Monday, December 15, 2008

The Best Batman Film of Them All! (Not Quite a DVD Review...but Long Anyway!)

I’m referring to 2008’s “The Dark Knight”, which I’ve just seen for the first time on DVD (…more about which HERE).

This is not exactly a DVD review. I won’t go too deeply into the film, and risk spoiling anything for the few interested parties who might not have seen it yet, but instead toss out some random observations.

If you WANT to spoil things, just click HERE.


Heath Ledger very definitely lives up to the hype as The Joker. He brings a new level of visual grotesqueness to the character yet, conversely, plays him in a remarkably understated way.

The very best contemporary comic-book versions of The Joker (…from O’Neil and Adams’ “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” [1973] to Moore and Bolland’s “The Killing Joke” [1988] and beyond) are those that put a scare into you – as the original Bob Kane version and the post-1960s version was meant to do. Ledger’s Joker does exactly that… and even pulls off the type of remarkably unexpected “surprise murders” that Kane’s Joker did, way back in BATMAN # 1!

The film doesn’t waste time on The Joker’s origin! We’ve seen SO MANY different versions of it in various comic books (“The Killing Joke” being a prime example), the 1989 BATMAN film (Jack Nicholson’s version) and even in BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES (“Beware the Creeper”). Since there is no one “definitive” version of this seminal moment for the grandest of all comic-book villains, why toss “just another version” on the pile here and detract from the larger story at hand.

In terms of capturing the essence of the “Contemporary Batman”, Christian Bale may be the best of all. He, too, tends toward the frightening, as a good modern Batman should. Borrowing from the best version of the character outside of the comics medium, (BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES), Bale lowers his voice to a scary, raspy pitch when speaking as Batman.

We get yet another origin for Harvey Dent/Two Face. This is not consistent with ANY previous version – comics, animated, or feature film. But, it is SO well executed within the story context of “The Dark Knight”, that it may stand second only to the shockingly original “Lye-In-The-Face” early comic-book origin.

Arron Eckhart is convincing as both crusading District Attorney Harvey Dent and the schizophrenic Two Face. And the make-up job on the “bad side” of Dent’s face is about as perfect as Two Face could ever look!

The supporting cast of characters is in great hands with Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Captain (and later in the film) Commissioner Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Cain, Oldman, and Freeman truly look the part and play the part well, and that is very important to someone like me who has a concrete image of what these classic characters should look and act like. To digress, Oldman may be the only actor to be successfully cast as both an established Irwin Allen character and an established DC Comics character – Doctor Zachary Smith and Commissioner Gordon, respectively.

One more striking difference between “The Dark Knight” and other contemporary media versions of Batman is in the depiction of GOTHAM CITY itself.

In the previous films, as well as the Animated Series, Gotham is presented as some sort of “dark fantasy land”. Consider Anton Furst’s designs and their subsequent derivatives for the films – and the “Max Fleischer Superman / Art Deco” inspired architecture employed in the Animated Series.

Here, it is presented as a “NORMAL CITY” and, as such, a more effective backdrop for Batman, The Joker, and Two Face. These extraordinary characters “stand out” more because the set doesn’t “steal the scene” from them.


It is clearly a “Loud Film” and, for living room DVD watching, I found myself constantly adjusting the volume up to hear softly spoken dialogue and down to diminish the explosive effects. If you live with someone “sensitive” to his or her surroundings, it might be best to play this when you are home alone. I may revisit it to play with “Captioning On”, just to catch some of the things I may have missed.

The lead up to the climax, where Batman employs a cowl-activated optical device – giving him almost omnipotent visual powers, is rather confusing to watch and decipher. If I can consider Esther as typical of the “vast uninitiated”, her confusion with and dislike of this scene is probably justified. I wasn’t exactly on-board with it myself.

The early “mob / money laundering / Asian connection” bits
just seem to lengthen the film unnecessarily – but they do open the door through which Heath Ledger’s wonderful version of The Joker walks in, so I’ll consider it a necessary (though overlong) evil.

Yes, the character of Rachel Dawes is superfluous… but there is no annoying soundtrack by Prince, no “Tim Burton Weirdness”, no “blonde guy playing Bruce Wayne” and no inappropriate “Joel Schumacher Camp” and complete misinterpretation of established comic-book characters. Given all this, Rachel isn’t all that bad… and this time she isn’t played by Katie Holmes! To celebrity gossip-weary me, that’s a good thing!


Director Christopher Nolan started something extraordinary with his “Batman Begins”, which resulted in “The Dark Knight” – in my opinion, the best Batman film of them all!

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