Saturday, September 1, 2012

Batman in Brooklyn: Mission Statement

Why is Batman in Brooklyn Important?

Because it is a Batman movie.  All Batman movies are important at the time of their release (though opinions may differ, mine is that two of the films--or three--or four--are mostly forgotten to history, but five films endure).  Batman in Brooklyn will be important when it is released.  We are aiming for a release date of December 20, 2013.  The premiere must take place, of course, in Brooklyn.  Preferably at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

But aside from the excitement that each new Batman movie generates upon its release, Batman movies are important in general because they reflect society via metaphor (as all films should aspire to do).  This metaphor has been written about here previously (see "Batman in Aurora" post) but is essentially the struggle between good and evil--that is, the choice to be good or evil.

It is essential that Batman in Brooklyn be made because Brooklyn is Batman's true home.  Yes, I know Gotham City is his true home, and most people associate Manhattan with Gotham--but there are plenty of signs that Brooklyn is a more realistic setting for Batman than Manhattan (See The Dark Knight Rises denouement. See also Bloomberg's decision to divert all traffic in Manhattan so that a "g**d*** Batman movie" could be shot, in the words of Keith Olbermann).

I think it practically goes without saying that Batman is the most commercially successful comic book character film franchise--and will never be topped.  Not by Superman.  Not by Spiderman.  Not by Iron Man.  Not by The Avengers.  No.  (Not by Twilight.  Not by Hunger Games.  Not by Harry Potter.  And not by Fifty Shades of Grey either, or the Lord of the Rings for that matter.)

Those movies do not get nominated for Oscars.

Lord of the Rings did, but I challenge anyone to argue that that Trilogy is better than the new Batman Trilogy.  I do not think there is any better Trilogy except for the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.  I would rank one other Trilogy in the same class:

1) Star Wars (excluding the 3 new movies)
2) Indiana Jones (excluding the 4th)
3) "The Dark Knight" Trilogy
4) Back to the Future

The difference is that those films (ALL OF THEM!) are unrealistic action-adventure fantasy epics.  Batman is very much the story of modern society and all of its attendant psychological uncertainties.  (There may be some dispute as to whether BTTF is unrealistic, but most scientists agree that time travel into the past is impossible.)

Batman in Brooklyn is essentially a remake of the original Batman (1988) but elements have been added to the make this film entirely something new.  Here are the key differences:

1) Budget.

Batman had a massive budget, and was the most successful film in box office history (by opening weekend receipts) at the time of its release.  Jack Nicholson became the highest paid actor in film history (until Leonardo DiCaprio copied his idea for--surprise,surprise--Christopher Nolan's one-non-Batman movie amidst his trilogy--another highly-acclaimed film). But it took about ten years to make, numerous script revisions were made, and a last minute horse-riding accident necessitated re-casting the female lead (Kim Basinger subbing for Sean Young).  Roger Ebert's review (which gave the film 2 stars) said that it was beautiful to look at, but did not appear as if anyone had any fun while making it.

Batman in Brooklyn will be filmed on the most meager of budgets.  The special effects will be a joke.  But it will be fun to make.  And while it will exist in a metaphorical world where Marc Drier is not in jail in 2012, it will be directly situated in real world events.  While the make-up and costumes and art direction may suffer from some aesthetic deficiencies, it will be the quality of the performances that take the film out of the "remake genre" and into the "update genre."

Some films need to be updated, and some do not.  Superman was definitely in need of an update, and we will see how Man of Steel stacks up next summer, but Superman Returns was certainly a disappointment.  The original Superman is not bad at all - from what I understand (I've only seen most of Superman 2 - which I think most people consider comparable to the first) - but it is certainly a relic of its time.  Batman Returns is more of a relic of the early 1990s than is Batman, and so in a sense might be the better film to remake.  However, Batman Returns is a significantly more complex film.  Ebert also gave it 2 stars.

2) Not directed by Tim Burton.

Let me make this clear: I do like Batman Returns--a lot.  But, as Ebert I think correctly points out, the film is very episodic and lacks a coherent plot.  There are wonderful scenes--the opening scene is probably the most heartbreaking scene in any Batman film, period.  Danny DeVito does what he can with the role of The Penguin--but I believe the film suffers from "Burton-vision."

Let's delve even deeper into Burton and Ebert.  Interestingly, Ebert gave Beetlejuice 2 stars.  Beetlejuice may not be a 4 star film (which I would give it), but at least deserves 3.  Ebert concedes that it is a "fairly original" plot (understatement!) but then goes on to denounce Michael Keaton's performance!  He claims that every scene with Keaton is a misstep.  I believe this is patently false and time has shown that performance to be a stroke of comic genius.

(Note: I have not yet read the review of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure but I suspect it got 4 stars...)

It is interesting to note that Burton made Edward Scissorhands in between Batman and Batman Returns.  Ebert also gave Edward Scissorhands 2 stars (he may have given it 2.5, I can't recall).  Again, Ebert is wrong.  Note here that most of the time, I totally agree with Ebert.  I do not LOVE Edward Scissorhands, but it is better than 2 stars.  Deserves 3.  Many people would say it deserves 4.  Some consider it a classic film.

And then look at what Burton went on to do (everything?).  He directed Batman at age 29 (another reason I am meant to make Batman in Brooklyn).  He took Johnny Depp as his de-facto star, and in the 20 years since Batman Returns, became a Hollywood icon of the most unlikely sort, creating a visual style completely his own.

