Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Batman

Christopher Nolan on the art of the reaction shot

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Director Christopher Nolan

Jordan Goldberg: In closing, what would you guys say you’ve learned through this experience?

Christopher Nolan: I’ve learned to get more reaction shots. [All laugh.] I’ve learned you can never have too many reaction shots to something extraordinary. Just on a technical level. In order to portray an extraordinary figure in an ordinary world, you have to really invest in the reality of the ordinary and in the reactions of people to him. That, to me, was what was fun about taking on this character because it hadn’t been done before. He is such an extraordinary figure, but if you can believe in the world he’s in, you can really enjoy that extraordinariness and that theatricality.

The Dark Knight Trilogy: The Complete Screenplays

Written by nevalalee

December 8, 2012 at 9:50 am

Holy spoilers, Batman!

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Warning: Massive spoilers follow for The Dark Knight Rises.

At last, after building up to a showdown between a battered Batman and the terrifying Bane for more than two hours, The Dark Knight Rises treats us to what ought to be a genuinely startling revelation, in which Miranda Tate, Bruce Wayne’s lover and apparent ally, is revealed to be Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of his nemesis Ra’s Al Ghul, and the true mastermind of the plot against Gotham. This kind of twist is far from original, of course, but it’s expertly handled, and it benefits from the casting of the very appealing Marion Cotillard, of whom one couldn’t possibly think anything bad. (It also involves an elegant piece of misdirection, with a flashback that can be read two ways, as one might expect from the director of Memento and The Prestige.) Unfortunately, as I mentioned on Monday, I can only imagine how the scene must play to someone who didn’t know what was coming—because more than a year earlier, I had been assured by casting reports that Cotillard was playing Talia Al Ghul. And although the full story behind the rumor is somewhat more complicated, it still represents an inexplicable lapse at a time when studios have fiercely guarded the secrets of other movies, often to no real purpose.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see how the Talia Al Ghul rumors began to unfold. As early as January of last year, an article in the Hollywood Reporter noted that actresses ranging from Eva Green to Gemma Atherton (and even a few who weren’t former Bond girls) were being considered for a pair of female roles in the sequel to The Dark Knight, and it explicitly stated: “Sources say one character is Talia, the daughter of villain Ra’s Al Ghul.” The following month, in the same publication, Marion Cotillard’s name was mentioned for the first time, and the article noted that her role “is suspected to be that of Thalia [sic] al Ghul.” When the official casting announcement was released, however, Cotillard’s character was given as Miranda Tate, which didn’t stop rampant speculation that this might be Talia under another name. And in May, Cotillard even gave an interview, which reads very amusingly in retrospect, in which she blatantly lied to the Hollywood Reporter about her character’s true intentions: “She’s a good guy.” But does she stay that way? “Yes,” she insists.

In other words, it looks like Warner Bros. did attempt to walk back the Talia Al Ghul rumors after they became widespread, and for that, I suppose, they deserve some credit. For someone like me, though, it was too little, too late: as far as I was concerned, this character was Talia Al Ghul, and ironically, the studio’s initial secrecy only allowed the rumor to take hold. Reading over the original casting reports, it’s tempting to wonder what happened. Was the Talia Al Ghul story simply a piece of wild fan speculation—similar to the ones that had Philip Seymour Hoffman cast as the Penguin, Naomi Watts as Vicki Vale, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Alberto Falcone—that actually turned out to be true? Or was it a real tip from a studio insider that was subsequently disavowed? The “sources” cited in that first Hollywood Reporter story make me suspect that it was, in fact, the latter, which means that someone at the studio legitimately blew one of the few interesting surprises in any recent Hollywood movie. And I don’t think I would have taken the rumors at face value if they hadn’t been reported with such apparent authority.

So what’s a movie lover to do? Clearly, this was an exceptional case, in which just knowing the name of an existing character conveyed enough information to significantly undermine the experience of watching the film itself. And the studio did a commendable job of concealing a similar revelation about the character played by Gordon-Levitt—although this particular spoiler is now cheerfully offered by Google Autocomplete. But if you spend any time online, it’s impossible to avoid these sorts of casting rumors entirely. I don’t often visit movie rumor sites, and get most of my news from the A.V. Club, but in this case, I still ended up knowing more than I wanted to know. The bottom line, I guess, is that we should be skeptical of a studio’s motives for concealing or leaking information: secrecy, or the lack thereof, is just a marketing tool, which means that crucial plot points can be revealed without consideration for the audience, while other movies are cloaked in an atmosphere of great intrigue for no reason whatsoever. In short, we shouldn’t trust anyone. Bruce Wayne probably wishes he’d done the same.

