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Section Header
Batman Returns
1992 Warner

2010 La-La Land

2011 Warner

Composed and Co-Produced by:
Danny Elfman

Conducted by:
Jonathan Sheffer

Co-Orchestrated and Co-Produced by:
Steve Bartek

Co-Orchestrated by:
Mark McKenzie

Song Performed by:
Siouxsie and the Banshees

Labels and Dates:
Warner Brothers Records
(June 23rd, 1992)

La-La Land Records
(November 30th, 2010)

Warner Brothers Records
(April 12th, 2011)

Also See:
The Danny Elfman and Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box
Edward Scissorhands
Dick Tracy

Audio Clips:
1992 Warner Album:

1. Birth of a Penguin (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (241K)
Real Audio (149K)

2. Opening Titles (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

6. Selina Transforms (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (243K)
Real Audio (151K)

13. Rooftops (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

The Warner album of 1992 was a regular U.S. release. The 2010 2-CD set from La-La Land was limited to 3,500 copies and was sold through soundtrack specialty outlets for $30. The 2011 Warner set is a limited edition of 2,000 copies, sold for $500 primarily through the official site of the album. Consult with the separate review of that set for more details about its availability.


Batman Returns
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Buy it... if you prefer your Batman score to better reflect the morbidly tragic sensibilities of Danny Elfman's dominant style in his early career works.

Avoid it... if you expect the same heroic power and resonance of the vastly superior orchestral performances, recording, and mixing you heard in the production of the music for Batman.

Batman Returns: (Danny Elfman) Few audiences could have expected director Tim Burton to produce a success of the magnitude of the first Batman film in 1989. Grossing many hundreds of millions of dollars on a budget a tenth the size, Warner Brothers did not hesitate to encourage Burton to follow up with a sequel three years later. While Warner had kept the director on a tight leash for the original film, its success afforded Burton substantially more artistic control over his 1992 sequel. As such, the plot took on more of the style of the original comics, replacing the serious edge of the first film with a spirit of fantasy closer to Beetlejuice than Batman. The entire aesthetic of Batman Returns twisted the concept deep into the realm of the director's own psyche, rejecting some of the timeless classicism of the initial entry in favor of a world so dark and cold that the entire movie had to be shot in refrigerated sets. Expanding the number of villains to two allowed Warner to crank up the merchandising machine even further, pushing the franchise with a ferocity that would remain intact for two additional direct sequels. And yet, even with Burton behind the camera, Michael Keaton in front of it, and Danny Elfman's famous title theme over the speakers, the film failed to live up to expectations outside of viewers already devoted to the style that Burton and Elfman had perpetuated in several films at the time. For these fans of the Burton sense of gloom and the Elfman sound of tragedy, Batman Returns has interestingly remained the favorite of the first two films in the franchise. Mainstream audiences and critics eventually lost interest in the movie, though, in part due to is morbidly strained, sinister and sensual atmosphere, and almost unrecognizably bleak vision of Gotham. Batman Returns is typically only mentioned as an afterthought when the far more revered Batman is qualified as the best superhero music ever recorded for cinema, and if that's truly the case, then the sequel was destined to disappoint. Elfman's score for Batman Returns divides listeners along the identical lines of the film, testimony for how well the two artists' talents intermingled at the time. Outside of the composer and director's most dedicated followers, the score for Batman Returns is like the character of the Penguin, tragically alluring and immensely complex, but ultimately cold and heartless.

