Christopher Drake, Robert J. Kral, Kevin Manthei
12-page colour booklet with candid liner notes by the film's composers.
Taking a step from the Matrix / Animatrix franchise, Warner Bros. and DC Comics commissioned their own animated anthology, although the six tales don't thorouggly provide any backstory and linkage material to 2008's Dark Knight. The animation styles are very diverse and frequently striking, but few of the tales rise about thin vignettes.
The film's three composers, however, have the advantage because the Batman character is a combination of mood, action, a bit of self-loathing, and an ongoing series of adventures that bring up a constant stream of villains. Add a mix of differing anime styles – including one blatant ode to Ralph Bakshi in “Working Through Pain”– and you have a score with some interesting mood and stylistic shifts.
“Have I Got a Story for You” by Christopher Drake (Wonder Woman) introduces a suitably brooding title track, and the shimmering orchestral samples form an excellent intro that harks back to Danny Elfman's Batman music, as well as Shirley Walker's superb scores for the first Batman animated features, and the recent scores by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer.
The orchestral intro is quickly set aside for a set of instrumental rock cuts for the skateboarding teens who encounter a mysterious villain capable of emerging and disappearing like a chilly mist. Drake's dramatic underscore goes gleefully harsh with some lovely metallic glissandi, and mild modern tonalities reminiscent of Elliott Goldenthal's harsher Batman cues from the third and fourth films. (You remember: the evil Joel Schumacher things no one likes to talk about opening.)
“Skater Girl/Trouble in the City” has some sharp brass writing, with plenty of percussion and brass waves surging between frenetic chase segments. Drake's chosen style is harsh operatic, which works extremely well for the episode, and makes up for its wandering narrative that has Batman encountering multiple villains before a somewhat hasty finale. Drake has fun evoking a bit of Herrmann (Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth in fleeting gestures), and there's nothing more effective than action music goosed with a few hefty strokes to a chunky anvil.
Keven Manthei's “Crossfire” is a strong blend of aquatic electronic pulses and shape-shifting clangs for the primal emotions and conflicts within this short and admittedly weak segment that has two cops ferrying a killer into an Escape from New York -styled prison isle, only to be caught between a vicious gang war behind locked prison gates. (Next time: stop arguing and just get out while you can!)
The stereo ping-ponging pulses and steely textures captures the relationship of two chilly cops, their loathing of a killer, and the melee that ensures once they're trapped in the prison confines, but Manthei (Justice League: The New Frontier) also adds some chorals that force a bit of nobility to an otherwise icy cold Batman, who watches a conflagration erupt before meting out his own brand of justice.
“Field Test” has Robert J. Kral drifting the film's music to a more overt synth/orchestral collage, although he sticks to a driving ostinato over which he applies some majestic surges and receding furor for some lovely, sad passages with woodwinds. As Batman tests out a new device that repels lethal objects, albeit with some unintentional consequences, the score's tender sections and some light humour provides a bit of an anchor since the prior segments had Batman depicted as a far more repressed soul.
Christopher Drake's music for “In Darkness Dwells” follows quite seamlessly, and his second score is also for the best of the sextet. Written David S. Goyer (Blade II), the rescue has Batman searching for a captured cardinal in an immense sewer system where he battles Scarecrow, and manages to save the day, but not without serious physical and emotional bruising; he can take the punches, but the pain never disappears.
Drake's approach is to capture Batman's heroism and noble deed through his own hero theme, wherein he builds the thematic material, but in cues like “Epidermolytic Hyperkeratosis,” the shading is vintage noir - a good choice for a segment with visuals evoking the massive close-ups, psychedelic colours, and more geometric designs reminiscent of Ralph Baskhi's Spider-Man and Rock Robin Hood series. (It's quite obvious, and the only missing element is trippy tie-dyed background templates.) The final cue brings everything together in a fast-moving action cut, and it's written with a lot of class.
Kevin Manthei's South Asian-tinged music for “Working Through Pain” forms a respite between the film's episodic doom, gloom, and rage. “Pain” melds Bruce Wayne's Himalayan training montage with a later rescue that has Batman bruised and bleeding in the sewers, and Manthei keeps continuity by sticking to Indian harmonics to reinforce Batman's ongoing struggle with his past and future, and the authentic ethnic instruments give the characters and the overall segment more emotional intimacy. The story is a tad overly mystical, but like the music, it shows the trauma that will forever be a part of Bruce Wayne's life.
Robert J. Kral's “Deadshot” closes the film with an appropriately grand orchestral, and certainly musically, it functions as a restatement of Batman's role in society as a frequently lone and not always appreciated crusader. Kral draws from the rivalry between assassin Deadshot and Batman with long, dark swathes of sad harmonies, and he increasingly brings in more of his heroic theme before the final action payoff, followed by a lovely lament in “His Life's Quest.”
La-La Land 's series of soundtracks from animated Warner Bros./DC productions are pretty solid albums, and they're testimony to some fine writing by a set of very agile and instinctive composers
In addition to Batman: Gotham Night, La-Land's parallel release is Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo (2008). Christopher Drake's Batman theme was also re-recorded by Silva Screen for the Batman compilation album The Music of Batman (2009).
Robert J. Kral’s other scores for DC characters include Superman: Doomsday (2007), Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), and Green Lantern: First Flight (2009).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan
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