MUSIC FOR THE ANIMATED BATMAN AND SUPERMAN

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Animated feature films or indeed animated series for television always seem to be popular, maybe its because we all know that what is happening on screen is a little more far fetch and impossible than real life or indeed any of the live action movies etc. Our superheroes or crusaders for law, order and at times the American way are many but not as many it seems as the villains and unsavoury characters that said superheroes do battle with. SUPERMAN is of course the main character we all associate with the super hero genre, then we have SPIDERMAN, BATMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICAN etc etc the list is endless. Its probably true to say that the antics and adventures of these super beings transfers well and comes over as more exciting and outlandish in animated films, simply because these super characters are able to do more when presented as an animated character. This is just a theory and personal opinion. Music in these animated features too plays a big part and helps to create and establish atmospheres and moods giving storylines a greater impact. Many composers have underlined, supported and given our superheroes a musical helping hand over the years, but I have to say that with the emergence of BATMAN all’a Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s dark yet impish and playful take on the soundtrack things did seem to step up a gear or two. Elfman’s brooding but at the same time richly dark and anthem like theme for the caped crusader is one now that has become synonymous with the franchise and in later movies when Elfman was not involved the images seemed to be lacking that dark and offbeat support, not that I am saying Zimmer, Newton Howard et al did not do a great job because as time moves on so do requirements of movies and everything else, but there just seemed to be something of a void there musically speaking. Back to the animated features and subsequent TV spin off’s and again producers turned to Danny Elfman to enhance the BATMAN character but only within the central theme department as many of the scores were penned by the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker who worked with Elfman on many occasions. I am no expert in the area of music for animation in fact it’s a case of listening to what I like and that’s the end of it, numerous composers were called in to work their musical magic on BATMAN the animated series for Warners/DC comics , some familiar others still remaining obscure and unfamiliar even after their BATMAN scoring experience. Todd Hayen, Carlos Rodriguez, Mark Koval, James Stemple and many others made invaluable contributions to the BATMAN animated series for TV and although they may not be familiar names in film music collecting circles its certainly worth checking out their wares.

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So lets concentrate firstly on BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES volume three as released by La la land records.

This four disc set is in one word impressive or to use two Impressive and powerful. It contains music from around twenty three episodes or at least selections from these episodes, the opening is courtesy of Danny Elfman with his now familiar BATMAN theme strains and flourishes setting the scene deliciously and darkly for the remainder of the four discs. Track two through to seven are taken from ROBINS RECKONING, these first tracks being the work of composer Carlos Rodriguez written for part one of the story and tracks eight through to fifteen are the work of composer Peter Tomashek for part two of the same tale. The first six cues in my opinion are in many ways similar to the sound that was achieved by Elman on the original movies ie BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS, there is a certain sense of the operatic at times within the work but at the same time Rodriguez maintains a certain amount of the dark and quirky persona that Elfman created, this I think is mainly down to the orchestration, strings and brass playing a major part in the make up of the score, with not only drama but hints of the romantic being included along the way. Sections nine through to fifteen are somewhat different in their sound and overall style although saying this composer Peter Tomashek does retain that air of mystery throughout that is tinged with urgency and underlined with driving strings that are supported by booming percussive elements and at times rasps from the brass section that seem to sneer and push their way into the proceedings, his approach however is removed slightly from both Rodriguez’s approach and Elfman’s original take with the composer producing an inventive and original work that although dark at times does towards the end of the score transform into a more heroic or courageous sounding work which for me any way works a treat.

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Track number sixteen is billed as a bonus track from ROBIN’S RECKONING, and is composed by Carlos Rodriguez, it has a kind of circus style to it but in a macabre and somewhat unsettling way. Tracks seventeen to twenty three are the handiwork of the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker, taken from P.O.V. or POINT OF VIEW and is one of the composers earliest contributions to the series, which is reflected in her score as she refers to the original Elfman theme during some of the action sequences, a trait that seemed to become less and less as the series progressed.