As intelligent as Elfman's evolution of music becomes in this score, and as closely it resembles the composer's personal style rather than his emulation of others, Batman Returns is simply not as linear and powerful as Batman, and when you throw in some intangible problems with performance, mixing, and recording, Batman Returns suffers by comparison. It is an incredibly frustrating score, perhaps one of the most immensely disappointing entries of the digital age, in part because of all of the aspects of the endeavor that Elfman got right. The same triumphant title theme returns, and the winter setting would seem to have lent itself well to the Christmas-like innocence of his writing current to the time. The technical acuity of the thematic development for the villains and Elfman's increasing use of unusual instrumental tones are both outstanding in this continuation. These elements, along with his maturing skills at writing for an orchestral ensemble and a broader role for a chorus in Batman Returns, promised to result in one of the best sequel scores since the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. Instead, Elfman takes two steps forward and four steps back, reverting to a less powerful style of action scoring more similar to Scrooged and Pee-wee's Big Adventure than that he had established in Batman. The first backwards step in Batman Returns is Elfman's total abandonment of the classically rich orchestral constructs of the original, allowing the primary theme and the presence of its hero to be dominated by the musical personas of the two villains. As such, the score lacks conviction for the title character. The wild ambience that had been restricted to the Joker in the first score now permeates the entirety of this score, with some of the weight of the action shed by the use of a lighter chorus, less conventional motifs, more bizarre orchestration, and less linear rhythms. In essence, the spirit of Batman Returns returns to that of Beetlejuice, which is understandable given Burton's (and Elfman's) broad creative control over the sequel. But that diverse and depressing spirit detracts from the power of the original score's approach to Gotham and therefore reduces its effectiveness by comparison. An argument could be made that Elfman was simply trying to juggle too many thematic and instrumental identities, too, a byproduct of a fragmented script.

The chorus used in Batman was one of mature, deep, adult tones, assisting in identifying Gotham City as a serious, gloomy, religious, and spiritual kind of haven for the contrasts of good and evil. Compare that resonance to Elfman's "la-la" style chorus, carried over most prominently from the aforementioned Scrooged and Nightbreed, and that gothic image is deflated. A more forceful choir with an enhanced male bass would have been just as welcomed in the title theme performances, continuing the established Gotham spirit and still capturing the holiday season. Another step backwards is the Penguin's thematic representation, for which Elfman never seemingly decides if he should apply the brush of operatic lyricism or one of cartoonish tragedy. Unfortunately, he tried to use both, composing cartoonish themes for the character's circus antics and then suggesting them in a classically melodramatic fashion. In a few cases, this combination works, especially in the opening introduction to the character's origins. From there, however, the score suffers from a personality crisis that the original never had to contend with. Technically, the character is treated to two separate themes, one appealing to viewers' heartstrings in the tragic mode while the other stomping about with a sour, temperamental personality, evidence of Elfman's perhaps misappropriated attachment (and therefore attention) to the character. The Catwoman theme, on the other hand, is purely ingenious in its employment of high-pitched strings to represent a cat's "meow" calls and finicky personality. The violins in such whining, high ranges are often tough on the ears, but that's the entire idea behind mimicking a cat's voice. The transformation cues are fascinating in their layering and Elfman keenly uses the repeating two-note rise or fall of the violins as a motif to represent the character well throughout the score (and even the costume party song). Only in the finale of the film, from Selina Kyle's electrocution through the very end (at which point she is seen perched like Batman on a rooftop), does her theme truly mix in the middle tonal ranges with the surrounding underscore. One of the rather obscure delights of Batman Returns is Elfman's mingling of the themes for Batman and Catwoman in the score, avoiding any specific love theme for the two and rather creating a tense, unfinished ambience by overlapping their themes (which conveniently begin with the same three notes in the minor mode).

