesse and elegance that Howard did.

Yet one of the more infuriating aspects of this score has yet to be mentioned. Continuity is always encouraged when it comes to scoring franchises, but Zimmer takes that to a fault. There are over 2 hours worth of music written for the film, but the question remains, how much of that is truly original material? Large portions of music were literally cut and pasted from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with little to no variation. One must simply listen to “Rise” (an agglomeration of past cues like “The Dark Knight”, “Corynorhinus” and “Barbastella”) to get the sense of how editing may have taken the lead over good old fashioned scoring. To go into the mysterious proceedings behind the operations of Zimmer and company would be like walking blindly into a minefield, so there really is no use in pointing fingers there. But this method of scoring was witnessed in past works like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and it sadly points to the growing concern of composers making the film adapt to the music rather than the other way around.

As redundant as it may seem, the score certainly has distinct new components to offer, the most significant being Bane’s Theme. For the film’s antagonist, Zimmer assigns a primal 5/4 metered rhythm to represent the chaos enacted by the masked terrorist.  To say the theme was given some significant publicity would be an understatement. Bane’s Theme played a substantial role in the large viral marketing campaign for the film. In fact, much of the campaign was based on the chant that was laid over the simple 5/4 rhythm. The chant was a simple phrase in an ancient dialect of Morrocan that reads as “deshi bashara” which can be translated as “he rises”. Of course, to no surprise, the idea’s biggest publicist was Zimmer himself. Often speaking very highly of the concept, the composer even went to the extent of inviting fans of the film and music to participate by submitting their own recordings of the chant, thus confirming the theme’s firm grasp on the minds of the mainstream in advance. This thematic idea certainly has its appeal, largely due to refreshing nature of the meter in comparison to Zimmer’s all too familiar rhythmic constructs. And surprisingly, the meter proves its worth when taken to rather impressive heights at moments like 2nd half of “Gotham’s Reckoning”, where the orchestral frenzy is complimented by rambunctious trumpet accents, creating a strikingly effective piece of music in context. Be that as it may, there is a lot of potential left untapped here. One can only wish Zimmer explored the premise of atonal ruckus even further, for the theme only shows brief glimpses of intrigue before descending into yet another series of hopelessly mundane RC/MV percussion loops. It’s a shame considering it would have been nice for Zimmer to establish new musical territory, especially in his tiring action department. Often accompanying the rhythm are two other leitmotifs associated with Bane. One of them first appears as the underlying bass line of “Gotham’s Reckoning” and appears in fragmented forms across several cues like “Underground Army”, “Imagine the Fire” and “No Stone Unturned”. This terror motif harkens back to the “Time” theme from Inception. The other motif is a more ambiguous idea that is largely associated with Bane’s past and it makes appearances at 5:30 in “Imagine the Fire” and 1:39 in “Necessary Evil”.

The final major thematic idea is Catwoman’s theme. Built off of minimal chromatic piano constructs for the character’s ambiguity, the theme is also accompanied by electronic tinkering for a more sensual flavor. To go on, rapid rising string figures are used when Catwoman is in action. Unfortunately, these action variants are largely absent from the album, making more appearances in the bonus tracks and on film. Yet despite Zimmer’s efforts to address the character’s personality, Catwoman’s music ultimately isn’t particularly impressionable and ends up on the generic side. Past themes also return to grace this score. But there is no development, they return in exactly the same variations as it did in the past entries of this franchise. With the exception of a slightly more heroic rendition of the two-note Batman theme, these themes essentially remain stagnant. In fact, this stagnancy is what plagues most of the score. In the end, the music goes nowhere. It’s largely aimless with a bit of swooshing here and some droning there with the development of both past and new material being almost non-existent.

Muse on These:

–          Gotham’s Reckoning

–          Mind if I Cut In?

–          Fear Will Find You

–          Why Do We Fall?

–          Imagine the Fire

Now it doesn’t take a prophet to predict the manner in which Zimmer loyalists will fall head over heels to defend the score’s virtues in context. There is certainly merit to that argument, and this was especially so with the controversial yet effective theme for the Joker in The Dark Knight. But in this case, Zimmer seemed to have really missed the mark. The score is incredibly overbearing when played against the visuals and its rather surprising to see how many significant synch points were either ignored or inappropriately scored. This is likely due to the frustrating cut-and-paste approach to scoring this project. There are certain moments where Bane’s material can send shivers down the spine in the antagonist’s pivotal chilling scenes. But the utter lack of attention to particular details of the footage is a significant weakness. The album presentation also doesn’t do you any favours. It won’t be long before listeners are bombarded with several gratuitous collectors or limited editions. In the meantime, several bonus cues are available to satisfy the more ardent fans. Most of them being either remixes or extended variations of the action material on album. In addition, one can also seek out Zimmer’s “Aurora”, which is a rather haunting choral work dedicated to the victims of the Colorado shootings. Despite the irony of basing a tribute piece off the musical material of the terrorist figurehead in the film, the composer’s heartfelt intentions are admirable and it is certainly one of the better pieces of music to have come out of the Batman franchise.

