Monday, April 16, 2012

"Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero" - Original Motion Picture Score (Michael McCuistion, 1998)


Composed by Michael McCuistion

Track Listing:

1: Main Title/Submarine (2:23)
2: The Cave (0:54)
3: Nora/Vengeance (3:04)
4: Gotham City (0:29)
5: Jewel Thieves (1:30)
6: Batman & Robin/Jewel Thieves Captured (0:56)
7: Children’s Hospital Fundraiser (1:38)
8: Batgirl On Patrol (0:39)
9: Frozen Road/Old Colleague (0:58)
10: 1st Clue (0:26)
11: Nora Is Dying/Compatible Donor (1:23)
12: Shaugnessys (1:13)
13: Barbara Kidnapped (2:39)
14: The Chase (3:59)
15: Prisoner (0:41)
16: Blood Donor Database (0:38)
17: Trying To Escape (1:20)
18: Nowhere To Run (3:28)
19: Discovery (0:35)
20: Belson's Home (1:19)
21: Break In (0:31)
22: Break Out (0:15)
23: Batwing/Surgery (3:05)
24: Heroes Are Here (2:16)
25: Bears/Fire/Explosion (1:40)
26: Bat Rescue (4:46)
27: Run For Nora & Noonak (2:28)
28: Freeze's Destiny/Big Explosion (2:27)
29: Nora Is Alive (1:00)
30: End Titles (4:03)


While not as grand and sweeping as the score for “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” (1993), composer Michael McCuistion (a member of Shirley Walker’s team from the animated series) delivers a finely tuned and tragically poetic score for “Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero” (1998).


Beginning with a rendition of Danny Elfman’s original movie theme, the score quickly establishes its own rules and tone, first and foremost with a new love theme for Victor and Nora Fries with the “Nora” cue. It plays as a bit of an homage to “Heart of Ice” with its twinkling romantic nature but ultimately I think this version is even better than the show.


It’s such a touching piece of music and it amazes me how, even for a direct to video release, no corners were cut on creating a collection of symphonic arrangements with a precise attention to emotional detail and quality.



From there things pick up and the jazz-nature of the score rears its head with a delightfully upbeat arrival to “Gotham City.” For some reason, Jazz seems to work exceedingly well within the confines of “Batman: The Animated Series,” as referenced in the score for series episode “A Bullet for Bullock,” which went an Emmy award for the series.

The brass work here and in other tracks is even more textured than “Mask of the Phantasm” on certain occasions and, interestingly enough, it sort of echoes Danny Elfman’s approach to “Batman Returns.”

Gotham itself comes alive here, musically speaking.

Again, McCuistion’s score can often give off these vibes as if off to the side of the scene, he’s right there leading the orchestra as they play the cues live…in the streets and on the rooftops, at the parties and the restaurants and along the boulevards. I’ve always loved all the ways composers work to give the city itself a sense of vibrancy and personality and McCuistion does a great job in capturing the essence of Gotham’s romanticism here.

The city isn’t played up so much as a gothic nightmare like the Burton films, but more of a sweeping, majestic art deco figment of wonder and imagination.


Another track that highlights this is the light, airy, simplistic “Children’s Hospital Fundraiser,” playing with the party as Bruce and Dick great Commissioner Gordon and mull about the crowds of tuxedo clad businessmen and gorgeous women. Just a stylish, trendy tinkering piano and soothing, inevasive cymbals and snare drum that creates a great, lively atmosphere for the party.

Throughout the score, we get a great uplifted orchestra full of swinging brass and lively woodwinds which I cherish in this particular incarnation of Batman; jazz works tremendously in favor of this specific caped crusader and the tone and atmosphere is something I can never get enough of.



The jazz motif takes a wonderful turn into full on Swing when it makes an astounding manifestation in “Shaughnessy’s,” named after the jazz club Dick Grayson takes Barbara Gordon to for a date.
In a clever bit of homage to the man himself, I think that the conductor of the club band is somewhat modeled on McCuistion himself and it’s a welcome tip of the hat. This cue is just an infectious romp with thrumming percussion, rat-a-tat snare drums, boomin’-and-zoomin’ clarinet and hyper-potent brass work, especially on the trumpets.

There’s just an amazing personality to this scene and McCuistion’s score is clearly the key...along with the horn, the string, the drum, the everything!


The action and dramatic material, built upon a foundation of McCuistion’s experience from the show providing scores of kinetics and atmosphere to episodes such as “Vendetta,” “I Am the Night” and “The Demon’s Quest Part I,” is wonderfully conceived and weaves a melodic tapestry that befits the film with a sense of operatic grandeur and drama.


“Barbara Kidnapped” begins with a rightfully menacing rendition of Freeze’s theme and, after a great bit of pounding percussion and a brass flourish, the track provides an incredible depth of urgency as Dick’s efforts to overcome Freeze end in failure and Barbara agrees to be taken to prevent any further incident.


Not staying down without a fight, things pick up the pace with “The Chase” as Grayson pursues Freeze on motorcycle in an attempt to retrieve his lady. The strings swell and provide a great sense of rhythm and movement encapsulating Dick’s determination.

More suspenseful tracks for the score include such standouts as “Blood Donor Database” as Belson and Freeze search records for a match to Nora’s blood type. The string work is impressively crafted in subtlety before swelling into a climax as their search bares fruit with Barbara’s information pulling up on file.



There’s also the haunting undercurrent of “Nowhere to Run;” Nora’s theme is sung through tender chorus as Barbara stumbles upon her, but that fragility is interrupted by the imposing menace of Freeze’s theme as he barges into the room and it presents a great dichotomy between the man Freeze still is in his heart and the monster he can become should he have to take necessary measures to save his wife. The track shifts into incredible action work as Freeze and Belson once more give chase to re-capture Barbara and percussion is used to great effect here until the track ends in the astonishing reveal that no matter if she escapes, she’s trapped…out in the ocean on an abandoned oil derrick!

On top of all this incredibly composed material, McCuistion provides us with his very own Batman theme which is just phenomenal without stepping on the toes of Walker or Elfman. I wish the theme had been used more than once (it only ever appears in this film), but it’s a welcome piece of music to lyrically describe the character of Batman.



It has flight and power; it’s heroic like the Elliot Goldenthal theme yet it doesn’t go quite that far in terms of the whimsical or the zany. It still commands authority and maintains an under bite of darkness that’s synonymous with the character. Whether it’s played slowly and menacingly (“Batman & Robin”/Jewel Thieves Captured”) or bold and dynamic (1:30 into “Batwing/Surgery”), it represents both Batman the predatory vigilante and Batman the costumed hero tremendously.

Mr. Freeze (as the villain of the piece) gets a new theme as well and what I love about it is the fact that, given his tragic origin, the theme was tailored by Mike so that it could play off either as an outright villain motif or as an uplifted variation when Freeze aids Batman and Barbara in rescuing Nora from the Oil Derrick.

A number of the remaining cues are in league with “Batman: The Animated Series” as far as catchy action cues full of panache and rhythm. In the end, Mr. Freeze’s love theme for Nora is the star (playing on the film with “End Titles”). I adored that piece of music even as a child and it still holds up to this day.

I wish Warners or LaLa Land Records could re-release this one; it’s a great addition to the Batman musical library to be sure.
Hopefully, along with more score from the series, we’ll get a full blown release somewhere down the line.





Michael McCuistion

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