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Section Header
The Dark Knight
Regular CD

Special Edition (Limited) CD

Collector's Edition Set

Co-Composed and Co-Produced by:
Hans Zimmer
James Newton Howard
Lorne Balfe

Co-Produced by:
Alex Gibson

Co-Conducted by:
Matt Dunkley
Gavin Greenaway

Co-Orchestrated and Co-Conducted by:
Bruce Fowler

Co-Orchestrated by:
Jeff Atmajian
Brad Dechter
Elizabeth Finch
Kevin Kaska
Randy Kerber
Suzette Moriarty
Walter Fowler

Ambient Design by:
Mel Wesson

Arranged by:
Henry Jackman

Labels and Dates:
Warner Brothers Records
(Regular/Special Editions)
(July 15th, 2008)

Warner Brothers Records
(Collector's Edition Set)
(December 9th, 2008)

Also See:
Batman Begins
The Dark Knight Rises
Batman Returns
Batman Forever
Batman & Robin

Audio Clips:
Regular Edition:

1. Why So Serious? (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

3. Harvey Two-Face (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

4. Aggressive Expansion (0:29):
WMA (188K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

14. A Dark Knight (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

There were initally two CD albums commercially available for this score, followed in subsequent months by another CD album and an LP release. Of the two albums released in July, 2008, one is a regular product in a jewel case and the other is a special edition digipak that was reportedly limited in its production run and therefore was offered at a retail price $2 higher than the regular CD album. Released on August 12th, 2008 is a double LP release on heavy-weight (180 gram) vinyl, utilizing the same cover art as the regular commercial CD. Its initial retail price was $33. The contents of all these albums, according to Warner, is the same.

Warner Brothers also immediately advertised a "collector's edition" album to be released at an undetermined date in subsequent months, featuring special artwork. That product came in the form of a 2-CD set that added several more cues and remixes on the second CD. At a retail cost of over $55, the set's additional music and packaging was very overpriced.

  Nominated for a BAFTA Award and a Grammy Award.

The Dark Knight
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Buy it... if you never grow tired of Hans Zimmer's predictable action and drama scoring methods of the 2000's, for The Dark Knight is, despite the composer's unusual handling of the Joker, extremely consistent with his previous works.

Avoid it... if you already own the album for Batman Begins and haven't listened to it for a year or two, especially in the case of the sequel score's ridiculously priced and underachieving 2-CD special edition.

The Dark Knight: (Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard) The superlatives don't seem to stop for director Christopher Nolan's vision of Gotham City. Three years after reintroducing the legendary comic book hero with Batman Begins, Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, have fashioned a sequel that is, by nearly all critical accounts, a superior and transcendent summer blockbuster. In The Dark Knight, the Nolan brothers build upon the framework that established the origins of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins with the addition of the characters of Harvey Dent and the Joker. Stunning cinematography and art direction are prerequisites for any outstanding super hero film, and The Dark Knight spares no expense in its sense of spectacle. The rejuvenation of the Batman franchise from the soulless sequels that followed Tim Burton's original two films is quite remarkable, though for film music fans, the split in opinion over the changing winds of the concept's musical sound has been as ferocious as it has been polarizing. In its most basic foundation, the debate pits identities for the titular character defined by two distinctly different composers, men who not only tackled the task from opposite directions, but faced entirely different directorial styles in the process. There will always be heated discussions about whether Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer better captured the essence of Batman (and let's not forget Elliot Goldenthal), but the roots of that disparity are inherent in the manner with which Burton and Nolan so differently treated the character and his universe. Never has Hollywood presented such a conundrum for fans to ponder: two very successful but extremely distinct views of the same concept in their own franchises. Nolan could very well be on track for artistic dominance and might eventually surpass Warner Brothers' adjusted earnings for the first four films combined, but there will always remain respect for Burton's original Batman, as well as a notch on many "guilty pleasure" lists for Batman Returns. The inevitable comparison in soundtracks is a troublesome subject, in part because of Hans Zimmer's habit of polarizing film music collectors and in part due to an abundance of crazed hype generated by both the studio and the composer prior to the Nolan films.