In the end though, this is an incredibly flawed work that will either slightly disappoint fans of Zimmer’s past material for Batman or really frustrate the composer’s naysayers. At the very least, the score could have maintained the contextual merits that its predecessors had going for them, but alas it actually played as one of the film’s faults. It would have been really nice to hear Zimmer bring the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion with at least some hint of focused musical direction rather than rehashing previous material. For all his talk of bringing two-note theme to some form of closure, it remains exactly as we heard it before. It seems like the composer chose to take greater comfort in speaking of his work’s ingenuity rather than making a genuine effort to branch out of his comfort zone. For all his talk of trying to be different and unique, his sound remains exactly the same. One can only hope The Dark Knight Rises has appeased his hunger to satisfy the media’s expectations of him so that he can sit down and write a decent score for the next superhero under his belt.

Rating:  * *


6 Comments on “The Dark Knight Rises (Hans Zimmer)”

  1. Edmund Meinerts says:

    Not sure if I agree with you on this one, Kalaisan. Oh, it’s a flawed score, no doubt, and the reuse issue surrounding cues like “Rise” annoys me as much as anyone. But I actually thought the score worked relatively well in context. Overbearing, sure, but what Zimmer action score isn’t? On album, it makes for a slightly more cohesive listening experience than Batman Begins (Bane’s chant is certainly a lot more interesting than the muddy sound design used for the Scarecrow) but it’s a step behind The Dark Knight. It’s a little sad to hear how James Newton Howard was slowly phased out of the franchise, from scoring well over a third of BB to making a cameo in TDK and now disappearing entirely in TDKR, but in a way I think that works to this score’s advantage. As you say, it’s cohesive almost to a fault.

    All I’m really saying is, I enjoyed TDKR much more than any of his 2011 efforts (to be fair, it achieves that by default for being an actual score, a distinction I’d hesitate to award On Stranger Tides, Game of Shadows or Rango). And I’d give it three stars. Once a Zimmer fanboy, always a Zimmer fanboy, I guess. 😉

    • kalaisan says:

      With the other films, I thought Zimmer’s score worked well enough in context. And I found the Joker theme to be incredibly effective in The Dark Knight. But each time I go and see the new film, the score just became more distracting and even played against the film experience. This was never an issue with the other two Batman films.

      Maybe you’ll notice it the next time you see the film, there were several particular scenes where the music just felt utterly wrong. Emotional scenes were blasted with the action material. The scene where [SPOILER] Bruce escapes had the rebellious atonal material digitally faded out which DID NOT work in context [END SPOILER]. And then there’s boy soprano from Batman Begins that got crudely edited onto the film multiple times (with short intervals between their appearances).

      I largely blame the “cut and paste” tactic here because it was quite obvious that the important synch points were just skimmed over with wallpaper material. When it comes to thinking of the context, Zimmer missed the mark with several portions of the film.

      I can understand enjoying the music on its own Edmund, but I’d say its inability to properly address what’s going on screen is one of its greatest weaknesses.

      Here’s hoping that Zimmer goes the other way for Superman.

      • Edmund Meinerts says:

        I think the key with the score as heard in film is that I didn’t actually pay too much attention to it (despite its nearly non-stop blasting :p ). Me and Sabrina made a few “fishy fishy pasta pasta” jokes but that was it. I did notice that the emotional scenes with Alfred (Michael Caine outacted everyone else in that movie IMO) were left unscored – thank God! When the music did bother me it was usually the reused stuff, “Rise” in particular. And expecting Zimmer to match synch points is a futile exercise, I think – he just doesn’t really do that anymore.

        Zimmer’s comments on Superman being Batman’s antithesis give me hope that we won’t just get a brooding rehash, but you can’t trust a word the man says in interviews anymore, so I won’t think about it too much until I’ve got the cd in my hands (or on my iTunes as the case usually is).

    • kalaisan says:

      Yes, Zimmer’s comments on going on a different direction from Batman was encouraging indeed. My hope is that he might take on the adagio style of The Thin Red Line, considering the Malick-ian nature of the Superman teasers. But like you said, its hard to trust any words from his mouth anymore.

      On another note, I never understood the “fishy fishy pasta pasta” jokes. The second word doesn’t even have 3 syllables! It’s certainly not as good as “corn on the cob” for Duel of the Fates. 😉

      • Edmund Meinerts says:

        The last syllable of “Bashara” does tend to get swallowed up. If you’re thinking “bashara bashara” you’re probably more likely to hear it than if you’re thinking “pasta pasta”. Your mind fills in the gaps.

  2. Craig Richard Lysy says:

    On balance I have to agree. I score’s decibels in the theater hit me like Klingon disruptors! More is not better, nor is louder not necessarily better. Zimmer maintained fidelity to his soundscape and showed some creativity with Bane’s Theme. But like you, I had expectations from the man and I expected more. I came in at 2.5 stars. Thanks for the review! All the best!

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