‘Dark Knight Rises’: Hans Zimmer explains Christopher Nolan’s secrecy

Feb. 23, 2012 | 3:46 a.m.
hans zimmer Dark Knight Rises: Hans Zimmer explains Christopher Nolans secrecy

Hans Zimmer in his Santa Monica studio. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)

This post has been corrected, as detailed below.

Oscar-winning Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer never likes to repeat himself, even — or perhaps, especially — when he’s writing the score for a sequel. So he’s promising some new twists for his soundtrack for “The Dark Knight Rises,” the crowning installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the most-anticipated film of this summer.

German-born and British-educated, Zimmer has scored films in some of Hollywood’s biggest franchise properties, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series; epic action dramas like “Black Hawk Down”; and a number of small, highly acclaimed films such as “A World Apart,” a South African drama that incorporated traditional African music to give the soundtrack an authentic texture. His most recent score, for “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,”  presented his work in yet another box-office winner.

For the “Dark Knight Rises” score, Zimmer has designed a true “world” music score: using crowd-sourcing, he invited people all over the planet to lend their voices to a chant that will be part of the soundtrack.

Here’s what Zimmer had to say about that particular chant — and the art of scoring sequels in general — during a recent interview at his sprawling Santa Monica recording studio: “It seemed like a good idea as part of the score to have this chant. So I thought, ‘How am I going to get hundreds of thousands of people to do this?’ So we set up a website in Germany that could sort of handle it. And it sounds pretty amazing.

“You have to see [a sequel] as an autonomous movie,” the Frankfurt native said. “Otherwise you will end up with all the things that are the worst thing about a sequel. Before I even set off on ‘Sherlock,’ and before Chris [Nolan] started shooting, I had an idea. I went to the Warner [Bros.’] music department and I said, ‘Have I earned the right yet to book the biggest, craziest orchestra for two days, and try this experiment for ‘”Dark Knight?”‘ And if it goes wrong, if I don’t like it or if Chris doesn’t like it, we can just pretend these two days never happened.'”

han zimmer Dark Knight Rises: Hans Zimmer explains Christopher Nolans secrecy

Hans Zimmer (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Zimmer said the experiment took him to some new and distant edges of his own craft.

“I had an idea of a different way of writing music, or a different way of getting an orchestra to perform music as well,” Zimmer said. “And basically it worked out, and snippets of it are starting to appear in the trailer. And really I have 25 minutes of very, very radical, very different stuff. There were two great parts. One was Chris came to the [recording] sessions and really embraced what I was doing and really liked what I was doing. But, in a peculiar way, the greater part was that the musicians had never worked in this way before, and really loved it. And months later, when I was doing the ‘Sherlock’ sessions, the musicians were still talking about those two days, even though they’d done all this other stuff in the meantime. So I know I’m onto something. Really my enemy right now is time, because I have so many ideas.”

There are few movies in the history of Hollywood that are covered as a world event while they’re being filmed but the finale of Nolan’s Gotham City trilogy has been just that. The hunger for details and scoops has been intensified by the fact that the movie’s director keeps so many things close to the vest (and he actually wears vests, unlike most of his generational peers). Zimmer says Nolan’s stealth approach has value.

“There’s always this thing [that people say], ‘Oh, Chris is so secretive.’ Well, I think that there are two elements to this. One is, I think, to be able to do really good work, you have to have the chance to fail in privacy. And if everybody’s watching you on the Internet, I think it stifles creativity. And I think ‘Dark Knight’ is the perfect example of this idea. Everybody knew we were making a Batman movie. But until it came out they didn’t know it was going to be that sort of a Batman movie.”

Zimmer added: “And isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? We’re supposed to go and surprise you. And part of the experience has to be a surprise. It feels a little bit like we’re working very hard at protecting part of what is great about movies — the surprise. Because it seems like the world doesn’t want you to do that anymore. They want to know everything, they want to know about the stars and [this and that] immediately. And it’s not important to us. To us, really, the thing is the writing and the script and the ideas and the journey, and making it into something really good.”

— Reed Johnson

[For the record, 4:14 p.m. Feb. 23: An earlier version of this post said Hans Zimmer was born in Berlin. He is a native of Frankfurt.]


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3 Responses to ‘Dark Knight Rises’: Hans Zimmer explains Christopher Nolan’s secrecy

  1. zonver says:

    berlin native ? he's from frankfurt … but there are two frankfurt's in germany..one is near berlin.. but that not the one hes from :)

  2. Carpenter says:

    The other mistake is "Oscar-winning Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer never likes to repeat himself, even – or perhaps, especially – when he’s writing the score for a sequel."

    A quick listen to his music reveals that there is little Zimmer likes more than to repeat himself.

    • Palantzas says:

      I've been studying music for 17 years and have studied quite a bit of Hans Zimmer's scores, and I can guarantee any repetitions you've heard in his scores have been altered in some way thematically or instrumentally that makes it a whole new motif. Sure melodically you might recognize themes from the 1st movie, but it's been altered and has been changed to represent a whole new idea.

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