Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Shedding light on "The Dark Knight"

Even though I'm not really a DC buff, preferring the Marvel universe by leaps and bounds, I still do enjoy all things comicky, even if it means dipping my feet into the waters of the DC Universe.

Don't get me wrong though, it's not like I completely abhor DC characters and the world they live in. I just PREFER Marvel in general. Heck, some of my favourite stories of all time (and comics I might add) are from DC! Preacher, Watchmen, Alan Moore's ABC line of books...though technically Preacher was a Vertigo title (a mature readers line of DC books), the ABC line was an off-shoot of Wildstorm, which had been bought over by DC, and Watchmen, while published by DC, didn't contain any of the notable characters from the regular DC universe.

But I DO have some favourite stuff published in the mainstream DC universe though. Titles like Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis, all the big books drawn by Alex Ross like Superman: Peace on Earth et al, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Batman: The Long Halloween, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One...just to name a few. So once again, it's not like I eschew DC Comics altogether...I'm just more of a Marvel guy.

Anyway, the one thing that I'm ALWAYS excited about, regardless of which company or organisation is movies that are based on comic book properties! I just love comic book movies whether they're superb (X-Men 2, Hellboy, Batman Begins), mediocre (Daredevil, Punisher, Superman Returns) or just plain bad (Batman and Robin). And there are a whole bunch of comic book movies coming out in the next year...they did a great job on Batman Begins, so I'm anxiously waiting for The Dark Knight!

Get the first word on Heath Ledger as the Joker, the return of Two-Face and the early footage broken down frame-by-frame

By Rickey Purdin

Posted October 1, 2007 9:50 AM

“If it was up to me, you wouldn’t see anything until the movie came out,” said “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan without any hint of apology. As he introduced a super-secret clip of the film to 1,200 screaming fans at Wizard World Chicago during an exclusive “Dark Knight” panel, Nolan made sure the audience knew just how special the viewing was. Considering Nolan went to great lengths to keep the film protected from prying, spoiler-hungry eyes (the production was once codenamed “Rory’s First Kiss” to lessen attention), it was clear Nolan wasn’t comfortable exhibiting an unfinished product.

“Please be kind,” added the anxious director as security guards crept into the aisles with infrared night-vision gear to catch attendees attempting to record the footage. “This is a rough, rough cut.”

What followed, despite only shooting for nearly four months in Chicago, was about two minutes of pure Bat-fan-gasm, filled with plenty of Heath Ledger’s Joker, tons of action and the world’s first glimpse at the film’s other villain—Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face.

The director has every right to be secretive. The sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins” doesn’t open until July 18, 2008, after all. Plus, if it weren’t for Nolan’s fresh, practical, cinematic approach to the Bat-mythos, the world’s last memories of a big-screen Bruce Wayne would’ve been lost in a sea of Bat-nipples thanks to a sputtered-out ’90s franchise. He’s earned the right to dictate what people see and when.

But it’s time to lift that leathery cowl and explore the elements of “The Dark Knight” that will make it DC Comics’ biggest blockbuster yet.

Moments before “Batman Begins” ended, Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman) approached Christian Bale’s Batman about a new thug in town, and in every theater across the land, the flashing of the joker playing card sent movie-goers into unbridled fits of hoots and hollers.

“We found a way of looking at the character and saw what role he could play in the film,” explained Nolan. “The joker card at the end of the first film created the right kind of feeling. That was the hook that got us thinking about the next one.”

Nolan’s writing partner (and younger brother) Jonah pointed the director toward the Joker’s first two comic book stories, both of which took place in 1940’s Batman #1. “We’ve come around to something that’s eerily close to those first two appearances,” revealed the director.

In the issue, the Joker appears as a grinning mastermind who predicts his murderous crimes over the radio before meticulously carrying them out. Each cold-blooded, calculated killing ultimately ends with the victim’s face frozen into a solid, monstrous grin. If the film version follows closely, as the writers have said it will, expect plenty of chilling death scenes.

“Once we established ‘Batman Begins,’ it was one take on Batman,” explained screenwriter David S. Goyer. “We had to decide, ‘How does the Joker fit in this world?’”

Part of that problem was solved when actor Heath Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”) joined the cast in July 2006. One of the premier actors of his generation, Ledger dove into the role with an understanding of what he didn’t want to convey in the film.

