Director Tim Burton’s 1989 film, Batman, was a far cry from television series broadcast in the
sixties. Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight, this version has more of a
nightmarish, film noir feel to it (check out the rain-coated detectives and the ever-present sense
of immorality and squalor) and concentrates more on the psychology of why the troubled Bruce
Wayne character feels the need to dress in a bat-shaped suit and try to prevent crime in a
depressingly grey and squalid Gotham City (a.k.a. New York?), rather than follow the cartoonish
exploits of the original ‘caped crusader’. This Batman doesn’t rely on usual ‘superhero’ powers;
he has made himself what he is through a combination of stamina, hard work and intelligence.
His sombre and down-beat manner acts as the perfect foil to the garish and outlandish colours
of The Joker (Jack Nicholson) and his variety of party tricks that provide the most concerns for
Batman throughout the film.
Whether the questions relating to Wayne’s reasoning for his alter-ego are answered is
debatable and, as the film progresses, it tends to drop any pseudo-intellectual meanings and
becomes a straightforward battle between good and evil, the lesser characters becoming more
and more sidelined and irrelevant.
However, Batman is extremely entertaining and features moments of grotesque comedy that
could only have been dreamed up by Burton. Jack Nicholson, seemingly enjoying every moment
of screen-time, shines as the Joker and Michael Keaton portrays the disturbed but determined
Batman character well, although at times he appears to be playing second-fiddle to Nicholson’s
Joker. Visually, the sense of a gothic, run-down and crime-ridden city is portrayed both
ambitiously and realistically with tracking shots up the sides of immense buildings creating a
claustrophobic and tense atmosphere in which the combatants -- often quite violently -- try to
outwit each other. The score, by long-time Burton acquaintance, Danny Elfman, matches these
visuals extremely well with the mainly dark and ominous timbres providing a suitable
accompaniment to the visuals. The music also includes several tracks composed by Prince,
possibly only included as a marketing ploy, but he could be seen to be a suitable choice, given
his often Joker-like attire and theatricality.
Danny Elfman b. 1953 Los Angeles
Danny Elfman began his musical career as a member of L.A. band, Oingo Boingo. He was the
composer for the band, whose managed to have their music used in the 1985 film, Weird
Science. Elfman then became friends with Tim Burton who was a fan of the band and was asked
to score Burton’s first feature, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The success of this film led to an on-
going partnership between the two and Elfman has since scored all of Burton’s films bar one, Ed
Wood, along with many other comic-book style films such as Hulk, Spiderman and Men in Black.
A big fan of Bernard Herrmann, particularly his dislike of the use of leitmotif, Elfman’s
compositional style is often texture-based. His scores tend to intensify the significance of a
particular scene, rather than point to a particular character or moment and he is capable of
producing music that, while not immediately appearing to be appropriate, does actually fit with
the images very well. (Listen to his score to Ang Lee’s Hulk and the use of neo-Asian style music
that is present in the film). Elfman himself states that he tries to push himself musically in
directions of which he is unsure where he is going and tries to treat each project as a completely
new challenge without relying on previous material or stylistic content. A big fan of both the
horror and fantasy genres, it is probably fair to state he has developed an in-built knowledge of
what is needed for composing the scores for which he is most known.
He uses a mixture of both electro-acoustic and orchestral sounds to create his scores and is now
one of Hollywood’s most sought-after composers.
Selected Filmography (with Elfman as composer)
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Darkman, The Frighteners, Spiderman, Spiderman 2, Hulk, Men in
Black, A Simple Plan, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
Charlotte’s Web, The Simpsons Movie (theme).
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Jack Palance
As Danny Eflman has had little in the way of a traditional musical upbringing, initially there was
much criticism and controversy surrounding his work as a film composer and his suitability to
produce suitably notated scores. He does have a tendency to notate music with no key
signature; any sharp or flat is treated as an accidental, and often notates notes from outside the
spectrum of a particular key (e.g. G# as opposed to Ab in the key of C minor) but those who
work with him on his scores have all stated that apart from the odd alteration due to his
unorthodox manner of writing his scores, the music is all his.
