Monday, December 22, 2008

assorted links

Worst Album Covers of 2008


Does Video Game Criticism Need a Lester Bangs? (the piece isn't bad about Bangs but never quite connects to video game criticism or even whether such a thing exists)

Ya Ho Wha reunion

Is the Internet damaging scholarly research?

Is Zizek damaging anything?

A Milton marathon (I'm actually a little bothered that his 400th birthday could pass and be almost completely ignored)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Prolegomena to Notes of Musings About The Dark Knight

A while since my last post which doesn't mean I haven't been blogging exactly, only that the material sits around on my computer in partly finished form until I either forget about it, lost interest or decide partly finished isn't so bad after all. So this as you might guess from a few months ago:

1. At 152 minutes we’re on notice that somebody is Serious.

2. Batman Begins drew partially from The Long Halloween and now The Dark Knight takes up the rest of it, toned down for the masses.

3. The Joker here is an agent of random violence, rootless and nameless, disfigured and almost ethereal. He’s basically how most Americans view terrorists and at the end we get Bruce Wayne unveiling a surveillance equivalent to The Patriot Act which he too claims is a necessary evil. In the film’s terms we’re supposed to believe him because he’s allowing kindly, conscience-stricken Morgan Freeman to dismantle it (unless of course he turns out to be the Morgan Freeman of Wanted).

4. The comic-book Joker acts more truly at random, at times as likely to present victims with flowers as murder them, though this has changed much over time (something referenced in Grant Morrison’s “R.I.P.” run).

5. Heath Ledger is apparently getting praise because--apart from the inevitable groupthink--he’s the only actor in the film who doesn’t speak like he’s trying to recite the Preamble to the Constitution. (Well, maybe Michael Caine too.) Otherwise he’s not really acting so much as trying to keep a blank character from being only a blank. I think what people are responding to is that Ledger’s performance is pitched almost naturalistically, that if there was indeed a Joker that this is pretty much how he would be. The credit for that mostly goes to the makeup artists since Ledger is really just trying to keep from drowning with an underwritten role (as Gyllenhaal indeed does).

6. Modern screenwriters are far too concerned with the kind of false clarity that McKee preaches but this is one film that certainly could have benefitted from it. The catch to using The Joker, or at least this version of The Joker, is that if he’s random and desireless then it’s not clear where the story should go. At two and a half hours the film doesn’t feel bloated but it certainly feels slack and uninvolving. (Screenwriters should keep in mind What Would Hecht Do?) Though The Joker isn’t in The Long Halloween that book relegated its narrative-driving villain almost to the side as a kind of McGuffin while focusing on the real conflict between Batman, Gordon and Dent, all of whom have different ideas of what justice and the law are.

7. Which is where the film also severely misses a beat. We’re frequently told how vital Dent is but barely shown anything to prove it. Batman’s insistence on Dent’s importance starts to seem almost hysterical, like he’s grasping at straws. Part of the power of The Long Halloween comes from readers knowing from the start what will happen to Dent but watching as he slowly follows his ideas into madness. I’m guessing the filmmakers didn’t necessarily expect viewers to know what would happen to Dent but they certainly didn’t make that same type of tragic figure that The Long Halloween did.

8. At one point I expected the film to take a turn into M territory with the gangsters teaming up with the police to track down The Joker. Can’t help but think that such a mess of conflicting motives and mistrustful allies would have made a far more interesting film.

9. OK, Batman very noticably kidnaps a Chinese citizen in Hong Kong at the exact same time the extremely famous Bruce Wayne is visiting. Nobody makes that connection?

10. The need to explain. Superhero films tend to get bogged down in how to make plausible what is essentially and deliberately implausible. Thus the technobabble about Batman’s costume and some of his devices that add nothing except to start viewers thinking if that would really work. An unfortunate result is that movie-Batman becomes basically a tank rather than an athlete using agility, cape, darkness and psychology. (The Dini cartoon Batman nailed it.) Of course going that route pretty much leaves out any Western actor - Jackie Chan or Jet Li would have made great Batmen.

11. Bale has said that if Robin is ever planned for one of the movies that he will no longer play Batman. Which only shows how little people outside the world of comics understand the role of Robin. Initially a marketing idea that greatly increased sales, Robin has come to be the balance to the grim, driven Batman--in fact to a dark knight. In current continuity Robin is who kept Bruce Wayne from falling completely into insanity or at least pure vengeance with no sense of justice. If that’s not what should be the follow-up to The Dark Knight I don’t know what should be.