Because Selina and her alter-ego don't have massive armies of freaks and animals, the mass of action material in Batman Returns unfortunately relates to the Penguin. The pompous bombast that accompanies his circus gang of maniacs and marching armies of fluffy, tuxedoed killers suffers from the same problem as the primary theme for their leader. Elfman provides a ripping snare rhythm as compensation for the cartoonish tragedy of their ascent, but in reality, that tragedy is not convincing in such a carnival atmosphere. The score's early cues for the circus gang's explosive attacks on Gotham are afforded the kind of carnival atmosphere Elfman conjured for his comedies, and it's insufferable in the doses applied here. Lacking completely in the score is the elegance of the thematic treatment for Bruce Wayne, and this is yet another step backwards. His contemplative and troubled motifs are absent. There are no flourishes of the title theme in the middle portions Batman Returns that can compete with the original, in part because Burton diminishes the awe associated with the character's scenes in this picture. The title theme performances sound like Elfman forced the demented atmosphere of Nightbreed onto them, especially with the funky drum work at the very outset of the opening titles. All the powerful mystique of the character is gone, muddying the waters with the style of the villains to such an extent that you never get the impression from listening to the score that Batman ever proves victorious. The finale, for instance, is so concerned with the Penguin's overwrought theatrics (even in death) and Selina's continued lives (which doesn't really make sense given that Michelle Pfeiffer's role would never return in the franchise) that the hero is sold short at a time when audiences need to be reminded that Batman is indeed the focus of the stories. All of these shortcomings could likely have been excused, however, if not for the one most fatal flaw in this sequel score: a poor performance, recording, and mix. This final step backwards is the most painful, for the original Batman score was performed with extremely robust energy under the direction of Shirley Walker in London and its sheer power was enveloping and awe-inspiring. Despite all of the technical problems experienced with the original score's recording, it still embodied the sound of a classic, exuding an intangible sense of larger-than-life attitude regardless of lingering issues with sound quality due to challenges with the recording studio.

Because the production of Batman Returns was moved in its entirety from London to Los Angeles, the score for the sequel was recorded with a regular studio orchestra at Sony's scoring stage, and the difference between any recordings in London and Los Angeles has never been more evident. In Batman Returns, the timpani do not resound, the chimes are distant, the gong does not impress, the piano is not sharp, and the brass is completely flat. Take, for instance, the sixteenth-notes performed by muted trumpets throughout the battle sequences in Batman. Due to a combination of uninspired playing and more deliberate pacing in Batman Returns, the heralding trumpets are a valuable asset lost. Along these lines, incidentally, all discussion about the influence of Bernard Herrmann on the original score goes out the window with the sequel. Emphasized in Batman Returns is a lighter chorus, the continued heavy presence of the organ, and a different array of medium-range drums to spice up the mix. And, unfortunately, without the depth of the original ensemble's sound, this alteration doesn't convince. So much of the dynamic instrumental applications in Batman are expanded upon in the sequel, but not in ways that you can really hear and/or appreciate them. The mix of the score is extremely muted by comparison to Batman (and much more dry than the previous score's album mix), reducing the effectiveness of the metallic percussion particularly. What happened to the wicked combination of gong and cymbal crashes that provided the first score with so much grace? The bass region in Batman Returns drones badly due to the overbearing mix of the organ; so much of the detail is lost in this environment because the organ and other booming contributors drown out less powerful instruments. Casual listeners could probably comment that this score sounds as though it was recorded in a closet with half the number of players, despite the opposite being true. Ironically, the mix of the song "Face to Face," co-written by Elfman and the performing group Siouxsie and the Banchees for the costume ball scene, is a highlight if only because it features a far more dynamic range than the score (as well as all three primary themes in the background). There is simply no substitute for power, and no dull studio orchestra on a poor day --no matter how brilliantly mixed and rearranged-- can compete with a more inspired singing and playing force. In its shallow soundscape, Batman Returns sounds, for lack of a more precise word, lame.

