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The Dark Knight by Hans Zimmer
and James Newton Howard

The Dark Knight

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The Dark Knight (Soundtrack) by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

The Dark Knight
Composed by Hans Zimmer
and James Newton Howard
Warner Records (2008)

Rating: 8/10

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The Dark Knight (Special Limited Edition Soundtrack) by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

The Dark Knight (Special Limited Ed.)
Composed by Hans Zimmer
and James Newton Howard
Warner Records (2008)


Buy The Dark Knight (Special Limited Edition Soundtrack) by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard  from


“THE DARK KNIGHT is not likely to be the sort of score you'll play repeatedly..., but there is little denying that there is hardly any other type of score that would work for this film. ”

Smiles in the Dark
Review by Christopher Coleman



Let me tell you how I got this smile on my face...

In 2005, one of DC’s most beloved superheroes was brought back to the big screen by director CHRISTOPHER NOLAN. The Batman franchise had been reinvisioned and reinvigorated by Tim Burton in the late 1980s with BATMAN and then in 1992, with BATMAN RETURNS. While the film franchise went into serious decline after that with the next two Batman films, several animated television series were developed and have seen great success. Batman was still very much alive in our media consciousness. Still, the overwhelmingly positive reactions to Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS made it clear that we were ready for a big-screen-Batman again.   Three years later, the dark-one is back, flanked again by composers HANS ZIMMER and JAMES NEWTON HOWARD.

THE DARK KNIGHT truly stands out from the crowd this Summer. Despite excellent efforts in both IRON MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK, director Christopher Nolan pushes his film along the lines of real-worldliness beyond either of these two ... even beyond his own BATMAN BEGINS.  This real-world grittiness (enhanced greatly by the sparring use of CG) helps to separate this film from the glut of 2008's Summer movies.  In fact, take away the cape and cowl, and poorly applied make-up and this film could almost slip into this year's dramatic Fall line up.  Well, maybe I go to far. 

Since Batman's revelation, the city of Gotham has changed: the people, the police, and the criminals. Such change is visually reflected, among other ways, in the color palette shift from the golden hues of the first film to cold hues of blue. The mob is under new leadership and have themselves hit hard times, thus opening the way for a new sort of criminal – one not moved by money or simple power. Our hero of the night has to fight the old mob and the well as himself in this new Gotham. Christopher Nolan's sequel is an effective mash-up of mob drama and psycho-thriller that happens to include a caped crusader as its protagonist. As the perilous second act of a hopeful trilogy, Zimmer and Newton Howard follow suit and push and already menacing musical style even further into the darkness.

For BATMAN BEGINS, the collaboration of a-list composers HANS ZIMMER and JAMES NEWTON HOWARD got the film music community abuzz as much as the film itself did; however, unlike the film, their score was not universally received. The two composers musically took the franchise in a totally new direction…just as Nolan wanted. Danny Elfman’s well-known theme was completely dispatched and a score that danced the line of sound-design was delivered instead. This dark, electronic, grunge was a bit of a surprise to some, but few argued its effectiveness in the film itself.  BATMAN BEGINS was certainly not for those who clamor for more traditional types of superhero scores. To those in that camp I can only ask, "Why so serious?"

Three years later, the dynamic composing duo is back alongside director Nolan and the memorable heroic characters of the first film.  ZIMMER and NEWTON HOWARD bring forward the dark and brooding textures from BATMAN BEGINS including: strong orchestral and synthesized percussion, expansive strings and brass, reversed samples, and a variety of other pulsing electronics. This combination in the first film helped to give it a personality like no other superhero film. Now, for THE DARK KNIGHT, they take these same elements and force them even further down into deep places. This sequel does bring back a handful of identifiable motifs from the previous film but introduces a significant few as well.

Composer Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

""The interesting thing is that people keep thinking that, eventually, we'll turn the corner and make him the Batman of the Tim Burton movies. We're never going to do that ..."

