In Contention


‘Dark Knight’ score officially DQ’d by Academy

Posted by Kristopher Tapley · 8:01 pm · November 12th, 2008

(from left) Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman in The Dark KnightUPDATE (8:14 p.m.): Now comes this story from Jon Burlingame at Variety (always well-informed on this stuff), spelling out the particulars:

Sources inside the committee said that the big issue was the fact that five names were listed as composers on the music cue sheet, the official studio document that specifies every piece of music (along with its duration and copyright owner) in the film.

Zimmer said, in an interview with Variety prior to this week’s Acad action, that listing multiple names on the cue sheet was a way of financially rewarding parts of the music team who helped make the overall work successful. (Performing-rights societies like ASCAP and BMI use the cue sheet to distribute royalties to composers.)

Zimmer, Howard and the other three individuals — music editor Alex Gibson, ambient music designer Mel Wesson and composer Lorne Balfe — reportedly signed an affidavit stating that the score was primarily the work of Zimmer and Howard.

That apparently wasn’t enough for the majority of the committee, which was also supplied with documentation indicating that more than 60%, but less than 70%, of the score was credited to Zimmer and Howard.

What a load of horseshit, no?

EARLIER: Not that this is a surprise, but I’m hearing that because there were too many names listed on the cue sheet for “The Dark Knight” score, the work has been disqualified.  The music branch apparently spent a considerable amount of time discussing the issue and likely due to their labyrinthine rules, which have been bandied about considerably in other outlets.

It’s a shame, seeing as I thought James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer really added considerably to the flavor of their original work in “Batman Begins” (also disqualified in 2005).  But the bottom line here is, someone needs to take a sandblaster to this branch’s rulebook and do away with the subjectivity that can really eat away at some fine work.

More as it comes…




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36 responses so far

  • 1 11-12-2008 at 9:01 pm

    Speaking English said...

    It’s a ridiculous rule, but it’s not like “The Dark Knight” would have been nominated for Score anyway. I mean, with “Defiance,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Doubt,” “Australia,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “WALL-E,” “Milk”… it’s a crowded field.

  • 2 11-12-2008 at 9:29 pm

    Adam G. said...

    I wasn’t aware that the fact that the field is crowded should detract from The Dark Knight’s chances over any other movie. My mistake. In my opinion, this score is every inch as oscar-worthy as anything else I’ve been impressed by this year (which hasn’t been much).

    I also really like the score for The Wrestler- with Slash providing guitar work, how can you go wrong?

  • 3 11-12-2008 at 10:32 pm

    JP said...

    Slightly more interesting than the by-the-numbers Media Venture action score from Batman Begins, The Dark Knight is, musically, just a pedestrian score. Its main theme is basically a two note “motif” and its looped action beds were recycled from two dozen other MV scores by Zimmer and his crew. Personally, I don’t think Hans Zimmer has really written anything deserving of even a nomination since Prince of Egypt or Gladiator. Fortunately, Newton Howard has much more mature and artistic scores that he can be recognized for this year.

    But, I’m currently rooting for Newman or Desplat to snag a win. And I wouldn’t be sorry to see Elfman finally get some Academy love.

  • 4 11-12-2008 at 11:12 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I disagree that with pretty much all of that, JP. I think the blending and mixing of the score is what draws the drama of the film out, which makes it more dynamic than just a set of music laid across juxtaposed imagery. And even with that intimacy with the film, it plays well as stand-alone music.

  • 5 11-13-2008 at 2:56 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    The score, just like the film, is beloved by many. And layered too. It made the film the 2.5 hour rush that it is. To me it was one of the most important factors in the enjoyment and pace of the film.
    This ruling is again not making any new friends for the Academy.

    I think a guy at Comingsoon.net talkback sums it up pretty nicely:
    “This is why the average movie fan hates the Oscars. Whenever a quality movie comes along enjoyed by a majority of people, the Oscar committees find someone of making sure their precisous little indies win as many oscars as possible. Every movie deserves a chance for an award and this is just another way for movie critics to say their better than the rest of us common bumpkins who actually watch movie for entertainment and not art.”

    While not to agree upon entirely, he certainly has a point. The fact that it is such a hubbub and all over the web also proves how popular both the movie and the score are.

  • 6 11-13-2008 at 3:02 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    What happened to the days when they nominated about twelve or so people for the score of “The Colour Purple”?

    Oh well, chances are they wouldn’t have had the initiative to nominate it in the first place. Still, pathetic.

  • 7 11-13-2008 at 6:49 am

    AJ said...

    This ruling is bigger than just “The Dark Knight.” They say they are awarding the “Best Original Score” yet they disqualify an original score. I understand There Will Be Blood’s disqualification (and even The Godfather’s revoked nomination). Both films had music that was previously used. I don’t know how Babel got through but that is not my point. If a film has one of the best original scores of the year then it should be nominated for “Best Original Score” no matter how many composers worked on it. If they feel that the award should only be awarded to scores composed by a single composer then they need to rename the category “Best Original Score by a Single Composer.” Otherwise they have no good reason to disqualify a film for having more than one composer.