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The many fans of this score will contend that Elfman's changed direction with Batman Returns suits the film well. In regards to the fact that film is a far more accurate reflection of Burton's sensibilities, the score is thus a product closer to the true heart of Elfman's writing, reflecting other popular early scores by the composer. This isn't an insult, for the score may have been quite good had Elfman not established the franchise with a completely different and incredibly successful direction in the previous entry. To aggravate the situation even further in 1992, Warner Brothers pumped out an incomprehensible album for Batman Returns. While significant in length, shorter cues are haphazardly merged together without distinction, and with the track breaks occurring at odd moments, the packaging offers absolutely no help in distinguishing the cues. In fact, the only track listings on initial pressings existed on the CD itself, and Warner slapped a sticker with the name of every other track on the outer plastic wrap of the product. Within a short time frame in 2010 and 2011, expanded editions of the score were released, first by itself in a 2-CD set by La-La Land Records and then on CD #5 in the $500 set, "The Danny Elfman and Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box." The latter disaster of a collection of Elfman scores (reviewed separately at Filmtracks) treats Batman Returns badly, reprising the Warner album's contents with three bonus cues (albeit good ones) and a series of Penguin-related demos. The 2010 La-La Land product is by far the superior choice, with a sensible, chronological presentation followed by alternate takes and emulations of the album splices for good measure. Unfortunately, the sound quality on both the expanded albums is no better than that of the 1992 product, an immense disappointment. In fact, the 2010 2-CD set has an entirely different mix in places (the gong and anvil in the big opening title major chord is quite obviously revealed), but its ambience is arguably worse than the 1992 and 2011 products! Never has such an intelligent score with so much potential sounded so muted and uninspired on so many albums. Overall, Elfman gains a point for his loyalty to the original Batman theme and great new compositional complexities, but Jonathan Sheffer's conducting, Shawn Murphy's recording and mix, and subsequent masterings all disrespect the personality and power of the classic predecessor. Even Elliot Goldenthal's Batman Forever, while providing only a faint mutation of Elfman's title theme, better captures the grand essence of Gotham and its hero. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for the Film: ***
    Music as Conducted, Performed, Recorded, and Mixed: *
    Music as Heard on All Albums: **
    Overall: **

Bias Check:For Danny Elfman reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.2 (in 65 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.25 (in 118,836 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.1 Stars
Smart Average: 2.97 Stars*
***** 1187 
**** 651 
*** 1672 
** 1156 
* 662 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   2 stars? Joking,right?
  Bernardo -- 7/15/11 (9:40 a.m.)
   Re: Very well orchestrated
  hewhomustnotbenamed -- 12/17/10 (6:45 a.m.)
   Re: Couldn't disagree more with the review
  hewhomustnotbenamed -- 12/17/10 (6:44 a.m.)
   Batman Returns Formula
  Bruno Costa -- 12/2/10 (12:39 p.m.)
   Re: The best Elfman album
  Yahzee -- 7/30/10 (4:19 p.m.)
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 Track Listings (1992 Warner Album): Total Time: 69:58

• 1. Birth of a Penguin (2:27)
• 2. Opening Titles (3:09)
• 3. To the Present (0:57)
• 4. The Lair (4:49)
• 5. Selina Kyle (1:11)
• 6. Selina Transforms (4:16)
• 7. The Cemetary (2:54)
• 8. Cat Suite (5:41)
• 9. Batman vs. The Circus (2:34)
• 10. The Rise... (1:41)
• 11. ...and Fall from Grace (4:08)
• 12. Sore Spots (2:15)
• 13. Rooftops (4:19)
• 14. Wild Ride (3:34)
• 15. The Children's Hour (1:47)
• 16. The Final Confrontation (5:12)
• 17. Penguin Army (4:54)
• 18. Selina's Electrocution (2:40)
• 19. The Finale (2:19)
• 20. End Credits (4:44)
• 21. Face to Face - performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees (4:17)

(track titles on the packaging are incomplete. The ones offered by Filmtracks here expand upon those on the packaging for more accuracy.)