While Zimmer collaborated with highly respected veteran James Newton Howard for Nolan's first two Batman films, it's easy to get the impression that these are primarily Zimmer scores. They have the distinct traits of his works in most sections and he was involved for greater lengths of time in their creation. In interviews, Howard often volunteers a secondary position and showers Zimmer with constant praise. With the exception of a few clear moments in The Dark Knight, Zimmer's trademark sound is on grand and predictable display. The two composers did several rounds of interviews prior to this film's release, often jovial in tone and always curiously overt in their expressions of respect for one another. At times, they sound like teammates on a college sports team who, under those circumstances, would give each other a good slap on each others' asses for a job well done. They both think very highly of their work for The Dark Knight, as assuring as they had also been about their choices prior to Batman Begins (but perhaps with a bit more cautious restraint the first time). Their words are illuminating of their intentions (and Nolan's agreement with them), and they convey a confidence that you rarely hear so strongly from composers nowadays. They have spent ample time explaining their unconventional moves and placing those choices in context, recognizing in some cases that this music will "irritate" some listeners. They also, however, have spent so much time dwelling on the rationale for these decisions that their attitude tends to border on condescending, especially in their dismissal of the Burton/Elfman approach that they are apparently tired of hearing about. Warner is sticking to its guns, too, commercializing the endeavor to such an extent that there are three different CD albums (a regular CD, a collector's edition with extra art, and a limited special edition digipack... Open thy wallet, fool!) and even a 2-LP vinyl product for the most serious (and nostalgic) aficionados. For their achievements, the composers are being treated like rock stars, performing live on stage at an IMAX theatre in New York City prior to the premiere showing of the film and then appearing throughout the country at Virgin Megastores to sign copies of the products over the following days. Zimmer then planned to go on a worldwide concert tour later in 2008 and take a sabbatical from film score writing (a sabbatical that never ended up happening).

Perhaps lost in all of this hype is one tiny little complication: the quality of the music. Reactions to both of these scores from the die-hard fans of Zimmer have been utterly predictable. Reactions from Howard's fans have been more interesting, in many ways, because many of them consider Howard to be a far more talented and versatile composer. Some of them seemingly tolerate or, in better cases, appreciate Howard's contributions to these scores while distancing themselves from Zimmer's work. For The Dark Knight, Zimmer was able to expand upon ideas that he concocted in Batman Begins and, for the most part, produced an extremely similar score in tone and style. Many parts of the two are interchangeable, and this fact is due to the composer's notion that the Nolan interpretation of Gotham and its characters is far more gloomy and brooding than even Burton's vision. Zimmer is quick to emphasize "sound" and "texture" over traditional thematic structures, which is largely why he doesn't take any inspiration from Elfman's music for the concept. One of the more obnoxious and disrespectful statements that Zimmer made in a 2008 interview about The Dark Knight involved his dismissal of Elfman's "happy jolly theme" for Batman. Regardless of the differences in the movies, and regardless of the fact that Elfman's rendering of his primary idea had shades of Bernard Herrmann attached to it, Zimmer seems inept at understanding the notion of duality. It's possible that the reason Zimmer used the words "happy" and "jolly" to describe that theme (outside of the fact that he sometimes doesn't exercise good diction in his use of English) is because Elfman used some rousing major-key statements in his material. But what remains more important is the fact that Elfman used both minor and major key components in the theme to represent Bruce Wayne's two personas. Elliot Goldenthal would follow suit in his title theme for the latter two sequels. Zimmer, on the other hand, is so infatuated with the darker side of the character that he doesn't seem to equate the major key part of Elfman's "happy jolly theme" with the necessary element of superhero duty. Elfman's score is downright menacing in parts (despite its major-key usage) and is, appropriately, gothic. Conversely, relying solely on minor-key dramatics is boring and immature.