As with Herrmann, his dislike of leitmotif is prominent in most of his scores and Batman is no
exception. Most of the music is based around variations of just one theme, the ‘Bat-Theme’; this
is either melodically or harmonically altered depending on its required usage.
There is also very little ‘mickey-mousing’ involved in the score. The music tends to blend with
the images rather than highlight particular moments, often in a contrary manner to what would
be expected. Listen to the music that accompanies an upwards tracking shot of a skyscraper
and you will hear the music descend as opposed to the more obvious ascending gesture; this
deliberate contradiction to the images is another feature of Elfman’s composing technique and
is used several times within this film.
Interestingly, and somewhat confusingly, there are two different albums that are called the
‘Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’. The first one released was composed by Prince and
feature several tracks that are not used in the film. There are only a handful of Prince tracks
used in Batman and most of these are either inaudible or of a very short duration. The Elfman
score was not released as an album until much later, but this does feature the majority of music
from the film.
Cue Time Action
1 00.00.00 Opening Credits Bat-theme is introduced
2 00.03.04 Attack/1st Sight/Roof Fight Long 3-part cue; Bat-theme and brass
3 00.10.30 Jack meets Ekhart Fragmented gestures and pizz basses
4 00.14.49 Grissom and Jack Dark strings/Sync points
5 00.16.28 Wayne’s Party/Vicki Prince song, ‘Electric Chair’
6 00.21.51 Through the Mirror Low strings/modulations
7 00.23.15 Axis Chemicals Pizz strings/sync points
8 00.32.56 Joker Revealed Fragmented gestures
9 00.34.37 Joker and Grissom Long cue in several sections
10 00.43.47 Bruce Remembers Gentle woodwind/Nostalgia
11 00.46.12 Clown Attack Dark piano motif/underscore
12 00.49.49 Bruce Contemplates/Photos Gentle woodwind/ Beautiful Dreamer
13 00.53.47 Joker on T.V. ‘Travelogue’ music
14 00.57.11 Vicki at the Museum Mozart/Prince/Max Steiner
15 01.04.15 Batman to the Rescue Bat-theme/Gothic-style music
16 01.11.04 In the Bat-cave Unresolving woodwind
17 01.13.50 ‘Copy!’ Short, fast-paced cue
18 01.16.50 Vicki’s visitors Diegetic ‘Beautiful Dreamer’
19 01.21.11 Joker’s Poem Short cue, twinkling gestures
20 01.25.49 Joker’s Challenge Descending gestures/piano ostinato
21 01.30.09 Charge of the Batmobile Triumphant Bat-theme
22 01.31.55 Parade Prince’s ‘Trust’
23 01.35.00 Batwing Prominent Bat-theme phrases
24 01.39.02 Batwing 2 Fully-orchestrated Bat-theme
25 01.41.57 Cathedral Chase Organ/Contrasting music/visuals
26 01.46.25 ‘Shall we Dance?’ Pastiche of Strauss waltz
27 01.50.03 Showdown Underscore/Two-part texture
28 01.55.54 Finale Triumphant Bat-theme/Scandalous
Detailed Analysis of Musical Cues
1 Cue Title Timing Length
Titles and opening scene 00:00:00 03:06
Sequential entries of the main, five-note theme -- the ‘Bat-theme’ -- combines with visuals of
what eventually is revealed to be the Batman insignia. The music begins at a slow tempo but
unfolds into a quicker and dramatic march-like section of the theme which includes snippets of
other cues that appear later in the film. The music could be seen to act as a ‘call’ to Batman,
reflecting his duty to the city of Gotham. The music is mostly based around the keys of B or C
minor and uses sombre timbres to foreshadow the similarly dark and oppressive visuals of the
During the first few moments of the ensuing scene, a small excerpt of the Prince song, ‘The
Future’ can be heard. This creates a disconcerting effect as the first glimpses of Gotham City
place its period firmly in the past, however, throughout the film there are several places where
the phrase, ‘the future’ is included in the dialogue.