  • 8 11-13-2008 at 7:24 am

    red_wine said...

    I completely agree with JP. Just because people like the film, and want it to have many nominations and an Oscar sweep, that doesn’t mean its good in every department.

    Pedestrian is the word. The score was absolutely mediocre. I did not even think twice about it after the film. And even during the film, it was just like every other film score. Every film has music, this had too. Nothing extra-ordinary.

    Of the films I’ve seen this year, I enjoyed obviously William’s Indiana Jones and Newman’s Wall-E.

    Check out these score reviews.
    http://www.moviemusicuk.us/darkknightcd.htm
    http://www.filmtracks.com/titles/dark_knight.html

  • 9 11-13-2008 at 7:51 am

    Rjneb2 said...

    I personally felt that The Dark Knight’s score was utterly outstanding. It swept me along with the film and it stands up to repeated listening on CD, which is always a good measure. Once again, the Academy are painting themselves into a corner. No wonder their ratings are nosediving as they are actually making themselves more and more obsolete.

    The only good thing to come out of this is hopefully a long overdue Oscar win for Thomas Newman for his delightful score for WALL-E.

  • 10 11-13-2008 at 8:24 am

    Jamieson said...

    To quote David Lynch…Bullshit, total.fucking.bullshit.

    Batman Begins should have been the winner of the Oscar for 2005 and got DQ’d as well.

    The original score branch needs an overhaul of their nonsensical rulebook.

  • 11 11-13-2008 at 8:33 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I agree with the Babel comment. That was a ridiculous win. Especially after Brokeback Mountain the year before won as well.
    And if Williams get nominated (I love the score, no doubt) then they’ve really lost credibility since that one uses so much older themes.

    Ah, the sentiments and lack of frontrunners really paying it’s toll now don’t they folks?

  • 12 11-13-2008 at 9:25 am

    JP said...

    Babel was a completely ridiculous win. Brokeback Mountain was a similar situation as Dark Knight, a simple but effective score that worked well in the film but doesn’t stand on its own as a very creative musical endeavor. There were much better scores that year (Constant Gardener, Memoirs of a Geisha, Munich, Pride and Prejudice were all better and nominated scores), but not better movies.

    As for Dark Knight, let me qualify: it was extremely functional in the film and if we are looking for a score that serves the film and stays out of its way, than it could be an award winner. If we are looking for a score that supports the film and is brilliantly crafted as an art than I suggest we look elsewhere.

    Harmonically, rhythmically and melodically, the Dark Knight treads the familiar, simple territory that we’ve been hearing from Zimmer and his team for years. Its like the Michael Bay of film scores: great action but no substance.

    The score is a great sonic backdrop, filling in the gaps between sound effects and providing some very effective atmosphere, but musically it just isn’t very interesting. It doesn’t have the identity that Elfman brought to the franchise or the sophistication of Goldenthal.

    I guess it depends on what somebody wants to hear in their score. For me, the Dark Knight just doesn’t have the musicality to deserve an academy award.

  • 13 11-13-2008 at 11:37 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Talking about sonic backdrop: Michael Clayton. I am stil puzzled how that one got nominated with so many other JNH scores also eligible (4 others I believe) and better.

  • 14 11-13-2008 at 11:50 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I always disregard the idea that a music score should stand alone as a great work without the film. That is not it’s purpose, so why should it be judged as such?

  • 15 11-13-2008 at 11:51 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    And this about no substance — go back and listen again. There is such much creativity to be found in this score, a lot of alterations from the original work, different instruments that lend a lot of flavor. And the muted moments are touching in the score, elements that I think you clearly missed, JP. Much more than a sonic backdrop. MUCH more.

  • 16 11-13-2008 at 12:12 pm

    red_wine said...

    I think the Academy does take into consideration the listenability of a score on CD. First of all, they watch a movie only once, so if the score failed to be heard during the film, or failed to make an impact during the film, it will not be nominated. Dark Knight is one such score.
    So they naturally tend to nominate scores which sound great on Cd because those are the scores that the PR guys will send out to the Academy members for awards consideration. Just about any Williams is supremely entertaining on a Cd but Dark Knight is not a score which can be enjoyed on CD.

    The Academy actually prefers scores which get in the way, eg. Notes On A Scandal, The Hours, Atonement, just about any of the classic winning scores, they are instantly memorable after watching the film just once. Dark Knight, I cannot remember one single theme or melody or moment.

    Crystal Skull has 3 new themes and all of them are brilliant. The Raiders March is obviously used but it is not THE SCORE, it is just one single theme out of a hand full which constitute the score. Its a superb score and just about any Williams effort is worthy of an Oscar than any other composer working today.

