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2CDs: Batman (1989)
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La-La Land Records

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July 21, 2010

Tracks / Album Length:

CD 1: 30 tracks / (75:40) + CD 2: 29 tracks / (70:27)



Danny Elfman


Special Notes:

2-CD set / 20-page colour booklet with liner notes by Jeff Bond / Limited to 5000 copies

Comments :    

The release history of Danny Elfman’s breakthrough score is a great example of how music dept. politics, star ego, and a general indifference towards original scores existed just as the new audio format of the day – the CD – was making further headroom in the commercial market.

Because Prince was the bigger musical star, the Purple One’s song album was massively hyped on radio stations prior to the film’s release, ensuring Prince was perceived at the composer of Tim Burton’s fresh take on Batman. It wasn’t until after the curtain had risen that more astute cinemagoers realized Prince’s songs had been reduced to 2.5 in the film mix – two songs, plus a third worked into the score as a love theme – while every other note in the film was written, adapted and/or arranged by Elfman, the director’s longtime musical collaborator.

It felt like months before Elfman’s score was finally released in stores – naturally with different artwork, so as to distinguish itself from the Prince cover that used the Batman logo/shield/multi-purpose belt buckle. Then came the CD, which carried more music than the LP. (This was common at the time, and it’s doubtful it was a marketing ploy; producers just realized you could cram more music onto a CD than a 12” platter.)

La-La Land’s 2-disc set gives fans the best of both worlds – the original soundtrack album (the CD release, of course), and the unedited score, augmented to just under 76 mins. with a wealth of previously unreleased material.

As with most expanded releases, the album and expanded score versions are two very different listening experiences. Fans will appreciate hearing the full score with long and short cues, cues in their unedited form, and more thematic bits that traced the film’s dramatic flow; whereas the original album still holds its own as a crisply mastered portrait of every major event and theme.

The unreleased material ranges from half-minute bridge cues (some unused) to meaty 5 mins. cuts like “Shootout,” filled with all the kinetic orchestral energy typical of the composer during his comic book period. Elfman’s style was extremely giddy: big sweeping gestures, child-like chorals re-quoted by trumpets, gliding xylophone patterns, percussion textures delivered in hard, fast rumbling clusters, skittering piano figures, and an incredible sense of speed.

In revisiting Batman, one is struck by the animated energy that isn’t cartoonish; Elfman’s music shouldn’t have worked because it’s so big and nearly wall-to-wall – quite classical, in terms of silver and golden age scoring styles – and yet it’s filled with optimism, heroism, and wonderful brooding moments of malevolence that impact the listener without Jack Nicholson’s sliced-up sneer.

His quotation of “Beautiful Dreamer” is exquisitely perverse, as well as encapsulating the composer’s love for classical Hollywood composition: elegance, melody, and majestically flowing strings.

Then there’s the stunning gothic tenor of “Decent Into Mystery,” with low brass, chilling chorals, and lilting strings – all coalescing into a grandiloquent fanfare that’s heroic (because of the heavy brass) and tragic (due to the slightly sad harmonics, which infer a hero steeped with personal issues no shrink can solve).

“The Bat Cave” is a mix of child-like wonderment and slowly unfurled grimness – an intricate crime busting operation that’s discolored by Batman’s revenge streak.

To reconstruct the complete score, La-La Land had to use material from disparate sources, and sometimes one notices slight differences in the level of dynamic depth in some of the unreleased cues. It’s not a serious issue, but there is a marked difference with the album master, which seems to have benefitted from better care in the intervening 21 years.

Of course, the absurdity is having to reconstruct a 21 year old score written on the cusp of the Digital Age, but most CD producers have encountered similarly surreal situations where the complete score tracks aren’t sitting in a hermetically sealed can in a neatly organized vault. There’s sleuthing, the discovery process, and then mounting a practical commercial/artistic game plan to present the score as best as possible. In some cases, the album master feels redundant; there’s no reason (unused cues excepted) to listen to the abbreviated Boys from Brazil (1978) album, but the shorter Inchon (1981) album offers less thematic redundancies than the full monster score, and is arguably more satisfying in spots.

There are a few thematic repetitions that could’ve been pruned from Disc 1’s full Batman score, but that’s what the album on Disc 2 is for. Most :30 second cues aren’t all that memorable, but their inclusions gives the listener the option to program a preferred version.

The 2-disc set includes a lengthy track analysis by Jeff Bond, but those wanting more info are behooved to check out Janet K. Halfyard’s excellent book from Scarecrow Press, Danny Elfman’s Batman (2004), which presents a fair (if sometimes heavily musicological) analysis of both the Elfman and Prince music. Prince, in fact, gets a lot of attention in the book, and what emerges is a view that both artists recognized Batman as an important project with the potential to not only challenge them, but boost their careers if the final work was done right.

This 2-disc set is limited to 5000 copies, which should give fans some time to snap it up and enjoy both versions of Elfman’s classic score, with some additional bonus and alternate cues at the end of Disc 2. Incidentally, the final cue, “Main Title (ALT 2)” has a funny 2 mins. coda where the orchestra performs – and hums –“Beautiful Dreamer” under the baton of Shirley Walker.

Batman made Elfman’s career, but its success also typecast him as the de facto superhero composer, and as good as his music for Nightbreed (1990), Dick Tracy (1990), Darkman (1990), and Batman Returns (1992) are, one sensed he was exhausted after 3 years, hence his switch to atypical dramas and thrillers, where he found he could be versatile in any genre and write in any style.

Batman benefitted from a superb team of orchestrators (Steve Bartek, Shirley Walker, Steven Scott Smalley), conductor (Walker), and engineer (Eric Tomlinson), which is why the score is a highpoint in film score production. Those wanting further adventures featuring Elfman's theme plus Walker’s own material should examine Batman: The Animated Series [M] (1992-1995).


© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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