2 Cue Title Timing Length
Attack on Family/ First sighting/Roof Fight 00:03:44 03:07
A long cue that covers several scenes. The music begins with unresolving and unsettled phrases
that anticipate the thieves attack. As Batman is seen, the Bat-theme is heard and continues as
underscore before ending with triumphant brass gestures signifying Batman’s success at
thwarting the villains.
3 Cue Title Timing Length
Jack Napier/Joker meets Ekhart 00:10:30 01:29
Fragmented phrases from piano, percussion and pizz. strings complement the devious and
untrustworthy nature of both characters in the scene. The pizz. Strings are a feature of the
music used when the Joker is on screen. The music builds and pauses before moments of
dialogue symbolising the control Napier commands over his affairs.
4 Cue Title Timing Length
Grissom and The Joker 00:14:49 01:34
Dark and ominous strings create an atmosphere of suspense and anticipation as Grissom
delegates the job at the chemical plant to Napier/ the Joker. Sync points highlight Napier’s
surprise at the unfolding events.
5 Cue Title Timing Length
Bruce Wayne’s Party/Bruce meets Vicki Vale 00:16:28 02:47
Use of Prince song, Electric Chair, as diegetic music and also underscore.
6 Cue Title Timing Length
Through the Mirror 00:21:51 01:12
Low, chugging strings play variations of the ‘Bat-theme’, modulating frequently as Wayne listens
in to what has been said.
7 Cue Title Timing Length
At Axis Chemicals 00:23:15 05:21
Fast pizz. Strings and timpani open the cue before a riff-like theme from the basses form the
basis of the cue and act as an underpinning to the various gestures that occur over it. The cue is
episodic with each section becoming more dramatic; loud SFX and rising sequences combine
with the Bat-theme as the scene reaches its climax. A sync point highlights the Joker falling into
the chemicals and a mysterious, eerie gesture is heard just before his hand reaches out from the
vat, foreshadowing an ensuing cue which highlights his eccentric delight at his new persona.
8 Cue Title Timing Length
The Joker Revealed 00:32:56 01:26
Fragmented gestures over a high string pedal build to a crescendo as the Joker is finally
revealed. The disjointed nature of the cue corresponds to the change of character from Jack
Napier to the Joker. The audience is kept waiting for the final revelation as the music
simultaneously seeks a resolution.
9 Cue Title Timing Length
The Joker and Grissom 00:34:37 02:08
This longish cue is made up of several different sections, each complementing a different scene
in the film. The music starts with a gentle romantic gesture as Wayne and Vicki kiss before
changing into a generic dark and brooding section which includes several gestures common to
the horror genre such as tremolo strings, high tinkling gestures and low string pedals. This
suddenly changes into a circus-style section that obviously represents the Joker’s comical and
outrageous appearance. The contrast between the Joker’s ungainly dancing and the waltz-like
style of the music can be seen as a direct reference to the dual personality of the character.
Also, the combination of bright, humourous music counterpointing images of the Joker shooting
Grissom several times brings a light-heartedness to the scene despite the methodical violence
that is on show. The comical nature of the music also complements the Joker’s garish dress-
sense throughout the remainder of the film. The discordant ending to the piece does, however,
make reference to the inherent evilness of the Joker. This blends straight into a piano version of
the Bat-theme with slight variations, i.e. a major key, as Vicki and Bruce are in bed, but through
the use of modulations and dissonant harmonies, the music is again tinged with a slight eeriness
to represent both Vicki’s emotions at what she is experiencing and the dual personality of Bruce
10 Cue Title Timing Length
Bruce Remembers/Vicki Spies 00:43:47 01:41
Gentle woodwind and string combine to produce a nostalgic cue as Wayne remembers the
death of his parents. Elements of the Bat-theme are used at various stages throughout the cue.
