Batman Returns: The Expanded Score
by The Dark Knight

La-La Land's Expanded Archival Collection returns to Gotham for this 2CD remastered and expanded presentation of Danny Elfman's magnificent score to the 1992 Warner Bros. motion picture blockbuster BATMAN RETURNS, starring Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito, directed by Tim Burton.

Composer Elfman revisits his iconic theme and expertly weaves it into a sumptuous musical experience, bringing to life the film's breathtaking action and rich emotional and psychological underpinnings.

Produced by Neil S. Bulk, Dan Goldwasser and MV Gerhard and mastered by James Nelson from Shawn Murphy's first generation three-track digital mixes, this limited edition release features more than 30 minutes of previously unreleased music, including alternate cues. The in-depth, exclusive liner notes are by John Takis and the art direction is by David C. Fein.

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Elfman Returns

I will not be offering a painstaking, blow by blow account of the each track featured on this new release. I cannot replicate the audio experience, and will not even try to. That is best done yourself upon purchase, and there has got to be some surprise and incentive. I will however, offer my own personal insight and overall appreciation of the material, and my initial impressions regarding its overall quality.

Love or hate Burton's Batman films, there is one aspect that cannot be denied. The music. Gothic, eerie, and soul pounding, Danny Elfman's two soundtracks were instant classics upon release. Nothing can truly be labeled as the best as it all comes down to personal preference. But to me, Danny Elfman's Batman Returns is the definitive live-action Batman score. I understand it can be an acquired taste, and some may find it hard to get into. But it happens to suit my sensibilities impeccably.

With his second, and ultimately final effort, Elfman truly went the distance. In every facet he delivered a broader canvass and a very distinct beast. Batman (1989) may be more iconic, but this one is just better to me. Elfman didn't rest on his past laurels; an entirely new atmosphere was created. And it fits like a glove.

Without this score, Batman Returns would only be half of what it is. Elfman filled in the gap and completed Director Tim Burton's imaginative visual flavour. You could just listen to this brave and unabashed isolated score and instantly know what you're going to get. More so than any other Batman film. Heck, you could listen to this score and it could be the equivalent of a novel.

These characters all had their pain, and they all gave into it at some stage. By listening to this score in full, along with the narrative itself, you feel their descent, and the normality of such an abnormal existence. I can easily see this expanded release being performed by a full scale classical group, and being executed as a serious piece of art. No joke. It literally is an opera and an experience unto itself that has a clear beginning, middle and end. Themes are born, and we follow them all the way up to the end, with a final end credit crescendo.

Unlike Batman (1989), this time you will not be punching the air in heroic triumph. And that's fine by me. I value interesting over upbeat. Elfman managed to capture the twisted weirdness of Batman's world. The score is dripping in emotion and sadness. It twinkles as if it's coming from a demented wind-up childhood toy. In Batman (1989), it is said that it's not a perfect world. This sound well and truly gets that idea across. It is more expressive and a sound of the soul. The tragedy of the three main characters existence, Batman, Catwoman and The Penguin.

Yet it is not to the point of being overbearing. The proud comic roots are still evident with the unpredictable and manic energy of a carnival. I still receive a magical, wondrous, anything-can-happen inkling from this audio landscape. And that's best experienced in the opening track, Birth of a Penguin/Main Title. For the record, that track remains my favorite track from Batman Returns, yet Rooftop Encounters is a very close second. As for new content, I cannot go past The Plot Unfolds. I've been wanting that piece for ages.

The trademark Batman theme is still present, yet it intermittently seeps through the oppressive thick snow and ice. This soundtrack isn't as reliant on it. Less is more, and it is saved up for great effect, and what an excellent theme to have up your sleeve. I find you value heroism a lot more when it's a rare thing. Also take for example the Batman theme at the end of The List Begins. It's not necessarily dark, but it's mystical and understated. The entire soundtrack maintains this light on its feet approach.

Batman has to hold his own as his two threats weave in and out seamlessly. By segueing in and out, we know that these characters, regardless of their intent, are one and the same on a variety of levels. Catwoman is sleek, yet damaged goods. Her theme builds slowly early on, and soon becomes confident along with her once suppressed sense of self. And the Penguin is a mixture of malice and sorrow, constantly grappling with his unfortunate childhood and his need for retribution. His moving and downright beautiful theme from The Cemetery for example makes a re-appearance for his death scene. And regardless if you hate the character, you cannot help but feel sympathy. And of course Batman is ever firm dark and defiant.

Each sound is instantly recognizable as belonging to their respective character, and these sounds become the sound of Gotham City itself. The actions of these central characters shape the very mood of the City, and its fate. It's all about character, and Batman Returns is a character piece and less of a superhero film. Only people know how to change the world. And also damage the world.

As a skeptical and critical person by nature, I was a tad concerned about a few things before undertaking my listening. Would they really have all of the music' Would it sound any good' Well, the answer to both questions is yes. The sound quality of this release is strikingly improved and the added content is welcomed. It's all there to the point the film score slides over onto disc two, along with the alternates and album edits. You know nothing has been left to chance when we get the Super Freak instrumental played at Max's charity ball.

The Siouxsie and the Banshees' song Face to Face is naturally included as well. With relevant and potent lyrics that draw out like a blade, this song reaches a dramatic conclusion. I don't mind Prince's songs in Batman (1989), but I find this effort better than all of those put together. Again, the song, like the film, is intensely emotional, almost like a confessional with the singers' soul being laid bare. This is her pain and she is destined to face it alone, because 'you'll never know.'

Several cues are joined together compared to the original release, and I think it is an improvement. These edits make the flow cleaner and the track listing tighter. If the following track is an exact follow on, say The Children's Hour to War, why wouldn't you make them truly one' And I have a thing for lengthy track times. It's a skill of Elfman's in that he can score a piece for five minutes plus, and keep you engaged the entire time with variety. They don't drone on. I never look at my watch and wait for it to end. The extended segments from Finale Confrontation/Finale really make you sit up and take notice, and are a real highlight. And that runs at 9 minutes 15 seconds.

As a physical item, it looks the part. The original cover art and font is respectfully retained. You will not find garish and out of place steel font here. Detailed linear notes with stills from the film are also provided. This isn't filler. This is insightful and well worth your time. La La Land care about this content and it shows.

La La Land has made an already great soundtrack richer, more fascinating and more importantly, complete. Unlike the previous Batman (1989) release, Batman Returns' tracks are totally devoid of hiss. They are pristine. You will notice things that you previously didn't, and it will be like listening to it for the first time. 30 minutes plus of new content will do that. And we are not dealing with thrown together collages here. All of the tracks are arranged in order of the film. And to me, it should be mandatory and expected. But no, it is not always the case as modern Batman music fans ought to know.

As a lover of melodic music and not noise, I hold these soundtracks up highly. With the films in high definition and both expanded soundtracks available, I don't know what else there is to ask for. We pretty much have it all, and the days of wanting are over. It's the end of the line. We are therefore left with a legacy to ponder. I personally view Elfman's Batman scores, in particular Batman Returns, as the equivalent of John Barry's 1960s James Bond soundtracks. Iconic, memorable and one-off. With these new tracks, the benchmark has been raised once more.

Elfman's sound may be long gone, a moment in time that will never come back, but we have it. And we remember it. And that's why we have to hold onto them even more in the face of change. The fact the sound we all deem to be definitive rests exclusively with our favourite Batman interpretation makes it that much more special. 18 years on, Elfman once again shows how it is done. And his music still burns brightly in the eyes of those that care. Batman Returns is as relevant, restless and uncompromising as ever.

I strongly recommend this release and it belongs in your collection.

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