Written by nevalalee

July 26, 2012 at 9:43 am

Thoughts on a Dark Knight

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Let’s talk about scale. For much of the past decade, the major movie studios have waged a losing battle to keep audiences in theaters, while competing with the vast array of more convenient entertainment options available at home. Hollywood’s traditional response to the threat of new media has always been to offer greater spectacle, these days in the form of IMAX or 3D, with an additional surcharge, of course. But as the new formats bring us closer to the action, computerized effects push us further away. No matter how beautifully rendered a digital landscape may be, it’s still strangely airless and sterile, with a sense that we’re being given a view of more megapixels, not a window on the world. Even so immersive a film as Avatar ultimately keeps us at arm’s length: Pandora is a universe unto itself, yes, but it still sits comfortably on a hard drive at Weta. And for all their size and expense, most recent attempts to create this kind of immersion, from John Carter to The Avengers, fail to understand the truth about spectacle: large-scale formats are most exciting when they give us a vision of a real, tangible, photographed world.

This is why The Dark Knight Rises is such a landmark. Christopher Nolan, who cited the films of David Lean as an influence in Batman Begins, understands that the real appeal of the great Hollywood epics in VistaVision and Cinerama was the startling clarity and scope of the world they presented. It’s the kind of thing that can only be achieved on location, with practical effects, real stunts, aerial photography, and a cast of thousands. The Dark Knight Rises is packed with digital effects, but we’re never aware of them. Instead, we’re in the presence of a director luxuriating in the huge panoramic effects that IMAX affords—with image, with music, with sound—when trained on the right material on real city streets. As a result, it feels big in a way that no other movie has in a long time. Brad Bird achieved some of the same effect in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, but while Bird invited us to marvel at his surfaces, Nolan wants us to plunge us into a world he’s created, and he uses the medium as it was meant to be used: to tell a rich, dense story about an entire city.

Even more than The Dark Knight, this final installment makes it clear that Nolan’s twin obsessions with epic filmmaking and narrative complexity aren’t two different impulses, but opposite sides of the same coin: the massive IMAX screen, which surrounds us with images of staggering detail, is the visual equivalent of what Nolan is trying to do with the stories he tells. One thinks of The Last Judgment, of Bruegel, of Bosch. And his narrative skills have only improved with time. The Dark Knight had a great script, but it occasionally seemed to strain under the weight of its ideas, until it came off as two hugely eventful movies packed into one. The new movie doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, but it’s also more confident and assured: we’re sucked in at once and held rapt for two hours and forty minutes. And Nolan seems to have gotten over his ambivalence about the character of Batman himself. He’s always been shy about the Batsuit, which served as a kinky reminder of the story’s comic book origins, but here, he keeps Bruce Wayne vulnerable and unmasked for as long as possible, until he becomes more of a hero than ever before.

This is, in short, something close to a masterpiece—not just a worthy conclusion to the best series of comic book movies ever made, but the year’s first really great studio film. And yet I do have one big complaint. I’ve spoken before about Hollywood’s weird obsession with secrets, in which it refuses to disclose simple information about a movie for no other reason than a fetish over secrecy for its own sake, when in fact the film itself has no interesting surprises. (See: Prometheus and Super 8.) The same impulse often applies to casting rumors. For The Dark Knight Rises, the studio adamantly refused to confirm who Anne Hathaway would be playing, despite it being fairly obvious, and did the same with the characters played by Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Yet even at the earliest point in the film’s production, it was made very clear that a certain character was going to be appearing in the film—thus ruining the movie’s one big surprise. In short, Hollywood has no idea what a secret is: it routinely hides information to no purpose, but then, when it really counts for once, it reveals it in a way that utterly destroys the filmmaker’s intentions. And there’s no other living director whose intentions deserve greater respect and admiration.

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