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Josh Enjoys Danny Elfman’s Newly-Released Complete Soundtrack to Batman (1989)!

Last month, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 2-CD set containing the complete score to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), composed by Danny Elfman.

As I’ve written before here on the site, I’m a bit of a nut for movie soundtracks, and I love it when we’re blessed by the release of a great score in its complete, unedited form.  And Danny Elfman’s score for Batman is a real winner.

As I recall, Mr. Elfman’s score was widely praised, and with great justification, when Batman was first released back in 1989.  Mr. Elfman’s spooky, mysterious score and sweeping, iconic themes were as much a part of the film’s over-all success as was Tim Burton’s direction and Anton Furst’s marvelously creepy, decayed production design.  It’s great fun getting to listen to the complete score, start-to-finish, on this new CD.

Modern super-hero movie scores could learn a thing or two from Mr. Elfman’s work on Batman.  Recent successful super-hero films — from the latest incarnations of Batman (Batman Begins & The Dark Knight) to Marvel’s recent successes (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, etc.) — have had passable scores, but none of those films has had a really great, hummable theme for their central character.  I think that’s an unconscionable failing for a super-hero movie.  Contrast that with John Williams’ iconic Superman theme, as well as with Mr. Elfman’s magnificent Batman theme created for this film, and I think my point is clear.

Mr. Elfman wastes no time introducing his Batman theme to the audience, as it plays over the film’s opening credits (and the slow build-up to the reveal of the bat-emblem) in what is presented on CD as track 1, “Main Title.”  As Jeff Bond notes in the wonderful liner notes included with the CD set: As the camera prowls the stone environment, Elfman develops a propulsive march from his Batman theme, driven by snares and trumpets punding out a rapid 7/8 rhythm before giving way to a more drifting, supernatural treatment for strings and pipe organ. This Batman theme is instantly memorable, and it is one of Mr. Elfman’s greatest achievements with this score.

Another stand-out from the score is track 5, “Shootout,” a lengthy arrangement that plays over Jack Napier’s confrontation with Batman and the police in Axis Chemicals.  Mr. Elfman uses the repetition of what Mr. Bond describes as a churning, low rhythmic figure from double basses to drive the action and build the suspense of the sequence, all the while wonderfully weaving the Batman theme in and out of the action.

Track 18, “Descent into Mystery,” is probably my favorite piece of the score.  As Batman drives Vicki Vale back to the Batcave, Mr. Elfman presents an intense, building choral arrangement of the Batman theme, which builds to an operatic intensity as the Batmobile rushes towards the cave.  It’s an arrangement that is scary but also hauntingly beautiful.

Tracks 25-28 all fly one into the next as they represent Mr. Elfman’s score to the action climax of the film, from Joker’s shooting-down of the Batwing to to the two enemies’ final confrontation atop the Gotham cathedral.  It’s a tour-de-force sequence of super-hero action music, as Mr. Elfman skillfully intertwines the many themes that he has developed over the course of the film into a fast-paced arrangement.  It works well behind the action of the film and is also eminently re-listenable on its own on CD.  I’m also quite partial to track 29, “finale.”  As the new Bat-signal is unveiled and the camera races up the skyscrapers of Gotham to reveal a vigilant Batman, the score builds to a phenomenal crescendo and we get one final, triumphant presentation of the Batman theme.

Mr. Elfman’s complete score for Batman is presented entirely on disc one.  Disc two of the set contains the shortened, edited original Batman 1989 soundtrack CD version, along with several bonus tracks that present us with alternate versions of various pieces of score, including the Main Title.  Disc two is nice to have, I suppose, for completeness’ sake, but when one has the complete, unedited version of the Batman score on disc one, I can’t imagine ever wanting to listen to the edited version on disc two.  As for the alternate takes, they were interesting to listen to once, but I can’t imagine that I’ll be revisiting them too often in the future.  As I commented in my review of the recent release of the complete score to Back to the Future, the extra tracks on the second disc are neat, but I wouldn’t have objected to a cheaper version of the set that just contained the complete score found on disc one.

But I shouldn’t complain.  This is a top-notch presentation of an incredible film score.  Thank you, La-La Land Records!!

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