Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bittersweet Celluloid Memories: Saying good bye to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy

Like BENCE I should probably be writing about recent music releases but, as it were, I'm here with nothing to talk about but movies about men in masks of the literal and figurative kind. About 12 hours away now - 12 hours away from Gotham's reckoning, 12 hours away from cramping into the biggest theater of the southwest with a bunch of fair-weather fan nerds, 12 hours away from the end of the most critically successfully comic book film franchise in history. It's bittersweet and I don't want to forget that. It was an 8 year wait for Batman Begins, more like a 15 year wait if your'e talking about not just waiting for the next Batman movie but waiting for the next GOOD Batman movie, it was 3 years for The Dark Knight and it's been 4 for this final installment, The Dark Knight Rises. It's been great, the discussions, the hype, the rumors, waiting for trailers like a starving man waiting for his last meal. It's been a journey almost as enjoyable as the films themselves. Nolan brought back the 7-year old in me who watching Batman: The Animated Series like it was cartoon Charles Dickens, he brought back the 3-year old who went Jack Nicholson Joker to my Dad's request to come over to him with a wide open armed reply of "Come on, come get me you sonofabitch!" We'll get Batman on-screen again, but like those of us who may have been tied in deeply with Lord of the Rings, The Matrix Trilogy or the Star Wars saga, it's a bittersweet thing to knowingly go into the last of something that means so much to you. We'll get Batman on-screen again, but will it ever mean so much? This is our generations Bats, and that's nothing anyone can take away.

I still remember how I felt in that IMAX theater seeing the "Dock scene" for the first time, and feeling that for the first time since the animated series a Batman in action scene was done right outside of comics. Those who said they were confused by the shooting/editing of the scene honestly just. don't. get. it. 
Begin: Batman Begins - First off, I want to mention to the "TDK only made buck cause of Ledger's death" naysayers, look at the box office - Begins opened with a decent amount (there was a lot of doubt on if Batman could be good again) it should have finished up with an X-Men-esque $150 million or so US, yet not only passed $200 million but sold MAJORLY on DVD (I still remember driving all over the city trying to find the Deluxe special DVD set with the comic, I finally found one at K-Mart of all places). Going back to the beginning of Begins, I still remember hearing that "the Memento guy is doing a new Batman!" It was exciting news, because hey, it's Batman on-screen again! Memento was also an important movie for me, it was one of the key movies in what I call my bridge phase. The moment my movie buff ways bridged over from Speilberg and Lucas and Cameron to a whole new world of more serious films, it also made me want to be an editor. However, I won't lie, I had my doubts, or more, reservations. That's what happens when a friend tells you Batman & Robin is the best in the series so you go see it only to go "What the f**k was that?" Here years later I was in college as hype built, and I remember a friend, we'll just call him Dave for names sake, brought Manny and myself over to show us "the new Batmobile." We weren't particularly impressed with what we saw, well, before we saw the movie or any trailers anyhow. I went on opening day in the early afternoon, a brand new IMAX nearby, the first movie it was showing? Batman Begins. It was a group of college kids and my excitement built as it really hit me: We're seeing Batman on a huge screen again. Begins is an underrated film, the most underrated and undervalued of the series. It's the perfect origin movie, and it's non-linear storytelling is brilliantly put together by editor Lee Smith. The dock scene where Batman first reveals himself is probably my favorite scene of the first two films, because as I watched it, for the first time since the aforementioned Batman: the Animated Series I felt someone had gotten a Batman "in action" scene right. I also was excited that Nolan and Goyer had decided to tackle Bruce's "lost" years where he was gone from Gotham, and they did it right. For the first time in a Batman film, Wayne had a psyche that made us interested in why he was willing to make himself look like an idiot in front of others to battle his demons - and crime. Scarecrow was always my favorite villain and while the definite Scarecrow role has yet to be done (no offense to Cillian Murphy, I don't mean his acting, I mean the depth of role) it was great to see it on-screen, specifically when he gives Batman his first taste (or inhale) of defeat in the Narrows. Also, Nolan taking from James Cameron and going the "4th act" route gave the film a sense of epic and above and beyond it wouldn't have otherwise had. Leaving the theater, most of us felt we had to go back and re-watch 1989's Batman to be sure but we knew...this may have topped it. It did, and that Friday while filming a short called Phantom Reflection  we stood around in between shots wondering if whoever would be Joker could top Jack Nicholson's then definitive performance. Well...

