So-ooo Much Better
This vision of Batman is so much better than previous efforts. Let's face it, comic books are fun, but graphic novels ain't comic books (grin). The motion picture format seems to do better with dark graphic novels.
It's an origin story, so we see what forces came in play to create the Batman. Well done, especially starting as it does with the young boy. And how Alfred looks over him until he finally decides to take his rightful place in the world. There is a journey, a quest of sorts, and training with a master. Sure, you can say we've seen this all before -- some because they've been keeping up with the more recent graphic novels visions of Batman -- but that doesn't mean you can't put some effort into it and do it well. We've seen too many, Me-Too origin stories, with Insert Young Jedi/Grasshopper Here scenes which aren't very convincing. Young Bruce Wayne has issues. He is a tortured and troubled soul. He is on the verge of making A Very Big Mistake. He overreaches and recovers. Most importantly, he realizes he isn't alone and reluctantly learns to trust a small inner circle.
One of the appeals of Batman, I have read, is that Batman isn't really anything special as a superhero. He hasn't been bitten by a spider or a vampire. He's not an alien or modified by interaction of either aliens or radiation. His gift isn't out of control when he gets angry. No, Batman is created. From the choice of the myth to make into the superhero, to the selection of gadgets and toys, and enduring the training to use them effectively, Bruce Wayne is Everyman. We could be Batman, if we just had the right breaks -- okay, a couple of billion in cash and a research lab seems to come in handy.
Best scene is the training scene with the ninjas in ranks. I know that sounds crazy if you haven't seen the movie, but trust me, it makes sense on several levels... and anyway, it's crisp. And the battle in the container yard, starting with the very first guy who gets in Batman's way -- ooh, cool and creepy.
As an origin film, we know we're going to see a lot of things foreshadowed and as earlier versions. Sometimes this is done in the movies strictly for laughs. But Batman Begins is pretty straight. Not taking itself too seriously, it nevertheless projects a serious tone from start to finish. These are not cartoon villains or heroes, not in the usual sense. There are smarmy, conniving and very sure of themselves.
Okay, so who don't we like in this? Michael Caine as Alfred. Gary Oldmann as Gordon -- Oldmann is such a chameleon, I never recognize him in movies. Morgan Freeman... what a treat -- Fox is sort of Batman's "Q" in this version, competent and provider of all the wonderful toys. Tom Wilkinson, who I last saw in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, plays a wonderful gangster.
And Liam Neeson... I won't say more here and now, other than to say his take on the training master has been ramped up from his days as a Jedi Knight.
Christian Bale, or whoever he is, plays a good Bruce Wayne -- young, determine, conflicted. An okay Batman, though we never get to see his development of the "Batman voice". I kept thinking he was trying to channel Michael Keaton or one of the other Batmen.
Not impressed with the girl. We get backstory to some extent as to why she's there, but nothing in story or performance is compelling enough for me to believe her wanting to stick by Young Bruce Wayne, given how he acts toward her.
One word: Batmobile.
We could talk about so many other things, but the new version of the Batmobile finally gives us an urban assault machine which looks like it can speed or muscle its way in or out of any situation. "Does it come in black?" (grin)
I'm not sure about this, but I thought I heard on the radio that tomorrow (now today) -- Father's Day -- that a NASCAR race is going to have the Batmobile as a pace car.
The mass transit system is stunning to look at, but so-ooo impractical. I mean, bad engineering. And I'm not convinced that these (really) elevated train stations are ADA compatible -- I think you have to make a career climbing all those damned steps. No wonder the people of Gotham City are going bad. They're crabby all the time.
And the integration of some real cityscapes with computer generated ones, sometimes I got the feeling I could tell where the boundaries were. It will, I predict, look a lot worse on DVD. TV doesn't have the contrast range to make it work.
But these are style issues. Nothing of the sort to sink the movie itself.
It's got a good movie score and an attention to detail. We thought the first Michael Keaton Batman was pretty good when it came out, but less so today, though there is one nice song in a music video, dating back to when MTV still showed music videos (grin).
