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Thread: The Dark Knight

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    Senior Member Buzz Dixon's Avatar
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    Default The Dark Knight

    I think Heath Ledger's interpretation of The Joker is going to become the standard for the character in the future, who "totally new"?

    I think not.

    Which is not to take away from Ledger's remarkable performance -- and he was the best thing in the picture.

    But it also speaks volumes that this film only confirms Adam West was the best Batman ever. The Bats character is a total non-entity in all the post-modern versions of the story; West's Batman was loopy, obtuse, and over the top, but dang if he wasn't interesting to watch all on his own.

    Somebody really needs to do a YouTube mash-up pitting Ledger's Joker against West's Batman.

    THE DARK KNIGHT is one of the best superhero films ever, but as a movie it's akin to Sergio Leone's Dollar Westerns or John Woo's Hong Kong action films. Visually eye catching, opportunities for bravura performances, some nods to Things Of Importance, but nothing that can sustain detailed analysis. It's a good movie and grand entertainment, but it's a YOJIMBO, not a SEVEN SAMURAI.

    I don't think the superhero genre can sustain a SEVEN SAMURAI (for those slow on the uptake, yes, one can make a movie about seven superheroes banding together to save a city; JAWS is about guys on a boat chasing a big white fish but that doesn't make it MOBY-DICK). I think the inherent absurdities of the genre (and mind you, those inherent absurdities are what makes it appealing) limit the range.

    I may be wrong. But I think the superhero genre only works when it winks at the audience in the manner of the earliest Bond films and says, "Yes, we all know this is nonsense, but isn't it such glorious nonsense?" For all it's grandiose superstructure, the foundations are not that strong.

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    Yes, the inherent absurdity of people running around in costumes does tend to undermine attempts at "seriousness."

    But then again, I'm not sure that acclaimed films like Vertigo are much less absurd. And of course there's a certain Billy Shakespeare who used absurd notions and stories, some of whose plays are considered in some quarters to be the greatest works in the English language.

    I'm not arguing that The Dark Knight is Vertigo or The Tempest. But arguing that the absurdities of a genre necessarily limit the range is privileging a certain brand of realism/naturalism as inherently "better" than other movements--the prevailing sentiment in America for the last 100+ years (and to a lesser extent in the UK), but not necessarily so elsewhere in the world. Personally I think that's why Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez get to be in the capital-L Literature section of the bookstore but Neil Gaiman often finds himself in the SF/Fantasy sections.

    Superheroes do present certain challenges in terms of being taken seriously as Art or Literature. But when you examine the definitions being used for Art and Literature, you'll often find, as I say, that there's a privileging of realism.

    (And I'm not sure comparing Jaws to Moby Dick is fair; the movies based on Melville's work pale in comparison to the novel, and if you're comparing a movie to a novel, you're talking apples and oranges. What's more, citing Moby Dick as a contrasting example of Greatness is a curious choice given that it's about a seemingly semi-sentient, possibly supernatural white whale).

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    Senior Member Buzz Dixon's Avatar
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    I think Hitchcock would be among the very first to admit his movies could not withstand sustained analysis; he himself said they were full of "refrigerator moments" by which he meant that moment after the audience had gone home, was preparing to go to bed, and opened the refrigerator for a late night snack only to think about a plot point in the film they'd just seen and go, "Now wait a minute..."

    (I mean, c'mon, Cary Grant picking at random one train out of a dozen trains to climb aboard, picking one car out of dozens of cars, then one seat out of dozens of empty seats and it's right next to the secret agent who's looking for him?)

    I think superhero movies can have their nods towards more serious ideas and themes -- THE DARK KNIGHT certainly touches on this -- but again, there's only so far it can go.

    To use war movies as an analogy, I think superhero movies can give us a DIRTY DOZEN, a GUNS OF NAVARONNE, perhaps even a PATTON, but I don't think they can deliver an APOCALYPSE NOW.

