The Friday Five: Batmobility
It's the car, right? Chicks love the car...
Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five. Yes, I know it’s Saturday, Sunday in some countries, but things happen, and some delays are unavoidable. Christmas is a jolly time, but it’s also a complete and total time-suck.
So for today’s Five, we return to Shaw, who says he doesn’t know enough about film music to choose from but has been watching “The Batman” a lot. Shaw’s dad said Shaw gave him a running commentary while watching, talking about the filmmaking techniques in the film. So let’s run with the whole Batman thing.
The thing is, Batman is written about all the time, so I didn’t want to do the same old thing. Everybody knows their favourite themes, and it’s also worth noting that it doesn't have to be a list that goes from best to good. Sometimes it’s just a list of cool stuff, and what is cooler than the Batmobile?
So without further Bat-shenanigans, here’s a quintuple of great music that has accompanied those wonderful toys. In Bat-chronological order:
1. Batmobile to the Rescue
Season 2 of the 1966-1968 “Batman” television show saw a three-episode arc with the devious Penguin collaborating with Marsha, Queen of Diamonds (played by Morticia Addams herself, Carolyn Jones) to get rid of the dynamic duo. The middle episode, “Penguin Sets a Trend,” opened with Batman and Robin tied to a trebuchet, ready to be launched into the sky and presumably oblivion. Luckily for them, however, Batman had recently been working on the Batmobile’s remote control program and uses his wrist gadget to get it to meet them at the location Batman has calculated they will land. As the Batmobile drives carefully on its rescue mission, we’re treated to some of Nelson Riddle’s great big band music he wrote for the show, including a brassy fanfare that sounds like a sly take on another DC hero, the man of steel himself. And the composer injects some wit into the melody when the Batmobile has to stop for two kids playing baseball in the street. Safety first, Robin.
2. Descent Into Mystery
People are still obsessed with the Batmobile that was introduced in Tim Burton’s 1989 film “Batman,” and why not? It’s a beast of a car, with a huge yet sleek and a pair of giant fins that make it look like a classic Bugatti stepped into Seth Brundle’s telepod with an art-deco submarine. It certainly gave Danny Elfman some inspiration, leading to one of the best musical sequences of the film as Batman is driving Vicki Vale back to the Batcave after a night out. It’s a pure gothic delight as the silhouetted vehicle drives through the kind of forest you wouldn’t want to break down in, with Elfman’s driving string ostinato backed up by a chanting choir, with the best bit coming halfway as the Batmobile screams towards the camera, which immediately cuts to a rear shot, the burning exhaust like the worst kind of backroad hallucination. Elfman takes his opportunity, and the orchestra launches into the main theme for just a few seconds before coming to a glorious climax that involves a screaming Kim Basinger and a holographic rock.
3. The Penguin’s Wild Ride
Once again, the Penguin gets involved, this time in the guise of Danny De Vito’s grotesque creature in 1992’s “Batman Returns.” Batman is in a right pickle here after being dubbed a murderer, and as a fierce mob chases him, he retires to the safety of the Batmobile. Or so he thinks. It turns out the Penguin and the Red Triangle Circus Gang have done some retrofitting while he was off galavanting. Oswald is now in control of the car, sending it screaming through Gotham’s streets from his own custom driving game arcade cabinet. The returning Elfman uses wall-to-wall carnival music, punctuated by snippets of Batman’s theme, as the Penguin shows his sheer joy at using the Batmobile as a battering ram and knocking legions of cars over. It brilliantly switches tones between Batman’s panicking and the Penguin’s chaos and ends with a powerful reprise of the theme as Bruce ditches half of the bodywork and turns the car into the “Batmissile” in order to get through a narrow gap and escape from the cops. Toys, wonderful, etc.
4. I’ll Get Drive-Thru.
By 1995 and “Batman Forever,” Val Kilmer had replaced Michael Keaton, Joel Schumacher was in, Tim Burton was out, and Elliot Goldenthal received the baton from Danny Elfman. An exceptional composer, Goldenthal had just come off “Interview with the Vampire,” and would score Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece “Heat” in the same year as tackling Batman. His visit to Gotham City is a blast, and the opening is nigh on perfect, his big dramatic lines leading to a huge fanfare that reveals the new Batmobile with a neon-lit engine and its new driver. As the behemoth drives off down the tunnel to civilisation, Goldenthal launches into his own Batman theme, a madcap amalgamation of Wagnerian spectacle and The Imperial March. By far, the best thing about the film and its sequel.
5. Highway to the Anger Zone
The Penguin is back again, this time in the shape of Colin Farrell and a fat suit as he tries to waddle away from Robert Pattinson’s caped crusader in this year’s “The Batman.” As with most of director Matt Reeves’ pictures, Michael Giacchino stepped up to the podium and crushed it, especially with a Batmobile chase that both pounds and pulses. The vehicle in question here is a souped-up muscle car with a jet engine strapped to the back and a growl like King Kong, and as it goes hell for leather after the Penguin. Giacchino uses his short-phrase Batman theme like its a slasher movie; huge statements of the theme are there to push our hero on, and tense drawn-out manic violins score the Penguin’s side of things, as he’s utterly terrified, and rightly so. The theme is used thrillingly, especially at the end of the chase when Oswald’s car is on its roof as Batman approaches, the theme just reaching its fullest heights.
Edit: I’ve been handed some breaking news on this cue from my pal Ralph from the Cue the Music video channel. He had previously interviewed Michael Giacchino’s son, Mick (here’s a link to that interview) and it turns out that Mick actually scored that sequence. Originally they weren’t going to score the chase, but then decided it needed music late in the game, at which time Michael was busy recording his score to “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” So he asked Mick to score it, and no bones about it, Giacchino Jr., did a great job. Shades of Joel Goldsmith helping out dad Jerry on “Star Trek: First Contact.”
Bonus: Charge of the Batmobile
Another cut from the 1989 movie sees Batman on a mission to fuck up Axis Chemicals, which he does so with a remotely-controlled Batmobile. As it cuts a door open with its huge machine guns, Elfman’s theme is in full effect - there’s no holding back, and he uses the scene to introduce a new motif that he eventually fleshes out in the film’s finale. It’s just beautiful chaos, and seeing the Batmobile dropping bombs and then racing out of the factory as both the facility and the orchestra explode is a truly magical sight and sound.
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Shaw here-the music in the new 2022 All Quiet on the Western Front is some of my favorite of all time. Specifically the 3 note theme. Thanks for writing on Batman!