When Hans Zimmer climbed aboard the action train in 1995/96 (with a string of revolutionary scores for films like “Crimson Tide,” “Broken Arrow,” and “The Rock”), he brought along a style and sense of tonality that had rarely been utilized in the genre – using instruments in a sculptured, sound-design forum – and created set pieces out of the music. The style became so popular that it ultimately became the norm for action films ever since.
This technically is no fault of Zimmer’s; it is most likely the result of director’s and bean-counters belief that action flicks would fare better at the box office if they harnessed that kind of sound (the same kind of folks who believed that Tangerine Dream was a better fit for the Tom Cruise vehicle “Legend” than Jerry Goldsmith). Whether they were right or wrong is irrelevant; we now live in an era where most action film scores are forced to bear the uniform hallmarks of Zimmer’s one-time ingenuity, ignoring bold thematic qualities of melody and lyricism, with the progenitor himself forced to circulate in this unfortunate, self-cannibalizing tide-pool.
And still, knowing all of this, my hopes were still high for what Zimmer could possibly bring to the table for the finale of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Would he inject the brilliant and vibrant sense of melody that overflowed from his recent scores for “Madagascar 3” and “Kung Fu Panda 2”? Will he let his Elfman-like quirky side ooze into the proceedings, as he did with the “Sherlock Holmes” films? While it definitely has its moments, Zimmer’s work on “The Dark Knight Rises” is uneven at best.
The entire score essentially circulates through three modes: brooding aggression, blackened depression, and hyper-kinetic, violent action. These traits are the result of Zimmer mastery of sound-scaping - accentuating a setting and making the audience feel like they are a part of the scenery.
Aside from the recurrent Bane chant (Cinemablend confirms it is “’Deh-shay, deh-shay bah-sah-rah, bah-sah-rah,’ which is apparently Moroccan for ‘He Rises, He Rises’") and the strained, sustained brass shriek used to reflect the arrival of Batman, there is very little here in the context of true melodic theming. Some of it works as post-modern art-music, while the rest is ‘been there, heard that’ drivel.
Here is a run-down of some of the standout moments:
- One thing Zimmer does extremely well with his Dark Knight scores is play up moodiness and down-trodden depression. ‘On Thin Ice’ alone makes you want to slip into a warm tub with a straight-razor. And the low-end synth and string-laden ‘Underground Army’ gives the vibe of a 1980s-produced, uninviting, dystopian film like “The Terminator” or “Near Dark”.
- The second half of ‘Gotham’s Reckoning’ broils with a mob chanting beneath the sewers, complete with Zimmer’s trademark string-bashing adding accent. And as the brass jabs kicks in, mimicking the surge of electric shocks, it appears that Zimmer has done some Bat-homework and offers a rare glint of Elfman-ishness.
- ‘Mind If I Cut In,’ which is the obligatory Catwoman cue, prances with a combination of piano and what sounds like a Slinky toy, offering a touch of Harry Potter-esque mischievous whimsy. It is less feline/feminine than Danny Elfman’s slick, frolicking theme in “Batman Returns,” though it bears the flavor of a noir-ish, Agatha Christie murder mystery.
- Zimmer’s use of instrumental effects works wondrously in ‘Despair,’ which churns with the resonance of flapping leather wings as the primal “beat” of the track.
- ‘Why Do We Fall’ recalls the depressive nature of earlier tracks on the score but evolves into one of Zimmer’s classic beefcake brass-and-string redemption pieces, most closely resembling ‘The Kraken’ from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”.
Something that troubles me throughout the score for “The Dark Knight Rises” is that, while many composers painstakingly struggle to make synthetic instruments sound closer to organic, Zimmer seems to be heading in the opposite direction – making real instruments sound electronic. I really have no idea what he hopes to accomplish by taking the long route, but it screams of a twisted work ethic and makes tracks like ‘The Fire Rises’ sound like a Jan Hammer or Harold Faltermeyer composition than something post-modern.
I’m sure the score blends brilliantly with Christopher Nolan’s bleak vision, but as a musical entity and piece of physical musical product, I doubt it will ever command more than a tertiary listen from future film score fans. Without the visual accompaniment, a track like ‘Death By Exile’ is little more than a 23-second dissonant stream of white noise.
I know there is a school of people out there that bears undying loyalty to Hans Zimmer and will blindly praise anything he releases, regardless of how similar it sounds to previous work. But for me, as “The Dark Knight Rises” draws to a close, I am so beaten down from the emo-ness of it all that I am quickly reaching for “A League of Their Own” to remind me of the depth, breadth, and musicianship Zimmer seems to now reserve only for dramas and family/animated features these days.
Ultimately, “The Dark Knight Rises” score is more tedious than it is enjoyable. Since much of the “music” resorts to aural set pieces, there is no distinct progression or flow of a musical statement.
The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack is currently available at iTunes, Amazon, and Amazon Digital.