By now, any score collector will be familiar with the fact that Zimmer loves to use cellos and basses to churn up his sense of brooding melodrama. Throw in some broad brass tones over the top, some electronic pulsation or ostinato for movement, and convey the whole thing in harmonious progressions... It's become the Zimmer trademark of the 2000's. If he wants to address Nolan's superhero with this sound, then so be it. Few would argue that it isn't at least functional. The first film was so good in its other production elements that it easily carried an underachieving score, and The Dark Knight does the same. Zimmer and Howard are both quick to point out that continuity is important, and that being the case, both of the most obvious motifs from the first score return. The pinpoint string ostinatos representing the general coolness of Batman, as well as the rising two-note minor-key progression for his heroic self, are both preserved and given satisfactory airtime. The progression is more intelligently woven into several of the action cues. Much fuss was made at the time of Batman Begins about the fact that Zimmer had written a more elaborate idea for Batman, but that the theme had no place in that film because the character had not yet matured into his regular role as Gotham's savior. In the sequel, we finally hear what Zimmer had in mind for the character and, unfortunately, it's a murky blend of The Last Samurai, The Thin Red Line, The Da Vinci Code, and, most interestingly, Crimson Tide. It's hard to imagine how collectors who denigrate James Horner for his blatant self-referencing will be able to give Zimmer a free pass for resurrecting so many previous scores in The Dark Knight, for the pulls are undeniable. The expanded title theme only appears twice in the score ("I'm Not a Hero" and "A Dark Knight" on the albums), ironically, and passes as a generic, muscular anthem from the composer. Its slow, easy shifts, as pleasantly harmonic as they were in scores as far back as The House of the Spirits, rank well on Zimmer's list of easy listening hits, especially in the expansive exploration of the idea in "The Dark Knight." This clear rip-off from The Da Vinci Code, while entertaining in its most basic sense, is devoid of style, vivacity, and duality.

The ideas that Zimmer and Howard composed for the film's two major secondary characters are far more intriguing. The composers very explicitly split these duties, with Howard jokingly stating that he is too traditional to come up with the kind of radical sound that Zimmer eventually conjured for the Joker. Instead, Howard tackled Harvey Dent and his eventual villainous side, Two-Face. While the Joker's material is Zimmer's alone, the Harvey Dent contributions by Howard are arranged, performed, and mixed into a style that fits Zimmer's larger mould for the surrounding score. The two composers have commented frequently on the fact that their material has been heavily integrated, though Howard's music for Dent does stand apart from Zimmer's writing in its brighter romanticism. Indeed, the two did boil the score down to action (Zimmer) and elegance (Howard), as had been the case in Batman Begins. The Harvey Dent theme is defined by Howard's usual solo piano and varied string tones. Its compelling progression is the most memorable tune of The Dark Knight if only because it exists in the treble region as well as Zimmer's more comfortable, deeper turmoil. For the Dent side of the character, Howard uses the primary, repeating six-note figure on delicate piano and poignant strings. For the evolution of Two-Face, the theme becomes a bold brass piece of surprisingly forceful harmony. The last minute of "Harvey Two-Face" offers a gorgeous performance of theme with all the robust orchestral majesty of the best parts of The Water Horse and I Am Legend. The lighter portions of the theme convey the same character intimacy as the ending to The Interpreter. The theme's subsequent usage can be masked by Zimmer's heavy bass applications, which disappointingly strip the idea of its caring appeal (with the exception of "Blood on My Hands"). In fact, outside of "Harvey Two-Face," "Blood on My Hands," and parts of "Agent of Chaos," it's difficult to point to specific moments within the score and identify them as purely Howard contributions. To this end, Zimmer indeed was quite successful at his editing tasks. It's a bit surprising that Zimmer didn't alter the six minutes of "Harvey Two-Face" to fit better stylistically with the remainder of the score, though its effectiveness would likely have been diminished if he had done so.

