Written by UTG critic Grace Duffy, Scene & Heard takes a look at the music that makes our favorite films so memorable. Whether it’s the 400-piece orchestra Christopher Nolan used for The Dark Knight, or the dozen or so bands that contributed to the soundtrack of Top Gun, there is no denying the impact music has on movies and this column hopes to highlight the best of the best.
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It’s been a while since I visited this column – the last installment, fittingly enough, covered that other most monstrous of recent releases in The Avengers – but there is nothing quite like the newest suite of Hans Zimmer majesty to compel a return. The final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s epic and beautiful Dark Knight trilogy arrived in cinemas just under two weeks ago, and has been largely and justly feted as a grandiose denouement to the series (including right here on UTG). This considerable praise notwithstanding, it’s not always a satisfying film. Slightly too ambitious for its own good, it’s over-leavened with plot and as such loses some intensity over its lengthy running time. Such details only vaguely detract from the enjoyment factor and solid thump of emotion, but it is worth comparing the lean, contained efficiency of the score with the sprawling emphasis of the film.
Zimmer, working alone for the first time in this trilogy (James Newton Howard jumped ship following Inception, feeling – understandably – that the added chemistry between Zimmer and Nolan would make him something of a third wheel), has fashioned a simmering and insidious suite of music to accompany the Bat’s final disappearance into the shadows. In one sense, the lack of dual composers contributes to a singular vision, and one that’s accordingly far more restrained and effective than the epic sprawl of The Dark Knight soundtrack. Whereas the latter allowed cues and themes to fade into one another, building a purposefully anarchic collision of bombastic music, this soundtrack is carefully delineated. It pitches its heroes and villains against one another overtly, juxtaposing the scarred remnants and frailty of Gotham’s hero against the militaristic might of its reckoning.
This is particularly effective in the delicious segue from “On Thin Ice” to “Gotham’s Reckoning.” There’s an air of vulnerability to the former that’s incredibly haunting – it’s a cold, yet tender, track that captures Wayne’s faltering sentiment and wounded heart. It wanders longingly through a glassy netherworld, reflecting his search for purpose and peace. The final notes revive the sombre excitement that so underlines Batman’s theme in these films – steady, dedicated, quietly enthralling, before disappearing abruptly into the foreboding menace of Bane’s main theme. “Gotham’s Reckoning” is an eerie, twisting piece and an outstanding tribute to the villain. Used for the opening airplane heist and at various intervals elsewhere, Zimmer creates something lurking and malevolent; an indistinct threat that seems to stalk through the shadows. Its eruption into something furious and visceral evokes the primal and fearsome nature of Bane – the music seems increasingly aghast, just as the audience, at the dominion and power of this huge man and the brutality he brings to bear on Gotham.
Selina Kyle, meanwhile, gets her own delightful musical signature. “Mind If I Cut In” is a simplistic but stylish piece that neatly pays homage to the Cat’s air of intrigue. Her theme is chilling and aloof yet glamorous, with deft piano keys suggesting mystery, seduction, and edginess. There’s a darkness to this, but a wicked sense of fun too – it is as playful and intoxicating as the character it denotes.
Zimmer allowed fans to contribute their voices to the rousing chant that permeates the score – a refrain in Moroccan Arabic that reads “deshi deshi, basara, basara, deshi deshi” and loosely translates to “he rises.” The voices are never completely prominent; rather, they are interwoven with the music in a subtle but powerful tapestry. They first appear in the aforementioned “Gotham’s Reckoning” and are used to similarly dramatic effect in “The Fire Rises” and “Imagine the Fire,” both of which underscore the more intense action moments of the film. This note is perhaps the most markedly distinctive aspect of The Dark Knight Rises and something which makes it all the more striking. The crowd element is as arresting as it is unnerving; something that can be used to spur Batman on as much as it can symbolize his defeat or undoing. The likes of “Fear Will Find You” also benefit enormously from these, throbbing with an almost panicked sense of urgency. It is telling then that such tracks are partnered with more poignant, introspective pieces such as “Why Do We Fall,” highlighting Batman’s continuing quest for hope, strength, and courage amidst all the mayhem.
“Rise” is a glorious, arching denouement for the soundtrack and for Wayne/Batman himself – a seven minute spectacle that towers and falls through a full gamut of emotion including courage, sacrifice, heroism, tragedy, and resurgence. The wall of strings accompanying the film’s last, tantalising scene is particularly resonant, ending things on a sharp and abrupt note but with the same gleeful spark of excitement that indicates the curtain has not yet fallen on this incarnation of Gotham. It’s a staggering conclusion to an equally staggering film, and one that will linger with you as heartily as the legacy of this trilogy.
In addition to his work on the film’s official soundtrack, Zimmer also composed a standalone track entitled “Aurora,” as a tribute to those killed and affected by the tragic shooting at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. The 8-minute piece is haunting, ethereal, and elegant, etched with vague inflections of the themes we now associate indelibly with these films. All proceeds of the song go directly to the Aurora Victim Relief organization, so please ensure to listen and donate what you can here.
And so, after seven years, three films, and a life-affirming journey, we bid Gotham farewell – like the snows of yesteryear, gone from this earth.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, Bruce. Until we meet again.