By the mid ‘90s, studios and filmmakers alike felt that…at least to an extent…the symphonic score once resurrected by composers such as John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith had run its course.
Audiences were getting larger. But, more importantly, they were getting younger. And pandering to the commercial tastes of the young demographic, now being weened on the alternative grit of bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, seemed like one of the best…and perhaps most subtle…devices for enticing and entertainment.
That’s not to say traditional score was completely aborted as several compositions such as Hans Zimmer’s score for “The Lion King” (1994) and James Horner’s work on “Apollo 13” (1995) were highly praised, earning Academy Award nominations and wins throughout the early years of the decade.
But when you’ve got a lightning rod of a property like Batman…under the direction of “Lost Boys” helmer Joel Schumacher…it’s clear that a compromise had to be made.
Enter “Alien III” composer Elliot Goldenthal. Known for his preference on dark, character driven material, Goldenthal felt like an artistically natural choice to bring his compositional prowess to Batman.
And while he’s easily no Danny Elfman, Elliot’s work is certainly quite sensational.
Look at it this way…
If Danny Elfman’s musical approach to Batman is “Phantom of the Opera” and “Hamlet”…then Elliot Goldenthal’s approach is “West Side Story” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Both composers are very theatrical in their take on the material, clearly evidenced by the cues themselves. But while Elfman is more Gothic…somber…more like an opera of sorts…Goldenthal is very much equivalent to the lavishly overblown stage play.
The “Batman Forever” score is big…it’s sweeping. In many ways, it’s the broadest and most heroic music written for the character.
There’s the dynamic new Batman Theme with “Main Titles and Fanfare.” Goldenthal, in several interviews and reports, claims that the inspiration for his theme is very much the child in all of us…and the concept of children mouthing and sounding out their own scores while playing superhero action figures.
What would a Batman theme sound like from the heart and mind of that young child waving a Batman toy in his hands? Thus, the fanfare was conceived.
A few parts mystery when played with low, cumbersome strings…a few parts dazzle when played with triumphant horns…the theme is certainly a standout for the piece and quite over the top in a very pop-opera sort of way, which I love.
From there, in all honesty, the score seems content with retaining its constant assault on the senses…with giant hyper-laced cues such as “The Perils of Gotham” as Batman grapples with Two-face on his helicopter…and the “Spank Me! Overture” as the Riddler decimates the Batcave.
As you can clearly identify by the titles of the cues, Goldenthal approached the score just as I felt he had.
Instead of opera acts with each cue of “Batman Returns,” “Batman Forever” is scored like a set-up of dance numbers.
There’s the sultry “Mouth to Mouth Nocturne” as Chase and Batman have their balcony rendezvous after the battle at the Ritz Gotham…the “Two-Face Three Step” playing a collection of prominent Two-Face related melodies from throughout the film such as his scene with Sugar and Spice in his lair.
The biggest is clearly “Mr. E’s Dance Card,” which collects several cues from the Nygmatech Party. It starts off with a smoky rendition of the Batman Fanfare envisioned as a Rumba before moving into the quirky neon-lined atmosphere of the party itself with the perky brass of a Fox-Trot as Edward Nygma is fond over by Gossip Gerty and the press. It then segues back to earlier in the film with the Waltz as a pre-Riddler Nygma hands in his resignation from Wayne Enterprises…dishing out a cheesy sob-story over Fred Stickley’s demise…the swelling strings only add on the thickness.
One of my personal favorites of Goldenthal’s composition is “Nygma Variations (An Ode to Science).”
Like the “Two-Face Three Step,” the track collections several cues composed for the Riddler…including his theme about a quarter of the way in. One of the aspects I love the most is the attempt to further differentiate from Danny Elfman by utilizing synthesizers and organ as a flashy representation of computer razzmatazz…an electronic symphony of consoles and buttons and gizmos the likes of which Edward Nygma would go crazy for!
Several of the cues do well to flavor Schumacher’s depiction of Gotham…such as “Chase Blanc,” when Chase is confronted and bewitched by Batman for the first time as they discuss Two-Face’s take over of the Second Bank of Gotham.
There’s also “Under the Top” (playfully titled after Goldenthal’s belief that, with a larger than life property like Batman, you have to be over the top in the music…not “under the top”), which highlights all of the music from the presentation of the Circus in the Hippodrome. In some ways, given that the Circus is actually being performed on a stage of some sort, “Under the Top” is even more bombastic than several of the action cues…note the strong percussion and use of wailing horns and brass.
On the other side of the broadened spectrum there are still a collection of somber, melodic tracks such as “The Pull of Regret”…and especially “Descent,” the cue used during Bruce’s flashback to his parent’s wake…and the night he discovered the cave as a child, confronted by a lone bat flying towards him, which remains one of the creepiest and most atmospheric moments in the composition as a whole.
Some cues are unfortunately left out of the official release (specifically the cues for Bruce suiting up in the Sonar Batsuit, the forging of Batman and Robin’s partnership…and Gordon cheering on as the Batwing flies through the Bat-Signal) and perhaps someday a special edition could be made…though I won’t get my hopes up.
The score is capped off with the classically bombastic “Batterdammerung” as Batman drops into a spectacular free-fall to save both Chase Meridian and Robin. Set off by a pulse-pounding crash of percussion, the track plays very much like the set-up and resolve of the old ’40s serials.
As Batman descends to catch Chase and Robin, the score sounds like “Will our hero prevail? Will the Riddler’s hostages survive!? Tune in next week…Same Bat-Time, Same Bat” but it’s quickly interrupted and turns on its head to an uplifted and victorious variation of the fanfare as Batman successfully rescues both his lady love and his sidekick.
On the whole, the “Batman Forever” score is a wonderful musical interpretation of the caped crusader…full of all the lavish heroics and kinetic momentum that makes comic book characters the great mythic figures that they are.
While it doesn’t quite fit of the mold of great Batman music for me personally, the themes and motifs are easily still more memorable than some of the music of later interpretations.
Goldenthal might not be on the Gothic level of Elfman…but as a competent composer in his own right, he certainly lives up to the zany whims of Schumacher’s vision while not falling into the trap of forsaking the integrity of the piece…at least in a symphonic sense.
A master score that probably sells the sizzle better than the steak, “Batman Forever” still have more than enough style to burn…and that I can appreciate.
“Batman Forever: Original Motion Picture Score” (1995)
Composed by … Elliot Goldenthal
Conducted by … Jonathan Sheffer
Orchestrated by … Robert Elhai and Elliot Goldenthal
Additional Orchestrations by … Shirley Walker, David John Olsen, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Randy Kerber
Vocals by … Harmonic Voices and Elliot Goldenthal
Produced by … Matthias Gohl
1: Main Titles & Fanfare (1:50)
2: Perpetuum Mobile (0:54)
3: The Perils of Gotham (3:01)
4: Chase Noir (1:45)
5: Fledermausmerschmusik (1:15)
6: Nygma Variations (An Ode to Science) (6:02)
7: Victoria (2:37)
8: Descent (1:07)
9: The Pull of Regret (2:50)
10: Mouth to Mouth Nocturne (2:14)
11: Gotham City Boogie (2:02)
12: Under the Top (5:42)
13: Mr. E’s Dance Card (Rumba, Fox-Trot, Waltz and Tango) (3:21)
14: Two-Face Three Step (2:20)
15: Chase Blanc (1:23)
16: Spank Me! Overture (2:46)
17: Holy Rusted Metal (1:51)
18: Batterdammerung (1:40)
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