It’s a safe guess that your enjoyment of La La Land’s new expansion of Danny Elfman’s score to Batman (1989) (LLLCD 1140), like so many soundtracks, hinges on your enjoyment of the film itself. That sentiment, in turn, hinges on how much you can separate the idea of a fun movie from a good one. The blockbuster – drawn from the immortal DC Comics superhero – never falls short on action, thrills or compelling visuals. But it is too long and bloated, with thin characterization and a style-over-substance approach. Many superhero films suffer from the same problems, yet we have no problem watching the films and having fun doing so. (DC’s other legendary character, Superman, arguably had the same issues when Christopher Reeve ably donned the cape and tights in 1978.)
There were many takeaways from both Batman and Superman that stuck with the character, however: Reeve and Michael Keaton became to many the definitive versions of those heroes. They were both augmented by definitive musical moments, too. John Williams created the ultimate musical approach to Superman, a theme full of brassy fanfares and soaring motifs perfect for The Man of Steel. By contrast, Elfman – the Oingo Boingo frontman who was taking on his biggest soundtrack assignment yet – dreamt up a sinister, unyielding theme for Batman that’s stuck with The Dark Knight for decades.
Elfman’s approach to Batman – perhaps the best example of his approach to film soundtracks in general – is given the spotlight once more with the release of the Expanded Archival Collection reissue of this modern classic. This set may be the most comprehensive approach to Elfman’s Batman yet…if not necessarily the most ultimate. Dance with the devil in the pale moonlight after the jump.
For Batman enthusiasts, the set is packed. Two discs with over two hours of music isn’t a bad idea at all, and the score is strong. Elfman, for all the cliches he’d develop later in his career (perhaps with Burton’s help), develops that great theme and weaves it throughout the picture, tying it to not only the big set pieces but the tender scenes between Bruce Wayne and love interest Vicki Vale. And let’s not forget those mad waltzes that defined The Joker as much as Jack Nicholson’s hysterical performance did. Sprinkle in a few other canny musical quotes (a few bits of “Beautiful Dreamer,” used as a secondary theme for The Joker, and a bit of “Scandalous,” one of many songs Prince wrote for the film, for love scenes) and you’ve got one of the better scores of the 1980s, hands down.
But if two hours of Batman music is a good idea in theory, it’s perhaps a bit less so in practice. The original score LP (Warner Bros. 1-25977) clocked in at just under an hour; how much could it have been missing? Well, as it turns out, it’s not just about the music, but the mix: that original album was remixed (subtly in some places, drastically in others) for its initial release. So the first disc assembles the complete score in its original mix, while the second finds that original record remastered and appended with some source cues and alternate takes.
It’s quite a unique approach, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in comparing each presentation and finding details that may have been buried to our ears after two decades. But to anyone less involved, the whole thing looks exhaustive. And audiophiles may balk at the original mix on the first disc, culled from a variety of sources and therefore lacking the consistent sonic clarity the original score album retains. (To this reviewer, that’s a minor quibble, especially when one considers just how much music is being heard for the first time. Although there’s always the fear that Warner Bros. will throw La La Land under the bus and provide clearer elements for that upcoming Burton/Elfman box set…)*
However much or little music you may think this new set offers, Batman: Expanded Archival Collection is a must-buy for fans across the board, whether you’re an Elfman fan or just a devotee of The Caped Crusader in general.
* Ironically, this happened almost in reverse some years ago. Rhino’s 2001 reissue of the score to Superman: The Movie was mastered from a second-generation tape, and first-generation tapes were found mere days before the set was released. The improved presentation was provided for Film Score Monthly’s all-encompassing Superman box set in 2008.