    Sidebar: For all his harping on how much he hated plans, Heath Ledger's Joker certainly relied on his own plans working to pin point perfection (viz. "I'm supposed to shoot the bus driver" works only if the other masked robber is standing exactly at that precise point; six feet in almost any other direction would have put him out of harm's way [and he wouldn't have been six feet closer to the bus because he was trying to get the drop on the Joker]).

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    So what are you saying? Notorious and Vertigo aren't on the same level as Apocalypse Now? I would beg to differ.

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    Aren't exciting movies inherently absurd? The most exciting moment in Apocalpyse Now (helicopter battle) is pretty silly. Kilgore and Kurtz are completely ridiculous characters.

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    Senior Member Buzz Dixon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zugernaut View Post
    So what are you saying? Notorious and Vertigo aren't on the same level as Apocalypse Now? I would beg to differ.
    On a technical skill, they're all top level productions. Where APOCALYPSE NOW differs is that there is more to turn over in one's head afterwards than with NOTORIOUS and VERTIGO (although NOTORIOUS is certainly much more plausible than VERTIGO).

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    Senior Member Buzz Dixon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dennis View Post
    Aren't exciting movies inherently absurd? The most exciting moment in Apocalpyse Now (helicopter battle) is pretty silly. Kilgore and Kurtz are completely ridiculous characters.
    I was in the Army during the Vietnam era (I was stationed in Korea, not Nam) and met quite a few officers and enlisted men who served there. From what they told me, and from what I saw by direct obersevation, nothing in APOCALYPSE NOW was far-fetched.

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    Heretic bartl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buzz Dixon View Post
    (I mean, c'mon, Cary Grant picking at random one train out of a dozen trains to climb aboard, picking one car out of dozens of cars, then one seat out of dozens of empty seats and it's right next to the secret agent who's looking for him?)
    On Roger Ebert's Glossary of Movie Terms, he calls that the "fallacy of the predictable tree" (or a close variation on the theme).

    Now, as far as superhero movies go, the way to make a classic is steal from one. Preferably one that most of the audience has never read (the reviewers probably will have, but nobody will care when they point it out anyway). One of Shakespeare's 2nd tier plays is always a good bet (Henry IV, Part 1 would work). For something on the more satirical side, Voltaire's L'Ingénu could be adapted. Or maybe Dickens' Great Expectations?
    Bart Lidofsky

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    Quote Originally Posted by Buzz Dixon View Post
    On a technical skill, they're all top level productions. Where APOCALYPSE NOW differs is that there is more to turn over in one's head afterwards than with NOTORIOUS and VERTIGO (although NOTORIOUS is certainly much more plausible than VERTIGO).

    I say that's false, or at the very least, highly subjective. Vertigo offers all manner of opportunities for rumination regarding identity. Notorious offers much the same regarding loyalty, trust, and betrayal. Yes, Apocalypse Now projects an air of Importance and Seriousness. But that doesn't mean it is more so than the Hitchcock films.

    And also, you're again using "plausibility" as somehow being synonymous with "better," or more "Literary," and I would say that just ain't so. Back to Shakespeare: The Tempest isn't "plausible." Midsummer Night's Dream isn't "plausible." Hamlet, what with his father's ghost running around, isn't "plausible."

    The paradigm that "realism" and "plausibility" means "better" or "more profound" or "more important" is just a fictional construct. (That's one of the things that always gets me about so many comics readers who want superhero comics to be more "realistic," which they somehow believe will help turn them into capital-A Art. What they may be asking for is more psychological depth, but psychological depth and realism are not synonyms.)
    Last edited by Zugernaut; 07-31-2008 at 02:45 PM.

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    Senior Member Buzz Dixon's Avatar
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    Fair point re plausibility, seriousness, fantasy, etc., but I don"t have the time right now for an in depth response. Let me come back to this later this evening.

