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Feature: Batman Begins

Batman - old and new…

Director Christopher Nolan tells us how he convinced Warner Bros that he knew exactly how Batman Begins

As the title suggests, this is a redux of the Dark Knight’s cinematic journey, taking nothing – save for the inspiration for the stylized suit – from its predecessors and providing a more realistic, visceral and rewarding experience in return.

This switch in thinking is largely due to British film-maker Christopher Nolan. Indeed the look and approach to the previous films were similarly watermarked by their directors; Burton through the use of his dark fairy-tale gothica and Schumacher through his penchant for vibrant comic-book nostalgia. For Nolan, however, the themes recurrent in his previous films Memento and Insomnia – of vivid realism mixed with film noir overtones – are what slip into his vision of Batman’s tale, although as Nolan admits, this is only possible due to Burton’s contribution.

“The thing with Burton is that he had the challenge of convincing a cinema audience that you could have a ‘cool’ Batman film,” Nolan explains. “Convincing an audience who remembers the TV show is ridiculous. And he did it; he succeeded. The way he did it was to make the entire world that he lives in – Gotham – as peculiar and extraordinary as Batman is. So he fits in with that hyper-real, hyper-stylized universe on its own terms. That then convinced everybody that you could have a ‘cool’ Batman film. So that isn’t a hurdle that we have to get over with this film and because of that, we are freer to treat the world around him as more ordinary and allow his extraordinary nature stand out. For me, it was very important that for the audience watching the film, they would feel that for people in Gotham, Batman is as extraordinary a figure as he is for us in the audience.”

Like so many men of his generation, the 34-year-old director was introduced to Batman from an early age in the form of the classic ‘Sock’ ‘Pow’ kids’ TV series.

“First and foremost I know Batman from the TV show, from when I was four or five years old,” says Nolan. “At that age, you don’t realize how tongue in cheek and camp it all is. You take it seriously – and I loved the character. It says quite a lot about the elemental nature of the character that it can reach you through different interpretations, like the TV show, even though it was so kitsch and silly in a way. There’s still something about that character, something about who he is and what he does. It’s part of everybody’s upbringing – I was watching it 10 years after it had gone off air.”

Although by his own admission Nolan isn’t a big comic-book fan, his attention had been drawn to what could well be considered as chapters of the Batman bible, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, both of which were created by Sin City author Frank Miller.

“In terms of tone, and in terms of the notion that you could re-create for yourself a serious interpretation of the character… [they were] like the way you felt about the character when you were five years old. Frank Miller was doing it for grown-ups, really. That was quite exciting. It put you back into that child-like appreciation of the magic of character. Certainly his work was a big influence on the tone of the film.”

While Bat fans will no doubt be able to see echoes of Batman stories from throughout its rich 66-year history, Batman Begins doesn’t retread any one tale. Instead it borrows from many of the character’s strongest story arcs, some of which go back as far as the ’70s.

by Antony Jacobs

For more, much more, coverage of the Batman movies see
Film Review Special #58

Image © Visual Imagination Ltd, Batman © Warner Bros
Feature © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

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Film Review Special #58
Batman 2005
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