The Caped Crusaders Composers: Danny Elfman - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Caped Crusaders Composers: Danny Elfman

Chris Morley dances with the devil in the pale moonlight.
Now that we've all had a bit of time to digest the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League, scored of course by Junkie XL, what of the man who replaced him as composer once Joss Whedon stepped in before things came full circle? We refer of course to one Danny Elfman, who got his start in composition for the DC Comics canon as sidekick to Tim Burton for the director's own 1989 take on the Caped Crusader...



A ride in his friend's Burtmobile & the promise of further adventures - possibly in costume - enough to tempt him aboard for a third collaboration following on from Tim's feature-length d├ębut with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure & then moving on to Beetlejuice. Having secured the star of the latter film, Michael Keaton, to play Bruce Wayne/Batman by saying his name three times, or something like that, the trio could get down to business on a story equally inspired by The Dark Knight Returns & The Killing Joke from the original comic source material. Burton had been drawn into the genre thanks to the combined effort of Brian Bolland & Alan Moore...
"I was never a giant comic book fan, but I've always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I've never been a comic book fan — and I think it started when I was a child — is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read.

I don't know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that's why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It's my favourite. It's the first comic I've ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable."
Producer Michael E Uslan had purchased the Dark Knight's film rights from DC in 1979 and set out a vision "to make the definitive, dark, serious version of Batman, the way Bob Kane and Bill Finger had envisioned him in 1939. A creature of the night; stalking criminals in the shadows.” Yet Elfman, a self- confessed Marvel fan, had never read a page of Batman until being given a copy of The Dark Knight Returns.

Once onboard, though, he very nearly didn't write a note as he was unhappy at pressure from Warner Bros to co-record the score with Prince.
“I was willing to walk away from the film, rather than compromise what I knew should be the sound of the film. And I had to actually [walk away] for a short period of time. There was a period where the producers wanted me to co-write a score with Prince, and I just wasn't willing to do it.

I knew what the score was, and as much as I love Prince's music, I didn't feel that his score was going to be the right score sound for the Batman movie. And so, I had to walk away and let that play out, and then got invited back in again.”
A quick jump forward to 2017 finds Elfman parachuted in by Joss Whedon to salvage the Justice League film after Snyder's departure from the project, replacing Junkie XL as music maestro. And he just couldn't help sneaking bits of his previous work into his score there! Batman On The Roof reuses elements of his 1989 theme, as do Then There Were Three, The Tunnel Fight and The Final Battle. The last of these compositions also incorporates parts of John Williams' Superman March from 1978's outing for Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel.



And why did Elfman sprinkle in bits of his previous work so liberally? "It’s only for the ego of the director or the composer“, as he at least had the good grace to admit! He would add of the revisit to his greatest hit for DC that...
"I twisted it and my Batman theme … the DNA is there, but the themes aren’t necessarily obvious in the film. Except for one specific moment in the final battle. Joss said, ‘Let’s do it [Batman’s theme] on the nose. Fans love this kind of stuff.’"
This wasn't even the first time he'd played the card, dropping teases of Lalo Schifrin's Mission Impossible theme into his work on the score for the 1996 film adaptation, again, using fan service of a sort as mitigation for doing so.....
"It would’ve been crazy to exclude it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a decade old or 70 years old. Give me a reboot of any old film and I can take the themes and use them in a way that feels fresh."
Whether Elfman managed to do so with Justice League is surely open to debate? But evidently he wanted in on a piece of the action as he'd been openly annoyed his Batman theme wasn't re-used for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy - which we'll come to next time in rounding off a Justice League triangle of sorts with Hans Zimmer - as well as using his Justice League commitments to reassert his belief that his was the dominant Bat-theme.
“No, you will not hear a new theme for Batman. You’ll hear Batman’s theme. Batman has only had one theme.”
Which as we all know is a blatant untruth if you count Neal Hefti's for the original Sixties TV series, later spawning a film spin-off of its own with music handled by Nelson Riddle, including a theme of his own. But we can most likely agree that Burtman & Elfman changed the game for Batman and probably even the superhero genre itself. Danny's music underpinned Tim's remarkably simple quest to make a film which, as he said in discussions with producers...
“This is not a movie about Batman. If we’re going to do it seriously, this is a movie about Bruce Wayne.”


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