Just like the first of Christopher Nolan's gloomy Batman reboots, the score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard for the follow-up is more stripped down, and holds off quoting any overt theme statements until a good measure past the opening titles.
Part grunge industrial and modern orchestral, the Dark Knight CD broods for almost 74 mins., and while one can pinpoint some of the stylistic traits of each composer, it's a uniquely unified fusion by two composers whose early works were popular because of their penchant for bombast. Zimmer more so, but Howard tended to save his blows for his very resonant bass (usually electric and synth), and over the years each composer has explored more diverse works beyond the action and suspense genres wherein they made their marks.
Dark Knight may be deliciously grungier than Batman Begins, but it's also rewarding for the modern writing that regularly drags away any melodic bits. “Why So Serious?” the CD's first cue, somewhat recalls the raging low frequencies of Christopher Young's laudable score for the otherwise clunky Ghost Rider (2007), but Dark Knight is far more brazen for slamming listeners with extreme bouts of pulses, wailing guitar, and a lengthy chunk of rhythmic pulses guaranteed shudder walls if piped through a subwoofer.
Howard's patented use of eddying, fat bass figures prominently within the tragic framework of “Harvey Two-Face,” yet the melodic quotes are very low-key, and extended to a dirge that only warms up when beautiful, classically arranged strings gradually introduce the composers' sad Batman theme, cresting on a brass fanfares reminiscent of John Williams' early seventies work.
“Aggressive Expansion” is the first formal quotation of the main theme, with banks of percussion thundering at the peripherals, and small circular clusters on strings and synth pulses reminiscent of Zimmer's underrated The Ring (2002) score. Like “Why so Serious?” much of the cue is reduced to low frequencies before a gradual cacophony, and it offers a balance among more tender cues like “Blood on My Hands.”
Some modest sound design is mixed with the foreboding orchestral waves in “A Little Push,” and the writing – more techno drones performed by a large phalanx of brass – also demonstrates the powerful measure of fear music can instill without slamming a scene with busy underscore.
Sticking to low registers and unwavering tempi are somewhat uncharacteristic for a comic book tale because the standard – arguably established by Danny Elfman in the first Batman (1989) film – is to be grand, Wagnerian, and melodic. Zimmer and Howard's score breaks the mold by saving melodic chunks for major action scenes (“Like a Dog Chasing Cars”), and scoring several major confrontation sequences with an eye on subtext, if not a scene's most elemental emotions. “I'm Not a Hero” is filled with low, vibrato-thickened swathes of Wagnerian gloom, but it's more of a stylistic nod to the Batman myth than the score's dominant style.
(The minimalism present in the pair's Batman theme may also have been influenced by Nolan's association with David Julyan, whose scores for Following (1998) and Memento (2000) were equally rooted in minimalism and modernism.)
A 2-CD set of the film score would've been ideal, but this is a meaty album with many long cues, capped by the 16 minute “A Dark Knight” end cue. The score's production is first-rate, although the low registers and low frequencies exploited by Zimmer and Howard means the album will have to be played in the stillest room to ensure every nuance isn't obliterated by peripheral noise. (Headphones would still preserve the sonics, but those low frequencies in the title track only work when piped through a stereo system.)
One of the gloomiest scores to emerge from Hollywood, and a riveting portrait of tortured souls ensnared in mean-spirited, epic battles.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan