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Comments about the soundtrack for Batman Begins (Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard)

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Re: Batman Begins Score
• Posted by: Ken   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Saturday, March 11, 2006, at 12:41 a.m.
• IP Address:
• In Response to: Re: Batman Begins Score (Ethan)

Ethan, Sounds good, man.

Okey Dokey. I will start with a simple statement, too. All film composers will inherently have a "signature sound" within the genres. Not only that, but they have been known to insert previously composed material into current projects. Make no mistake, WE did not asses that Hans does not insert previously used material into his current films. YOU made that assessment. That assessment is also innacurate. Hans is not above the other composers. He does copy things from old scores. I've heard it several times. I suppose one problem that I do have is that it is the same.... you know, it's usually one lick. A 3-note motive, ascending stepwise. Wouldn't be so bad if there were different chords under that motive here and there.... a significantly different rhythm to it..... but he doesn't even choose to do that. To me, that is like taking a class a second time, and turning in a paper that you wrote the first time you took it, but not changing the date. It's a little careless, it's kind of a turn off, and it usually results in a less than A grade. And, when the repeats are that blatant (that is to say that this is the tune that this motive is always inserted into) it just makes it very hard for me to focus on any good that he's done. After listening to the End Credits of Tears of the Sun, I had to wait for two weeks to pound that soundtrack into my mind because of that same motive. And that's the only place that I heard it. Of course, I was listening to the track by watching the movie, so I might have missed it, but there it was. Such great work, such a spectacular redefinition of his sound, and then BOOM!! That just took it all away for me.

Oh, and Debney hasn't done the cut and paste thing as much as Zimmer by a long shot. He's been doing films for about 10 years now and Hansy's been doin' them for 20, so I'll let you digest that probability equation.*s*

Now, as to what you believe my problem with Hans is.... you know, if you think that Air Force One was not a French Horn/ Full Orchestra theme that spoke power to the audience, you're wrong and that is one of my favorite scores ever. What about Star Trek: First Contact. Have you ever heard a better composed French Horn Solo in your life? If you have, I'd love to hear it. What about James Newton Howard with Dave? Does that not count?? That is one of my favorite comedy scores ever. That was tastefully done (and I'll tell ya, all you would've had to do was remind me that ole Hansy was the lucky dood who wrote Driving Miss Daisy, and I would have shut the hell up on the spot,) it was fairly well outside of his comfort zone, and he excelled. Let's see.... what else can we say? OH YEAH!!!!!!!! YES!! How could I miss the Memphis Belle??? And, did you hear the main theme to Backdraft, a year later?? Remarkable similarities. Both in the actual theme and the orchestration.... it's as if Hans just lifted it right off the score *hah!* (and I'm *hah*-ing because I just realized it not because I think I'm sticking it to anyone.)

The other thing about me not liking somebodies work because I can tell it's them.... It's about the whole person and the way they come across both musically, and as human beings. I don't know Hans. He might have a heart of gold, but he seems so fake to me, when I watch his interviews. I mean, it's as if his enthusiasm is forced, and as if his ego is of cataclysmic perportions. Wether that is the way it really is or not, I don't know for certain. But there is still that sour taste in my mouth about what kind of person he is, AND the fact that his compositional comfort zone is on par with James Horner (which is not a compliment.) Another thing is that I like people who can find more ways than just blocked chords under a chorale to truly show power in their sound. I like composers who don't need over 100 people to get that kind of power. I know that Hans routinely records 5 tubists in his full orchestras (for things like Pearl, Gladi, Crimson, etc.) and the big thing that I wonder is "How often do I hear them in these movies?" 'Matter of fact, I can't really remember ever actually hearing tuba in his scores. I understand that I am turned off by his product and I probably haven't listened close enough to his recent works to figure out if that's correct or not, but still.... if a guy who plays tuba can't hear any tubists when 5 of the loudest on the planet are playing.... somethin' ain't right. But then, there's Maestro Williams who uses.... 1. And I hear it all the time. Because John has a very intricate style of composing that draws power from motion, velocity, interval, dissonance, everything a composer can draw power from, Johnny boy draws from it. Two very different composers, two very different sounds, one that I happen to like more than the other (I'll let you guess which one I like more.)

Moving on.... in your last post, you lifted up Klaus Badelt as one of your big examples of Hans's greatness, and now you call him a half-ass. Funny. It explains a lot, but it's still funny. And, John Debney.... you call him a half-ass, I call him up and coming. He's been doing films for 10 years now, and has been getting calls for more films that Hans probably would have been called for if the films were made in previous years. The other element to John's situation is that he is not yet in a position to impose his sound on directors like Hans does, like Horner does, like a lot of Composers do. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the directors have imposed sounds of other composers on him. For instansce, Zathura. The opening credits were supposed to be an Homage to Goldsmith and Williams. That is what Jon Favreau wanted, and that's what he got. No Zimmer involved there, surprise surprise.

