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Artwork copyright (c) 1989 DC Comics, Inc; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Holy film score, Elf-man!

Tim Burton's radically dark take on Batman in 1989 did a lot of things, like ushering in a new era of superhero films a million miles removed from the old, rather silly Superman style, giving Jack Nicholson one of the biggest pay deals in Hollywood history and, of most interest to readers of this site, pretty much launching the career of Danny Elfman.  Of course, Elfman had been around for a while beforehand, but Batman was his first chance of showing what he could do with a full-fledged orchestral score and I'm sure his career would have taken a drastically different path without this to use as a springboard.  To this day, people still name it as his best score - I'm not sure I would agree, but one can see where they're coming from.

Elfman claimed at the time that he had great difficulty in coming up with the (now famous) music for the film's opening, and it finally came to him as he was on a plane.  Well, one's only suspicion can be that the in-flight movie was Journey to the Centre of the Earth, because the opening cue uses a pretty lengthy section of Bernard Herrmann's classic score without alteration.  After that is over, the Batman theme is heard for the first time.  It's nothing more than a short fanfare really, but that makes it no less impressive, and Elfman sends it through numerous variations over the course of the score.

There are various action set-pieces, each of which is scored superbly.  Elfman had never really displayed much of a command of an orchestra beforehand, but here he really goes to town and while things are a long way short of the incredibly complex style he employs today, the orchestration is very impressive and so is the performance, by the Sinfonia of London.  "Batman to the Rescue" is a highlight, with a cheeky little Psycho homage (it's that man Herrmann again) among Elfman's thrilling music which gives the brass section a real workout.  "Descent into Mystery" is another thrilling cue, but it would be right up there with James Horner's Glory if there were Oscars given out for "Most shameless plagiarism of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana".  I don't want to give the impression that the album is one long derivative mess, because it most certainly isn't, but it certainly needs to be noted that one or two of the big ideas are pretty well lifted right out of other works.

A couple of other melodies are interpolated (this time, with due credit) for the romantic material - both Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" and Prince's "Scandalous" are used.  Remember, Batman was the first film to have two soundtrack albums - one for the Prince's songs, one for Elfman's score.  Three consecutive cues towards the end of the album offer some of its finest moments.  First, "Up the Cathedral" (oooh, vicar) has some appropriately menacing, gothic material to open; "Waltz to the Death" is a wonderfully twisted waltz; and "The Final Confrontation" started Elfman's trend of writing stunning music for films' finales, a tradition that has continued pretty much to this day.  It's majestic, larger-than-life, quite stunning.

Batman is a bit too uneven to be termed a classic as some people have, but it's still a mightily enjoyable score and an enjoyable indication of how Elfman's career would end up.  I must be honest and say I prefer his modern-day writing (and there was a time when I would have doubted the sanity of anyone who said that) - scores like Spiderman are more innovative and impressive to my ear - but Batman remains very strong.  Highly recommended.

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  1. The Batman Theme (2:38)

  2. Roof Fight (1:20)

  3. First Confrontation (4:43)

  4. Kitchen, Surgery, Face-Off (3:07)

  5. Flowers (1:51)

  6. Clown Attack (1:45)

  7. Batman to the Rescue (3:56)

  8. Roasted Dude (1:01)

  9. Photos / Beautiful Dreamer (2:27)

  10. Descent into Mystery (1:31)

  11. The Bat Cave (2:35)

  12. The Joker's Poem (:56)

  13. Childhood Remembered (2:43)

  14. Love Theme (1:30)

  15. Charge of the Batmobile (1:41)

  16. Attack of the Batwing (4:44)

  17. Up the Cathedral (4:44)

  18. Waltz to the Death (3:55)

  19. The Final Confrontation (3:47)

  20. Finale (1:45)

  21. The Batman Theme (reprise) (1:28)