Friday, August 17, 2012

Why Christopher Nolan's trilogy is NOT definitive, but damn close. (Part 2)

What comes to mind when you hear The Dark Knight uttered as a movie title?

Heath Ledger.

What else?

I often hear, "It's the greatest Batman movie ever made."

Why? I ask.

Because Heath Ledger was awesome, dude.

I'm asking why it's the greatest Batman movie ever made. Heath Ledger's performance not withstanding, can you tell me why it's the greatest Batman movie ever made?

Um... That car chase is cool?

That's about it.

Heath Ledger.

That sums up the second film in Christopher Nolan's trilogy.

I read a retrospective review by Matt Brunson from Creative Loafing with the release of The Dark Knight Rises. He touched on Tim Burton and Joel Shumacher and finished with Rises. It was a thoughtful set of reviews, although I have to disagree with four stars on The Dark Knight. Two stars would have been more accurate in my opinion.

Here's why:

The Dark Knight begins the downfall of the trilogy.

A bold statement?

Watch it. Better yet, read the script.

I spent a lot of time with that script (probably more than was mentally healthy).

What I discovered was a story filled with a ton of expositional dialogue, but no substance.

Matt Brunson states in his review that the film wears its menace on its sleeve. I agree.  He also goes on to say that Harvey Dent is the only character with a complete arc.

There I have to seriously disagree. None of the characters have a successful arc. Not one. Harvey Dent's transition is superficial at best. It's built on snippets of shallow dialogue between him and Rachel Dawes. Their relationship is never fully realized (emotionally consummated with any moments of true intimacy as it were). So when Dent undergoes his transformation, it's never believable. That does not make an arc. It makes a shallow attempt at trying to shove another Bat-villain into an already bloated story.

But that is not why The Dark Knight is the downfall (Knightfall as it were).

No. That is just another burr in my craw.

My issue with The Dark Knight starts in the end of Begins.

Christopher Nolan was on the mark at the beginning of the trilogy. Fear. That was the key to the iconic character of Batman. Nolan incorporates that into Batman's first appearance (and even during the training sessions with Liam Neeson's Ra's). Remember the explosive powder? Theatricality being a powerful weapon? Well, apparently Batman forgets after the first encounter with the thugs on the dock and doesn't remember again until his fight with Bane in Rises. (Oh, yeah. I've got explosive pellets in the utility belt. I should use those, they're only over ten years old.)

The Dark Knight is full of introductions. Joker's first appearance. Batman's first appearance (one of the worst in the history of the franchise). Batman's first confrontation with the Joker. All missed opportunities.

Think about it. There were more dynamic entrances and intros in the one hour Batman/Superman animated movie than in all three Christopher Nolan movies combined.

As an exercise I reworked the script to put the Joker in the bank before the robbery occurs, although, like the movie, I keep his face hidden. I had him in the bank manager's office, the bank manager tied and gagged. The Joker got in under the guise of delivering flowers and chats in his mischievous way with the bound manager while he waits for the robbery to go down. We see his face in a dramatic reveal before he takes out one of the robbers and dons his mask. This would say way more about his character than the robbers' expositional banter.

In the Batman/Superman animated movie, remember Batman's first appearance in Metropolis? He crashes through a skylight and lands on a table. The gangsters are scared witless. I would be, too.

How does Nolan make Batman's first appearance in The Dark Knight? Batman is standing off camera as a Bat-wannabe walks up to him. Batman flinches like he came from somewhere else. Fight ensues.

The Batman/Joker first meet?

Joker to Rachel: "You got fight in you. I like that."

Batman (Off Screen): "Then you're going to love me." Fight ensues.


What defines the character of Batman?

Fear. The dramatic entrance. Everything that is not Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight.

Go back and watch a few episodes of Batman The Animated Series. You'll see what I'm talking about.

Christopher Nolan's need to ground the franchise in a pseudo-realistic world was a characterization sacrifice that I would not be willing to make. If you take that away from Batman, all you have is a guy with gadgets in a suit. That being the case, you can replace Batman with say, Vigilante and the dynamics don't change.

Tim Burton had a better handle on that. How did Batman make his first appearance to Nicholson's Joker? Hands? Anybody? Batman dropped smoke pellets. BOOM. He drops down through a cloud of smoke, cape spread. That is an entrance.

There is NO DRAMATIC POWER in The Dark Knight. Not from Batman at least (which is what counts). No. All of the intros. All of the cool of that movie goes to the late Heath Ledger. For what that's worth. The film isn't called, "The Joker".

So, if I want a more definitive experience of the Batman, I'll take Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy any day.


Join me for a brief follow up on The Dark Knight and Rises (a much shorter read, I promise!)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Christopher Nolan's trilogy is NOT definitive, but damn close. (Part 1)

While I think that the Christopher Nolan trilogy comes closest than any of its live-action predecessors, I would hardly call it the definitive representation of Batman.

Before you brand me a heretic, hear me out.

Let's start from the beginning.

Batman Begins takes us through Batman's origins, Bruce Wayne's transformation.
A story that I love. From the comic Batman: Year One to the animated Mask of the Phantasm, the different takes on an iconic story have held up.

Where Batman Begins falters is the exact moment that Ra's Al Guhl reveals that Gotham City is to be the target of the League of Shadows. Why is the city to be targeted? Ra's explains that the city represents the penultimate in decadence and corruption. We are told this several times throughout the film, but we never see it. (Yeah, there is that moment between Wayne and Rachel where she gives the nickel tour of homeless, but what city doesn't have that?) Gotham is supposed to be the worst of the worst. But it never really looks too bad. I'd live there. It looks like what you would expect a city to look like. Charlotte. Chicago. L.A. (But I would say that L.A. has more menace.)

