Christopher Nolan on composer Hans Zimmer's contribution to his 'Dark Knight' saga

Posted by · 9:23 pm · July 23rd, 2012

There is one element of “The Dark Knight Rises” that I think is more accomplished than anything else in the franchise, one thing I thought they got more right here than in either “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight.” And that was Hans Zimmer’s magnificent, epic score.

Zimmer was joined by James Newton Howard on the previous installments, Howard’s propensity for percussive propulsion serving them well. While it’s a shame he couldn’t be on board for the denouement, I think it’s also serendipitous, because the world of “The Dark Knight Rises” is a very different world than the other two films, a place less of decay and disaster than internal rot and melancholy.

So Zimmer’s haunting melodies were a fantastic contribution to the world of Nolan’s finale. There is plenty of thumping bombast when necessary, but for the most part, that has given way to measured elements, whether somber or just plain sinister.

The franchise’s history with Oscar has been an interesting one where the music is concerned. The first film wasn’t overly considered, though it should have been. When the second film rolled around, all the buzz it was stirring led many to believe Zimmer and Howard would have a fair shot at a nomination from the notoriously fickle music branch. Both scores were ultimately disqualified because of the number of composers listed on the cue sheet (one of the branch’s many arcane rules, which doesn’t apparently take into consideration affidavits signed by the named contributors stating that the score was primarily the work of Zimmer and Howard).

With “The Dark Knight,” Zimmer had had enough and he took his case up with the branch personally. And he got a reversal of decision. Still, as we all know, it wasn’t nominated.

I don’t know if the new film has enough gas to get the score there but I think it’s fantastic work that deserves recognition. And I was happy to read Christopher Nolan’s extended thoughts on Zimmer’s contribution to the series in the liner notes of the original score CD. I thought I’d offer them up here, in case you haven’t read it yet. It actually provides interesting insight into the “Star Spangled Banner” scene in the film:

“There is one musical contribution to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ that clearly demonstrates the importance of Hans Zimmer as a creative collaborator. It explains why, eight years ago, as a first time tentpole filmmaker, I so needed his help with reinventing Batman. A fresh musical approach was going to be a key component, but beyond that I needed the help of a master- someone who had faced such huge odds and emerged unscathed. For me Hans Zimmer was the sound of contemporary movies and I was delighted when he agreed to talk about the project. I was less delighted with his initial thoughts – why make the music heroic? Why not play the tragedy and nobility of the tale, like an Elgar concerto? Fear provided a couple reasons right away, but then I started to learn the method to Hans” madness… an unerring ability to hone in on the one thought that cracks a project open. The darkly romantic, lush score, with its strangely minimalist core that he and James Newton Howard labored over with such passion brought new ways of tapping emotion and pathos within the context of relentless action. The sound was fresh, distinctive and has been mercilessly plundered by every action movie (or at least their trailers) since 2005.

“The score for Batman Begins dominated the direction of blockbuster movie music for everyone except Hans, who, when we came to revisit Gotham, insisted on moving in a completely different direction for the crazed, tortured sound of the Joker, and refused to let us put in our favorite cues from the first film, insisting on pushing further towards a destination that only he could hear. Hans has sometimes been accused (not within earshot) of taking the long way round, but what I”ve seen over the last eight years is that you have to take the long way round to find the new sound, the new approach. I have never worked with someone so dedicated to the idea that the real risk is in playing it safe. Hans taught me that you have to pull aggressively in the wrong direction to discover the possibilities- and that without discovering the possibilities you can never do anything exceptional. Together with his team of extraordinary collaborators, Lorne and Mel amongst others – Hans sets creative goals for a project higher than you ever thought possible or practical. He took the same approach with ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ crafting a magnificent and totally unexpected suite for our new villain as we were just starting to shoot. Hans pinpointed our prison world as the seed of an evil spreading across the world, and we were able to incorporate that notion into the shooting of the sequences, leaning more and more on the significance of the sound of evil rising. Here you see the essence of Hans” approach. He is not playing along – his greatest thinking is not even done to picture – Hans sees through the screen to the dark beating heart of the story and is faithful to that and only that.

“But this is not the contribution to which I was referring.

“The musical contribution in /The Dark Knight Rises’ that most clearly demonstrates Hans” importance as a creative collaborator is not to be found on this record. He did not write a note of it. It is a hinge point of the entire film and it is the lonely fragile voice of a boy singing the National Anthem at the center of a massive, crowded football stadium. While we were considering how to stage this sequence I called Hans to ask what big draw artists we might convince to do a star spangled cameo. He threw out a few ideas, trying to get into the spirit of the thing. Then called me back a few minutes later, gently suggesting I might be betraying the spirit of our endeavor. He told me to make the most instinctive and unconscious connection with the lonely boy at the genesis of our story. It was the sort of priceless contribution that gives you goosebumps and reveals your dangerous dependence on a collaborator. I told him I”d think about it.”

– Christopher Nolan
June 1, 2012

“The Dark Knight Rises” is now playing nationwide.

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