Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Dark Knight

OK, it's Wednesday, my Melbourne Cinémathèque night. Feeling run-down, I decided to give tonight's program a miss (I normally get home close to midnight) and took the missus and kid to an opening day screening of the latest big blockbuster, The Dark Knight. Straight after work was a good strategy as I aimed to beat the masses that are going to pour into the cinemas come Friday night. In fact, there was a huge crowd lined up to go in at 8pm at the Sun Theatre, while we only had about 20 in our audience. I just got back and decided to brain dump the following words without too much review.

By the way, I've been flat out getting organised for MIFF. I've nearly finished my first compilation of what I plan to see, but I need to rework and refine it. I probably have about 50 films circled, and I just don't think I can absorb that much cinema over 17 days. I've already dropped about 20-30 titles that I'd like to see but won't. I probably have to cull another 10 or more.

I've also collated a list of the films that are getting a local release. I know this list was very popular last year, and some readers may be keenly awaiting it. I'll get it up in the next day or so. Now, to Batman.

There's a lot to like about the latest Batman instalment and, no doubt, we’ll be hearing a whole lot of glorification about the best Batman film yet and other superlatives. I liked it a lot also, with some really extraordinary elements, but despite the hype, it’s by no means flawless. Nor will it be universally lauded.

Is Heath Ledger the best comic super-villain of all time? I think so. If there’s someone that’s done a better screen villain rendition, I don’t remember it. His character is perhaps the best thing about the film and Nolan must take at least half of the credit for that. This is a really dark and warped re-imagination of the Joker that leaves all other Jokers way behind. Ledger deserves all the applause he gets. Even though we can see it’s his face and (especially) his hair, his inhabiting of the character, his voice transformation and his mannerisms are really inspirational.

I think Ledger's performance is for The Dark Knight what Javier Bardem's was for No Country For Old Men. But while I found No Country a flawless film, I can't say the same about this one. I'd compare it to say, There Will Be Blood, which divided audiences: some called it the best film ever, others hated it. I was somewhere in between with both that and The Dark Knight.

I loved the cinematography. There’s a really nice blend of warm colours, darkness and light. The editing is good, but inconsistent. Some cutting is designed to instil a sense of chaos, but it also seems a bit lazy.

I found the film too long. In fact, I looked at my watch just after the one hour mark (itself not a good sign) and found it a bit daunting that we had another hour and a half to go. Nolan simply tries to fit too much into one film.

The casting is good. I generally don’t like either Heath Ledger or Aaron Eckhardt, but found them both perfect for their respective roles. Bale is always good value, but I don’t think his part was not as well-written as it could have been. The pained and reluctant hero feels a bit laboured, and perhaps borrows too much from the Spider Man franchise. And talking about borrowing, there’s a scene that’s pure James Bond. The film seems to borrow from a number of other franchises, giving it an inconsistent feel, especially over such a long run time.

While this is a comic book rendition, Nolan has, starting with the previous instalment, done a good job of injecting a more three-dimensional psychology and believability than previous directors. It’s smart, but sometimes too smart. It is very busy at times, demanding too much attention of the target audience. I like intelligent cinema, but I found the story-line not always as coherent as it could or should be.

As for the action, there’s some really great looking stunts, and some great twists, while others are fairly standard for this kind of film. They’re mostly good fun and spectacular to watch, and fortunately they don’t dominate the film (it’d get to boring if they did). Batman seems omnipotent at times, more powerful than I remember him from the comics, while at others he seemed unnecessarily powerless (I was frustrated at times thinking why doesn’t he just shoot one of his bloody bat-thingys????).

His outfit is stunning. I love the way his eyes were blackened and his lower face was disguised by the mask. That, and his gravelly voice counters the old complaint people had with Bruce Wayne and Batman being so recognisable, one as the other. And while I didn't completely like the gravelly voice, I like that it just was, without it having to be explained as a disguising device. We, the audience, are smart enough to work that out for ourselves. Thanks, Nolan for that kind of respect.

The cape is fantastic. I love the look of it when he jumps off a building and when he's on his motor-sickle. The humour is very good too. Really restrained, not campy at all as is usual with the genre. There is some difficulty in following all the dialogue which may enrich people's DVD experience. You'll need to watch this 2, 3, 4, maybe more times to grasp everything. That can be both a good or a bad thing, depending on your taste and perspective.

Overall, this is an event film worth seeing (which is a rarity). No film can live up to the kind of hype this one is receiving, so don’t go in with your expectations too high and you should have a good time. I don’t know if I’d say it was the best comic book film made, but it is certainly one of the better ones.


Bruce Paterson said...

Snap! I looked at my watch thinking two hours must have passed and experienced considerable chagrin to discover I still had 90m to go!

Paul Martin said...

You know, Bruce, I was thinking about this today. Nolan really bit off - not more than he can chew - but more than what the film needed. By the time we get to the end of the film, the Hong Kong sojourn is long forgotten and virtually irrelevant. This whole part of the film seemed to be designed to splice a James Bond sequence into the action and didn't really serve the overall narrative. I think the whole film would have packed a bigger punch if it fitted into 90-120 minutes.

Bruce Paterson said...

Agreed - and to a lesser extent the whole 'my armour needs updating' scenes were somewhat pointless too; not to mention the drawn out ferry scenes.

Paul Martin said...

Oh yes, I forgot about the ferry scene. I agree about the armour, which bothered me at the time, but I forgot by the end. In fact, there was so much that could be considered padding that I don't really recall because it was so damn busy. The film has enough material to be covered in 2-3 films. Harvey Dent, for example, could almost have one film with Batman to himself, and the Joker many. Alas, that won't be with Ledger's passing, and no-one could replicate his performance.

patrick said...

kudos to the makers Dark Knight for their record breaking opening weekend... it's no wonder there's talk of another one coming out ASAP