 Track Listings (2010 La-La Land Album): Total Time: 139:35

CD 1: (68:08)
• 1. Birth of a Penguin/Main Title (5:38)
• 2. Penguin Spies* (1:09)
• 3. Shadow of Doom*/Clown Attack*/Introducing the Bat** (5:01)
• 4. Intro*/The Zoo**/The Lair (6:00)
• 5. Caught in the Act*/Uh-Oh Max* (1:58)
• 6. Kitty Party*/Selina Transforms** (5:30)
• 7. Penguin's Grand Deed* (1:50)
• 8. The List Begins* (0:45)
• 9. The Cemetery (2:56)
• 10. Catwoman Saves Joan*/The New Woman* (2:03)
• 11. Penguin's Surprise (1:43)
• 12. Bad, Bad Dog**/Batman vs. Circus/Selina's Shopping Spree** (5:42)
• 13. Cat Chase** (2:12)
• 14. Candidate Cobblepot* (0:58)
• 15. The Plan*/Kidnapping* (2:32)
• 16. Sore Spots/Batman's Closet* (3:22)
• 17. The Plot Unfolds* (1:15)
• 18. Roof Top Encounters** (4:49)
• 19. Batman's Wild Ride** (4:19)
• 20. Fall From Grace** (4:17)
• 21. Revealed*/Party Crasher* (3:18)

CD 2: (71:27)
• 1. Umbrella Source/The Children's Hour/War** (7:53)
• 2. Final Confrontation**/Finale (9:15)
• 3. A Shadow of Doubt**/End Credits** (6:15)
• 4. Face to Face - performed by Siouxsie and the Banshees (4:18)

Alternate and Album Cues:
• 5. The Zoo (Alternate)** (1:00)
• 6. The List Begins (Alternate)* (0:45)
• 7. Cat Chase (Alternate Ending)** (2:13)
• 8. Roof Top Encounters (Original)** (4:49)
• 9. Fall From Grace (Alternate Ending)** (4:17)
• 10. The Lair, Part I (0:57)
• 11. The Lair, Part II (4:51)
• 12. Selina Transforms, Part I (1:12)
• 13. Selina Transforms, Part II (4:15)
• 14. Batman vs. the Circus (2:35)
• 15. Cat Suite (5:43)
• 16. A Shadow of Doubt (Alternate)**/End Credits (Alternate) (7:02)

Bonus Track:
• 17. Super Freak* - performed by Rick James and Alonzo Miller (3:23)

* previously unreleased
** contains previously unreleased material

 Track Listings (2011 Warner Album): Total Time: 77:55

CD 5: (77:55)

• 1. Birth of a Penguin I (2:27)
• 2. Birth of a Penguin II (3:10)
• 3. The Lair I (0:58)
• 4. The Lair II (4:49)
• 5. Selina Transforms I (1:11)
• 6. Selina Transforms II (4:16)
• 7. The Cemetery (2:55)
• 8. Cat Suite (5:42)
• 9. Batman vs. the Circus (2:34)
• 10. The Rise and Fall From Grace I (1:41)
• 11. The Rise and Fall From Grace II (4:08)
• 12. Sore Spots (2:16)
• 13. Rooftops/Wild Ride I (4:20)
• 14. Rooftops/Wild Ride II (3:35)
• 15. The Children's Hour (1:47)
• 16. The Final Confrontation I (5:13)
• 17. The Final Confrontation II (4:54)
• 18. The Finale I (2:40)
• 19. The Finale II (2:20)
• 20. End Credits (4:45)

Bonus Tracks: (12:25)
• 21. Penguin's Grand Deed (1:52)
• 22. Catwoman Saves Joan (1:24)
• 23. Revealed/Party Crasher (3:18)
• 24. Penguin Theme I (Worktape)* (1:33)
• 25. Penguin March (Worktape)* (1:46)
• 26. Penguin Theme II (Worktape)* (1:15)
• 27. Death of the Penguin (Demo)* (1:20)

* previously unreleased

(the track listing on the album's official site erroneously adds a phantom worktape track titled "Penguin Theme 3")

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert of the 1992 Warner album includes no extra information about the score or film. The original pressing lacked track listings, too, forcing Warner to include them on a sticker on the outside of the shrink wrap. The 2010 La-La Land album's insert contains an analysis of both the score and film. The 2011 Warner set features some notes from Elfman about his choices of music for inclusion on the product.

  All artwork and sound clips from Batman Returns are Copyright © 1992, 2010, 2011, Warner Brothers Records, La-La Land Records, Warner Brothers Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/24/96 and last updated 5/30/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1996-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.