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    The rest, fine, I'm not going to quibble, but Adam West wouldn't be even among the top 10 Batmans (Batmen?) of film and TV even if he were the only one. He was awful. Which likely wasn't entirely his fault, since I've seen him in other things where he was pretty good, so at least some of the blame has to go to the writers, producers and directors who determined the show's direction, but he was awful.

    - Grant

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    Super Amalgamated! Alan2099's Avatar
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    Everytime I hear people talking about how Dark Knight is such a realsitic take on things I can't help but wonder what kind of person even goes looking for realsim in a movie where a millionaire trained by ninjas fights a crazy clown.

    Realism left the building quite a while back. By not embracing the over the top elements, I feel a lot of the charm of superhero movies are lost.
    Highly Evolved Creature Totally Orientated on Revenge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Buzz Dixon View Post
    Fair point re plausibility, seriousness, fantasy, etc., but I don"t have the time right now for an in depth response. Let me come back to this later this evening.
    I probably agree with a lot of what you're saying about Dark Knight, Buzz. I just figured you started this thread to get a heated discussion going, so I obliged. I hear what you're saying.

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    Senior Member Buzz Dixon's Avatar
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    By plausibility, what I'm getting at is a movie being plausible in the parameters it sets for itself as a movie. We've all been jarred by films and TV shows where they go one step too far and it breaks the willing suspension of disbelief. Some film makers are more skilled than others and can deftly negotiate implausibilities that would stop other movies dead in their tracks.

    The biggest plausibility challenge re Batman today -- po-mo Bats, as it were -- is that he is plausible only if he is border-line insane, driven by unquenchable obsession. The problem is, that sort of character can not be long sustained. Look at what happens to Clairise in all the gawdawful sequels to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: She was an obsessive character, though not to the extreme of po-mo Bats. That obsession simply could not be maintained past the original story (the protagonist of RED DRAGON is even more obsessive than poor Clairise, but his story is done with that book).

    This is why Tony Stark -- and Adam West's interpretation of batman -- are so much more sustainable. Stark's motivation is not obsession, at least not on the level displayed by Bruce Wayne. Stark feels guilt and wishes to atone for it, but that's not why he becomes Iron-Man.

    Tony Stark becomes Iron-Man 'cuz it's just so frickin' cool to be a superhero.

    One line says it all: "Oh, yeah. I can fly."

    That's where Adam West's Batman trumps every other interpretation of the character: He is goofy, he is loony, he is an even bigger boy scout that Supes, but the reason he dons the cape and cowl is because he likes it!

    Spider-man, for all his angst in movies and comics, really grooves on being a superhero. So do the Fantastic Four (even if Ben grumbles a lot). Even the X-Men thinks it's pretty cool to be mutants.

    But poor po-mo Bats is not doing what he does because he likes it, he does what he does because he's driven to do it.

    I know you argue for the Punisher to be a thorough existentialist, Steven, and for that character I would tend to agree. But remember he started as a villain. He is just like po-mo Bats except he doesn't see the point of not killing criminals. As implausible as he is (try using that much ordnance without a major support team and see how far you get), he works because he is always alone. The moment one starts adding a support cast to an obsessive, the foundations of the character start to crumble (and I know Castle gets some outside support on occasion, but even that is plausible in the context of the stories if one realizes Castle is being used as an expendable tool by those higher up on the social food chain; po-mo Bats occupies that higher position in his stories).

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    Senior Member Buzz Dixon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan2099 View Post
    Everytime I hear people talking about how Dark Knight is such a realsitic take on things I can't help but wonder what kind of person even goes looking for realsim in a movie where a millionaire trained by ninjas fights a crazy clown.

    Realism left the building quite a while back. By not embracing the over the top elements, I feel a lot of the charm of superhero movies are lost.
    I'm not arguing for realism so much as plausibility (see above). And I agree superhero movies should embrace the over the top elements; this is what I mean when I refer to superheroes' inherent absurdity (which is not the same thing as saying they're stupid and/or funny).

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