Hans Zimmer

Read the full interview with Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Generally speaking, HANS ZIMMER handles the dark and foreboding side of the score again and JAMES NEWTON HOWARD the more melodic. This puts the dark world of the mob, Batman, and his new supernemesis, the Joker, in his musical court. Newton Howard conversely continues to handle the love interest, Rachel Dawes, and new white-knight of Gotham City, Harvey Dent. Zimmer re-employs two main motifs for Batman. First, the expansive two-note theme (see “I'm Not a Hero,” “Aggressive Expansion,” “Introduce a Little Anarchy,” and “A Dark Knight”), which continues to convey a sense of foreboding or dread when the bat-man cometh.  Second, we hear a tease of the heroic Batman theme at the conclusion of “I'm Not a Hero” (2), but, on the soundtrack, don't get our first full treatment of it until “Like a Dog Chasing Cars” (8). Interestingly, if not a little ironically, Zimmer recalls a little used segment of music from the first film and makes it a significant development of Batman's theme (see BATMAN BEGINS “Eptisicus”). This melodic segment is very reminiscent of one theme from THE LAST SAMURAI.  With Batman musically well-defined in the film, the most significant addition to the score is the theme for the Joker. Mimicking the character of the Joker, himself, Zimmer provides a single note, played on electric guitar which is mercilessly distorted, bent, flanged, and any other synomym for "twisted" that you can think of.  In our recent interview, Hans Zimmer simply called it “The Note.” This note both begins and ends the soundtrack. In track 1, “Why So Serious?” the note plays for over one minute while in the fading moments of “A Dark Knight” (14) we hear the twisted motif surface one last time.

For JAMES NEWTON HOWARD's part this time out, there are fewer opportunities for lightness. There are only select moments where he is able to bring forward the simple and innocent piano motif for Rachel Dawes. We get a glimpse of it at the conclusion of “Agent of Chaos” (11). However, we hear a splendorous performance of the bittersweet romantic theme at the conclusion of “HARVEY TWO-FACE” (3). Now, this arrangement is only found on the soundtrack and sadly makes no appearance in the film. It might have provided some interesting contrast in the film, but sadly there weren't any moments that warranted it.  The majority of track 3 offers Newton Howard's new theme for district attorney, Harvey Dent. The theme is principally built upon a six note motif, which is first played softly but firmly on strings and brass. Later as Dent is transformed into the vengeful Two-Face the motif is played more aggressively on brass and added percussion. In terms of the soundtrack, the only other performance of the Dent/Two-Face theme can be found only in “Blood on My Hands” (6).

It remains fairly easy to discern who is writing each piece as ZIMMER has admittedly taken the dark side of Batman even darker…while JAMES NEWTON HOWARD lifts the score with his melodic contributions. The end result may not be the most seamless of scores, but it is, none the less, effective...especially in context. Our composing-duo have followed Christopher Nolan and Batman down to new depths. THE DARK KNIGHT is not likely to be the sort of score you'll play repeatedly (oddly I have been doing just that), but there is little denying that there is hardly any other type of score that would work for this film. I have found this score immensely interesting on its own, diving into the subtle changes and development of the established style and themes as well as absorbing the new material, but in context of the film HANS ZIMMER and JAMES NEWTON HOWARD's score melds into the deep blue menagerie created by the fine writing, directing, and acting that appears on the screen. What a superhero score is in the new millennium is certainly different than in years past.  Film's like IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT are perfect examples of this and we can look for more of this evolution in music with the upcoming THE SPIRIT and WATCHMEN films...and I'm betting heavily on a third Batman film to come in the next few years as well.  If you want to maximize your purchase of the standard soundtrack release, the limited edition, or the double LP release, experience the score of THE DARK KNIGHT within the film. I can almost guarantee that will bring a “smile” to your face as well.


Rating: 8/10



Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Why So Serious 9:14  ****
2 I'm Not a Hero 6:34  ****
3 Harvey Two-Face 6:16  *****
4 Aggressive Expansion 4:36  ***
5 Always a Catch 1:40  ***
6 Blood on My Hands 2:16  ****
7 A Little Push 2:43  ***
8 Like a Dog Chasing Cars 5:03  ****
9 I Am the Batman 2:00  ***
10 And I thought My Jokes Were Bad 2:29  ***
11 Agent of Chaos 6:55  *****
12 Introduce a Little Anarchy 3:42  ****
13 Watch the World Burn 3:48  ****
14 A Dark Knight 16:15  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 73 minutes  


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