By now, we have all undoubtedly watched Matt Reeves‘ delicious The Batman camera test, revealing Robert Pattinson in his deliciously costumed glory, about 9,000 times. We’ve soaked in his jawline, the Bat symbol breast plate’s stylishly frayed qualities, the woozy, hazy red DP Greig Fraser cast everything in. It’s all great! But, listen up. Literally. As composer Michael Giacchino actually scored this camera test with what’s either going to be some music we’ll hear in the final cut, some experimental demos that will develop into what we’ll hear in the final cut, or something else entirely that still feels well within the world of Gotham City. In other words: I just heard some new The Batman music from Giacchino. And I… have some feelings.
From a broader read of the piece, I love how noir-ish it all sounds. It’s sparser than your average superhero score, slinking with minimalist moodiness, capturing the smeary, dirty reds of Reeves/Fraser’s palette perfectly. The piano-driven bassline, lightly accented by constant cymbals and kick drum (you rarely hear a kick drum in a superhero score, ya know?), reminds me of some contemporary video game scores — specifically Heavy Rain and LA Noire, both titles that explore classic noir-ish, detective-ish narratives with increasingly contemporary moral complications (which is, I have to imagine, is something like what’s going on in The Batman). It feels jazzy and hip, yet square and old-fashioned. And as it crescendos near its end — starting with individual feelings trumpets before a fuller, wider brass sound screeches to an unresolved chordal halt — you feel the sense of urgency, of danger, of awe. We visually smash to black, but Giacchino ain’t over: We get a final, electronically-modified piano take on the main motif, crackling out of aural perception, fully non-resolving.
This is all a high-falutin’ way of saying: The piece slaps. It feels so Batman, and so “1950s Hollywood noir with a contemporary edge,” which is so how I want The Batman to feel. But let’s go… even nerdier? The primary chord progression of the piece moves from Bbm to Gb at the very last beat of the measure — a minor i to a brief major VI and back again, in a simple loop. Does it sound familiar? It should — the piece is both in dialogue with two of the major previous Batman themes we’ve previously heard on screen, and one of the most famous pieces of film scoring of all time.
Danny Elfman‘s Batman theme, originally composed for the Tim Burton flicks and then repurposed for the best TV opening credits of all time, is also centered around a heavy-bass note melody like this Giacchino piece — and, the main shape of its melody, especially at it’s peak, is a minor i to major VI. It’s similar both in arrangement shape and in literal chord progression. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard‘s work on the Dark Knight trilogy, likely influenced by the famous Elfman theme, is also centered around a minor i to major VI motif. Plus, Giacchino’s usage of unorthodox arrangements, particularly in its electronic music-flirting outro, echoes the oft-abrasive, industrial/digital textures used by Zimmer and Howard. And finally: Star Wars. The Imperial March. A bass heavy melody, hitting the roots of a minor i to a major VI. Just about identical to Giacchino’s main motif.
Now, I am not saying Giacchino is a ripoff of any of these composers — there are only 12 notes to play with, and a “minor i to major VI” is a very common progression. But whether or not he’s intentionally playing with these familiar scores or aurally echoing previous Batman films, his brief piece manages to conjure up all of these feelings and new ones too. Sounds like a damn promising place to begin for a new Batman film, and a new Batman score.
The Batman comes to theaters June 25, 2021. Check out the camera test (for the 9,001th time) below. For more on the superhero picture, here’s our theory on who Peter Sarsgaard might be playing. And here’s another tease from Reeves.