Also, I think that Debney's comedy sound was done developing while Zimmers modern day comedy sound was just finishing its development. For one, Liar Liar and As Good as it Gets came out in the same year. Debney scored Liar, and Hans scored Good as it Gets. Of course, Hans's movie came out on Christmas of that year and Liar Liar was released in March, and Hans's comedy sound has stayed very true to As Good as it Gets, but Debney kept getting the calls for the comedy films. So, I would actually say that it is a little bit of Debney in Zimmers sound. Also, I believe that, as soon as John Debney is given the chance to work on the kinds of films that Zimmer, Horner, and Williams routinely work on, he will assert himself as one of the best. That is why I put him in my top 5. It is really more of a prediciton, rather than saying he's there now. As for Harry Gregson Williams, give him time. I mean, Hans even had to change his sound to suit Disneys stuff. So, naturally, Gregson Williams would have to do less than he probably wanted with Narnia. I couldn't imagine half the "pop" style music that was in the film actually being in the film, so I am convinced that he had to hold himself back and that might just be one reason why that score seemed half-ass.

Also, for figuring out Hans's stuff.... I mean, Gladiator's main theme is all step-wise motion and neo-romantic chord progressions. It's first-year theory. That's not meant to put you down in any way, but I think that if you got some more training, you'd be able to figure out Hans's stuff. You're a pretty sharp guy, and I think that you could do it.

Also, something you might want to consider about Hans's music is the monotony. For me this is the fact that he will communicate power, but he will do it at all times. A theme will come in, but never really go anywhere because he gives it all that the theme has to offer the first time he states it. This takes away from moments in a film where saving 100% power until the climax would have been wise. He often will hold back just a little bit, but not nearly as much as he needs to. And that, to me, takes away the effectiveness of a films climax. One reason why Elfman saved the "Zarathustra" theme from Batman until the end is because he realized that that was going to be the biggest moment of the whole film. And, consequently, he spent the whole film (after a good and bold opening statement) working towards that one spot.

I also have to agree that putting Danny and Hansy together would be great. And, if it actually resulted in a mix of their sounds and ideas.... Woah!! Way beyond anything this batman score, or the last one, could have done for me.

Back to John Debney, it was really just chance. A guy who went to High School with him is at my university and he got John to sit in and do a lecture for one of the commercial classes. Being a Comp Major, I was invited to stop in and listen. It was a wonderful experience and his music is just superb.

And, no. He is not a Hansey wannabe. He does what he does. That's it. He's been doing things long enough to know how the other biggies do what they do, but he just does what he does. He is a very neat guy, nice as heck, a great conversationalist and a really solid mind and heart. The perfect combination for a film scorer. Again, I believe that he will go very far.

Okay, now I am at your request here. I will do that. I remember that Something's Gotta Give was a charming movie with an almost transparrant score (yes, that is a compliment), and I haven't seen Gladiator in a while.... plus I've never seen Spanglish, and I need a Sandler fix.

Right off the bat, though, I will tell you two things I don't like about Gladiator. First is that I've heard that main theme before somewhere. I want to say that it was on the Summon the Heroes album (I could be dilusional though, and I felt the same way about that opera scene from Hannibal [I do think that is a really cool tune. Very Pucinni].) Two, he tries to convince anybody he can that the chromatic theme in the Battle at the beginning is not just the middle of Mars reorchestrated and switched up a bit for good measure. And I can't stand anybody who does something and tries to convince everybody else that it's something else and not what it really is. John Williams quotes The Planets quite often in Star Wars. But I haven't heard him make any effort to make people believe that he was really trying to manipulate a Vieneese Waltz.

Now, about accepting good music for what it is... I can't help, being a composer, wondering how much better things could be if Hans put just a little bit more real effort into his scores. That's the kind of score that I want to hear from him. I want him to have more "Tears of the Sun" experiences (minus his "every-movie" motive) and to redefine himself as often as he can and NOT regress back to the tired sound that I have associated with him. I don't find a lot of his recent stuff to be good music, but I'll tell ya that I've been on the IMDB to be shure that my dates are right and to see just what each composer that you and I have discussed has done. And I tell ya, I think that Hans was so much better 15 years ago than he is now, it's almost sickening. There was a great deal more youth in his sound before. So much more fire and... I guess it was more child-like in a good way. Like he was playing with his favorite toy. That is the kind of music that I wish I could hear from him again.

Here's hopin'.

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