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Zimmer, team, alums rundown Pt 5 - RC intro + 2005-07: (B)atmosphere Man Begins (5c)
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• Posted by: JBlough   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Tuesday, May 3, 2022, at 4:46 a.m.
• IP Address:

This is part of a series. Part 5b is here:


Batman Begins (2005) - ***
Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard; add’l music by Ramin Djawadi & Mel Wesson; music programming by Lorne Balfe;
orchestrated by Bruce Fowler & Brad Dechter; music editor Steven Price; electric cello by Martin Tillman;
conducted by Gavin Greenaway; album compilation by Alan Meyerson; thank you’s to Klaus Badelt, Jim Dooley,
Clay Duncan, HGW, RGW; Steve Jablonsky, James Levine, Henning Lohner, Trevor Morris, Heitor Pereira & Geoff Zanelli

John Powell, the only other person who created oft-imitated 2000s action music: “The Chris thing with Hans; no one else has that relationship. Who wouldn’t like that?”

It is astonishing to think of a time when Christopher Nolan wasn’t the dominant creative force he is today - a man who can demand any budget and timeline he wants from studios, all to commission films with complicated, often nonlinear plots. But in 2003 he was a risk for a blockbuster assignment, with only three films on his resume - the acclaimed but underseen Memento, a respected remake of the Norwegian thriller Insomnia, and Following which he shot for only $6,000. And there was the matter of Joel Schumacher’s puntastic Batman and Robin killing the franchise in 1997. But Warner Brothers, impressed by Nolan’s grounded take, pressed ahead. The result went better than anyone could’ve expected. Batman Begins was a critical darling and a solid box office performer.

Nolan had previously used his college roommate David Julyan as a composer but was a huge fan of the music from The Thin Red Line, so with his first major assignment he sought out Hans Zimmer to provide the music. Zimmer would claim ”I had on-and-off conversations for about a year before I said yes. Batman always appealed to me when I was growing up - he was fallible, he had problems, he could get hurt - these were all important for a kid to know. I remember really liking [Chris] but thinking Batman was an impossible task [that] came with a lot of baggage. Danny Elfman [did] a fantastic score for [the 1989 Batman film].”

Zimmer loved the script and called fellow composer James Newton Howard to tell him to read it. The friends had talked about collaborating before and almost had on the 2004 film Secret Window. Like Harry Gregson-Williams a few years earlier, Zimmer wanted to mix things up after a series of big orchestral creations, and it seemed James could help with that. “It was a period where I wanted to go do some quirkier things. But I knew [Chris] needed to have the big orchestra [for] the duality of the character - Bruce Wayne by day, Batman by night.”

Zimmer would also give a significant role to Mel Wesson who had helped with ambient music on earlier works. “I hadn’t finished whatever I was working on, so I suggested Mel go to the cutting room to see what we needed to start with. My feeling was that it didn’t even have to be music, just something like the flapping of ginormous wings.” Such sounds would open the album; astute listeners will notice this was not too far from what Mel had contributed for the earlier Hannibal.

Batman would also usher in a process where Nolan would ask for conceptual music early on in the process, start to edit the film around those ideas, and then have Zimmer and his team, now informed by what worked or didn’t, write the score later. “Chris kept saying ‘I can’t make this scene work. Can you [do] something?’ Somehow James or I would send something over. By the time we came to London to see Chris’ first cut, the movie was populated with all these little ideas and vignettes that we had written, some of which became the colors and the tones of the whole thing.” Now this is fairly commonplace in the Zimmer-Nolan partnership, but back then it was a more radical approach to American blockbuster filmmaking. You can even hear this process play out in Zimmer’s unreleased Hero Theme demo; the actual theme in it barely even shows up in the film, but the rhythms and style would greatly inform the action music.