As the cues ends, bleak orchestral stabs highlight the anger (and possible revenge) Wayne feels
11 Cue Title Timing Length
Clown Attack 00:46:12 01:50
The cue begins in sync as one of the Joker’s accomplices pats a child on the head. Very
‘Herrmannesque’-like string gestures counter-pointing a dark, punctuating piano motif are
heard as the character mimes a skate around Wayne. The cue then becomes underscore as
journalist Knox asks questions of the new gang boss before the Bat-theme briefly returns as a
12 Cue Title Timing Length
Bruce Contemplates/Photos 00:49:49 02:45
A reflective opening using gentle string and woodwind is heard as Vicki looks through her
photos; the use of an oboe highlights the personal moment at this point and could be seen to be
used as a ‘love’ theme as the use of an oboe is occasionally heard when Vicki is onscreen. The
scene is interrupted both musically and visually as the scene moves to the Joker perusing his
own ‘photo’ collection to the accompaniment of twisted waltz music. The inclusion of Stephen
Foster’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ represents the Joker’s own ‘love’ theme but can be seen more as a
parody of a love theme and one that is dangerous rather than romantic.
13 Cue Title Timing Length
The Joker on T.V. 00:53:47 01:17
‘Travelogue-style’ music appears diegetically as images of the Joker are seen with his victims.
14 Cue Title Timing Length
Vicky at the Museum 00:57:11 03:44
After a brief section of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, used as diegetic music to accompany
images of the museum, the mood alters as Vicky receives a gift. Sinister but playful gestures are
heard as the gas enters the museum, crescendoing to a sudden stop as a prelude to Prince’s
‘Partyman’ being used as a companion to the Joker’s obvious enjoyment at his defacing of the
paintings. The lyrics ‘…red and green…’ are the same colours used by his henchmen to deface
the paintings and ‘…black and white…’ could be seen as a reference to an earlier scene which
featured Wayne surrounded by characters dressed in black and white attire. After a period of
dialogue, the cue uses Max Steiner’s ‘Theme from A summer Place’ as an accompaniment to the
Joker’s ‘romancing’ of Vicki.
15 Cue Title Timing Length
Batman to the Rescue 01:04:15 03:08
This cue features a variation of the Bat-theme in march form from the intro, but more involved
as Vicki and Batman are chased through the streets of Gotham. There is more in the way of
orchestration here with many percussive fills and pizz basses providing a continually moving
accompaniment to the images which adds both dramatic impact and pacing to the images.
Occasionally the Bat-theme is heard as they evade their attackers once again but there is little in
the way of synchronous moments, except for when Batman beckons the last attacker to
approach him. Much of the score at this point is covered by the loud sound effects.
The second part of the cue accompanies images of the Batmobile driving to the Bat-Cave and is
one of the more ‘gothic’ cues in the film. The use of voices chanting (indistinct, but ‘in sancto’
would suggest Latin) and a driving semi-quaver rhythm over dramatic brass and low string
gestures gives an impression of ritual and the occult and is reminiscent of demonic-based films
such as The Omen or The Exorcist. The unresolving nature of the music reflects Vicki’s
unsureness as to whether she is any safer with Batman than she was with the Joker but the
overall volume and relentlessness of the music can be seen to represent that at this moment,
Batman is totally in control and has immense power within his own environment.
16 Cue Title Timing Length
In the Bat-Cave 01:11:04 02:22
Once again, the music is unresolving and questioning which highlights both Vicki’s bewilderment
at her situation and the sense of wonder at the images of the cave. The use of solo woodwind in
this cue possibly represents the music reflecting Vicki’s mixed emotions at this moment. The
music stays under the dialogue until the end of the cue which is ambiguous in its resolution with
a shot of her lying across a bed in a slightly dishevelled manner.
17 Cue Title Timing Length
‘Copy!’ 01:13:50 00:11
A brief cue that accompanies images of the papers stating how Batman has managed to break
the Joker’s code regarding his poisoning of cosmetics. The music again is fast-paced keeping the
momentum of the film moving.
18 Cue Title Timing Length
Vicki receives visitors 01:16:50 01:39
A reprise of ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ used diegetically to create a mood of pseudo-romance for the
Joker as he visits Vicki.