Zimmer toiled for three months with the theme for the Joker and, in the end, he took a two-note motif and condensed it down to one note. Debate amongst the fans ensued about whether one note can qualify as a theme. It all comes down to the texture of the performance, and this is where Zimmer defines the idea. This representation isn't even as much a note as it is a sound effect, a rising tone of a siren that's been altered into a harsh, digital calling card that is extraordinarily distinct. With such a blatantly awkward construct, this rising tone is very effective at representing the character. In "Why So Serious?," Zimmer drives the point home with a series of equally abrasive, looped rhythms and pounding ensemble hits. A substantial amount of dissonant ambient design went into this performance, as well as several others accompanying the Joker and his rising tone. While Zimmer's idea works, it also proves that any sound effect can be altered to convey a character or idea with a single note. Perhaps the most famous use of a unique sound in such a way was with the "Blaster Beam" effect employed by Jerry Goldsmith in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. One rip of that monster pipe and everyone knew that Goldsmith was referring to the mysterious cloud approaching the Earth. In theory, any noise could function for a crazed individual, so long as it was presented in an abnormal way. A hair dryer, a garbage can lid, a squealing baby, the sigh of an orgasm. The problem with using one sound, one note for the Joker is that it betrays the complexity of the character. Once again, as with the Batman character, Zimmer has tried so hard, labored for so long, that he has over-thought the situation. Praise may be poured on the idea because it's intellectually different, but that doesn't mean that it's the best representation for the character. The attempt to simplify the musical idea for the purposes of being radically different says more about the composer than it does about the character on screen. That doesn't mean that the music box and waltz approach of Elfman for the same character was any better, but at least it was three-dimensional. On album, Zimmer's "theme" for the Joker is unlistenable, as is the entire "Why So Serious?" cue. Those nine minutes, among others in the score, are, as one famous film score reviewer said, minutes of your life that you'll never get back.

Zimmer integrates his themes well into the mass of the underscore, with Batman's two-note motif and the Joker's rising tone easy to identify in several places. The action and suspense material is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the score, either pointless in its aimless development or boring in its references to previous Zimmer works. You have to get a chuckle out of a reprise of Backdraft percussion and progressions when the fires in The Dark Knight become a factor. More annoying is the use of the "mutiny" theme from Crimson Tide, a motif used by Zimmer when the submarine crew is in the active state of an armed takeover, in parts of Batman's extended identity. You'll hear these similarities especially in the midsections of "A Dark Knight." Some of the library samples that Zimmer employs are also reminiscent of Crimson Tide, including the drum pad and metallic percussion sounds (among other ambient elements) first heard late in "Aggressive Expansion." A swooshing sound effect to mimic Batman's cape is decently incorporated into several cues, but doesn't have much of an impact. Extended moments of dissonance, as in "A Little Push," are weakly aided by more uninteresting sound effects. This distraught tension extends to "I Am the Batman," which may effectively represent torment of the soul, but offers nothing to please on album. The penultimate track on the first album, "Watch the World Burn," presents cellos and basses in snooze mode. In cues like this, you can't tell if they're recorded live or sampled. There are singular, momentary highlights in the action music between "And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad" and "Introduce a Little Anarchy," but these will often remind of previous Zimmer ventures of the 2000's. The familiar ostinato from Batman Begins is translated into even more menacing bass string performances at times, almost overwhelming two cues. The very lengthy "A Dark Knight" is the most consistently enjoyable album track, even with the violins translating the Joker's theme in ear-shattering fashion at the eleven-minute mark. Its bombastic brass conclusion of theme at about 14:20 is somewhat overwrought, however, forcefully melodramatic to a fault. A slow dissolving of the franchise ostinato (which is seemingly a bit more electronic in its rendering here) and reprise of the two-note Batman theme is an appropriate way to finish off the original product.