There were jokes that Zimmer had traded the process of having an army of ghostwriters for just one very prominent ghostwriter - but that wasn’t true for two reasons. First, it was an incredibly active co-composition, very much in the classic Media Ventures way of two guys running between each others’ rooms to try out ideas (this wasn’t the original plan, as James normally worked in seclusion, but after the first day the doors never closed again). Said Zimmer, “it's not like we divided themes up. We worked together on pretty much each cue.” Second, it wasn’t just James and Mel involved. Lorne Balfe made his first substantial contributions to a major film, while Ramin Djawadi signed up because he was a huge Batman fan.

Zimmer, never one to shy away from manipulating sounds to fit his vision for a sonic universe (something you can trace back to his Buggles days of fake instruments), would take inspiration from Batman’s huge collection of crime-fighting toys. “[Batman] is doing something with technology that is slightly beyond what humans can do. So I decided to take the orchestra and treat it electronically, like applying a pop record styling to a soundtrack.” Zimmer had done this in parts of his earlier works (“you can't [tell] what the instruments are” with Pacific Heights and the weeks of manipulating the low end of taiko drum hits on The Last Samurai, for example), but this was the first time it was a core part of how he marketed his work. Depending on your view of Zimmer’s methodology, this was either something bold and creative OR it was the same over-intellectualized “let’s do something different” experimentation that had gotten him into some trouble on El Dorado, Spirit, etc.

There was a ”no whimsy” edict for the look of the movie which carried over to the music. “There's a bunch of people out there waiting for that happy superhero tune -- the Superman or the old Batman type. Don't hold your breath. When The Beatles are compared to The Stones, they may both be singing a love song, but that's about all they have in common. This is a Christopher Nolan film which just happens to be called Batman. And that makes it completely separate from a Tim Burton film.” As a result, the Batman theme would be one note, and then a higher note. That’s it. Two notes, plus a supporting bubbling string pattern. Zimmer & Howard would occasionally change the harmonies around it to “take on a different resolve”, but otherwise they would maintain a standard arrangement to reflect Bruce Wayne’s “commitment to what he’s doing” and also to get around the “architectural problem [where] we don’t get Batman until way into the movie.” It would be perhaps the most divisive part of the score.

It wasn’t all Sturm und Drang though. Apparently Danny Elfman was working on Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake in a nearby room, so Zimmer got to tease him about whether he wanted “to help with some bat-stuff. And he'd laugh and say, 'It's your problem now.'”


I remember seeing the film when it came out and being disappointed by the music - not because it was poor, more because I didn’t really notice that much of it in the film (something I’d been doing a lot more of in the wake of Lord of the Rings). It’s probably been over a dozen years since I listened to this score standalone. My opinion about Pirates improved this go-round, so maybe my opinion about this would as well.

I’m torn on the argument that “the score works because it fits the aesthetic.” That’s true to a certain extent - the score accompanied an iconic film and didn’t ruin it, and it created a sound that audiences identify with the trilogy. The earlier Batman movies by Burton and Schumacher were basically live action cartoons in hyperstylized cityscapes, and the music in those films reflected that - you could not take the grand, gothic sounds by Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthal and transport them to Nolan’s Gotham. But would audiences have accepted a different sound for a less cartoonish Batman? Probably; they did years later for Michael Giacchino’s music for 2022’s The Batman. In 2005, some listeners would get the nagging sense that a more traditional superhero score by James Newton Howard alone could’ve been as effective, if not more so. And yet we also have plenty of evidence since this movie that this is exactly the type of music Nolan wants, even from other composers (Ludwig Göransson on 2020’s Tenet), so it’s entirely possible that if Zimmer & Howard hadn’t written something closer to genre expectations they would’ve been tossed off the project. We were gonna probably get something like this, even if not exactly this.

