"DARK KNIGHT" WEEK AT THE POPCORN REEL -- FEATURE STORY: CHRISTOPHER NOLAN'S BATMAN, MALEVOLENT, CONVICTED AND CHALLENGED



Give Me The Knight: Christopher Nolan's Bat Metrics
In just seven years Christopher Nolan has gone from being merely the impressive director of the sensational 2001 film "Memento" to the sophisticated architect of a seriously reworked "Batman" feature franchise

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

July 15, 2008

He wears an intense expression at times.  The wheels within are turning.  Christopher Nolan has had to soldier on despite the death of a stuntman during the course of a sweltering hot summer in 2007 in Chicago where "The Dark Knight" had been filming for several months.  "The Dark Knight" is the first feature film to be shot in part in IMAX, the towering eight-story screen format.  The director of "Batman Begins" has been fighting to keep the wraps on the happenings on the set of the follow-up film which opens worldwide on Friday, featuring the opening scene in the format. 

Keeping things under wraps hasn't been easy.

"You have to be more and more careful about the way in which you try and preserve the secret of what you're doing," said Mr. Nolan during a radio roundtable with several journalists, held recently in Los Angeles for the Warner Brothers release.

Christian Bale had been quoted in 2007 about how hot it was wearing the black rubber Bat suit that shrouded his identity.  Mr. Bale may have been sweating inside the bat suit last year but in 2008 he hasn't had to sweat too much about how his Batman would be portrayed in what turned out to be a new bat suit, thanks to Mr. Nolan.  "It was heavier but it was actually much more comfortable.  There's like a hundred and ten parts to this one.  There were three to the original.  I can move my head . . . Chris was very adamant about that," said Mr. Bale in a roundtable in L.A.

"We wanted to stay serious and dramatic with each of the portrayals of every single character," said Mr. Bale, reflecting the tone of "The Dark Knight" director, who himself resisted the idea of being defensive where Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker was concerned.  Said Mr. Nolan: "We weren't going to not do things because someone else had done them before  it was more a question of just trying to be true to the terms of this story and the tone of telling the Batman story that we had established with "Batman Begins", which had a bit of grit to it, a bit of reality to it.  We've tried to push that even further in "The Dark Knight".  And when Heath and I first talked about the Joker and what the Joker would need to be in this telling of the story it was very apparent to both of us that it was going to be very different than had been done before -- not out of a reaction to previous incarnations but because the story demands something different.  It demands something very frightening, very palpably real and potentially dangerous.  We really focused in on this idea as the Joker as an absolute force of pure anarchy, somebody devoted to chaos, somebody who truly does just take pleasure in tearing down the world around them."

The recklessness of man has been an underpinning of Christopher Nolan's feature films as have the alternately wanton and erring ways of the British director's protagonists.  In "Memento", released in March 2001 in the U.S., Guy Pearce played a man whose short-term memory allows him to literally forget -- whether conveniently or otherwise -- who he really is.  Where "Memento" was an ingenious dual narrative featuring opposite and dueling chronological and reverse real-time stories, the 2003 film "Insomnia" showcased a tormented middle-aged police detective (Al Pacino) whose frailty is sleepless nights and bad judgment.  In what was Mr. Nolan's most underwhelming film Mr. Pacino was the right person for the job, displaying a vulnerability and humanity that rendered him more sympathetic than sinful.  With "Batman Begins" in 2005 it was Mr. Bale's turn to face the duality test as Gotham's crime-fighting crusader, and now in "The Dark Knight", Mr. Bale finds himself pushed to the brink in the test of shades of good and bad.  But it is now two, not one character who has to face or embrace the more unpleasant part of themselves.  Both Batman and Joker are strange bedfellows, capable of menace and might in the same breath -- they are each other's worst boogeyman.

Other previous editions of Batman on the big screen have been largely cosmetic.  Whether in high-gloss production values in Tim Burton's visions ("Batman" in 1989 and "Batman Returns" in 1992) or the amusing, colorful camp of Joel Schumacher's films ("Batman Forever" in 1995 and "Batman &  Robin" in 1997), all hint at or exemplify menace and malevolence but each of the four films leaves only a surface impression of the depths of evil conjured up by villains as well as good guys.  By contrast, Mr. Nolan has pushed the "dark side" deeper, in an introductory way ("Batman Begins" in 2005) and as stated earlier in this story, pushes to the edge with "The Dark Knight".

For all his seriousness and intensity Mr. Nolan possesses a dry sense of humor.  "Well, you know what they say: it's all in the directing," Mr. Nolan wryly and cheekily observed before a gaggle of journalists in Los Angeles.  Asked by one of the journalists about his tendencies to lean toward film noir-type drama even if not consciously making that type of film, the director said that "I think I've always just gravitated towards stories in which character is defined through action.  That is to say that the story of the film is telling you who the people are.  I think that's the strongest form of characterization and it's one that finds its most obvious incarnation in things like film noir and those genres where you're expecting the double cross, the reverse.  The process of going through the story to a certain extent, is the process of continually appraising what you think of those characters -- who the good guys, who the bad guys or where your sympathies lie.  In this genre it shifts through the film and I'm interested in stories with complicated characterizations where your sympathies can shift."

Mr. Nolan has long admired "The Prisoner", a popular BBC Television series of the late 1960's starring Patrick McGoohan.  He has been thinking about making the series into a feature length film, but is not sure when he will take concrete steps to move things forward.

"The Dark Knight" opens on Friday worldwide, and Mr. Nolan may yet earn the same title when it comes to evoking a story filled with complication, contradiction, drama and menace.

Photo: Christopher Nolan ponders before the Bat Signal while on the set of "The Dark Knight" in 2007.  (Photo courtesy: Warner Brothers)

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  PopcornReel.com.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.

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