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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The guy dresses up like a bat...clearly has issues.



Batman Begins.

You've seen it, right?

If not, I'll beat you over the head with a dachshund.

Or a french poodle...I like the way they think...

But I digress.

Batman Begins did the impossible. It not only revived a franchise stabbed, shot, choked, drowned, then brought up and set on fire by Joel Schumacher, but it managed to create a comic book/superhero film that is one of the best films of the year.

Director Christopher Nolan has a great track record. However, were it not for the presence of a Batman sign hanging from a door in his first film "Following," nothing would have indicated that he would be up for directing a Batman film. But upon further reflection, it makes all the sense in the world. "Following" was a black and white film that used a clever technique of jumping backward and forward throughout the story to tell the tale of a man who follows people as a hobby. He isn't a stalker, perse, and he doesn't do this for sexual reasons, it's just a hobby of his.

Nolan perfected his time-manipulation technique in his sophomore film, "Memento." "Memento" was the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a man who lost the ability to create new memories after the brutal murder of his wife. Shelby is out for revenge, but in order to keep track of his investigation, he has to repeatedly tattoo new clues and information onto his body so that he won't forget. He also takes pictures of everywhere he goes and everyone he meets, and writes information on the back to help him remember after he forgets who they are. The film is effectively told backwards, beginning with him finding and killing his wife's murderer...but the story is very linear, despite the backwards storytelling. It's one of the most compelling and intelligent films I've ever seen, and if you haven't already, you should check it out.

Nolan's third film was a remake of a five-year-old Norwegian thriller entitled Insomnia. The movie starred Robin Williams, Al Pacino, and Hilary Swank, and was about an aging detective sent to a town in Alaska where the sun never sets to solve a murder. After the detective accidentally shoots his partner and blames his death on the murderer that he's hunting, he is forced to team up with that very murderer (Robin Williams, in a brilliant casting decision) to keep his secret under wraps, all while he can't catch a wink of sleep.

All three of these films were small, independent pictures that despite vast critical acclaim were not huge box office successes, yet they were all psychological thrillers grounded in reality. It was this aspect of Nolan's films that was most intriguing of the many things he brought to the table when deciding to take on the project. He teamed up with comic book writer David S. Goyer and put together a screenplay that would reboot the Batman franchise, erasing the previous four flicks from film continuity (much to the fanboys' joy). Goyer and Nolan were going to tell a story that was never told in the movies, and was never really told in the comic books either: the transition from Bruce Wayne into Batman.

Nolan gathered together an ensemble cast that is nothing short of extraordinary, including the likes of Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson. But best of all was the decision to cast Christian Bale as the Dark Knight. Bale, more than any other actor to don the cape and cowl before him, was able to be true to both Bruce Wayne and his secret identity: the Batman.

Christopher Nolan is truthfully just a great filmmaker. To date, I have loved all four of his films, and will be eternally indebted to him for what he did to Batman. He made a great movie, plain and simple. Forget the fact that it's about a comic book superhero, Batman Begins is truly a great film, and far surpasses all of the previous four films combined. The acting is brilliant across the board, he manages to include several villains without it getting too crowded (Cillian Murphy is absolutely perfect as the Scarecrow), establish realistic relationships between the characters, and provide a healthy balance of drama, action, humor, romance, and character development. It clearly wasn't an easy task, but Nolan succeeded where others failed by centering the film around Bruce Wayne, instead of around Batman. Nolan proved that Wayne can be equally interesting inside and outside the costume. The fact that the film loses no momentum even though you don't see the costume until halfway through is a testament to that.

The ending sets the sequel up perfectly, and I am EAGERLY awaiting Nolan and Goyer's return to the Bat-franchise. Just make sure you bring the rest of the cast with you guys, all right?

If you haven't seen this movie yet, be sure to pick up the 2-disc Deluxe Edition DVD. It comes with hours of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew that really provides you with an in-depth look into the filmmaking process. It also comes with a cool 72-page collection of comic books that inspired the film, including the very first Batman story from '38, an origin story that clearly influenced the film, and the first issue of Jeph Loeb's fantastic "The Long Halloween" saga. It's well worth the money.

Batman Begins is, so far anyways, the best film of the year in my eyes, and only Spielberg's upcoming Munich has the potential to take that title away from it. You owe it to yourself to see this film if you haven't already. You won't be disappointed.

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