Detective Flass is somehow supposed to encapsulate the police corruption and perhaps even the city's, but he isn't enough. He's not dangerous. He's a thug that steals money from street vendors. He never has any real teeth, so when Batman intimidates him, while being cool to watch, lacks the dramatic power that it should have had.

Flass' character works in the comics because he's a tool of the corrupt Commissioner Loeb (a missed opportunity for the film). He's also a threat. At one point, Flass and a few other venal cops in ski-masks ambush the young James Gordon and give him a message in the form of a beating. Get wise or else. Flass as portrayed in the film is little more than a clownish buffoon.

But enough about Flass.

The real culprit is when the Wayne Tech microwave emitter is introduced. This frankly marks the downturn in what is otherwise (with a few exceptions) a good film. Since the microwave emitter hasn't even been alluded to until two-thirds of the way through, its not an easy plot point to work in. But it is necessary.

How is it accomplished? By this point in the story, the only way it can be. It's delivered as a bit of undramatic expositional dialogue to Rutger Hauer's Mister Earle with cut-a-ways to a ship being sunk by the device (the cut-a-ways, I assume were meant to make the exchange of information dramatic. It doesn't).

What makes the introduction of the microwave emitter worse is that it is an obvious story device, one that is wedged in. There's no finesse in this. It's a big deal, but not because we see it as a big deal. The characters tell us, so it must be so. But it is a big deal.  The finale rests on it. Wouldn't you think that it would rate a better intro?

But enough about the damn microwave emitter.

The nail in the coffin. Where the film loses its credulity (not entirely, mind you, but enough to bother me for what that's worth), is when Ra's returns from the dead (at least metaphorically), to wreak havoc on the city of Gotham. His reasons are still the same. Corruption and evil must be purged. I'm still not buying it. Why? We haven't seen it. People have talked enough about it, but talk is cheap. If you're building a whole movie on this, then we have to see it. Seeing is believing after-all.

I still love Batman Begins, but I say that with reservations. For me, of all the live-action representations, it comes closest to capturing the essence of the Batman myth.


Why the Dark Knight is the worst of the trilogy and brings us closer to why the trilogy  is not the definitive Batman.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Marketing vs delusional hyperbole.

I have to admit that I'm not one for self aggrandizement. I don't trust myself well enough for that luxury.

Maybe trust isn't the right word. I believe in the last script I wrote. I believe it's good. Do I believe that it's going to change lives? With the exception of my own, I have to admit no.

That doesn't make it less. I am a realist. I believe in the power of story to change lives. If I didn't, I wouldn't be writing. But I'm not going to be so blind as to try to sell every story as a revolutionary event that is going to change your world and how you function in it. Number one, I don't believe that's going to happen. Number two, that's only setting up your audience for disappointment.

Let's face it. Hyping unrealistic expectations is a bad idea. You might have the greatest story ever told, but that's going to be subjective. There's no way around it.

I mean, look at Sin City the movie. Look at Avatar. They had revolutionary technology, but in the end, everything hinged on story, and you could argue that in that department, they fell flat.

My point, I guess is this. Hype the story first. That is to say, tell me you have a story that you think is good, and you are experimenting with a medium for said story that is unusual or not traditional. I might take a look. But don't try to sell me on the medium first. Now I am wary. And if your story doesn't hold up, then I don't care how you package it. I don't care how new or cool looking it is. Without a great story, I just don't care.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"The Way" = the beauty of subtle story-telling.

I haven't watched "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" yet. I am excited to, but my schedule (and the availability at Redbox) hasn't allowed for it. My wife and I did, however, pick up Emilio Estevez's "The Way".

We were both impressed.

It had a quiet power akin to "Lost in Translation". I was absorbed by the story of a man's journey to find the relationship with his estranged (and now dead) son. It made me acutely aware of my own troubled relationship with my father and how fragile these relationships can be.

In terms of writing, well, I don't know what to say. There are rules (more like commandments really) of show, don't tell. I'm not sure how it applies to this film. In today's more mainstream and even indie environment, there are often extremes. Perhaps that isn't fair. It's just- It seems everything has to be large, over-the-top, or blatantly stated.

I must admit, I haven't been watching enough recent releases to perhaps justify that statement, but it seems to me, even a film like "The Descendants", which I liked, for the most part, went for something overly dramatic. The comatose mother/wife. The revelation of an affair. All make for "loud" dramatic performances. (Again, I liked them.) But what if there is no affair? What if there is no body to yell at? (That happened more than once in The Descendants.) What if there is only a journey?

I would have told you, it can't be done.

And Emilio Estevez would prove me wrong.

Every once in a great while there is one of those films that do more than wow me. Every once in a while there is a film that touches something within me. "The Way" is one of those films.

And I think the main reason is he didn't try too hard. He didn't go crazy with the humorous moments. The dramatic moments are not filled with actors chewing up the scenery.

Quiet. Sincere. Honest. That's it. My hat's off to him.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I just downloaded what looks like the shooting script. I haven't watched it yet, but I might just have to watch and read. This is going to be great learning.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

On to the new.

Finished the third draft of my script. Now it's ready for a reading, then on to submission to Bluecat.

Now I'm into the next script which I have mixed feelings about. It's been 20 years in the making.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Batman classes.

I feel like I could begin teaching a screenwriting class based on my process(es) as a screenwriter.  Is that arrogance?  I'm not sure.

My first class would revolve around Batman as a franchise.  It is a gold mine of information.  What to do and what not to do.  It has mood, story, theme, structure, etc.  A huge history.  An iconic figure.  It would be fun.

I blogged about rewriting the Dark Knight a while back (deleted them), and while I did that as an exercise, I tried teaching it in a class and it was a dismal failure.  I didn't have the skills to communicate it well enough.  I'm getting there, though.