THE DARK KNIGHT

December 12, 2008

 

The Dark Knight(2008); Dir. Christopher Nolan. Warner Home Video(Dec. 2008)

After the much anticipated dvd and blu-ray release of The Dark Knight on Tuesday and yesterdays announcement of the Golden Globe nominees, of which The Dark Knight is not among them, with the exception of Heath Ledger’s posthumous best supporting actor nomination, it would be almost impossible to overstate the impact of this film since its release this past July. There isn’t a movie website, blog, or critic, who hasn’t weighed in with their thoughts on this filmSo after seeing the movie twice in the theatre and getting the dvd on Tuesday, I will happily join the rank and file of those having nothing but accolades and awe for this motion picture.

 The Dark Knight is one of those movies that puts stars in your eyes, if they weren’t there to begin with. It represents the possibilities of film for a new generation of movie-goers, many of whom, I imagine, will come away with an excitement for the movies  that will lead them to pursue their own creative interests. The Dark Knight has also rescued Batman from the cartoonish peril and absurdity(George Clooney and rubber nipples in case you forgot) of the late 90’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin with the superb script writing of David Goyer and the direction of Christopher Nolan.

I am not sure if you can call it a more “adult” version of the Batman story or that you can deconstruct the film and say that it reflects the moral ambiguity and cynicism of our times. Gotham City and Batman exist in a world completely outside of our own and it would not be right to try and fit them into our reality. Nihilistic characters like the Joker make more interesting fictional villains because they are elevated to the level of “an unstoppable force” as Heath Ledger’s character says to Batman in one of their scenes together. This movie, along with Batman Begins, also shows that the dark corners of the hero’s psyche make for a much more interesting superhero. After all, it is a fine line that separates what we would deem “good” and “bad.” As The Dark Knight suggests, the nature of good and evil is such a precarious one that a character can be pushed one way or the other given the right circumstances. With a single action, Harvey Dent is driven away from being the upstanding beacon of justice to a murderous criminal seeking revenge as Two Face. He is caught between the nihilism of the Joker and the conviction of Batman and it is because of this that I find him to be one of the more fascinating characters in the movie even though he is played more straight by Aaron Eckhart than the extremes of Heath Ledger’s Joker or Christian Bale’s Batman/Bruce Wayne. This was very interesting to me because the last movie I had seen Aaron Eckhart in was Brian De Palma’s Black Dahlia(I admit that I haven’t seen Thank You For Smoking even though I have been meaning to). His sensibility as an actor seems much more suited for a role such as Harvey Dent more than a hard boiled detective.

The one part of the film that did not work for me was the ending monologue and commissioner Gordon’s son running out to his father as the police beging to chase Batman. After all the destruction and bleak territory the film waded through the filmmakers seemed to really try and end the movie in a way that was suspenseful and hopeful and that did not leave the audience feeling too much despair. Personally, I think the best way to end the film would have been with the Joker laughing and swinging at the top of the building. There is a hard boiled crime feel to the story with the characters that populate the story and the visuals of the film  and I think an ending such as that would have emphasized this element a bit more without taking away from the other  aspects of the story. 

The Dark Knight is truly an epic film which finds the time to include  more artful cinematic moments such as the Joker leaning out the window(one of my favorite scenes) of a cop car after he escapes from jail and has set his plan into motion,  with a maniacally blissful look on his face and the sparkling city lights behind him as the sound fades out. This scene is brief but it adds so much to the overall visual impact of the film that you become aware while you are watchingthis picture of these little moments created byChris Nolan and David Goyer  which give the characters and the story a dramatic intensity and demonstrate their craftmenship as film makers.

Charles Jacob; vanheck123@hotmail.com

 

 
 
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Hellboy II: The Golden Army

December 3, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army(2008); Dir. Guillermo Del Toro

Hellboy II represents a watershed in the filmmaking career of director Guillermo Del Toro. For years he has moved between the more personal, mystical fairy tales of children attempting to navigate the adult world in times of great crisis or loss such as in Cronos or Devil’s Backbone and the pure action/adventure of Blade II or even the often forgotten Mimic. While Pan’s Labyrinth indicated a new direction for Guillermo Del Toro in both the scope of visual storytelling and exploring in fantastical detail worlds that coexist alongside the human world, it is with Hellboy II that his vision becomes fully realized and these two aspects of his films are brought together to create a story that is magical in a way that most films are not able to achieve.

 This world of elves, trolls, tree monsters, and other mythical creatures is one that has existed countless times in books and film and  Guillermo Del Toro uses some well tried conventions of fantasy stories such as the epic battle and retelling of the legend of King Balor, Prince Nuada, and the Golden Army that begins the film.  What is exciting about Guillermo Del Toro’s filmmaking though is that he takes these conventions of the genre and creates something that we are both in awe of and  strangely familiar with. There is a sincerity of purpose in the telling of the story as well as a wonderful understanding of how a fantasy film is supposed to look and feel for the audience. The characters are not lofty or exaggerated, even by comic book standards, but flawed in very human terms. We can appreciate them for this and it adds a dimension to the story that is rarely seen in action films.

Guillermo Del Toro is certainly not a melodramatic director but he is very sentimental both for his characters and in his style of filmmaking. He gives his characters moments where they are able to reveal themselves without seeming out of place and while Hellboy II is an action picture, it is one with a great deal of mythology and influences layered beneath the fight sequences, love stories, and comic relief that populates the film’s swiftly moving plot. One of the most difficult challenges in a sequel is to continue developing familiar characters while still making a film that stands on its own. Guillermo Del Toro does not rely on bringing back old characters to add excitement to the movie but there is that “picked up where we left off feeling” which serves the movie well. In fact, he also brings in new characters such as Johann Kraus voiced by Seth MacFarlane, who lives in a mechanical suit apparatus constructed by Hellboy’s adoptive father as well as Prince Nuada’s twin sister Princess Nuala who brings a very interesting aspect to the story.

Hellboy II represents a new direction for what action films can accomplish as much as The Dark Knight pushed the boundaries of how the comic book hero was potrayed on film. Masterpieces? Certainly not. Great Genre filmmaking? There is no doubt. What is most clear with Hellboy II is that Guillermo Del Toro is gradually building a body of work that embodies the fantasy genres’ best aspects and modern fairy tales which entertain as well as find their way to the heart of something more substantial and meaningful then just flashy action sequences, quick moving plots, and snappy dialogue.

Charles Jacob;  vanheck123@hotmail.com