    I would agree that the Music branch has demonstrated poor taste in recent times, with the horrific wins of Brokeback Mountain(over Memoirs) and Babel(over anything). It has also nominated scores like Michael Clayton and ignored many some of the best modern works-Painted Veil and Golden Compass.

  • 17 11-13-2008 at 12:19 pm

    michael mckay said...

    Here we go again…the academy and all it’s ridiculous rules…when will it end??

  • 18 11-13-2008 at 12:24 pm

    649 Results said...

    Is not bothered by anyone but the score of The Dark Knight is not a masterpiece…is good but not a masterpiece. Sorry for u guys.

  • 19 11-13-2008 at 1:48 pm

    JP said...

    If we aren’t judging a film’s music by its craft and artistry and merely by how well it stays out of the way and heightens the mood, then we have completely lost the entire point of the composer and can hire sound designers to create ambient textures.

    Michael Clayton was another “soundscape” sort of score that was nominated because of its film’s pedigree not artistry. It worked great in the film but did not heighten the craft of the music itself. Just because a film score works great in a film does not mean its a great film score muscially. I think the truly masterful composers like Williams, Goldsmith, Hermann, Newman(s), etc create works that are both fully supportive and integrated in a film and are also musically creative, original, and masterful.

  • 20 11-13-2008 at 1:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “If we aren’t judging a film’s music by its craft and artistry and merely by how well it stays out of the way and heightens the mood, then we have completely lost the entire point of the composer and can hire sound designers to create ambient textures.”

    That statement has nothing to do with my point, JP, and is a gross distortion of the argument. “Staying out of the way” is, first of all, not the task at hand. A score is symbiotic with the imagery — should be, anyway — and to say that it must succeed without that imagery is to lack an understanding of the trade.

    And there is plenty of craft and artistry to be found in the TDK score. But that said, craft and ability to heighten the experience are not mutually exclusive traits, so don’t insult the argument by taking things down such a black and white, simplistic road.

    Basically I think you’re talking about an issue of taste. I thought the score to Michael Clayton as fine but certainly not Oscarworthy. However, I don’t think it’s fair to use this “soundscape” term you’re clearly fond of as a pejorative. A score doesn’t have to have soaring themes and by-the-book hooks to be successful.

    By the logic you’re putting forth, every score should be of the John Williams school. Sorry, but there are simply more complicated works to be composed.

  • 21 11-13-2008 at 2:07 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I believe that a score could be listenable on cd but remember it is made that way. Particularly with Zimmer. His scores are so re-arranged and mixed on cd and in no way represent the order and sampling used in the films. The final track on the TDK soundtrack is barely in the film but a brilliant piece nonetheless.

    I love scores in particular, they’re my favorite kind of music. It’s all that I listen to these days, I collect them. I therefore enjoy them on a whole different level, but also understand they need to function within the film. But it’s got to be enjoyable on cd too, that’s why there’s frequently material on the cd that ain’t in the film. Look at I Am Legend. Easily one of the best scores of that year, but vastly underrepresented in the film. In fact, I couldn’t even recall it being there.

  • 22 11-13-2008 at 4:00 pm

    Chad said...

    JP and Red Wine are making my head spin.

    “I did not even think twice about it after the film. And even during the film”

    Congratulations, you’ve just described what every film technician considers the ultimate compliment.

  • 23 11-13-2008 at 5:57 pm

    JP said...

    Kris – not trying to pick a fight at all about this. I just disagree with your assessment of the merits of this score.

    And I certainly am not claiming all music should come from the John Williams school of music -most composers shouldn’t even attempt it and it irks me a bit that you even suggest I feel that way. However, I wish there was less from the Zimmer school (Badelt, Mancina, Djawadi, etc). which has become a repetitive staple of most action movies today.

    My favorite film scores are from Thomas Newman and Mychael Danna who are a far cry from the Williams method. Danna in particular is the anti-Williams (I think the Ice Storm and The Sweet Hereafter are two of the most brilliant scores of the 90s).

    And I believe a film score should function brilliantly in the film first (a very difficult job) but to raise it the next level, it should also be a fantastic piece of music. And from what I understood you to say, you did not think that musical merit was all that important. I may have misunderstood the point you were trying to make. Sorry if that is the case.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said in your last post (other than your assumption that I don’t understand the point of a film score, since, funny thing – I do work in the industry). I perfectly understand the craft. But the academy should not award film music solely for its fine job of being serviceable in a film, any number of scores can work brilliant in a film but be musically devoid of artistry and creativity. In my opinion, they should also be looking at the creativity, the musicality (harmonically, rhythmically, melodically) and the brilliance of the way the composer has created both a compelling piece of music AND a powerful marriage to the image on screen.