19 Cue Title Timing Length
The Joker’s Poem 01:16:50 00:50
A short cue that underscores the Joker revealing his feelings for Vicki in a grotesque poem. The
music is also suitably bizarre, using high tinkling gestures in a chromatic and ‘perverted’ manner
before transforming into a comically twisted waltz-like section and finally resolving with an
almost mocking perfect cadence.
20 Cue Title Timing Length
The Joker’s Challenge 01:25:49 02:53
This cue signifies the beginning of the last act of the film as Wayne is forced to remember the
death of his parents and realises that the man who killed them was the Joker. The descending
pitch bends on the instruments signify the ‘dream’ sequence. The inclusion of a choir once again
creates a sense of ritual, but this time, it is of a funeral rather than anything more evil. A
prominent piano ostinato leads into a haunting string section as Wayne reminisces the events of
many years before. The gentle ending to the cue reflects both the emotions between the two
(Wayne and Vicki) and allows the audience to focus on the dialogue as this is the moment
Wayne realises what he must do to avenge the death of his parents.
21 Cue Title Timing Length
Charge of the Batmobile 01:30:09 01:34
Several iconic shots of the Batsuit and its associated tools are accompanied by a triumphant
version of the Bat-theme as Batman now begins his quest to avenge his parents’ death for real.
Powerful and heroic through the use of full, brass-led orchestration, the music portrays
Batman’s unwavering pursuit of the Joker. It is as if Bruce Wayne has finally realised his true
identity at this point and the music is urging him to face his destiny and be victorious. The
second half of the cue is covered by very loud SFX but the theme is heard at several points
throughout the cue along with a rising semitone gesture that works to increase the tension and
dramatic nature of the scene.
22 Cue Title Timing Length
Parade 01:31:55 02:22
Another Price track is used at this point, ‘Trust’. The lyrics are obviously in direct contrast to the
Joker’s real sentiments. The cue is interrupted by the re-introduction of the heroic theme of the
previous cue as the Batwing is seen before resuming to the Prince track in sync with the Joker’s
movements. The contrast in the mise en scene between the Joker’s colourful attire and the
drabness of Gotham city are at their most prevalent at this moment in the film. The major key of
‘Trust’ and the minor keys associated with the city emphasise this mood.
23 Cue Title Timing Length
Gas Attack/Batwing 01:35:00 04:01
One of the longer cues in the film, the music is at the forefront of the film in many places and
uses section of the Bat-theme at pertinent moments to maintain the heroic nature of the
narrative. Even during moments of humour, such as Knox hanging onto Vicki’s car, the music
does not alter from its intense and determined course, reflecting Batman’s tenacious and driven
need to finally outwit and overcome the Joker.
24 Cue Title Timing Length
Batwing 2 01:39:02 01:50
The second section of the cue begins just after the Joker shoots one of his henchmen and
features the Bat-theme in a fully orchestrated from; there is a slight break in the intensity of the
score as the Batwing pauses in front of the moon a lá E.T. but it picks up its momentum as the
Batwing plunges back down for its final attack on the Joker. Much of the score is covered by the
loud SFX with just the 5-note Bat-theme coming through at certain opportune moments. The
breaks in the score, as the visuals move back to shots of the streets, give more emphasis to the
obsessive determination felt by Batman as he approaches his adversary. The percussive fills
reflect the militaristic precision of both the Batwing and how Batman is undertaking his quest
and the ensuing semi-quaver brass and woodwind fills mimic Vicki’s footsteps as she rushes to
help Batman after the Batwing crashes into the steps of the cathedral.
25 Cue Title Timing Length
Cathedral Chase 01:41:57 04:32
This cue segues from the previous one but the inclusion of an organ to represent the cathedral
separates the two as distinct cues. Once again, the use of the Bat-theme reflects Batman’s
relentless pursuit of the Joker but here it appears less triumphant and the descending phrases
that are heard could be seen to reflect that at this moment in the film, the Joker has won and
Batman is the fallen hero. The downwards gestures also work as a contrast to the upwards-
moving visuals as the Joker and Vicki climb the steps of the cathedral. As the Joker and Vicki
climb to the top of the bell tower, the music is in sync with the Joker’s footsteps, reflecting that
it is now he who commands the power, the slow pace of the music also signifying how in control
of the situation he now feels. The silence that follows Batman’s entrance into the bell-tower is a
sign that the final face-to-face conflict is about to take place.
