There’s no doubt that a soundtrack can make or break a movie and when it comes to a true summer blockbuster that not only manages to break a myriad of records but genuinely be one of the finest pieces of cinema to grace the screen in years, you can bet that the music, whether subtlety or obviously, will play a large part in the audiences participation in the events of the film. For The Dark Knight, this formula is no different and the music composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard not only brought to life some of the new characters in the film, but also revitalized our hero with the repetition of his theme from Batman Begins in ways that still feel fresh.
While I was wrapped up in Batman Begins, it didn’t wow me as I’d hoped it would. I loved the film, but whether it was a mix of all the footage I’d seen prior to the film or simply because it wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for, whatever I felt was missing from the film had nothing to do with its score. I listened to that soundtrack I don’t know how many times and by the time The Dark Knight hit theaters, I was not only eager to see the film itself but to also hear what Zimmer and Howard came up with for this sequel. I was so wrapped up in the visuals, characters and story the first time around I didn’t pay much attention to the score, except for the brief instances where elements from Batman Begins were repeated, and it wasn’t until I went back to the theater a second time did I begin to realize just how fantastic the score for the film was.
There are elements of the soundtrack that are in-your-face, to fit with the action moments in the film, but for every blast of the horn there is a subtle violin somewhere in the score. The first three track of the soundtrack are so drastically different and represent our three main protagonists themes perfectly. “Why So Serious?” is a demonic and serious Joker theme riddle with quiet moments that pulse with bass, while “I’m Not a Hero” focuses on Batman and includes elements from the Begins score to help not only bring familiarity to the character, but to also remind us that this is the same man from the first film. There are subtle changes to the repeated elements from Begins, whether it’s an amplification of Batman’s theme or a new composition of it, that are littered throughout the soundtrack, so it’s not all just a simple retread for those who have listened to the first films soundtrack as much as I have.
By the third track we’ve already entered into a whole new area of the film with “Harvey Two-Face.” His theme starts out quiet and filled with emotion and could easily be mistaken for something from the Lord of the Rings soundtracks in spots, but eventually finds its own unique place on the album. The rest of the album, all fourteen tracks, seem to make up almost the entire films score. The final track, “A Dark Knight” runs an impressive sixteen minutes in length, which leads me to believe that this may very well be the entire soundtrack from the film. There are elements of the film where there is no score present (the entire police sequence in the film with Harvey being transported has absolutely no music behind it), so it’s very possible we got the entire score on the first release.
One element that I found rather cool in the film was the Joker’s “theme.” It’s not your usual instrumental piece and instead just sounds like one, long string being plucked as it screams for minutes on end. At first I took this to be more of a sound effect, but then I noticed its usage for when Joker’s around and realized on my second or third viewing of the film that it was, in fact, Joker’s theme. There isn’t much there, but a single note “scream” is incredibly fitting for Joker.
I’ve listened to The Dark Knight soundtrack about eight or nine times now and have yet to grow tired of it and am I constantly finding something new out about it each time I listen. This isn’t to say it requires ten listens to be completely enjoyed, but film scores have always begged to be listened to more than once to truly pick up on all of their subtleties. The Dark Knight is not only a fantastic film but also one with a fantastic film score. There are some familiar places for those who have enjoyed the Batman Begins soundtrack, but as the film itself presented a whole new visual style for Batman and Gotham, so does the soundtrack present a whole new aural experience. For every repeated string of music there are a dozen new ones, making this soundtrack as different from the first films score as the films themselves are.
If you are a fan of the film or of movie scores in general, pick this one up without hesitation. It’s a fantastic score from Zimmer and Howard and it absolutely holds up on repeat viewings without question. Highly Recommended.
The Dark Knight has two different soundtrack releases, a “deluxe” set and a standard CD release. I’ll be covering the standard release, although as I understand it only the packaging and a few interior photos that differ from the standard edition, so there aren’t any bonus tracks to miss out on by getting the “lesser” of the two releases. The set itself is presented in a standard clear jewel case with grey disc art (with a black bat-logo) and art behind the disc that I’ve never seen before. It’s of Batman putting his hands up against a wall with repeated “Ha” forming a bat symbol. Inside the booklet is a whole mess of images as well and include a new shot of Joker I’ve never seen (that I’m pretty sure isn’t Ledger) as well as a shot of Batman I haven’t seen. Both feature the characters removing their masks (in Joker’s case, the mask he wore in the opening of the film) and it would honestly make a rather awesome poster. Kind of a shame they haven’t been shown off before. The rest of the photos are posters and production photos that have been passed around sites prior to the film’s release.
The booklet itself contains a series of “Thanks” from those involved with the soundtrack, as well as the track listing and who played what instrument. The final interior page of the booklet features a message from Christopher Nolan who talks about his conversations with Zimmer and Newton concerning the soundtrack. It’s a great little five paragraph closer to the soundtrack that points out just how much new material made it into the soundtrack as opposed to just straight up Batman Begins repeats.
Nothing to really comment on any other aspect of the disc; it’s a fantastic sounding score that’s presented beautifully. I will say the bass can get a little overbearing at times, causing portions of my room to vibrate from the amount of power that’s being sent to the subwoofer, but it’s nothing a little volume adjustment can’t cure. Usually I have problems with soundtracks not being as loud as other types of music, but in this case it’s the exact opposite problem…when it comes to the bass, anyway.
Overall this soundtrack comes Highly Recommended. Pick it up, listen to it and enjoy playing the film back in your head as the score plays in the background. One thing I found so fascinating about listening to film scores is going back to watch the film after listening to the isolated scores for so long. You not only pick up on it more in the film but also can pinpoint areas that aren’t included on the soundtrack. I’ve yet to get to that point and likely won’t until the film itself hits the home video format.
The Dark Knight soundtrack is now available.