    And “soundscape” is not a pejorative term. Mark Isham has done some very unique and creative soundscapes. While Hans Zimmer has done some beautiful orchestral work (I mentioned Prince of Egypt and Gladiator). And vice versa. Both have a place in cinema.

    I don’t think we really disagree about anything in the nature or usage of film music. And this was never meant as a personal jab against you for your opinions. I think this comes down to the specific music for this specific film. I certainly respect your passion for this film and its score. And I agree that the ruling by the Academy on this case was ridiculous (especially in light of Babel’s hodge podge). I just disagree that this score has the quality to warrant the kind of merit being heaped upon it.

    And Chad: I certainly did think about the music off and on throughout the Dark Knight. The music didn’t bring down the movie per se (although I was distracted at times), I just wondered what it would have been like if James Newton Howard had been given the greenlight to really do his thing . It wasn’t like the score ruined the movie for me ala James Horner’s Enemy at the Gate where I thought “I can’t believe he’s using that Willow/Zorro/Star Trek “danger” motif on the trumpet again” or my Babel experience where I cringed every time Santaolalla played that same faux middle eastern guitar lick.

  • 24 11-13-2008 at 7:21 pm

    red_wine said...

    For the record, Williams’ scores are some of the most complicated in film scoring. The entire way the orchestra plays each other off with a complex integration of themes and motifs weaving in and out of the foreground is dazzling. He particularly employs a huge orchestra where he uses a variety of instruments to build texture and then has the melodic stuff in the foreground. He is supposed to be the greatest film composer in history along with Herrmann.

    If you take all the great film scores..Gone With The Wind, Psycho, ET, Vertigo, Lawrence Of Arabia, all of them not only enhance the film to a great level but also are great stand-alone listening experiences. I’m sure during those times, they did not concentrate on producing soundtrack albums, especially as for many years, there were no soundtrack albums.

    That is the thing about music, good music would sound good in any set-up. I cant recollect a single score which i liked during the film and could not enjoy it afterwards. That is the entire point of soundtrack albums, that people who like the music during the film so much that they want to hear it afterwards can go out and get some of the score.

    I though that Dark Knight was especially a by the numbers film score, and I think its disqualification does not alter anything in the least. It was absolutely on nobody’s radar as even a possibility of Best Score nomination anyway.

    But I agree, a score should service the film first. That was why it was created. But some scores are such musical achievements that they have a life of their own. It was the Williams score which shot Star Wars, ET, and Jaws through the roof. Some of the greatness of those films is due to the music alone(especially Star Wars and ET). I’m sure in the coming years, nobody would be rushing to call Dark Knight one of the achievements of modern film scoring. Besides the fact that music, as Kristopher said, is always a matter of taste.

  • 25 11-13-2008 at 7:23 pm

    Chad said...

    I’m pretty sure James Newton Howard was not creatively stifled at all and allowed to “do his thing”. And given that freedom he decided to make a minimalist/anarchic score.

  • 26 11-14-2008 at 2:38 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    John Williams is indeed the greatest living/working composer. Yet I simply dig Zimmer’s style. As much as I adore and eagerly await the next Williams score, Zimmer simply entertains me and rouses me in ways that no other composer rarely does. However, my favorite all time score ain’t Zimmer’s. It’s Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Baffling.

  • 27 11-14-2008 at 9:05 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    JP: All that is fair enough, but I have to ask you: when is Thomas Newman going to stop ripping himself off and crank out something truly original again? I say that as a fallen fan.

  • 28 11-14-2008 at 9:43 am

    JP said...

    Kris: Newman will stop ripping himself off when Williams, Horner, Zimmer and Elfman stop it as well. Or, more importantly, when directors and film editors stop temping their films with previous scores and telling their composers to make it sound “just like the temp, but if we get caught, you’re the one who gets sued.”

    And I agree, I love Newman but he does self-reference much more than I would like (and much more than he used to). Not quite on the level of Horner (or even Zimmer), who lifts whole note for note passages out of their previous work, but its still shame.

  • 29 11-15-2008 at 12:17 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I don’t think this is about composers wanting to copy a lot of their motifs and themes but filmmakers hiring them because they want that particular sound in their film. Sure they’ll get liberties in theme but not in overall sound.
    I think Bruckheimer is the best example of a producer making films with a certain bombastic synth score by one of Remote Control’s many composers.
    However, when given artistic freedom, Zimmer, Newman, JNH, Williams are among te rare few that can write brilliant scores that are dazzling and gorgeous to listen too. Even today.

  • 30 12-28-2008 at 6:44 pm

    joey p said...

    very little NEW music was written for the dark knight score. the music editor, Gibson, took mostly the various music stems (individual tracks) from the 1st movie along with a few new cues (written by Balf) and created the score from that. no award is deserved, for JNH or MrZ for the score , only a brilliant music editing award.