The association between Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer has always worked wonders, but particularly with the music of The Dark Knight Rises.
Faced with superheroic domination in cinema, one question arises among many others: why the music often seems disembodied and unmemorable? After all, it’s not as if the constant returns of the same characters in ever more gargantuan crossovers were not supposed to bring their share of epic leitmotivs to blow up in all directions.
Nevertheless, apart from a few counter-examples (starting with the well-rehearsed theme of the Avengers), few experiments have impressed the public in recent years. If the brilliant videographer Tony Zhou has sketched out this problem within the MCU, DC is not to be outdone, with Aquaman or some Shazam of sad memory.
However, the DCEU has relied heavily on the contemporary patron saint of film music, namely Hans Zimmer, who set the tone with his minimalist and heavy score for man of steel. Whether we like the approach or not, we cannot take away its consistency with Zack Snyder’s film and its striking force, inherited from the Teutonic musician’s previous compositions with Christopher Nolan.
However, when we think of the greatest works of this dear Hans, it is difficult to miss the magnitude of The Dark Knight Rises, which led him to go above and beyond to do justice to the latest adventures of Christian Bale’s Dark Knight. The opportunity was therefore too good not to return to this legendary album, which could help to better understand why the competition is struggling to get up to speed.
It’s from who ?
We have already mentioned it in our article on the soundtrack ofInception, but Hans Zimmer completely changed the way film music is viewed. With his famous RCP studio (for Remote Control Productions), it’s a whole school he has set up. The sample is king there, the ostinati take precedence over a certain melodic work, and the sound design tends to mingle with more traditional instruments.
On the one hand, experimentation is often put forward, but on the other, the supremacy of an orchestra recreated by computer (in particular to better adapt to editing changes) considerably impoverishes the approach of a music theory reduced to a trickle.
Hans Zimmer and his orchestra in the background
Therefore, if some perceive in the approach of Zimmer and his apprentices the simple boom boom electro-orchestral trend where everything looks alike, this standardization of the soundtrack is not inevitable. On the contrary, Zimmer proved that alongside a great filmmaker, he could impose new standards, such as the famous flat tints ofInception.
In fact, the director of the trilogy Dark Knight found a privileged collaborator with the composer, even though the latter created a tandem with James Newton Howard for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Faced with the musical success ofInceptionJNH has decided to withdraw from The Dark Knight Rises, probably for fear of holding the candle. And maybe that’s why Zimmer completely let the horses loose on this latest installment…
Hello, did you ask for subtlety?
As on the first two episodes, the soundtrack of The Dark Knight Rises begins with a pure sound-design effect: the echo of a breath representing the Dark Knight’s cape. The two introductory pieces, entitled A Storm is coming and On Thin Ice, exploit this recognizable base to better walk on eggshells. The storm is approaching, and Batman is no longer what he used to be. Its minimalist leitmotif, composed of a rise of two notes, is stifled in a refined orchestration, based on plaintive synthesizers and violins.
The composer is not satisfied with shaping a rise in power, but imposes from these preliminary tracks the note of intent of his work. By reworking the Batman theme in this way, Zimmer focuses less on the music than on the complete soundscape of a movieto the point where his experimental findings flow into the narrative, and vice versa.
With the years 2010, the German composer also had fun blurring the border between diegesis (the universe of a film) and the extra-diegesis (what exists outside the universe of a film, like music). In man of steel for example, the General Zod theme shares the dubstep sounds used to characterize his terraforming machine in the film’s final act.
But a year before The New Adventures of Superman, Zimmer transcends this idea with the theme of Bane, and his suite of voices chanting a call to revolution. The basis of insidious synthesizers to the organ tunes of the track Gotham’s Reckoning moves like a slow snake about to strike, before the brass and percussion let loose in rhythm with this unleashed choir (which is also found in The Fire Rises).
Both a metonym for the character’s anger and a reflection of his use of populist rhetoric, this musical idea already gives all the keys to understanding his iconic villain. But Zimmer goes even further, since this song overflows with extra diegesis to impose itself in history, while the prisoners of the well in which Bruce Wayne is locked up sing it regularly.
The words “Deshi Basara” (from an Arabic dialect kept secret by the composer) translate the idea of elevation (the famous “Rise” of the title), and motivate the hero during his escape. The musician thus hides in the theme of his antagonist the tool for re-iconizing his hero, as if to better mark the relationship of these two nemeses.
Hans Zimmer at his concert arrivals
The same type of experimentation can be observed on the Catwoman theme, the other newcomer of this episode. With the piece Mind If I Cut In?Hans Zimmer offers a mischievous dimension to his burglar, with volatile piano notes that advance with muffled steps.
Here again, the sound design is mixed with this melodic work, since the rhythmic base rests on a tinkling sound, as if we were perceiving the movement of a character whose pockets are filled with colliding coins. Through his eternal ostinati, the composer gives the feeling of an urgency, of a perpetual flight in harmony with a heroine who would like to escape her past.
All these beautiful people are thus mixed with the achievements of previous opuses, and more particularly with the various iterations of the theme of Batman. To tell the truth, Hans Zimmer may have found with The Dark Knight Rises a balance that he has since struggled to maintain between his purely experimental proposals and their way of integrating organically with his compositional tics.
Here, all its leitmotifs are designed to be flexible at will, and exploited in pure bursts of action nags. He may give in to certain facilities, but does so with such energy that it is impossible to hide his pleasure. Paradoxically, some of the best tracks in The Dark Knight Rises are not present on the album, like No Stone Unturnedwhich is the film’s climax, and the Batwing’s final pursuit of the truck containing the nuke.
All the major themes of the film are found at the heart of the imperturbable bass lines and constantly crescendoing strings, using their machine-gun delivery to better bring the brass to an orgasmic rise in power at the midpoint.
All this makes you think about the physical reaction that this soundtrack provides. For quite a few years, Zimmer has assumed that his sample-based songwriting is suitable for electronics and remixing, as certain covers of his tracks prove (in the case of TDKRJunkie XL covers Bane’s theme in the fun Bombers Over Ibiza).
The approach is sometimes limited, but with their repetitive aspect, the power of their percussions and their progressive assemblages of tracks and instruments of all kinds, the artist’s compositions are at their best when they draw on the codes of techno. It rhythms our hearts on its BPM as if to grant the epic dimension of the film to the energy of a nightclub. Difficult for that not to dwell on Why Do We Fall? and his chest-hair-growing ostinato, as Bruce Wayne manages to escape from Bane’s prison.
If only one piece had to be kept
For sure, the last track of the album, soberly titled rise, has the merit of marking the end of the trilogy with a form of requiem around the theme of Batman, which immortalizes the symbol represented by the superhero. Nevertheless, compared to all that we have been able to say before, we will dwell rather on Imagine The Fire, the ultimate piece of bravery The Dark Knight Risesand one of the best syntheses of the Zimmer style.
If the track is not really used as it is in the film (but we find excerpts from it in the final battle and in the last duel between Batman and Bane), our dear Hans does not need to be asked to put all his eggs in one basket.
With no less than three different ostinati, the piece has fun combining the themes of Batman and Bane with great blows of penetrating bass (synths and other electro distortion effects), exhausted brass and strings that twirl in all directions. It’s epic, it’s naughty, it makes you want to take a deep voice and blow up your arms. In short, everything you want from a Batman score.