One of the many integral parts to the creation and success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is the music composed in collaboration by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, who worked together on Batman Begins. “Hans was very much singularly responsible for the Joker,” Howard stated. “I'm singularly responsible for Harvey Dent and the arc of that character and then everything else in between we would just collaborate on to various degrees.” Which they again do to great success.
Opening the album, “Why So Serious?” is a powerful nine-minute suite for The Joker. Based around the notes D and C, likely not a coincidence for a character from DC Comics, it grabs hold of the listener immediately with its intensity. The strings create the descent into this world. As we try and get our bearings, the strings’ quick tempo keeps us on edge. Ominous bass lines foreshadow an impending wave of percussion, reminiscent of something I would expect from Nine Inch Nails. A moment’s rest but then the music becomes a ticking bomb, which we know has to go off. The percussion hits hard. The cello and the bass get very aggressive, building dramatically, so we are thrown when everything goes quiet. There’s something playing softly in the background. The familiar, unnerving strings return. The pounding percussion reappears, playing longer this time. The suite repeats ideas but alters them. The music seems to be fading away, only to rise at the close, but in a much more subdued manner. Finally, what sounds like gun blasts ring out to conclude the piece.
The music melds in with the next track “I’m not A Hero,” the first of two pieces for Harvey Dent. It is very majestic, exhibiting Dent’s heroic nature that Gotham needs, more so than even Batman’s. Yet, all heroes have a conflict they must overcome to raise themselves to that status. During the middle segment of the piece, the orchestra struggles to be heard as some strange sound effect attempts to stifle it. A battle ensues, resulting in a marvelous climax.
“Harvey Two Face” starts gently; the strings are uplifting. Again, in the middle segment, there is a clash of two contrasting musical ideas playing off each other, increasing in volume. All gives way to a piano backed by strings, then the orchestra joins in recreating the opening on a grander scale, especially with the brass section.
Batman’s theme from the first film appears briefly in “Aggressive Expansion.” After the initial thrust, the instruments subside. The sounds become more ambient than classical, but then at the close the orchestra pushes forward from its sonic cocoon, as if reaching for the heavens. It concludes by revisiting the percussive pounding motif from “Why So Serious?”
A number of the remaining selections are also variations on themes or reuse motifs. For example, “Always a Catch” is a reprise of “Why So Serious?” “Blood on My Hands” nods back to “Harvey Two Face.” “Like A Dog Chasing Cars” combines “Aggressive Expansion” and “Why So Serious?” When heard during the film, even unconsciously, they can provide reminders and clues for the viewer to help set the mood the director wants.
“Agent of Chaos” is aptly titled, as the piece continually changes, one of the more dramatic pieces that appear to encompass an entire story. Another battle is taking place, but this incident ends sadly, likely corresponding to a loss of one of the main characters. However, there’s no time for despair when you are Batman and someone like The Joker wants to “Introduce A Little Anarchy,” their themes taking turn as the focal point.
The album concludes with “A Dark Knight,” a sixteen-minute suite dedicated to the film’s hero. A synthesizer, played by Zimmer, joins the arrangement creating an interesting union sounding new and old at the same time. The piece does a good conveying the emotions that encompass the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne in the film.
The partnership of Zimmer and Howard has created a wonderful collection of music that is perfectly enjoyable and stand on its own for those who haven’t seen the movie.