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THE BIG PICTURE / PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Score One For Batman

The film academy allows Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's 'Dark Knight' music to compete.

December 17, 2008|Patrick Goldstein

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has come to its senses, reversing its misguided decision to disqualify Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score for "The Dark Knight." The academy had initially said there were too many composers listed on the music cue sheet. (The composers had listed a music editor, a sound designer and an arranger as a way of rewarding the people who worked with them on the massive project.) But now Zimmer and Howard can compete for honors in the original score category. So what happened? What made the academy, not an institution especially willing to admit its mistakes, willing to change its mind?

I got Zimmer on the phone the other night. He said that he and Howard first sent a pointed letter to academy exec director Bruce Davis, complaining about the unfairness of the decision. Zimmer then showed up at an executive committee meeting of the music branch to make his case in person. It surely must have helped that Zimmer is one of the town's top composers, having worked on a slew of A-list films and winning an Oscar for "The Lion King." "My basic argument was: Composers are honest human beings," he told me. "If we're telling you that we, and we alone, wrote the score, why don't you believe us? We were very candid. We said, 'Why would we lie? And if you don't believe us, go ask Chris Nolan, the film's director. He saw who did the work.' "

According to Zimmer, the score for "The Dark Knight" was the product of a singular vision. "It's very stylistically cohesive -- it wasn't done by committee. James and I divided everything up. I thought the Joker character should have a singular voice, so I [did the score] for him and James basically became the Harvey Dent character and did his score."

Zimmer says the academy is hobbled by far too many arcane rules and regulations. "Look, I've won an Oscar and it meant something because it wasn't just from my peers but from people I really look up to," he says. "But I think the value of the Oscars is being erased by the narrowness and nitpicking of all the academy rules and regulations. The executive committee shouldn't be excluding people's work because of technicalities. Especially today, with all the new work methods and new technology, the academy needs to change -- they have to keep pace if they want to stay relevant."

Zimmer says he's happy the ordeal is over and eager for people to have a chance to hear the score he and Howard put together. He sighed. "I guess it sometimes takes a little time to turn a huge boat around, but I'm glad we did it."

--

patrick.goldstein@latimes.com

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