Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Holy Hiatus, Batman!

Hiatus is such a lovely word. Say it once, and it brings up images of ninjas and dwarfs. Or ninja dwarfs. Anyway, it’s a nice word.

And it’s as good a word as any to describe my rather long sabbatical from blogging. Given its voluntary nature, I really should not have to explain myself, but I feel like I do, and not just because I received three wonderfully written hate mails bitching about why I hadn’t updated the site. Well, it’s a fucking hobby, laydeez (they were all from laydeez – I wish I knew what a laydee is). I haven’t sketched for a while, either, even though I love it, and I don’t hear people bitching about that. And, you know, they would, if they only saw how brilliant I am at it. I am like the Michelangelo of sketching. Not the renaissance painter, you understand, but the Ninja Turtle. Oy. Again with the ninjas.

Anyway, apart from personal grounds I prefer not to get into, there were a few incidental reasons that prevented me form updating. First of all, holidays. I had a bizarre leave schedule this summer, where I had a week off at the end of each summer month (and September, actually), and I explored the delights of the Aegean littoral. And, by that, I mean I stayed at my parents’ summer house, and read an inordinate amount of books lying under the sun(I finally read Freakonomics, and I seriously don’t know what the fuss is all about; Midnight’s Children, on the other hand, is still as great as ever). I also cruised round the Greek islands (Leros is paradise). And, you know, given the choice between the beauty of the Aegean, and writing about how dreadful The Dark Knight really is… Actually, that’s not even a choice at all.[1]

Secondly, I was inundated with work this summer: it’s been incredibly busy. So busy, in fact, that I have not had the time to properly frequent my favourite haunts like Jim’s Scanners, The House Next Door, Dennis’s Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Nathan’s The Film Experience, Ed Copeland on Film… Well, pretty much any site you see on the list of links at the sidebar. This is as good a place as any to mention that the inimitable Roger Ebert, our fearless reader, also started a blog this summer, and I urge each and every one of you to check it out. Ebert’s blog acts as a brilliant companion piece to his main site.

Anyway, it was a pretty hectic summer. I write my pieces in my own time, and never at work (if I were a gladiator, I’d be Scrupulous). [2] But I simply haven’t had that much free time outside of the office, either, which brings me to my final reason. I usually leave work at around eight, and it used to take me a good hour, hour and a half to get home, by which time, again, the lure of a cold beer and Jay Leno far outweighed my desire to share with the world why The Ting Tings' Shut Up and Let Me Go is the best pop song of the decade so far.[3] Which is why I looked for a new place closer to work for the latter half of the summer, and finally moved into my shiny new apartment last week.

So, after almost five months, I am finally ready to unleash upon the world (and by world, I mean the three people, including me, who read this blog) my views once again. Anyone who might have stumbled upon this place by accident should know the deal by now. I write petulant, longwinded rants mostly, but not exclusively, on film and television. I say not exclusively, because the recent spate of films I saw at the cinema has not really warranted all that much discussion.[4] Still, there was one film this summer that I would like to talk about: The Dark Knight.

Or, in the words of Don Corleone, “how did things ever get so far?” Watching the DVD extras of Batman Begins, I had got the unsubtle hint that Christopher Nolan took pretty much everything in the world, from doing laundry to clipping one’s toenails, Very Seriously, but nothing could have prepared me for the haughty monstrosity that was The Dark Knight. And I love Batman Begins. I think it’s not only the best superhero origin tale (the first Superman is not an origin story), it’s probably the best superhero film ever, and definitely one of the best films this decade. To say I had high hopes for its sequel is putting it mildly.

And that’s one of the key points. The Dark Knight is not a sequel to Batman Begins. The actors are the same, sure, and, thus, the characters, but they inhabit two completely different universes. A shadowy organisation of ninjas (none of them diminutive, alas) called The League of Shadows, run by a foppish Frenchman, and intent on razing Gotham, would feel completely out of place in the latter film. The Dark Knight doesn't just have a different tone, it plays a totally different instrument.