The rising two-note theme does the job, and even works really well for some listeners; the LA Times’ film critic called the music during Bruce’s first visit to the Batcave “one of the most thrilling moments in any Christopher Nolan movie - the score just rises and rises, that very repetitive kind of thing.” It’s an effective shorthand for making the character feel grand and larger-than-life without making him feel cartoonish or unnecessarily cool. But the progressions, the harmonization, and the instrumental groups surrounding this idea don't vary that much, and that can be frustrating. It feels like Zimmer boxed himself into thinking that an origin story (something he’d never done before) didn’t need a fully developed theme. It also felt like Zimmer, whether because he didn’t want to get stale or because doing something different had been his motto for a long time, felt he just had to avoid writing a big heroic idea - reinvention for reinvention’s sake, though there is some humor in Zimmer being asked to reinvent his reinvention a decade later on Batman v Superman and clearly struggling (congratulations, you played yourself).

The action has a lot more of Howard’s style in it than I remembered - the way horns are used, some of the repeated string passages, and such. Music during the early battle at Ra’s temple and the big car chase really feels like a co-composition as opposed to the your-turn-my-turn feel of most of the album (even if Hans and James say that isn’t how it was created). That latter action track reflects a nagging issue I have with some of the material though - it’s cool for a minute, but then it feels like it hammers away at the same notes and rhythms over and over, losing its freshness in the process. Yes, I acknowledge that they basically wrote it like this because the chase scene was still being edited - Zimmer would say he wrote it as a “Lego set as Chris was moving chunks around,” seeing no point in hitting synchronization points when the synchronization points changed every day. But I can’t help but gravitate to the more creative, varied approaches John Powell was taking with lengthy action stretches around this time. Still, hey, sometimes you want a Michelin Star meal and sometimes you want junk food, and Molossus is basically a tasty cheeseburger on that spectrum.

The more romantic stuff for Bruce’s relationships feels entirely like a Howard creation. It’s all nice (that crescendo in the first half of Macrotus, aka Father to the Rescue, is lovely), but it isn’t terribly distinctive relative to Howard’s other strong works in this vein. And it doesn’t occupy a significant chunk of the score; for all the public discourse about having the music reflect the duality of the character, the main effect the album has is convincing you the movie is all about Batman.

At least a third of the original commercial album is ambient stuff. Multiple passages just go by you unobtrusively. Heck, generic atmosphere comes right after that aforementioned crescendo on Macrotus, possibly the dumbest sequencing decision on that album. This kind of sound design and functional dramatic/suspense material was revolutionary because it was being applied to a superhero picture, not because it was inherently revolutionary on its own. Mel Wesson’s bat wing sounds though? They’re cool. Bravo.

Some of Zimmer’s comments didn’t do the work any favors. “I did a crazy thing with a choir boy” turns out to just be a kid singing. ”A happy jolly theme like the old Batman ain’t going to happen” would seem to show a flippant disrespect for Eflman’s earlier Batman classic, even though Zimmer has otherwise consistently praised it. “We used a lot of drumming [as a] shortcut to making it very masculine” felt odd for a work that really wasn’t defined by its drumming compared to the Bourne movies or, heck, Zimmer’s own very drummy King Arthur from only a year before.


At this point I was trending towards *** - putting it in the “missed opportunity” bucket alongside Mission: Impossible II. Because this score has its partisans, I figured I owed it to myself to finally explore the complete score and see if that helped things.

There are additional takes on the two-note Batman motif or its underlying rhythm, including a unique harmonization at the end of Rachel Attacked. There’s the brief dramatic outburst of Batman material at the end of the dockyard ambush that was excised off of the commercial album in favor of a segway to Ducard material (see Arbiteus); this would’ve been nice to have in the original program. The propulsive Finders Keepers might be the most essential additional track - it has the first utterance of the chopping action style that would dominate the later Batmobile chase and also seems to include the musical idea that would be converted to Harvey Dent’s theme in the sequel. You could maybe make a case for Backup as well, which functions as a prelude to the album’s Molossus action set piece. The action material for the burning of Wayne manor builds to a magnificent statement of Bruce’s personal theme. A lot of the climactic action material is entertaining enough, though not as fun as the car chase music. Annoyingly, these elements don’t add up to more than 15 minutes, so they could’ve easily fit on the original hour-long album with room to spare. Blame Alan Meyerson maybe?

