Thursday, July 17, 2008

Batman


The new Batman movie opens tonight and expectations are astronomical for this one:
Studio sources tell me that record-breaking advance ticket sales for Warner Bros' Batman: The Dark Knight "continue to grow at a pace unlike any other film in history". Even the number of locations in North America where the comic book caper will be playing -- 4,366 -- is an Industry record. There are also approximately 3,000 theaters that will start screening the actioner at 12:01AM Friday. Meanwhile, every IMAX show in New York City this weekend is sold out. By all accounts this should be Hollywood's best-ever 3-day overall North American weekend at the box office: the number to beat is last year's $151+ million....

But the WB insiders point to all the increased competition at the megaplex now as opposed to the beginning of May. Whereas my box office gurus are predicting domestic gross as high as $130M for the wildly anticipated Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale film because of all those record-breaking early ticket sales at North American runs, including IMAX. That would put it 3rd in terms of all-time opening 3-day weekends -- behind Spider-Man 3 ($151.1M on May 4-6, 2007)and Pirates Of The Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest ($131.6M on July 7, 2006).

It will be huge. I'll go see it, but I'll likely wait a week or so for the crowds to die down.

This will be the first movie I've gone to since 300. I just don't go to theaters any more. Overpriced, for one. I only go to afternoon matinees, so I can avoid the obnoxious masses. Plus, most movies just don't appeal any more.

I used to rent a lot of DVDs but I stopped that too. Haven't rented one in almost a year, I think. Even with the killer selection at Midtown Videos on Union, right around the corner, I'm just not interested.

I read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey many years ago. Vogler was a reader of movie scripts for a Hollywood studio and he developed a framework that he felt all scripts should follow if they wanted to be successful. It was based on the Joseph Campbell book Hero With a Thousand Faces, which I've also read, and the theories of Carl Jung. It's basically "The Hero's Journey" distilled.

Every Hollywood movie seems to have adopted his formula and ever since every movie seems formulaic and predictable. In addition, most movies are geared for stupid people, pull punches and consistently take the easy way out. I hate it and won't watch it.

I'm also bothered by the attitudes of the people who make these movies today. It's as if the orchestra no longer falls in behind the conductor, trying to work together, but each instrument is playing as though they are the only and most important element. Each element isn't balancing against the others under the director's guidance, but playing at 11 so everyone notices them and their work.

But enough of that rant! What I'm most looking forward to in the new Batman movie is the Joker. I've heard many great things so far about Heath Ledger's portrayal and the way the screenwriters have written this Joker. It's the first time the character is being presented in movies or TV not as a comic figure but as a terrifying one, the embodiment of anarchism and sadism. As I've told friends: With this Joker, when he tells a joke, he's the only one who laughs. Everyone else is either sick to their stomach or frightened out of their mind.

This Joker presents you with impossible choices: two people are going to die at the same moment, which will you save? The one you love or the ones you've sworn to protect? Then he laughs no matter which way you choose! Save someone you love? He laughs at your weakness. Save the people? He laughs at your principles and the loss of your loved one! And the movie doesn't pull punches about real peril, either. Important people really die.

A lot of folks like Jack Nicholson's Joker, but to me he was awful. He was a braying buffoon who was as much about "Nicholson is the Joker" as anything else. Nicholson was, frankly, too old and fat for the part. He was long past his scary days in Five Easy Pieces and The Shining, when his playing the Joker might have given us something revealing.

Speaking of actors past their prime, it's too bad Clint Eastwood wasn't able to play Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns Batman when he was in his fifties. That would have been absolutely spectacular, with the right script and director.

While we're on tangents, I have to say that one of my most favorite film moments was in the first Bale/Nolan Batman movie. When Batman hauls the fat, corrupt cop up a rope, upside down, dozens of feet above the sidewalk in a rain-slashed alley, and grills him on what he knows about corruption, the cop wails, "That's all I know! I swear to God!" Batman grabs him and pulls their faces together, then roars in that gravelly growl, "SWEAR to ME!"

Whoo. Chills right up the spine.

I'm hoping for more of those kinds of moments in the new Batman movie.

Where the first Bale/Nolan Batman went wrong, for me, was in the ending, with the whole of the city being gassed, terrified people running around and the monorail car fight with Ras Al'Ghul. It seemed too Hollywood-formulaic in its "let's escalate this OVER THE TOP!" Yeah, it's right for a superhero movie, but after the resolute way the movie kept things small-scale and personal up to that point, it just felt wrong.

My understanding of the new movie is that the battle is between Batman and Joker (with Two-Face's story intertwined). The big explosions and what-not are the backdrop, not the main item, so that the movie feels more epic in sweep this time, and not inflated. I hope so.

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