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Arts & Entertainment

Case Study: The Dark Knight

Hans Zimmer

Lesson time 8:03 min

Learn how Hans accentuated the tension in the already-tense boat scene from The Dark Knight.

Hans Zimmer
Teaches Film Scoring
From collaborating to scoring, Hans Zimmer teaches you how to tell a story with music in 31 exclusive video lessons.
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There are a couple of surprising things going on for a blockbuster Batman movie, I think. One of the things that Batman and the Morgan Freeman character are obviously doing the wrong things with that surveillance thing. They are now doing the immoral thing. And then Chris quite overtly uses the African-American prisoner, who he shoots him as if this guy is a really bad guy, etc. And the other guy on the other side, the businessman, with the gentle face. Basically, it turns our expectations upside down that the big action scene that is going to happen right now is not an action scene. That somebody we don't expect to make a more morally-correct choice will make a morally-correct choice. And I always said to Chris, I love that our action scene is about the nonevent of the bombs going off, the nonevent, the not-the-expected thing. That you're telling the truth by playing against type. And the other piece of baggage that comes with the scene is that was Heath Ledger's last scene. So it's tough to look at. The scene is full of ideas. The idea of surveillance, is it moral? Is it immoral? If we can go ahead and save the world by using our cell phones and the NSA and all that stuff, eavesdropping on us, is that the way to save the world? Or is relying on something as simple as the goodness of one human being, in this case, a guy who, the way Chris has framed it, the way he's dressed in the prison orange, you know, he's got the tattoos. He's got all that stuff. And our instincts are yes, he's going to go. And when he goes, give me that thing, you know, is he threatening? And he's the most moral-- he knows how to make the right moral choice. So the scene is about ideas as opposed to the mathematics of an action scene, or the kineticism of hey, we can make this really exciting by pumping a lot of fast-paced music underneath it. I'm actually trying to create an enormous amount of space, which does create tension, and slow everything down so you'll really take in what is going on. You don't want to die. But you don't know how to take a life. Give it to me. Damian will kill you and take it anyway. I don't want you to miss the scene, by me, during action. Fine. I'll do it. And that was really where I was coming from when I said to Chris, you know, is it OK if I don't write this as an action scene? Doesn't make any sense for us to have to die too. And I understand why Chris wanted to do this as an action scene. The adrenaline is high, etc. And it's in that place of the movie where you would have an action scene. You know, geographically, that's where the action scene would take place. But by actually making it slower than what was going on in the screen, it added far more tension. And it was a bit more elegant to do it that way. Give it to me. You can tell him I took it by force. Give it to me. And I'll d...

Tell a story with music

Hans Zimmer didn’t see a film until he was 12 years old. Since then, he’s scored over 150 films, including Inception, The Lion King, and The Dark Knight. In his MasterClass, the self-taught Academy Award-winner teaches how he creates sounds from nothing, composes compelling character themes, and scores a movie before ever seeing it. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to start film scoring.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Zimmer is one of the best if not the best. It would be nice to have some more specific details, maybe a project file or full screencast of a project, but it's good just to hear anything from Zimmer.

Some good bits here and there and interesting to see him in his studio sharing it with all of us.

I am glad that he is honest about his teaching style, but no apologies are necessary for his language skills.

Amazing classes with Hans sharing his experience and thought process behind his career. Really enjoyed and worth it.


Antonia T.

I love The Dark Knight! Christian Bale, Heath, Nolan and Hans' music = masterpiece.

Rachel R.

This is one of my favorite scenes in The Dark Knight simply because of the music! So intense. It was so cool to hear how Hans accentuated the tension, I am just loving the explanations!

Brent H.

I am a big believer in trying many things musically, knowing some ideas simply don't work. I love Hans' explanation of trying multiple options too! there re no mistakes or bad ideas really, I think some just work better for the scene than others. Playing opposites is also very effective!

Dr. Monnie Chan

True. Slower is more difficult than faster. Being slow on art creation, or even put this philosophy on daily life, we can find our world is different: more focusing and beautiful.

Michael C.

Is anyone else getting an "Access Denied" webpage when they attempt to download the PDF?

Kenneth S.

To play really slowly is really difficult, very true, and very useful. The example scene really shows the effectiveness of that. The whole of the thought process in this lesson and about trying ideas and seeing them through to know if it works or not, and be prepared to shift gears and try something else if it doesn't, is a good reminder. You have to be open enough to compose the music-idea and see how it works, and accept when it doesn't fit or it's not appropriate or working, and try another idea.


I remember that scene and now I know how the score was created. It was a very clever choice to make it SLOW rather than FAST action scene. Totally enjoyed this lesson. Thanks.

sebastiano M.

Wonderful lesson!!! Once again I learned so many concepts and I was able to understand some musical choices. Thank you, Hans

Judith M.

For me the discordance is actually in the heads of the people present on both ships. The weight of their different minds gradually focussing down to the one real question - do I press that button? That's why the notes merge in a dissonant manner, and yet create a powerful answer from the prisoner. He has taken a life before, and the theme keeps up the tension until he shows his true colours. Excellent way of expressing peoples thoughts coalescing into a decision.

Marcus M.

"Don't treat your audience like sheep....make them think." I like that. Also, the part about not being secretive, but being private to avoid the cloudiness of fear of failure is good. Great lesson!