We both enjoyed Batman Begins very much.
Where The Hell Is The Crowd?
So it's 10 o'clock on a Friday night in June, a big blockbuster movie has opened on Monday, and we're in the giant Theatre 1 at Grand Rapids' Studio 28 -- and there's hardly anyone here? What's going on? Could it be there are too many screens showing Batman Begins?
Actually, there's a simpler explanation. Jack Loek's Theatres also owns Celebration Cinema on the other side of Grand Rapids, and they have an IMAX theatre -- the IMAX version of Batman Begins opened on Wednesday as well. Apparently, everyone is flocking there, and probably finding that the limited number of seats, they stay for the three screens there.
Oh well. Just means we'll buy IMAX tickets online (as we always do) and make sure we have seats when we go to see the IMAX version with some company later...
Attendance at the movies is down nationwide this summer. Lots of people are wringing their hands and trying to figure out "what's wrong." A recent story in The Grand Rapids Press talked about all the people who are watching their movies on DVD, cable and on-demand. "They" are worried about this? Are "they" nuts? Most of the people who go see movies in the theatre have access to DVD, cable and on-demand. We like movies.
And real movies projected on a screen are not the same as TV projection.
The actual problem is that recent movies suck so bad. There were a number of movies we thought we were looking forward to in 2004 -- and didn't go because the stench turned out so bad. In 2005, we've not gone to a lot of movies, because there haven't been a lot of movies we had any desire to go see. When Hollywood stops making stinkers, people will come.
Simple as that.
All the same as before except for ONE REALLY NEW ONE FOR US. Within seconds of a starfield and the opening chords, I knew we were watching the trailer for Serenity, the Josh Whedon movie version of Firefly. We recently saw Firefly on DVD, and now we're just going to have to buy the "complete" series on DVD -- it was pretty reasonably priced on Amazon.com. Part camp, part opera, part Western, Firefly is/was a wonderful example of what it means to have compelling characters interacting with each other, and often interacting differently with different people.
FOX-TV really screwed up by mishandling and then canceling this series. Many others have spent considerable bandwidth on this subject and apparently Firefly shows up heavily at a lot of SF con sessions, so I'll just say the network people were idiots.
Interestingly, the Serenity trailer merely mentions Josh Whedon's other triumphs, Buffy and Angel, and something about a beloved story, but never mentioned Firefly by name.
And Hollywood... Serenity is MUCH more interesting than a tired remake of The Dukes of Hazard.
The Series is Complete
Tonight we're watching Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, part of the Special Edition DVD set. We've commented before how there is more heart and snappy dialogue in The Old Trilogy over The New Trilogy. And by the time we get to the intended execution of Han and Luke and Chewie and Lando, it's already true with the third film.
Consider Lucas' daring to show "the slaughter of the innocents" as the battle goes badly for both Rebels and Ewoks on Endor. Or the horrible burnt corpses of Luke's aunt and uncle in the original Star Wars. Or just how EVIL the Evil Emperor is. (GRIN)
Lucas felt compelled to up the ante digitally with the creation of the Special Editions. Fairly seamless in Empire, trying to make things more crowded in Hope, and somewhat annoying in Jedi. Okay, so the herd of bantha parading across the desert is cool looking, so there's five seconds of improvement. But the monster in the pit has to have a secondary, penis-head mouth -- to make it "more horrifying" -- which isn't shown in some of the scenes. I always thought the waving tentacled "wound in the sand" was pretty awful, and besides, the revision makes it look too much like the cave creature in the asteroid field in Empire.
Anyway, the Imperial March is still great cinema music, and having it fade for the Emperor's entrance... perfect. It is disappointing that unlike 3:30am on opening morning in the Chicago Theatre, that the speeder chase scene looks contrived. You really have to see these things on a BIG SCREEN.
Besides, we know the Empire is doomed at this point. What good are armored Imperial Stormtroopers being struck down by arrows fired by Ewok bows? (grin)