But most of the other “missing” material is Mel Wesson-style ambience or nondescript low string passages - all probably maintaining a mood on film but inessential as a standalone musical experience. There are also action sequences dominated by percussion, which are really only memorable for being loud. And there are also a ton of alternate tracks, though I doubt all but the most ardent fans of the concept will seek out another hour of “music” in this sonic universe. Quibble with the commercial album’s Latin bat name track titles all you want, but that format might’ve been the right way to go about things (so maybe don’t blame Alan Meyerson). To quote Pete from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, do not seek the treasure.


One more observation - the theme for Ducard / Ra’s Al Ghul feels like the halfway point between the electric cello work Martin Tillman was doing for Zimmer and HGW beforehand and the more atmospheric Eastern spirituality Zimmer would indulge in with last year’s Dune.

Batman Begins would have a long life as a temp track mainstay (longer than Black Rain, Crimson Tide, and Gladiator did), with even the largely electronic music for Sony’s recent Spider-Man villain-centric film Morbius owing it a clear debt. Zimmer joked when promoting The Dark Knight that “even though Warner liked the score a lot, they never realized quite how iconic it was until basically everybody was trying to rip off the sound.”

Spot The Contributor - yes, that’s future Gravity composer Steven Price in the credits. “When I was growing up, I was a guitar player, and that takes you down more of a song route. I was also studying classical music, so there was always this dual identity going on. That’s excellent preparation for film music, because you end up drawing on so many influences. I started off working in recording studios after college, and it was only by good fortune that I met a film composer by the name of Trevor Jones. [Later] I was doing additional music right as Lord of the Rings was starting up and was asked, ‘Would you be interested?’ I'd never really edited music and didn’t know much about what it entailed, but of course it sounded fantastic.

On [Batman] I helped put together a temp score, cut demos that were coming in, and worked all the way through the process. Hans was a force of nature. I was sitting behind him the night he developed the alternating string and synth patterns. He tweaked away until he got the sound he was clearly hearing in his head, all the while chatting away and being hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever had as little sleep, but it was a privilege to be part of the whole thing.”

The Ring Two (2005) - ***
Themes by Hans Zimmer; music by Henning Lohner & Martin Tillman; score producer Trevor Morris;
ambient music design by Mel Wesson, Clay Duncan & Bart Hendrickson;
orchestrated by Bruce Fowler; conducted by Gavin Greenaway;
remix team Slamm Andrews, Al Clay, Clay Duncan, Bart Hendrickson, Jörg Hüttner & Trevor Morris

RC discovery #5.

The Ring Two brought back actress Naomi Watts and even got the director of the original Japanese horror film to sign up, but it also carried with it a screenplay critics hated, and it made far less money than its predecessor did stateside. If it ever gets brought up at all these days, it’s probably to point out a bizarre scene where a bunch of obviously digital deer attack a car. Hans Zimmer had written a haunting score for the first film (a rare foray into horror for him) but would have little-to-no involvement with this score. Instead, six Remote Control colleagues would contribute material based off of Zimmer’s original themes.

Not helping matters with evaluating the score by itself is that Zimmer (who felt his first score wasn’t substantial enough to justify a standalone album release) combined music from the first and second films onto one CD. Most tracks were standalone entries, while two tracks combined music from both scores. On the album, The Ring Two is represented by the first 20 seconds of The Well, the last eight-plus minutes of Burning Tree, Not Your Mommy, Shelter Mountain, and The Ferry (appx. 20 minutes in total). Those are an effective continuation of the sparse, haunting soundscape that was set up for the first film. There’s a lot less piano and a lot more cello. Things lean more in an atmospheric direction this time, which can be expected when you have three guys doing ambient music design on one score. It’s good, but it’s far less compelling than what’s been released from The Ring.

The CD release also contained four remixes - because this is just kind of what we did with film music CDs back then.