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This is a powerful score from Walker, and one that contains so many of her own themes it literally oozes charisma and brilliance which is why she is considered still to be the foremost composer when it comes to the BATMAN animated series, P.O.V. is in my opinion a return to a more traditional way of scoring, bold themes, a march, numerous motifs and highly exhilarating action cues with driving strings and tense sounding brass stabs that certainly get the adrenaline going. Above all Walker’s music entertains away from the images as well as working with them. There are another seven sections on this four disc set credited to Shirley Walker and each and everyone of them is a delight and pleasure to listen to. SEE NO EVIL, THE MAN WHO KILLED BATMAN, THE FORGOTTEN,TERROR IN THE SKY among them. To review every section or every scrap of music on this collection would take hours, so based on what I have thus far told you about I would say go and buy this compilation a.s.a.p. You will not regret it, I promise. Over five hours of glorious dark and exciting music that is laced with the romantic and at times the melancholy, presented wonderfully and filled with informative sleeve notes and numerous stills from the series, highly recommended.

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Right from THE BATMAN we move to SUPERMAN, again from the animated series and again this is a four disc set released by La la land records with a running time of over five hours. Shirley Walker again provides us with some pretty impressive music to accompany the man of steel. Her spirited sounding opening theme also opens the compilation, with a proud and anthem like sound created by flyaway woodwind and timpani acting as a background to somewhat cautious sounding brass flourishes that are them selves supported by driving strings and transform from furtive to full blown, in just over a minute Walker sets the scene perfectly for the adventures of this super superhero. Lolita Ritmanis is first up in the running order of the CD with her music for THE LAST SON OF KRYPTON, this was according to John Takis (who penned the excellent sleeve notes for this compilation and also the BATMAN collection) originally broadcast as a feature length movie, but is divided into three sections, the first part being scored by Ritmanis, who created a quite unrelenting score filled with action cues and a multitude of thematic material, in my opinion her style is not dissimilar to that of the late Elmer Bernstein, especially in the more action orientated passages and even at times within the quieter moments of the work as well.

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Dark underlying strings laced with brass and percussion erupt into a more sustained onslaught if that is the right way to describe it that although essentially action music somehow remains melodic, Ritmanis at times echoes the Shirley Walker theme or at least fleeting references to it within her score, at times enlisting the aid of synthetic sounds.

Part two of the story is scored by Michael Mc Cuistion with part three being the work of Harvey B. Cohen, Mc Cuistion penned a suitably poignant soundtrack for the coming of age section of the story where we see the young Kal-El taken in by his earth parents after crash landing near their farm in Smallville and then growing into the young Clark Kent, Mc Cuistion’s score is an accomplished one that includes many variations of musical styles and also has within it a particularly rousing SUPERMAN central theme where we see Clark learning to fly. This is an album that is pleasantly surprising, it is grand and epic, filled with action cues but also has its fair share of compositions that ooze melancholy, romance and emotion. Don’t wait any longer, buy it, listen to it, enjoy it….

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THE HATEFUL EIGHT.

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Like so many of the more substantial budget movies these days THE HATEFUL EIGHT received its fair share of publicity and hype, the various medias being fed teasers and tasters by the press office for the production who themselves were going out of their way to alert the cinema going public to just how good the movie is, or at least in their opinion how good it is. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is the second western to be directed by the somewhat controversial and off beat filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (the first being DJANGO UNCHAINED) of course film music collectors are aware of the normal soundtrack process on a Tarantino movie, it rarely has what is referred to an original score. Many of the cues being selected by Tarantino himself and normally taken from a collection of Italian soundtracks or including popular songs which at times bare little or no association with the scenes they underlined and supported (that’s a personal opinion, by the way) THE HATEFUL EIGHT however is something of a departure for the director at least within the area of music. At long last Tarantino handed the musical reins for his production to composer Ennio Morricone who’s music had in the past featured on many Tarantino movies. As soon as Morricone was announced as the composer for the score the hype machine went into overdrive, some articles saying it was his first Spaghetti western score since Sergio Leones THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, well actually not true, I think I am right when I say OCCHIO ALLA PENA directed by Michel Lupo was his last Spaghetti or European western score which was during the early 1970’s, plus THE HATEFUL EIGHT is not a spaghetti western it’s a Hollywood western, yes ok it maybe influenced by Italian westerns but its certainly not Leone. So it’s a Hollywood western that has input from the spaghetti western genre or at least images and scenes that Tarantino probably recalled from watching spaghetti westerns and then given these his own take. The trailers of THE HATEFUL EIGHT for me personally just shout GRAND SILENCE, with snow covered landscapes and there almost serene and clinical clean appearance, Tarantino‘s snow covered sets however do not stay that way with the pure snow being spattered by the crimson of blood from the many violent encounters within his storyline, these being reflected in the title of one of the compositions from the score SANGUE E NEVE. Morricone himself was said to have stated that he was surprised at the amount of violence within the movie, but its Tarantino!!! DUSK TO DAWN, RESEVOIR DOGS, KILL BILL etc etc etc. Tarantino without violence, controversy, foul language or just over the top everything, I don’t think so somehow.

