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‘Dark Knight Rises’ Composer on Creating Gotham City’s Ominous Sonic Landscape

‘It doesn’t pretend to be an old-fashioned film score,’ says Hans Zimmer

Rolling Stone Jul 23, 2012
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Before Christopher Nolan shot the first scene of The Dark Knight Rises, composer Hans Zimmer, who scored the first two films in the director’s Batman trilogy, was hard at work creating the music for its final installment. It was a new process for the Oscar-winning Zimmer. “Chris quite rightly accuses me of putting the ‘pro’ in procrastination,” he tells Rolling Stone. “So I just thought I’ll beat him at the game.” To that end, Zimmer wrote a 25-minute suite for the film’s villain, Bane, before ever seeing a reel of film.

Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight Rises is ominous, foreboding and eerie ”“ all characteristics of the film’s iconic setting, Gotham City. Zimmer says that while musically he was able to push the envelope this go-round (“success gives you courage and lets you be a bit more daring and a bit more emotional in the music,” he says), he felt it essential to retain the aural atmosphere embodied in the first two films. “We worked really hard at creating this sort of sonic world which is Gotham,” Zimmer explains. “You don’t want to go and suddenly break out of that. I very deliberately kept the sonic landscape.” The 54-year-old, who received an Academy Award for his work on 1994’s The Lion King, describes the film’s soundtrack as “very rock ‘n’ roll. It’s very electronic and it’s very much that sort of language,” he adds. “It doesn’t pretend to be an old-fashioned film score.” Zimmer also reveals that Nolan felt it essential that he attempt to mirror the film’s winding plot line via his score. “Chris is only interested in me understanding the narrative,” he says. “The thing which we’re most interested in is that I get to be this sort of parallel voice.”

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 A much-debated aspect of the film has centered on whether Nolan’s depiction of Bane tricking Gotham’s 99 percent into revolting against the rich is a statement against Occupy Wall Street. Zimmer believes that, if anything, this particular aspect of the film is merely a byproduct of the director being attuned to the current cultural climate. “All good filmmakers have a sense of zeitgeist and Chris definitely does,” he says. “Most of the good filmmakers I know are always interested in posing questions as opposed to providing answers.” Zimmer adds that issues of social oppression and rebellion are deeply  rooted in history; he says that he, Nolan and the director’s co-screenwriter and brother, Jonathan, read Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities as inspiration during filming.

Above all, Zimmer believes the biggest accomplishment in completing the trilogy is that the relationships among its creators have remained positive and intact. “Chris managed to keep this family of filmmakers together and we still love each other’s company,” he says, proudly. “Eight years of our life, seconds are ticking away. So you might as well work with people that you love.”

The composer has had little time, however, to bask in his achievement: he’s already in the development stages of the score for the Nolan-written and Zack Snyder-directed Superman epic, Man of Steel. “I asked everybody to not talk to me about it until we finished  ‘Batman,'” he says, “and I was good enough to say after I wrote the last note [of The Dark Knight Rises] that I’d written the last note. In 15 minutes they were talking to me about Man of Steel. I had a 15-minute break.” As for where he’s at in the writing process for the film, set for release next summer? “I’m searching,” he says. “Which is what you’re supposed to do. None of this ever comes easy to me. Right now I’m just humbled before the task. I’ve seen [the film]. That’s the other problem. Zack has done a great job so that makes it even more daunting.”

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Listen to the Dark Knight Rises: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

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