The legendary composer gives Batman and Superman their wings back…
John Williams once said that a movies soundtrack is its eternal soul…
One of the greatest travesties in cinematic history was when Danny Elfman failed to write the score for Batman Forever. His incredible work on the series’ earlier instalments had afforded the Batman franchise a pair of pulse pounding soundtracks full of heart and deep meaning, but came complete with an explosive Batman theme.
The iconic theme was an instant hit with the diehard fans of the character and would go on to be utilised in the highly acclaimed television adaptation: Batman: The Animated Series.
Unfortunately for the series, Tim Burton had been removed from his directorial duties at a time when his relationship with Elfman had reached an all-time low. The time constraints surrounding the scoring of Batman Returns had affected their close relationship and with the appointment of Joel Schumacher as director, Elfman’s association with Batman came to an end.
Schumacher appointed Elliot Goldenthal to produce Batman Forever’s score and demanded an original composition devoid of Elfman’s Grammy award winning theme which was full of high points but failed to measure up the masterful scores of his predecessor.
Equally as deplorable was the retirement of John Williams’ iconic Superman theme. In the aftermath of his success with Star Wars: A New Hope, for which he won an Oscar, Williams was confirmed as composer for Superman: The Movie. As expected, Williams brought his magic touch to proceedings and afforded the project a masterful main theme that would become synonymous with the character for well over four decades. But, with the underwhelming box office response to Superman Returns, for which John Ottman reused Williams’ masterful queues — the studio heads at Warner Bros commissioned a comprehensive reboot.
The Man of Steel was born and director Zack Snyder swiftly commissioned Hans Zimmer to compose the score. Zimmer had made a name for himself amongst the Hollywood greats with iconic scores for The Rock, Batman Begins and Pirates of the Caribbean. He was regarded as the natural successor to tackle Superman following his work on the Dark Knight trilogy. However, his first order of business was to distance himself the classic Superman theme in favour of fresh approach which alienated many of the fans.
The Man of Steel was released to mixed reviews which split the fan base at its core and one of the major talking points of conjecture was Zimmer’s score. Many of the fans, myself included, were underwhelmed by his score which was a far darker effort than its predecessors and relied upon a foreboding theme that optimised the movies darker tone. His efforts on the movies sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were equally mixed with one of the few highlights being his sublime theme for the character of Wonder Woman. Deciding not to tamper with his own work from the Dark Knight trilogy, Zimmer stepped aside and bestowed the challenge of creating a new Batman theme upon Junkie XL.
The new Batman theme was fine. It was intense, dark and foreboding but lacked a definitive orchestral theme akin to that of the Elfman scores of yesteryear. And when the Justice League movie was announced, many of us feared that Zimmer would once again return to compose yet another underwhelming score. But our fears were unwarranted. In a move many of us did not foresee, Zimmer expressed his desire to abandon the comic book movie medium and ruled himself out of contention for Justice League, a project that will see the unification of the many of the greatest DC comic book heroes of all time.
For all intents and purposes, we had resigned ourselves to Junkie XL continuing the work he started on Batman v Superman in Justice League, but with Zack Snyder being forced to abandon the project midway through filming — Joss Whedon was appointed to complete the movie. His first task was to appoint Danny Elfman as composer, rekindling their relationship from Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015. In the months that followed, the fans could only speculate whether he would resurrect his sublime original Batman theme in Justice League.
We dared to dream…
And thanks to a recent interview, we finally have a definitive answer…
When questioned about his approach to scoring Justice League, Elfman confirmed that he would not only be resurrecting his iconic theme from Batman and Batman Returns, but he would also be reviving John Williams’ legendary Superman theme. And if that wasn’t enough, he will also be including Hans Zimmer’s glorious Wonder Woman theme for Gal Gadot’s return to the screen.
Danny Elfman on Justice League:
“I instated a moment of the Wonder Woman theme that Hans Zimmer did for Batman Vs. Superman, but I also had two minutes where I had the pleasure of saying, “Let’s do John Williams’ Superman.” and that for me was heaven, because now I have a melody to twist, and I’m using it in an actually very dark way, in a dark moment. It’s the kind of thing that some fans will notice. Some won’t. It’s a moment where we’re really not sure whose side he’s on”
“The people at DC are starting to understand we’ve got these iconic bits from our past and that’s part of us, that’s part of our heritage — we shouldn’t run away from that. Contemporary thinking is, every time they reboot something, you have to start completely from scratch — which, of course, audiences will tell us again and again, is bullshit. Because the single-most surviving and loved theme in the world is Star Wars, which they had the good sense to not dump for the reboots. And every time it comes back, the audience goes crazy”
“There was a moment where the Batmobile shoots out of a thing and Whedon goes, Go batshit crazy here! Batman the shit out of it!” When I’m using the Batman theme, I’m using the melodic sense of it, I wasn’t doing full-on Batman, and there’s a moment when he says, “No, right here, Full on!”
As a fan of the DC universe, I am delighted with this news. Having grown up watching Christopher Reeve as Superman and Adam West/Michael Keaton as Batman these themes hold a certain level of nostalgia for me. Even though Zimmer’s Dark Knight theme set a perfect tone for Batman Begins and its resulting sequels — the genuine lack of a true theme was an injustice to the great material of Christopher Nolan. This predicament was only amplified in Man of Steel. Coming from the brilliance of John Williams’ score and morphing into the dull and brooding tones of Hans Zimmer was, quite frankly stomach churning. The genuine lack of a “Superman” theme contributed to the underwhelming vibe of the movie and I was not alone in my condemnation of it. The movie itself was fine — but it wasn’t super!
As a larger than life character, Superman deserves a larger than life theme and the return of John Williams’ masterwork is a fundamental victory for the fans. Moreover, the return of Elfman’s unsurpassed Batman theme is equally magnificent. His theme has remained at the core of the Batman fan fraternity and its return will be like embracing an old friend. Adding Zimmer’s Wonder Woman theme into the mix and we are facing the perfect soundtrack to accompany these screen legends in their first collaborative outing.
Finally, Warner Bros. is gearing up to give us a true superhero movie. The darker, brooding tone of the series so far is fine, but the separation between them and the material that made them so popular in the first place has been misguided by the studio heads. In just a few words, Elfman has cut through the nonsense that has dogged the franchise since the conclusion of The Dark Knight and has vowed to return the super to our superheroes.
It is nothing short of a dream come true, and I am thrilled at the prospect at the DC Universe finally stepping up to the plate with a pulse pounding score worthy of the fans admiration. These nostalgic themes are the essence of their soul. Just as recent sequels to Star Wars and Jurassic Park have demonstrated, the blend of a contemporary perspective mixed with nostalgia is a recipe for success — and the penny has finally dropped with Warner Bros.
Thank you for listening to the fans — and thank you Danny Elfman, my excitement has been dialled to eleven with this news!
I will be first in the queue for a Justice League IMAX screening — ready for a reunion with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and a host of new super friends finally accompanied by a pulse pounding masterpiece of scoring worthy of taking its place amongst the greats.
Until next time…