Six months after the first regular and limited, special edition albums debuted, Warner stuck it to consumers with another special edition product, this time containing two CDs. It advertised itself as containing the complete score, but fans quickly realized that this advertising was blatantly and unacceptably false. Despite containing over 120 minutes of score material, the December 2008 set is not only missing some music but also very badly presented. Its first CD matches the previously released one and the second one offers 50 additional minutes in a manner that makes the set useless for those wishing for a chronological ordering. Some of Zimmer's cues for the first CD were edited so that such a presentation wasn't possible anyway. At any rate, four remixes of cues are tacked on (three of them completely insufferable) and a 40 page booklet rounds out a set that commanded an initial retail price over $57. As for the score tracks on the second CD, "Bank Robbery/Prologue" is essentially the same as "Why So Serious?" but without the Joker theme at the forefront. "Buyer Beware" is generic action ambience that leads to several full statements of Zimmer's complete Batman theme. Some of Howard's melancholy piano work at minimal volumes is reprised in "Halfway to Hong Kong" and "Decent Men in an Indecent Time," the latter cue degenerating into Zimmer's atmospheric effects. The Joker's grating material returns in "You're Gonna Love Me," but in a less developed format. Distant string meandering for conversational settings in "Chance," led by solo cello, will recall the character interactions from K2. Absolutely nothing of note happens in "You Complete Me" until its final minute, at which point another canned performance of the main theme is conveyed over the ostinatos. The word "sparse" describes the entirety of the tiresome and immensely boring "The Ferries," with only a couple hints of the minor-third progression of the main theme to wake you up during its ten minutes. That atmosphere continues into "We Are Tonight's Entertainment" until the Joker's whining pitch on violins leads to a couple of melodramatic chords and tumultuous ostinatos. Slight references to Howard's theme for Dent in this cue cannot save it. Some life is finally heard in "A Watchful Guardian," which is a competent suite of all the ideas from the score. It includes a tender piano rendition of the Dent theme, a reprise of the thematic lift from The Da Vinci Code on the first CD's "The Dark Knight," and one final reminder that the Joker's theme is truly obnoxious.

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Although the 2-CD set for The Dark Knight does make more music available, that material is far less interesting than what was already released. If you want to spend over $50 on a truly complete, faithful presentation of a score, seek instead the infinitely superior sets for Howard Shore's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Musically speaking, The Dark Knight is once again a score carried by the quality of the film. It receives top grades for effort, but is suspect in terms of actual quality and consistency. Zimmer has attempted to address the darker ambience of these Nolan films by simplifying the style of his themes and lowering the tone of the soundscape to more primordial levels, treble clef be damned. Whether or not that philosophy actually works is as interesting a debate as whether or not Zimmer was artistically capable of providing any other sound for the concept. Regardless of the fact that Danny Elfman's far more famous Batman theme would not be a comfortable fit in Nolan's films, Elfman still displayed something in his music for the franchise that his friend Zimmer has not: intuition. Undoubtedly, a talented composer (including Elfman himself) could have taken the brilliant duality of the original Burton films' scores and adapted the sound for the Nolan alternatives. Hearing a Batman theme without a sense of duality is insulting to Bruce Wayne. And on the subject of creativity: a one-note "theme" for the Joker or the reliance on low strings for a dark ambience isn't creative. If Zimmer had been able to provide the same effect with high strings and (God forbid!) woodwinds, then there would be reason to be impressed. As it is, too much of this music falls into Zimmer's comfort zone. The score sounds, as usual, as though a heavy hand was used in the mixing and editing of all the individual performances. Although the recording used over 100 orchestral players and is, technically, more organic in that foundation, Zimmer once again gives the score an overbearing bass mix and a harsh edge that only betrays the complexity and sophistication of the concept. Howard, who provided beautiful ideas for both the love theme in the first film and Harvey Dent here, needs to be excused; if anything, there should be lamentation that Howard didn't handle these entire scores by himself. In the end, even the biggest detractors of the score for The Dark Knight should recognize that it functions in its basic duties, but Zimmer can't be let off the hook for his tiring self-references and over-thought attempts at innovation. Gotham and its hero, despite all their gloom and despair, still have a heart, and Zimmer has yet to find its pulse. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for the Film: **
    Music as Heard on the Single-CD Albums: **
    Music as Heard on the Expanded, 2-CD Set: *
    Overall: **

