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‘Batman Begins’ 2005/11/27

Posted by Dave in Movies, Reviews.
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Perversely, the written word, and therefore the imagination, has always been where the realism lies. Realism was first a problem for the stage and live performance arts, and now for television, movies and games.

Recent advances in technology and computing make everything seem possible, with nothing left for the imagination. We are all expecting the new 'King Kong' movie, for example, to be of a stunning, 'realistic' nature more in debt to 'Jurassic Park' than to the older 'King Kong' films. This is probably no-bad-thing, for these lend themselves very well to 'special effects'.

Translating from the book to the film is notoriously difficult. Translating across media is tricky fullstop — imagine 'Jurassic Park' for Radio! Mind you, the success of 'Harry Potter' movies is that the books seem to be written with the movies in mind.

Comic-Book Superheroes were illustrated, and the artwork created a mood and style and an uniformity of vision unmatched by the purely written text. Translating from one visual media (comic-book) to another (cartoon), was easiest, especially with superheroes that stretched, flew or caught fire.

These Superheroes depend upon the fantasy imagination as much as 'Jurassic Park' does, and so they could be done as computer-graphic cartoon movies or at least movies with some kind of special effects.

And that's the shame of it; these tales essentially depended if not on belief, then upon the suspension of disbelief. It's about wonder, about 'if only' and 'what if'. As children, we would wish for special powers and imagine what we could do with them.

Then in steps Batman.

Now Batman is different; he has no powers at all! He is athletic, acrobatic, and clever — but he entirely depends upon gadgets.

Batman is just like James Bond in most respects (even including supporting cast, such as Alfred/Ms.Monneypenny, Lucius Fox/Q. etc). But a few adjustments are needed: without the financing of a government, Batman has to be a Billionaire in his own right, and without the official secrecy of the spy-world, Batman has to wear a mask.

James Bond is a successful brand/image. Indeed the James Bond Novels were the first to mention brands of car, wristwatch, and so forth (something almost all novels have since done). Playboys all over the western world could be, or be like James Bond. It was a lifestyle as much as anything else.

Batman differs in that Bruce Wayne's gadgets and lifestyle are unbranded — apart from the 'bat' branding — and this makes Batman a brand for children. The Toys and toy gadgets are all 'Batted', you do not find Batman driving a BMW or Aston Martin, do you?

This makes Batman the worst of the Superheroes. He does not have Superpowers, and so it would be pointless doing a computer-generated cartoon. If done with live actors, the special effects would be mostly down to the gadgets — and we get these with James Bond already (ones we actually can aspire to buy).

Does this mean that Batman will remain in the games/ comic book market?

Not at all. The TV show from the 1960s showed us the comical potential for Batman & Robin — and what other Superheroes could be so funny? And everyone loves the 'Only Fools & Horses' fancy-dress party episode…

So what can anyone do about Batman for the Big Screen? They decided to attempt to make Batman very faithful to the dark, gothicky, comic-book to get away from the possibility of the character becoming funny or camp like the TV series. But stopping Batman from being funny and camp, resulted in a series of movies where funny and camp characters such as The Joker, The Penguin and The Riddler were infinitely more interesting than Boring Batman himself.

In short, the Batman films were silly.

Christopher Nolan's 'Batman Begins' is completely different. Nolan has achieved the impossible; he has recreated Batman as a very real character in his own right. It is as though each box on a long list has been ticked.

'Batman Begins' seems to set out to explain everything — and I mean everything — that we were once asked to merely accept during our belief suspension. This film completely rejects all that has gone before, so it is NOT a prequel. It builds Batman from the nuts and bolts up — forgoeing even the comic-book creation.

We find out why Bruce Wayne is the man he is, who is Alfred the butler, how he could get hold of the Batmobile, and other weaponry (and indeed why it is not badged and branded).

The film opens with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in an Asian Jail — his fighting skill is brought to the attention of Ducard (Liam Neeson) who sets him a task and then takes him on as a martial arts apprentice. Ducard wants him to lead a platoon of Ninja types for the organisation called The League of Shadows who have worked throughout history to bring down major cities that are on their way to total corruption — such as Gotham City.

When Wayne finds out what Ducard has in store, he foils their nefarious plan and quits, then sets off back to save Gotham City, arriving at his ancestral home with Alfred his butler (Michael Caine), to Wayne Corp with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and to his childhood fling (Katie Holmes).

For those who know the Batman story, we can see the origins and seeds, the fact that Commissioner Gordon is not yet a Commissioner ('Gordon' is played by Gary Oldman), just the only good cop in a corrupt precinct. We see the origins of the Bat light on the clouds, and even the Bat cave and how Batman could have such equipment while retaining his secret identity.

Everything is possible and (more-to-the-point) plausible in today's modern world. Nolan tells the tale with an eye for the devil's advocate, the sceptic and the nit-picking pedant… and Nolan wins everytime.

What Nolan has actually managed to do here is to pin down a folklore legend in all it's detail. It is a tale that has come of age — the movie technology is ready, the plausibility of the story and the gadgets is here and now, and (of course) it ties in nicely with the games market.

This film is NOT aimed at children, it is not about selling gadgets or toys; it is a film about a man confronting his own fears, addressing his parent's deaths, and trying to improve a whole city in order to save other people from going through what he went through, as well as saving the city from The League of Shadows. It is about being driven, about channelling emotions into the positive, altruistic and utilitarian good. It is about a man becoming a symbol, about standing for something, making sense of a life and finding purpose.

Not quite what one would expect of a Batman film. Forget that it is a Batman film, forget the past, forget everything — go along and see the film with fresh new eyes. It is a good story well told.

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