Gotham, too, looks different between the two films. In the first one, it has a reddish orange hue; it’s claustrophobic, and, even though I don’t want to use the word, gothic. In the second film, it just looks like Chicago. I know the first film was mainly shot on a soundstage, and that a big deal was made of the second film’s use of Chicago, but still, one would expect some sort of consistency.

Batman Begins is a superhero film that pushes its boundaries to the extreme. The Dark Knight is a film that obliterates those limits in the hopes of becoming a crime noir. And that would be a laudable intention, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s still a film about a guy who dresses up as a fucking bat and fights crime. It is because of its very essence that the film is inherently unable to make that leap towards serious crime drama. Batman Begins succeeds by remaining a superhero movie, The Dark Knight flounders by trying to abandon its roots.[5] And it’s not a pleasant sight.

Also not a pleasant sight: the acting. Apart from Gary Oldman’s Police Commissioner Ned Flanders, and Michael “Maybe, it’s because I’m a Londonah; aw’ight, guv” Caine, the rest of the cast can’t decide what sort of movie they’re making. Christian Bale snarls, and growls, and helpfully shows us what constipation would sound like if it could talk. Similarly, Aaron Eckhart is just a foreshadowing tool, and the late Heath Ledger a cautionary tale to all aspiring young actors on how not to do it. In fact, the principles are not fleshed out characters defined by habitual action, but, instead, concepts. It reminded me of an acting class I took once, where we were all given an emotion, and only that emotion, to act out. Good to see Mrs Beasley carrying on the good fight in Hollywood.

I am not saying that a superhero film cannot, or should not, be serious – in fact, most superhero films swing laboriously from juvenile angst to melodrama and back that a superhero film rooted in some sort of reality is usually a welcome change (case in point Batman Begins). But The Dark Knight takes itself so seriously, that, by the time Gary Oldman was giving his nonsense speech about how Batman has to run, and they have to chase him (long speech at the end of a long movie spelling out its main theme is so The Two Towers), I found myself giggling. The Dark Knight is like David Caruso in CSI: Miami; pompous, supercilious, and utterly ridiculous.[6]

[1] Word’s Grammar Check is suggesting beauties instead of beauty. Good old Microsoft, and its lofty yet unrealistic expectations of my love life.
[2] If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady; would you marry me anyway, would you have my baby?
[3] It is, by the way.
[4] I finally saw Galaxy Quest 2: Tropic Thunder last weekend, enjoyed it very much.
[5] Also, it doesn’t deal with issues so much as just mentions them (this facet of the film was discussed this summer at Scanners, too). Saying that we don’t live in a black and white world is not particularly insightful, nor is it original. Nor does it make a movie complex.
[6] But, thankfully, not a ginger.


gc said...

Batman... never saw it.

Ting Tings... never heard it.

But I love your extensive use of explanatory footnotes.

AFS1981 said...

'S fabulous...s' lovely...s' your return to the blogosphere.


Kevin J. Olson said...

Great to have you back writing!

I enjoyed The Dark Knight quite a bit, but as I said on THND when Keith was getting crucified for writing a negative review of the film, I can see why people don't enjoy it. Upon a second viewing of the film I still found my self exhilarated by the action and interested in the story, it reminded me more of the 'message' type thrillers one would make in the 50's, than anything like some of the ambiguous thrillers crime dramas we get today.

The fanboys did ruin it a little bit by trying to make it something it never was: an important film. Nope, sorry guys it's just an enjoyable summer blockbuster (at least for me), nothing more. In my review I made connections to films like "Heat", but that doesn't mean it's on the same level, just in the same vein.

Your David Caruso line is brilliant. If you haven't seen William Baldwin's parody of Caruso in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" I highly suggest you do. You'd love it.

I forgot about "Galaxy Quest." Huh. "Tropic Thunder" is like that movie. Nice reference.

Lastly, isn't it amazing how Midnight's Children never ages. It's still, to me, the greatest novel ever written. Studying postmodern Lit. for four years didn't even sour me on it. It's themes, and the way Rushdie can manipulate so many literary theories is one novel (feminism, post-colonialism, po-mo) are something that I will never tire of. He is one of the great storytellers. Have you read his newest, The Enchantress of Florence?

Welcome back. Look forward to reading the blog again...