The LEGO Batman Movie – Lorne Balfe

THELEGOBATMANMOVIE


His name is Batman. LEGO Batman, just that you remember. And, without even a single doubt, he’s the greatest superhero there has ever been in the history of cinema. Well, at least, according to himself…

Following last year’s disaster that was “Batman v Superman”, Warner Bros. and DC Comics are releasing yet another Batman cinematic experience, namely “The LEGO Batman Movie”, the humorous adaption performing quite well at the box office so far. Strengthened by surprisingly positive critical reception, “The Lego Movie”‘s director Phil Lord who acts as producer in here and director Chris McKay reportedly managed to pull out a fun movie that will surely please every superhero enthusiast – a promising possibility for every composer attached to the project to write a decent parody score incorporating interpolations of Batman’s almost legendary musical legacy: The strong sounding names of Danny Elfman, Shirley Walker, Elliot Goldenthal, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard and Junkie XL and, last but not least, Neal Hefti, who served as the famous Batman series theme song’s composer, immediately come to mind.

Having provided additional music for Dreamworks’s Kung Fu Panda franchise (the third one basically being scored by him all on his own), composer Lorne Balfe – who was chosen to write an original score for the movie – is  quite an expert when it comes to the animation genre. For “The LEGO Batman Movie”, Balfe constructs a multi-thematic score, giving each of the main characters an identity on their own: From the menacing Batman theme to the more light-hearted Robin material, the crazy Joker sounds and a secondary motif associated with Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, he manages to craft a coherent high-quality listening experience that will surely please every film music enthusiast expecting a colorful, hyperactive score in the vein of what John Powell might have written. Filled with bombastic brass flourishes, kinetic string ostinati, rhythmic percussion and momentous choir writing, the composer successfully delivers a high-quality application for further entries in the animation genre still to come.

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“The LEGO Batman Movie” composer Lorne Balfe during a recent interview.

The score starts off with the seven-minute “Black” which is successfully introducing the listener to the world of Batman and sets the mood for the album listening experience that is going to follow. Largely dominated by pulsating electronics, rhythmic-driven string writing and heavy outbursts of the brass section, Balfe creates a brooding soundscape that rather fits the popular Dark Knight but remains playful at the same time. Around the four minute mark, the composer introduces a four-note motif, his Batman theme, on which he expands later on. Funnily, the composer mimics Bane’s theme from “The Dark Knight Rises” by using the 5/4 rhythm that once represented the live action adaption’s brutal terrorist. The subsequent “Your Greatest Enemy” continues that path and subtly hints at the famous Batman theme as featured in Hans Zimmer’s bass-heavy scores for the Nolan trilogy. It is here that Balfe first introduces his thematic ideas for the Joker, being the first composer who actually manages to capture both the character’s madness as well as the unsettling tension that surrounds him wherever he decides to go. At the same time, the composer often uses it as counterpoint to the Batman theme, which successfully reflects the protagonists’ never-ending rivalry in musical terms. The electronica-heavy “Joker Crashes the Party” and the action-packed “To Cage the Joker” continue that path.

Meanwhile, “The Arrival of Robin” introduces Batman’s helpful friend’s light-hearted identity, orchestrated for fluffy woodwinds and piano-celeste, and therefore wonderfully contrasting him from his mentor. Later on, as the story progresses, Balfe hints at the character’s reached maturity by developing that theme even further: For instance, it gets a furioso action variation for brass in the unashamedly heroic “No Seat Belts Required”, a standout cue that adds a fast-forward cameo of Neal Hefti’s popular Batman theme at 1:21.

However, Balfe’s funniest idea comes with the menacing “The Phantom Zone” which – instead of atmospheric droning to musically reflect DC’s fictional prison dimension as it would have happened in most contemporary film scores – sees a large adult choir chanting the titular words in a descending line of melody, successfully rendering the setting an atmosphere filled with danger and anarchy.

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The trio of “Open for Business”, “Chaos in Gotham” and “Lava Attack” feature some incredibly dynamic action writing while both the latter of them tend to take heavy influence from the rock music genre, the hardcore distorted guitar passages in combination with the ever-present drum percussion, cleverly accentuated by rousing brass, contributing to the seemingly well-organized orchestral chaos – a proof of the composer’s sense for infectious action scoring. Contrasting this compositional style is “For Your Own Good”, a surprisingly emotional choral lament whose longing cello lines further contribute to the cue’s profound sound.

Already anticipating the fulminant action finale that is yet going to come, the subsequent “Joker Manor” revisits the crazy Joker theme and ends on which directly leads into “Batman’s in the Zone” that shortly stops the exhausting action path and allows the string section to breathe; the choir further adds emotional color to the scene. Meanwhile, the Batgirl motif, depite being teased in several earlier cues, receives a noble brass performance at the beginning of “The Babs Signal”, at least until Balfe turns it into an even more heroic orchestral performance, accompanied by swirling string ostinati and choir. Still, the penultimate “Battle Royale” that still awaits the listener, perhaps the score’s biggest standout cue, fully does its name justice: Throwing in a vigorous vocal performance of Neal Hefti’s 1966 Batman theme, the Joker material and a rousing brass performance of Robin’s theme, perfectly illustrating the character’s development over the course of the movie, at 1:32, the composer creates a stirring musical soundscape for Batman saving the city from the Joker. Follwing this kick-ass action sequence, truly “Cue of the Year” material, is the conclusive “A Long Farewell” whose soft piano sounds seem to reflect the hard-earned justice before a glorious orchestra-and-choir ascending line of melody ends the score on an epic high point.

Listening to “The LEGO Batman Movie” really is a pure delight and just a further proof that Balfe, despite his tight schedule of scoring short movies, lesser-known projects and contributing additional music to Hans Zimmer scores, should be given the chance to work in the Hollywood mainstream more regularly all on his own. My only complaint concerns the overbearing manner with which Balfe executes his musical vision; the endlessly bombastic sound, wildly alternating between either grandiose, brassy action writing and heavy use of electronica and drum percussion, might be a bit too much for the casual listener and, therefore, leave him being exhausted by the sheer volume of what is going on in the score. Apart from that, there is absolutely nothing not to like about the score: It remains highly entertaining during its entire running time and succeeds in impressing the listener with the composer’s technical skill as well as his brilliant sense of parodying the musical legacy of DC’s most popular superhero. Nana-nana-nana-nana-BATMAN!!!

Rating: ****


Music composed by Lorne Balfe. Conducted by Johannes Vogel. Orchestrated by Oscar Senen and Joan Martorell. Produced by Max Aruj.

1. Black
2. Your Greatest Enemy
3. The Arrival of Robin
4. Joker Crashes the Party
5. No Seat Belts Required
6. To Cage the Joker
7. The Phantom Zone
8. Open for Business
9. Chaos in Gotham
10. Lava Attack
11. For Your Own Good
12. Joker Manor
13. Batman’s in the Zone
14. The Babs Signal
15. Battle Royale
16. A Long Farewell


Available on WaterTower Music (2-disc set including songs).

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