The Weather Man (2005) - ***½
Hans Zimmer; co-composed by James S. Levine; add’l music by David Baerwald;
featured musicians Heitor Pereira, Ryeland Allison, Martin Tillman, Emil Richards & Gore Verbinski;
score programmer Clay Duncan; one track with contributions from music editor Melissa Muik

RC discovery #6. I would’ve skipped this entirely but in a marvelous stroke of timing La-La Land Records finally released it on CD as I was working through this era.

Heitor Pereira: “Hans could have written all of his scores by himself, and to this day, he still chooses to be surrounded by musicians.”

Director Gore Verbinski would essentially do The Weather Man as a palette cleanser before returning to the Pirates franchise. His dramedy about a guy dealing with mid-career ennui, not living up to his father’s expectations, and a divorce got decent reviews - and came before Nic Cage’s acting career had jumped the shark (i.e., when he was still a bankable leading man) - but Paramount seemed unsure how to market it, and the film didn’t even make back its relatively low budget in theaters. That underperformance perhaps explains why the music by Hans Zimmer, arguably at a new peak of popularity after Pirates and Batman Begins, didn’t receive an album release around the time of the film (and wouldn’t until over 16 years later).

Before the film started Gore would walk around Chicago, taking photos and sending them to Hans. Verbinski would suggest giving the film ”some up against the down”, and also possibly using the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Zimmer would take those insights and write a groovy mix of blues, keyboards, and percussion that would occasionally lean in a reggae direction. At first, this seems weird to include in a film set in the wintery Midwest, even accounting for Verbinski’s instructions. But the score follows the tradition of Zimmer’s 80s and 90s character-based drama/comedy scores that often threw world music into modern settings to suggest displaced/isolated individuals or cultural melting pots - the didgeridoos in Rain Man, the South Asian material in Green Card, the Brazilian stuff for As Good As It Gets - so if you have a soft spot for Zimmer in that mode then this’ll be a bit of a nostalgic throwback.

Zimmer: “I believe you feel constant pressure from the studio. So I want to create a safe place to go and play music and come up with the most ridiculous ideas. I think that’s a vital part of making good movies.”

A theme suite would be done by Zimmer and played for the actors during filming, but most of the actual score was created via the jam band format that had been a staple of Zimmer’s working habits a few years earlier - The Pledge, An Everlasting Piece, Mission: Impossible II, Black Hawk Down, and Tears of the Sun all relied on that approach to varying degrees. 10 contributors were involved, including Gore on guitar - Zimmer would later say “he’s really, really good at it” and have him play on the third Pirates film as well. Tunes and chord changes were written down so the group could experiment with ideas. Lots of wine was consumed.

James S. Levine: “It really was like, “Well, what if we lean more reggae?’ Then the other time we’ll switch it around. ‘I’ll play bass and Rhodes, and you play the guitar.’”

The score often functions as an interesting intersection between the aforementioned world music scores, the sparse moments of The Thin Red Line and The Last Samurai, and the atmospheres and short cyclical melodic ideas in future collaborations with Christopher Nolan - Time from Inception and a good chunk of Interstellar in particular. The reggae groove will have you bouncing your head. A few zany moments by Clay Duncan take the freakout material from Matchstick Men and crank it up to eleven - Duncan was following Gore & Hans’ instructions to go for “Gene Krupa on an acid trip”, so it’s hard to blame him for the results, but they are extremely challenging to listen to apart from the film. It’s a mixed bag, and a slightly repetitive work, but the album still makes for a very soothing hour - basically, it’s Zimmer doing American Beauty.

Verbinski: “Every time it’s ‘never again!’ because [Hans is] always late but [has] more fucking talent in his pinky than the other guy. And then it’s ‘fuck, he did it last minute, there they are. Those fucking notes.’ That’s why it’s all worth it.”


Next time: Sid’s Sing-A-Long plays for 20 or 30 seconds before my wife says “...what?”

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