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The score itself is certainly Morricone through and through, with elements of the Maestro’s unused music for THE THING and THE EXCORSIST ll THE HERETIC soundtracks being utilised within it, in fact I would go as far as to say that his music for THE THING acts as a foundation and inspiration for much of the original material that the composer has provided for the movie, is this a bad thing? Well not necessarily as it actually works, the low woodwind i.e. Oboe, acting as an ominous background that creates a dark and near guttural sound which conjures up an atmosphere and feeling of uneasiness. Which is something that I always seem to feel as I watch any Tarantino movie, not knowing what is going to happen or indeed as to what degree of violence will be occurring. Is it uneasiness or maybe its anticipation and excitement? In some ways there are a number of similarities between the central theme for THE HATEFUL 8 and Morricone’s underlying or background composition on the secondary theme for the TV movie/series, NOSTROMO the low woodwind being the most prominent feature and also an element that becomes influential upon the entire score, the use of woodwind within the score is also akin to the style employed by composer Woljeich Kilar in his DRACULA score. I would like to say that this is a wonderfully theme laden Spaghetti score or at least a soundtrack that has nuances and hints of past Morricone sagebrush saga works, however it is a somewhat one theme low key affair that in all honesty sounds more like a horror score than a western, every cue includes or has at its core the central theme so it is rather repetitive and by the end of the compact disc does tend to become tiring and monotonous. Although the composer does vary his approach to the theme slightly in the track, SEI CAVALLI which is a highly dramatic piece for percussion and brass with woodwind punctuating these and almost hissing strings creating a tense and powerful atmosphere. Maybe its just me but I was rather annoyed by the dialogue that was included, this is a step back in time I think returning to the days when soundtrack LP,s included dialogue excerpts as in ZORBA THE GREEK, CROMWELL and others when there was not enough music available to fill an album. For me the dialogue interrupts the flow of Morricone’s score, plus we have the inclusion of a few songs, which I have to admit I skipped over after the initial listen plus Tarantino’s use of the N***** word so freely is slightly disconcerting.

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The track LA LETTRE DI LINCOLN is in my opinion one of the more tuneful contributions to the score, Morricone utilising a martial sounding trumpet solo which echoes the composers work on THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY in the cue THE CARRIAGE OF SPIRITS. The opening theme L’ULTIMA DILIGENZA DI RED ROCK is a slow burner, starting quietly and gradually building with woodwind and strings combining to create a sense of real fear and apprehension, brass joins the proceedings as does a male choral shout that intersperses the brass and string flourishes, it is a dramatic and also a very powerful piece that can only be described as Classic Morricone, and if you listen very closely and in your mind bring the tempo up there it is the CITTA VIOLENTA theme. The aforementioned SANGUE E NEVE too is a slightly less stress filled cue at the offset, with a chiming motif similar to FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, being underlined by those instantly recognisable sliding strings of Morricone, which together create an almost romantic sound until the string section take hold of the cue with brass in tow and begin to elevate the tension once again. This is in no way a negative review, it is just an honest one and one based upon my personal observations. I have been collection Ennio Morricone since 1967 and I am not boasting when I say I must have every Morricone soundtrack that has been released (and a few that have not), so like many other collectors out there I notice music from other scores or maybe different arrangements of tracks from other scores when he recycles them. THE HATEFUL 8, is a score I am glad he created because at the age of nearly 90 it displays this magnificent music smiths ability and talent when it comes to writing film music.