26 Cue Title Timing Length
‘Shall We Dance?’ 01:46:25 03:45
As the Joker says, ‘Shall we dance?’ a pastiche of a Strauss waltz is heard, but with darker and
more sinister overtones and heavily accented, almost comedic beats that reflect the two
character’s differing personalities. Again, the grotesquely comedic nature of the music moves
against the majority of the visuals and works as a contrast to the violence that is being acted out
on-screen as well as simultaneously acting as a soundtrack for the Joker and Vicki’s ‘dance’. The
waltz suddenly stops and the music becomes more threatening as Batman is seen at the far end
of the belfry, the tremolo strings anticipating his entrance for the final showdown.
27 Cue Title Timing Length
Showdown 01:50:03 04:45
The music here is mainly underscore as Batman finally states to the Joker that he knows it was
him who killed his parents, the Bat-theme can be heard in the underscore at this point in a
relentless, sequential section that represents Batman has now reached his moment of truth; the
wisecracks from the Joker appear to be trying to distract both Batman (and the score) and the
audience from the fact that Batman is now out to avenge his parents’ death by killing the Joker
in cold blood.
The second part of the cue begins in sync as the Joker, presumed to have fallen over the edge of
the tower, suddenly pulls both Batman and Vicki over with him. Heavy reverb on the Joker’s
laughter is also suddenly lifted as we see Batman and Vicki hanging over the edge which adds a
tightness to the scene as the three are now in very close proximity to each other. The music is
very dark and minor-key based with the occasional brass stab interjected as the Joker dances
around on the edge of the tower. There are a couple of ‘mickey-mousing’ moments such as
when the Joker nearly slips and a flute trill is heard and at this point, the music has two
distinctive textures, the low string and brass gestures and the higher register instrumentation
such as flute and xylophone representing the two main combatants. As Batman shoots the wire
that ties the Joker to the gargoyle, the music becomes slower and uses descending gestures that
fore-shadow the Joker’s fate; the use of a repeated brass gesture as he falls could be seen as a
triumphant fanfare as Batman has now vanquished his rival. The cue ends with a repeat of the
‘love’ theme as Batman and Vicki swing gently at the side of the tower, mimicking both the
gentle rocking motion and reprising their earlier moments of intimacy. The repeat of ‘Beautiful
Dreamer’ as we see the Joker lying embedded in the street could at this moment be seen to be a
mocking from either Batman or Vicki as he has now been defeated or as a final ghostly insult to
everyone from the Joker himself.
28 Cue Title Timing Length
Finale 01:55:54 05:12
The cue begins in sync as the light is shone up to sky, the music a short but triumphant version
of the Bat-theme before changing into a soft string section as Vicki ponders her future, possibly
with Batman. The music then changes again into the most triumphant version yet of the Bat-
theme, now firmly in a major key and ending with a traditional perfect cadence to symbolise
Batman is once again, in control and ready to help the city when required. However, the
immediate entrance of the Bat-theme in its usual minor key gives the impression that there is
more trouble heading Batman’s way in the future. The music ends with a version of another
Prince track, Scandalous, possibly as a reference to the relationship that may evolve between
Batman and Vicki but more likely as a ‘product placement’ to help sell the film as its position at
this point seems rather out-of-context.
Interestingly, due to the harmony involved, there are readings of this final cue that have been
compared to the use of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathrustra in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:A Space
Odyssey where in this film, the ‘Star Child’ is seen gazing at the Earth. The music could also be
referencing the poem by philosopher Frederick Nietzche which inspired Strauss’s original music.
This has Zarathrustra sitting alone at the top of a mountain watching the dawn of a new day that
may herald the arrival of the ‘Superman’, who Nietzche saw as the next stage in man’s
evolution, or in this case a newly-vindicated and powerful Batman, ready to rid Gotham of any
evil that may come its way in the future.