Chris Nolan has gone in-depth about this being his favorite scene from the second in his trilogy. It may or may not be favorite scene in the film, it's certainly the most iconic. DP Wally Pfister shot it 4 F-Stops over-exposed which was later brought down in post on the Avid, it gives a very unique look to the scene's lighting.
Falls: The Dark Knight - Going back to those naysayers who like to believe this film was a phenomenon based solely on the hype of Ledgers death, lets look at some things again: First off, Begins  ultimately grew quite a fan base, second off, this was not the first, not the second, not the third but the FOURTH time a Batman film set the record for biggest opening weekend gross. America loves Batman, with or without Heath Ledger, so get over that. Ledger's performance was hyped MAJORLY the summer of filming and even more-so after the prologue debuted in front of I Am Legend, all before Ledger's untimely passing. I'll be honest though, Ledger's death did add to the hype and box office total, but it didn't create a blockbuster, it was already there. This film was lighting in a bottle, and while Dark Knight Rises may top it as a film and financially, it will not be the pop culture phenomenon it was, you cannot re-create the summer of 2008, but we can re-live it in our minds. From the moment Nolan went against fan outcries ("Mark Hamill!" "Paul Bettany!") with Heath Ledger as the choice of Joker (at this point after Memento, Begins and The Prestige I was in "trust Nolan until he fails us" mode) we knew were not getting what we expected, or even THOUGHT we wanted, we got the Batman film we needed but didn't deserve. Just as Blade Runner served as the film playing in the back of Nolan's mind during filming of Begins, he had Michael Mann's Heat playing there this time around. Great film, but inspiration for a comic book film? Awesome. Hype built over the cryptic teaser at Comicon (our first taste of Ledgers Joker voice) a cryptic picture of Joker and ultimately what is still the greatest viral campaign a film has ever had. The websites, the falling Joker cards, it was truly astonishing what went into it, all the way up through the genius of releasing a prologue attached to a big Christmas blockbuster and then maybe the greatest trailer in the modern era, and yes, Ledger's unfortunate death. I remember sitting in a diner, dressed as Batman in a suit (my idea was he was dressed up for his own movies premiere) with Manny as we waited for our midnight showing.  Maybe 15-minutes into the movie Manny looked to me, and referring to an earlier conversation we had about if we liked it we'd go see it again soon, and said "I'm thinking about taking off tomorrow and watching it again. I mean, going to see it as many times as we can tomorrow." It was pretty much all we spoke to each other for the 150+ minute runtime, something our mutual friend said was the most silent he ever heard the two of us in a film. Why? Because it was done right, it truly was the Godfather II of comic films. A film that stood as comic film AND as a standalone crime thriller. While Bruce's story took a bit of a backseat, but it's hard for it not to be. The key in the film for Bruce is that he is now lost in his monster, his soul exits solely for those crime fighting nights, Bruce Wayne has truly become his mask as Rachel says at the end of Begins. The main arcs are the rise and fall of Harvey Dent and the idea that Gotham is evolving from a Mob-controlled crime to a Crazy-Controlled crime. The movie starts in high gear with it's bank robbery and just keeps adding and escalating (escalation being the key theme of the film) and just when you think the film may finally be slowing down - the truck chase and Joker's capture for instance - it's just beginning. I saw The Dark Knight 9 times during it's theatrical run, by far the most I've ever seen a film in theaters. 8 of those 9 trips I literally got goosebumps at the end, after Gordon's speech, as Batman rides off on the Batpod, a hint of lens flare comes in the camera and it cuts to black. The movie still hits me in that way, re-watching it last night the goosebumps were there again. My favorite scene or moment is hard to choose - the pencil trick? Truck flip? Two Face's reveal? Bank Heist? Scarecrow's cameo? My favorite moment is maybe the multi-story ramp-up editing we see as Joker takes out a Judge, a Commissioner and sets himself up to meet Harvey Dent. My favorite scene is when Joker sets a huge pile of cash (with a Mob accountant hog-tied on top of it) on fire, declaring that "it's not about money, it's about sending a message" and that "this town deserves a better class of criminal - and I'm gonna give it to them." Just like that it was over though, three years of waiting, 9 times of viewing, and we really didn't know what to expect next. Would Nolan ever rise to the occasion of making another Bat film?

Nolan has said that technically speaking this is the biggest film since the silent era. From the huge six-month shooting schedule, the thousands of extras, and his love of practical effects (even in a scene that required CGI additions like the football stadium scene we'll see) and 72 minutes in the 70MM 18K resolution IMAX format you have to believe him...
Rises: Dark Knight Rises - "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up." A phrase and theme important to Batman Begins and seems it's a theme - and probably a saying - that will spike it's away into this film. With the end of the last film being built on so many lies (Batman and Gordon's lie about Dent; Alfred burning Rachel's letter) we know the fallen Dark Knight will rise, and we can speculate, but it'll be fun to see how Batman picks himself back up, then gets beaten down by Bane and then picks himself up again. It can also be said of this franchise. Who ever knew after falling to such low lows it could soar to such high highs with this re-boot. Like Dylan going electric for rock, Nolan taking a hold of Batman has changed the shape of the comic and blockbuster film. And It's been another fun four years in which we got another Nolan film in-between (the excellent Inception) and it's finally here. I'm not gonna say much, in fact I'm not gonna say anything, though I did go into my thoughts on the PROLOGUE (another fun part of the marketing once again). Just that as excited as I am for that wait to be over, I'm sad to see this journey end. Team Nolan is done with Batman, and while I'm not done enjoying Batman, this series, which started when I was in college, is over now. It's been fun, it's bittersweet. In 12 hours the reckoning is here. The end is hear. The film is here. I'll be there.


  1. Awesome job, I'm pretty sure Batman might be the most often discussed person on here. Him and then probably Bob Dylan, and Stanley Tucci....

  2. Nobody out-Maus' Stanley Tucci...NOBODY*

    *-Manny has a gun pointed to his iPhone camera, face timing me the image forcing me to say that.

  3. Also, I rewatched Dark Knight this morning while I was typing my article, I love the better class of criminal line, I really love the delivery on "aggressive expansion!", and I love Alfred's story about Burma, but man I don't think I could choose a favorite part. Like There Will Be Blood, this is a modern masterpiece, a near flawless film....lastly as I rewatched Begins as well...Neeson is an awesome Ras al Ghul...

  4. I guess we all re-watched the films as we close in on TDKR, for me it had (believe it or not) been a while since I had seen either and those are two fantastic films that compliment each other very well. Choosing one is like choosing my favorite future child...well not really but they are both succeed so well...Neeson, as Manny said, doesn't get enough love for his role in Begins. Totally turned his cliche father/mentor figure role he played so often up till that point upside down!