Also interesting to note: Tim Burton's first film was Frankenweenie--a live action film judged to be unsuitable for children.  Tim Burton's upcoming film is Frankenweenie.  Not live action, but "Nightmare Before Christmas-style" live action.  I do think it is important to remember that Tim Burton has made these films since 1992: Ed Wood (excellent), Mars Attacks! (underrated/misunderstood), Sleepy Hollow (boring), Planet of the Apes (a remake worse than the original, as they usually are--See The Parent Trap), Big Fish (excellent), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (a remake worse than the original--but not without its certain charm and visual originality that Apes lacked), Corpse Bride (excellent--and though I may be in the minority here, an improvement upon Nightmare Before Christmas), Sweeney Todd (a film I could not watch for more than five minutes - boring), Alice in Wonderland (a remake worse than the original, and lacking a certain charm despite supposed visual originality--too weird), and Dark Shadows earlier this summer (never saw it, heard it was not good).  Frankenweenie will be out before the end of the year and looks to be a very emotionally compelling film. (Trivia: Johnny Depp is in 8 of these films and has appeared with alarming regularity since Charlie.)

 With Frankenweenie coming out, and Tim Burton's career coming "full circle" in some sort of sense, which includes more than its fair share of remakes, this is the perfect time to make Batman in Brooklyn.

3) Bloomberg.

The Mayor of Brooklyn is not Mayor Borg - but Mayor Bloomberg.  He is undoubtedly one of the most ridiculous mayors in American history, and his time will soon be up in New York.  Batman in Brooklyn is, on a sub-textual level, a critique of New York City Post-9/11.  It is a critique of capitalism and the fraud that it necessitates.  It is a critique of politics and media coverage.  Finally it is a critique of humanity--or rather, inhumanity.  That is, "silent/helpless observation," or "apathetic one-dimensional thought."  Whoever is next elected Mayor of New York has a great task ahead--but it will be their leadership that determines whether this city sinks (like in the 1980s) or is restored to another period of glory (2001-2002, late 1990s, mid-1960s, etc.).  Batman in Brooklyn will be the cinematic equivalent of The Prince - a text that informs the powerful how to best govern the citizenry.

4) No famous actors.

Batman in Brooklyn was going to be very important if D.A. Hynes of Brooklyn were to play himself, but word has recently leaked out that he is no longer interested in the project.  While this rumor has yet to be substantiated (I call statements made by press secretaries "rumors"), if it proves true, the project must go on regardless.

While Jay-Z might be a very good celebrity to get involved (or Brooks Lopez, who is apparently a big fan of Batman), we simply lack the personal connections to make such a business arrangement feasible.  But the project continues to evolve, and new forms of serendipity seem to affect it on a weekly, if not daily basis.  Anything is possible--until the scenes are shot.

5) New sub-plot.

The new sub-plot will make the film much more coherent than the original Batman because it will bring in more "macro" concerns that the "Dark Knight" Trilogy has been so good at incorporating.  I am being purposefully vague so I do not ruin the surprise.

However, I must state that some discussion of including Superman as a villain has taken place.  The final decision on this matter has not been made, but while there is a strong presumption in favor of including Superman, adding said element could be the proverbial straw to break the camel's back, given the apparent extraordinary difficulty of making Batman in Brooklyn in the first place.  Everybody wants to see Superman in a Batman movie, but we run the risk of turning the project into more of an absurdity than it already may be considered.

Why Would Batman in Brooklyn Fail?

Because I am not a professional director.  I did not go to film school.  While I will concede that this film is likely to be a failure, it will be completed, even if it gets to the point that I need to play (almost) every single role there is in it.  Batman in Brooklyn is a personal statement for me, and my love for film, and my love for Batman.

When I was about 6, I wrote a screenplay for "Star Wars Part 4" (which probably would have been better than The Phantom Menace proved to be about ten years later).  When I was 18, I opted into Blockbuster's 30 rentals for 30 dollars for 30 days deal - and I went to the store every single day to get a new film (most of them were Woody Allen movies).  I went to NYU, ostensibly for film school, but decided against it at the time.  I did not like the rigid structures that those students had to adhere to, and I did not see how I would make any money straight out of it.  So I focused on writing first.

And I tried to work in the real world.  And I wrote novels, short stories, memoirs, essays, and book reviews.

And I went to law school.  This is the real turning point in my life.  My writing dreams have been dashed due to my own personal belief that the book industry has died due to mass-ADHD-outbreak, where the only books that get read are those that are turned into massively successful film trilogies. And because I have gotten mired in the rigidity that is an education in legal doctrine, I rediscovered my love of film and the freedom such expression entails.

I do believe that law school has improved my writing (this post excepted--for various reasons, primary amongst them its personal nature) and Batman in Brooklyn is my attempt to show the world that just because I did not go to film school, just because it is not made with even "adequate" equipment, just because the players are not actors--but mostly law students (which requires a certain measure of acting skills, to be sure), just because there is no financing, just because it's probably a minefield of copyright and trademark infringements, just because I'm incredibly busy as a 3L looking for a post-grad job, along with balancing my coursework and all the other extracurricular commitments I've foolishly bought into, and just because nobody knows who I am, I can make a film that is truly different and great.

And I do believe, that while Batman in Brooklyn is likely to be a failure, it is a necessary failure--for it is only the first step in a planned set of four films (Back to the Future Part 2: Present to be released October 21, 2015; The Parent Trap Redux to be released November 18, 2016; and Older Wayne's World to be released October 27, 2017).  I know from my experience with writing novels that the first, at least for me, was primarily a learning experience.  I only hope that my experience with film will not cause me to abandon all future projects because of the extreme difficulty of it all.

I know that making a film is not an easy thing, but Batman in Brooklyn is not supposed to be easy.  However, it is supposed to be fun and if we have fun making it, even if it fails to find an audience, then it will bring me much happiness and personal satisfaction.

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