“I’m not going for the same thing [Jack Nicholson] went for,” Ledger said in interviews. “That would be stupid. Tim Burton did a more fantastical kind of thing and Chris Nolan is doing nitty-gritty handheld realism. I love what [Nicholson] did, and that is part of why I want to do that role. But it would obviously be murder if I tried to imitate what he did.”

“What Heath is doing,” Oldman triumphantly stated in Chicago, searching for the right words to finish his thought, “…he’s going to knock everyone out of the park.”

Oldman’s words came true moments later during the screened footage. Flashing between scenes of the Joker robbing a bank and taking a Batman-administered body-slam in a police station, the teaser hit its Joker crescendo when a tired, emotionless Joker steadily opened machine gun fire on Gotham. Empty, deranged and angry, this was the Joker the audience was waiting for, and their wall-shaking screams confirmed it.

But it was the unexpected cameo of another villain that brought down the house.

In “Batman Begins,” mob kingpin Carmine Falcone rules Gotham’s underground. When good guy District Attorney Carl Banks sticks his nose in Falcone’s business, he finds himself on the receiving end of a gangland shooting. Fast-forward shortly afterwards and Harvey Dent arrives on the scene.

“Dark Knight” promotional art features Dent running for DA, and like his comic counterpart, he wins the election. Vowing to clean up the city’s rampant crime rate, Dent takes a no-nonsense, Eliot Ness stance and mows down the street scum at the court level behind Lt. Gordon’s growing arrest record. Of course, that justice crusade comes with a price.

While the exact details leading up to Dent’s disfigurement haven’t been made public, comic fans can tell you Dent suffered acid burns over half his face during a court case. The attack sent Dent into a psychotic fit, resulting in the birth of the unhinged Two-Face. As soon as Eckhart was announced as Dent in February 2007, fans wondered if the actor might pull double duty as Two-Face, too. The footage in Chicago, along with comments made by Eckhart in interviews, put those questions to bed.

In the final moments of the clip, as explosions and sightings of the Joker resonated in the brains of the audience, a half-dollar spins wildly onto a barroom table. Two-Face plops down in a bar stool on screen with his back to the camera.

A bartender timidly pours a shot while staring up at Two-Face, crimson-maroon scar tissue running down the left side of the villain’s neck below slightly discolored hair. “Dent?” the jarred man screams in disbelief. “I thought you were dead!”

Then Two-Face speaks for the first time, saying only one word with a gravel-filled but glib voice: “Half.”

“Batman is a complex character, and Two-Face comes a little bit from the same world,” Eckhart explained in interviews. “I’m looking for the tension between the two, the similarities between the two. I want to find what’s similar to Batman and then find what’s opposite to him.”

The title “The Dark Knight” provides a bigger clue to the movie’s plot than you might think. Just like “Batman Begins” explored the beginnings of Batman, “Dark Knight” looks to explore the Caped Crusader’s full-on immersion into protecting Gotham from its own shadows.

“‘Batman Begins’ was an origin story, and the important thing was to move the story forward,” described Nolan of the first film’s themes. “In [‘Dark Knight’], the detective [elements] will help move the story along.”

Reports indicate “Dark Knight” takes place shortly after the end of “Batman Begins” with Gordon still trying to clean up the Gotham streets after his promotion to lieutenant, Bruce Wayne rebuilding his family home with trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Batman refining his crimefighting methods when new baddies hit town.

After Bats took down Falcone in the last film, a criminal power vacuum sucks countless thugs and gangsters into Gotham with plans to control the city. This, of course, summons plenty of the eccentric villains Gotham is known for, and as more and more fill the streets, Batman, Gordon and Dent scramble to keep the peace. The influx of new bad guys also pushes Bats to develop new gadgets, including a streamlined bodysuit complete with projectile glove blades and a “Batpod” motorbike packing grappling hooks, cannons and machine guns.

Meanwhile, according to the teaser trailers, the lower criminals start to side with a single leader in desperation as the mobsters begin picking each other off. In the clip, Bruce Wayne and Alfred discuss the crime wave before Alfred lays the situation out on the line.

“You hammered them, and in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand,” he says, referring to the Joker. “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The Chicago footage echoed that sentiment as scenes of Gotham cars and buildings literally on fire littered the clip, proving the power struggle mutates into a gang war at one point. As for Joker plot specifics, Ledger points to one comic in particular.