Bias Check:For Hans Zimmer reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 2.98 (in 89 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3 (in 266,323 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

For James Newton Howard reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.35 (in 56 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.34 (in 62,060 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.73 Stars
Smart Average: 2.78 Stars*
***** 717 
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   The Dark Knight Formula
  Bruno Costa -- 12/2/10 (12:58 p.m.)
   Re: Great soundtrack?
  Richard Kleiner -- 6/3/10 (9:33 p.m.)
   Re: Great soundtrack
  j b -- 6/2/10 (9:26 p.m.)
   Re: Great soundtrack
  Richard Kleiner -- 10/7/09 (6:25 p.m.)
   Re: Zimmer and Newton law works here.
  Richard Kleiner -- 10/7/09 (6:24 p.m.)
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 Track Listings (2008 Regular/Special Edition Albums): Total Time: 73:31

• 1. Why So Serious? (9:14)
• 2. I'm Not a Hero (6:35)
• 3. Harvey Two-Face (6:17)
• 4. Aggressive Expansion (4:36)
• 5. Always a Catch (1:40)
• 6. Blood on My Hands (2:17)
• 7. A Little Push (2:43)
• 8. Like a Dog Chasing Cars (5:03)
• 9. I Am the Batman (2:00)
• 10. And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad (2:29)
• 11. Agent of Chaos (6:55)
• 12. Introduce a Little Anarchy (3:43)
• 13. Watch the World Burn (3:48)
• 14. A Dark Knight (16:15)

 Track Listings (2008 Collector's Edition): Total Time: 146:03

CD1: (73:31)
• 1. Why So Serious? (9:14)
• 2. I'm Not a Hero (6:35)
• 3. Harvey Two-Face (6:17)
• 4. Aggressive Expansion (4:36)
• 5. Always a Catch (1:40)
• 6. Blood on My Hands (2:17)
• 7. A Little Push (2:43)
• 8. Like a Dog Chasing Cars (5:03)
• 9. I Am the Batman (2:00)
• 10. And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad (2:29)
• 11. Agent of Chaos (6:55)
• 12. Introduce a Little Anarchy (3:43)
• 13. Watch the World Burn (3:48)
• 14. A Dark Knight (16:15)
CD2: (72:32)
• 1. Bank Robbery/Prologue (5:23)
• 2. Buyer Beware (2:55)
• 3. Halfway to Hong Kong (3:43)
• 4. Decent Men in an Indecent Time (2:50)
• 5. You're Gonna Love Me (4:51)
• 6. Chance (3:33)
• 7. You Complete Me (4:50)
• 8. The Ferries (9:57)
• 9. We Are Tonight's Entertainment (5:37)
• 10. A Watchful Guardian (6:45)

Bonus Tracks:
• 11. Why So Serious? (The Crystal Method Remix) (5:30)
• 12. Poor Choice of Words (Paul van Dyk Remix) (6:14)
• 13. Gunpowder and Gasoline (Mel Wesson Remix) (4:33)
• 14. Rory's First Kiss (Ryeland Allison Remix) (6:03)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The inserts of the initial July 2008 releases include a lengthy note from the director about working with Zimmer and Howard on the score. They also offer extensive credits and photography from the film. The December 2008 2-CD set is packaged in a 40-page hardbound booklet with troublesome rubber pegs holding the CDs. Only the same exact director's note from the previous albums is included, with no additional information about the score or film. The majority of the set's useless booklet is dedicated to more photography from the film.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Dark Knight are Copyright © 2008, Warner Brothers Records (Regular/Special Editions), Warner Brothers Records (Collector's Edition Set). 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 7/12/08 and last updated 4/7/10. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2008-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved. Open thy wallets, fools!