Film Score Friday: ‘Batman Arkham City’ by Various Artists

Video game composing is fast becoming a significant player in the entertainment scoring world. As games become increasingly cinematic we are seeing more opportunities for the composers of these projects to get more recognition and exposure. The best example of this is Oscar winning composer Micheal Giacchino who first turned heads with music from the Medal of Honor series.

Aside from the changing perception of video game soundtracks, I also wanted to give this score a listen because Batman has long had an amazing history with film and TV music. Dating all the way back to the Adam West series, the music associated with the Bat has been an eclectic mix of styles and sounds that seem to all work perfectly with the capped crusader. So does the new video game live up to those lofty standards? Do we have another worthy addition to the Bat-Music pantheon?

The first thing you will notice about the soundtrack is that it is front loaded with songs, these are the “big draw”, but not what I am interested in. We will come back to these later. The score portion of the soundtrack begins about halfway down the track list. The music is written by Nick Arundel who has some video game experience, but not many listed credits I can find. Hopfully the high profile nature of this game and the quality of his music will change that.

I absolutely love the score portions of this soundtrack. It has a really great tone to it, kind of a cross between the Zimmer/Newton-Howard scores from Nolan’s Batman movies and something more gothic that horror composer Christopher Young would have written. The main titles in particular have such a great “Batman-y” sound to it. If this was written for Batman in any other context than a video game, people would probably hold it in as high regard as any other music in the franchise.

If I have any complaint about the music on this disc it is that we don’t get very much of it, and what we do have doesn’t have as much variety as I would have hoped. Video Games have so much more space to place great music. Instead of two hours of run time there is often 5 to 10 hours of game play, to say nothing of the fact that the game often presents a much larger array of characters who deserve their own themes and motifs. Now this is only a portion of the score of the game, there is a score stand alone album yet to be released, but for the moment, these six tracks is all I have to go on.

Now we should spend a little time talking about the songs that are on this disc. Usually on a cash in soundtrack release you see some songs by popular artists thrown on the CD for no reason other than to push sales. Thankfully that is not the reason for the existence of these songs. This is truly music inspired by the game, or it might actually appear in the game, although I can’t imagine what context they could fit it in. All the songs have connections to the games and characters, so much to the point that the opening track even samples some dialogue from the game. It really works, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Arkham City Main Theme by Nick Arundel: I really dig this track. The only one that made me want to listen to it again after it was over. As far as main titles go this is some excellent stuff. It is almost to the same level of awesome that Shirley Walker’s Batman: The Animated Series main titles were, high praise to anyone who knew how often I listen to that soundtrack. One of the best parts of this track is that is manages to evoke the current sound of Batman from the Nolan films without feeling like it was derivative. Good stuff.

Mercenary by Panic! at the Disco: Not my favorite band in the world, but Panic! at the Disco has really endeared themselves to me lately with their work on soundtracks and tribute albums. This is a really good song that gives you some nice Batman flavor with out being blatantly about Batman. This is also the track that uses some dialogue (from the game?) to really help sell the vibe. A character is bascially taunting Batman by rubbing in the fact that he is standing where his parents were murdered. Odd, yet effective choice mid song.

Creature by The Duke Spirit: I have no clue who these people are, but I am a fan. I am a sucker for a rock song sung by a female vocalist, and there is something about the tone and vibe of this song that is so intoxicating. The song straddles the line of dark and creepy and fun and poppy, a difficult feat, but one that makes for a great listen. It also reminds me of the kind of song that would have been on the Batman Forever soundtrack, a very underrated soundtrack and flick.

Least Favorite Track:

Deranged by Coheed and Cambria: I don’t get the appeal of this band, their songs are often rambling and difficult to get into. They are talented musicians who make creative choices that baffle me, but they float a lot of people’s boats and I can’t argue with that. So this song is much like many other songs by this band, it starts off really promising and it just sort of shambles on and on like a bum who isn’t sure what street corner to pan handle at. It is just hard to get into, and as such I didn’t like it, no sir I did not like it one bit.

You might find it odd that only one of the score tracks made my three favorite tracks despite the praise I heaped on that portion of the soundtrack earlier. Well honestly there was not enough differentiation between the tracks. I like them all, but a lot of the great things I can say about the Main Titles I can say about all of the other tracks too. I might revisit this when the full score is released and I have played the game.

Final Score for Batman Arkham City

4 out of 5

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