The Killing Joke was the one that was handed to me,” admitted the actor in interviews. “I guess that book explains a little bit of where [the Joker’s] from, but not too much.”

The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore with art by Brian Bolland, explores the origins of the man who would become the Joker—a loser comedian caught up in a crime and then accidentally disfigured after his wife and baby die in an unconnected mishap. And even if the details are different, a similar, sympathetic glimpse into the slow, tortured birth of the Joker may be present in “Dark Knight.”

Aside from the fact that “Dark Knight” marks the first time a Batman film hasn’t featured the hero’s name in the title, it’s also the first film to feature a returning love interest for the character—kinda.

In “Batman Begins,” Katie Holmes played Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend Rachel Dawes, who becomes Gotham’s assistant DA. Later in the film, Dawes and Wayne begin sharing a slim romantic link after she discovers he’s Batman.

In January 2007, reports of Holmes leaving the cast surfaced. Her reps revealed the actress had joined the cast of “Mad Money,” a buddy film with Queen Latifah and Diane Keaton with a conflicting shooting schedule that would keep her from appearing in both films. In March 2007, Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Stranger Than Fiction”) was announced as her replacement.

“I’m not thinking of it as a role that anyone’s played before,” related Gyllenhaal to sources. “I’m not walking into Katie Holmes’ performance. I’m thinking of it as an opportunity to play somebody who’s alive and smart. Chris asked me to do this because he wanted me, not because he wants some generic lady in a dress.

“Doing Batman has shocked me at every turn,” noted the actress. “When I started, I thought, ‘Well, it’s a huge movie, I’ll just do my best to put what I can into it.’ But, in fact, they’ve been really hungry for my ideas.”

In “Dark Knight,” expect Dawes and Dent to spend some quality time together as Dent takes over the DA’s office. A love triangle has even been hinted at involving Wayne, and the Chicago clip teased a freaky scene with the Joker holding a knife to Dawes’ shivering neck as he slowly spins her around a room.

But these aren’t the only new players in Gotham.

Everyone knows about the major villains plowing through “Dark Knight,” but what about the surprising stars flying under the radar?

For starters, Eric Roberts, the Oscar-nominated actor who appeared in five episodes of NBC’s “Heroes” last season, plays Salvatore Maroni, a rising mob boss. In the comics, Maroni is responsible for scarring Harvey Dent’s face with acid, creating Dent’s Two-Face persona.

“Spawn” star Michael Jai White beat out hulking rapper David Banner among others for the role of Gamble, a new mobster who bumps heads with Maroni and other mob elements.

But not just ordinary underworld figures are set to appear. Early spy reports from the “Dark Knight” set in downtown Chicago surmised that the Scarecrow would pop up in the film. Amateur video caught a man in a brown hood and suit (the costume worn by actor Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow in the first film) backed by a gang and arguing with another group of people during a scene in a parking garage. The report jells with the plot, as it would make sense for Scarecrow to make a play for the Gotham underworld.

Murphy wouldn’t comment when approached about the report, but did tell sources just after “Batman Begins” bowed that he was signed to do more than one Bat-film. He’s not the only speculated super-cameo, though.

Anthony Michael Hall (“The Dead Zone”) told sources in May 2007 he’d also joined the cast, but couldn’t specify his role.

“I signed a confidentiality agreement, and I can’t say which part I’m playing because it affects the story,” said the actor. “I can’t give away the suspense. It’s a $200 million surprise, and I don’t want to be the guy to ruin it.”

Online gossip pegged Hall’s expensive secret as the Riddler, a Batman foe obsessed with puzzles. Other reports indicate Hall plays a Gotham journalist obsessed with Bruce Wayne. Whatever the secret is, it’s not a stretch to imagine comic book Easter eggs hidden all over the film. After Arkham Asylum, home to many Gotham villains, was partially destroyed in “Batman Begins,” don’t be surprised to see more Bat-rogues lining up for a slice of the crime spree pie in “Dark Knight” or even a possible third movie.

“The script leaves room for a very interesting follow-up,” Bale admitted to sources. “I think we could take it somewhere else.”

As long as the secretive Nolan’s onboard, expect that somewhere else to be the top of the box-office charts.

The thing I'm looking forward to the most about the movie? Seeing Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. He just looks perfect and was born to play the charismatic district attorney who will eventually become one of Batman's greatest nemesis: Two-Face.


j said...

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Dark Knight said...

The Dark Knight is going to be a great movie!