Pointing to Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman’s joint credit on “The Egyptian” in 1954, James Newton Howard notes that such collaborations between prominent film composers are rare. “There’s a tremendous logic to it,” Howard says. “Well, why not?”
Why not, indeed. Howard and another marquee composer, Hans Zimmer, have joined forces to pen the score for “Batman Begins,” director Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of the Dark Knight of Gotham City’s saga. Starring Christian Bale as the caped crimefighter, the Warner Bros. film opens June 15 in U.S. theaters; Warner Sunset will issue the soundtrack a day earlier.
Zimmer, a six-time Academy Award nominee who took home an Oscar for “The Lion King” in 1995, originally was approached to write a solo score for the new Batman picture, and he was leery of the assignment.
“The word ‘franchise’ scared the bejesus out of me,” Zimmer says. “I kept saying ‘no’ in many different ways.” But, he adds, “It occurred to me that my friend James had said to me, ‘Let’s do something together’… It was a completely idiotic idea.”
The two men — who between them have authored 190 film scores — have been good friends for 10 years; their studios are located blocks apart in Santa Monica. “Both of us never expected it to happen because it’s a challenging notion,” says Howard, also a six-time Oscar nominee.
But, like director Nolan, best-known for his idiosyncratic thriller “Memento,” the composers saw an opportunity to work fresh magic with Bob Kane’s venerable comic book property. While director Tim Burton’s two Batman features in 1989 and 1992 were critical and box office hits, Joel Schumacher’s late-’90s entries were less well-received, and the 2004 spinoff “Catwoman” was a resounding flop.
“The franchise had reached a dead end,” Howard says. “It was lying fallow.”
So Zimmer and Howard repaired to Air Studios in London, where they began work last year. They buckled down for 12 weeks of serious writing in February. The pair often would work from 10 a.m.-3 a.m. Zimmer says with a chuckle, “As soon as it was time to go home, I’d get an idea.”
Zimmer says of their collaborative method, “We started pecking away on the same keyboard for a while.” Howard adds, “As stuff started sticking to the movie, we intentionally started working on each other’s material.”
The pairing has resulted in a splendidly dramatic score in which each writer’s hallmarks — Zimmer’s percussive rhythms and keyboard flourishes, Howard’s ravishing strings and horns — are immediately recognizable.
The frequent, menacing sonic abstractions of the score — a far cry from Danny Elfman’s sonorous work on Burton’s Batman installments — might not have been what Warner Bros. had in mind, both men admit.
“They heard an abstract, sort of threatening dissonance,” Howard says. Adds Zimmer, “If I’d been an executive coming in and hearing it, I’d have been scared.”
But both men express satisfaction with their unusual effort. Says Zimmer, “I’m trying to figure out if I’m happy with the way it turned out, or if we just had a really good time.” Howard says, “What’s unprecedented about it is, we remained friends.”