Batman has always been a story of duality – the polarities that unite darkness and light inside of each one of us. The bat signal ignites, illuminating the darkness of night, and out of the shadows springs a masked avenger, intent on delivering vengeance.
Though we have seen many iterations of the Batman character, the most recent take witnessed in director Matt Reeves’ The Batman delivers new perspectives on this iconic persona. The Batman feels more connected both chronologically and aesthetically to 2019’s The Joker than to previous movies in the Batman universe. In particular, The Batman soundtrack scored by Michael Giacchino stands out in this pantheon of Batman themes as a new landmark.
WHO IS MICHAEL GIACCHINO?
Michael Giacchino has been a fixture in the Hollywood movie industry for decades now. His work began in earnest in the early 1990’s after a college internship at Universal Studios landed him a full-time position with the production company. Soon after, he began working with Disney and DreamWorks on music for video games. While there, he composed many award-winning themes for video games such as the Medal of Honor series, Call of Duty, Black, and others.
His work as a composer for video games eventually led him into the worlds of television and film. A series of collaborations with director/producer J.J. Abrams and Disney/Pixar, including scores for Lost, Up!, The Incredibles, and Star Wars: Rogue One, have developed Giacchino into one of the top contemporary film composers. He is capable of composing in nearly any style, from lush orchestral cues to electronic trances, jazz ensembles and everything in between.
THE BATMAN SOUNDTRACK: GIACCHINO’S TAKE
Michael Giacchino’s score for The Batman is composed of several interesting themes that intersect and emerge at different points through the film. The themes themselves are not particularly complex, as we have explored in other film cues at Sound of Life. Part of what makes these cues and The Batman soundtrack overall to work so well, however, is how they are orchestrated throughout the film.
If melodies and rhythms form the lines and shapes of music, then orchestration is what gives the music its color, gradient, and shade. There is an undeniably deep and complex element of shadow in The Batman soundtrack that Giacchino deftly explores. Additionally, there are some interesting connections between the processes employed by Giacchino and director Reeves that align the film again with 2019’s The Joker.
TWO THEMES IN GIACCHINO’S BATMAN
One of the unique elements of film music is the juxtaposition of the music as it is literally used in the film, how the cues are cut and edited into the cinematic sequences, versus the music that is released as an ‘official’ soundtrack or OST. The soundtrack versions of film scores often feature a ‘suite’ of the primary themes from the film that is wonderful to listen to as standalone music. In the orchestral suite, “The Batman”, we hear an array of the main themes used throughout the film.
The primary motif Giacchino composed for The Batman soundtrack is elegantly simple. Composed of only two notes a major third apart, the theme is dark and tense. It is more like the theme of a villain than a superhero, echoing the sentiment displayed through the film that Batman is more of an anti-hero – or at least riding the line between good and evil. The cue is also a smaller fragment of perhaps the most infamous villain’s motif of all time: Darth Vader’s “Imperial March.” You might even mistake Batman for Darth Vader the first time he emerges out of the shadows with this theme blasting.
BRUCE WAYNE’S THEME
To contrast the inherent darkness of the theme primarily used for the Batman, Giacchino seems to take something of a lighter touch with the theme used for Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne. In The Batman soundtrack, we arguably get a more dynamic take on Bruce Wayne’s personality – far younger, less experienced, and more unsure of himself – in many ways than Christian Bale’s character in The Dark Knight Trilogy.
But then again, the story of Batman has always been called The Batman, or The Dark Knight, or Batman Forever and never Bruce Wayne or Bruce and Gordon or something similar. This dichotomy could likewise be symbolized in the film by the usage balance between these themes; we hear the Batman’s cue orchestrated with far more prevalence than Wayne’s theme.
GIACCHINO’S PROCESS FOR THE BATMAN SOUNDTRACK
When Giacchino signed on to score The Batman, he began to compose themes immediately based on conversations he had with director Matt Reeves, without any concrete visuals or cuts of the film. He composed Batman's primary cue before the filming had even begun. This meant that the film crew was able to draw upon the creative direction of the music and influence, then mold the directions in photography and cinematography the film would eventually take. This also meant that the music was thematically composed based on moods and concepts, as opposed to literally designed around specific action sequences, giving the music a more open and developing feel.
This process likewise could be seen as a reflection of the process Hildur Guðnadóttir took when composing the score for 2019’s The Joker, a film that The Batman seems to follow aesthetically and certainly chronologically as well. At the end of The Joker, we see a young Bruce Wayne coping with the senseless murder of his parents, while Gotham City is in the grip of a massive riot. In the first sequences of The Batman, we see a grown-up Bruce Wayne beating the life out of a bunch of criminals that could have come straight from the riot at the end of The Joker.
This is not the first time that the compositional processes of Giacchino and Guðnadóttir have linked up either. When composing for the hit TV series Lost, Giacchino developed sonic material around the percussive sounds of a discarded airplane fuselage, much like the one the characters in Lost crash-landed in. Similarly, when composing her award-winning score for the series Chernobyl, Guðnadóttir sourced sonic material from a decommissioned nuclear power plant in Lithuania.
Perhaps this sort of process-driven concept is something we will see play out more in future film music as it certainly adds a deeper, subconscious element to the music that is quite powerful.
THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK
Michael Giacchino’s score for The Batman is a prime example of successful film music. The themes are easy to grasp, powerful in their simplicity, well-orchestrated, and cleverly rooted in the history of film cues. While Giacchino’s The Batman soundtrack is not perhaps groundbreaking or revolutionary in the art form, it is well-suited to the moods, characters, and aesthetics of the film and serves as a solid addition to the pantheon of Batman themes.
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Writer | Edward Bond
Edward Bond is a multi-instrumentalist composer, performer, and writer currently bouncing between Trondheim and Berlin. He apparently has the eyes of the devil, enjoys leopard prints, and will read your tarot, but not your future.