February 11, 2009

CD Review: Batman - Gotham Knight, Music Composed by Christopher Drake, Robert J. Kral, and Kevin Manthei

In 2005 Batman made his triumphant return to the big screen. It was the first attempt at translating the Caped Crusader to the screen since 1997's debacle known as Batman and Robin (the less said the better). The new film, Batman Begins, successfully reimagined the character for the big screen and it's popular and critical acclaim all but assured that a sequel would be made. That sequel came earlier this year as the even more critically acclaimed and even more popular The Dark Knight. In the hype build up to its release in July, DC released a collection of loosely connected shorts on store shelves, it is called Batman: Gotham Knight.

The release can be equated to the The Animatrix release during the run of the Matrix series. It is a collaboration of Japanese and American creators telling stories of the Batman in the time between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The first film saw Bruce Wayne first take up the mantle of the Bat and begin his crime fighting career while the new film sees a more seasoned crime fighter still struggling with what he has to do, but more confident in it. Gotham Knight attempts to chronicle the characters growth and his popular reception in the time between.

Those involved include writers Josh Olsen (A History of Violence), David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, Blade), and Alan Burnett (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm). Bringing their unique artistic visions to the project include Toshiyuki Kubooka (Wings of Honmaise), Hiroshi Morioka (Tsubasa Chronicle), and Yasuhiro Aoki (The Animatrix).

However, to help give it an even more distinct and cinematic feel, the producers reached out to a trio of composers to lend their talents to the project. The three took on the separate stories, helping give them an even more individual feel. Their work adds much to the final project, although I find the standalone experience of listening to the album a little underwhelming.

The three composers are Christopher Drake (Hellboy Animated), Robert J. Kral (Angel, Duck Dodgers, Dresden Files, Superman: Doomsday), and Kevin Manthei (Justice League: New Frontier, Invader ZIM). All three have done fine work on the full length projects and all three do good work here, just in a more abbreviated form.

I think the idea of multiple composers handling the individual stories is a very good one. It does work towards the individuality that each story strives to possess. The problem is that through the individuality there is still a part that needs to fit into the bigger picture. The stories themselves work together, but the break up of the composing duties does not foster the necessary continuity to bring the whole thing together.

The funny thing is that this issue of continuity never crossed my mind when I watched the feature. The stories flowed by, always holding my attention as well as giving an interesting look into the Batman. The opening story initially hooked me due to the presentation, a group of young skater kids telling stories of their Batman sightings, told in a "my story is better than your story" progression of one-upsmanship.

The initial segment, "Have I Got A Story For You," is composed by Christopher Drake. It gets off to a slow start with the improbably titled "Main Titles / Intro / Interlude / Punk Skater / Trouble At The Dock." All of those themes are crammed into two and a half minutes, as soon as one theme takes hold the next takes over. It evens out over the next few as it provides some stirring action-oriented music for each story.

Next up is Kevin Manthei for "Crossfire." Manthei injects some interesting electronic samples and sounds into his moody cues. These have to rank near the top for best cues of the album, there is something terribly atmospheric and eerie and them.

Robert J. Kral is up with "New Device," the story of Bruce testing a new shield to protect him from gunfire. Kral's work brings elements of wonder and dread to the table, reminiscent of Danny Elfman's work on the 1989 Batman. It is one that is good, does the job, but coasts on the familiarity of big orchestration.

For "In Darkness Dwells" Christopher Drake returns for a story that has our hero in the sewers tracking Killer Croc and featuring an appearance by Scarecrow. The music here brings to mind feelings of the sewer. Not really dirty, but suspenseful and eerie with a hero who is unsure what lay around the next corner. Nice and foreboding segment.

Kevin Manthei handles "Working Through Pain," featuring a wounded Batman fighting through his pain paired with flashbacks to training in the Far East. Manthei brings some great flavors to this tale. There is a sad haunting feel that permeates the composition, blended with Eastern instruments and arrangements. Manthei really is a good composer, I look forward to future full-length scores from him.

The final story features Robert J. Kral and is called "Deadshot." This tells the story of an assassin with a cybernetic eye and a Batman delivering one-liners, a bit odd to be sure, but still entertaining. The music has a very epic feel to it following a haunting piano opening. There thrills and eerie atmosphere throughout this final story. Kral injects a safe, familiar feel to the score, much like his contribution to "New Device."

The final credits track is a nice conclusion to the album. It is driven by galloping strings that sound very "Batman" and are supported by violin and brass. It brings closure in epic fashion to all that we have just witnessed.

Bottomline. Overall, this is a decent album that is held back by the brevity of each chapter. At times it felt like there were bigger pieces fighting to get out but were held back by the confines of the format. It works better in the context of the feature but is definitely worth the time for those of you who like film scores apart from the films. There certainly are some high points to pull out.

Mildly Recommended.

Track/Cue List:

Christopher Drake:
1. Main Titles / Intro / Interlude / Punk Skater / Trouble At The Dock (2:28)
2. Living Shadow / Living Shadow Finale (1:45)
3. Skater Girl / Trouble In the City (0:50)
4. Batmonster Appears / Batmonster Do-Over / Batmonster Finale (2:18)
5. Rooftop Robbery / Robobat (1:44)
6. Have I Got A Story For You Finale (1:35)

Kevin Manthei:
7. Crossfire (4:49)
8. Inferno (5:48)

Robert J. Kral:
9. New Device (1:22)
10. Trigger A Device / As Good As Your Drive (1:10)
11. A Russian In His Grave / It Works Too Well (3:53)

Christopher Drake:
12. In Darkness Dwells Intro (1:00)
13. Gordon's Cannibal / Ghost Station (3:00)
14. Epidermolytic Hyperkeratosis (0:43)
15. Killer Croc / Hallucinations / Scarecrow Interrupted (3:19)
16. Escape And End (1:45)

Kevin Manthei:
17. Working Through Pain / The Fall (1:46)
18. Bazaar (0:26)
19. There Is Another / Training (2:46)
20. Rejected And Despised (1:30)
21. Painless Fight/ I Can?t (3:23)

Robert J. Kral:
22. Parents Killed (0:54)
23. Gun Attraction / Park Killing (1:26)
24. Gordon / Batman / The Train (6:14)
25. His Life's Quest (0:56)
26. End Credits Suite (5:02)


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