- BLOCKBUSTER BAILIFFS –
- Dark Knight in the Dock-
By James Murphy
We take selected movies and assess the level of their originality/related merit. Unpaid debts WILL be chased and settled. This week: 2008’s The Dark Knight.
I have fond memories of The Dark Knight and its GREAT viral marketing campaigns. ‘Why so Serious’ (an online invitation to join the Joker’s gang) and ‘We believe in Harvey Dent’ (faux District Attorney’s election campaign) spiked peoples’ interest.
Then, a frankly awesome trailer in time for Christmas 2007. Come summer 2008, I was naturally queuing with anticipation. I enjoyed the film; with my excitement repeated in time for the DVD release by Christmas 2008.
But I had reservations. This was a film without a clear beginning /middle /end. It is a series of ideas and set pieces. Ostensibly another super-hero film, it has notions of being a very adult crime thriller, devoid of levity and frequently nasty in its dark, dystopian violence.
There is a world of difference between truly loving a film and simply being wooed and wowed by its packaging. Perhaps the glow from other summer movies that year (notably, Iron Man) simply filtered down to make The Dark Knight a bigger success?
Was it a good film? Yes. It’s literate, philosophical, epic, atmospheric and flawlessly scored, shot and choreographed. But is it truly GREAT? Does it deserve the almost religious fervour with which fans sing its praises? Possibly not.
Is it even that original? Not really. The Dark Knight owes debts to the following cinematic creditors:
Heat (1995; Michael Mann)
Minimalist interiors; Bank Heist at beginning; an entire film hinging on a war between two men representing order and crime..all features of The Dark Knight, but also defining elements in Heat.
Drop Zone (1994; John Badham)
Parachuting at night; money launderer liability kidnapped; crime-lords as background rather than central villains amidst shiny skyscraper action. Catchy Hans Zimmer score. Drop Zone models those features. The Dark Knight adds them to a bigger picture, promoting the product from B to A List.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980; Irvin Kershner)
Things get worse before they can get better; a large vehicle is overcome by a smaller one with the help of a cable fired out in transit; a love triangle is set up; things end on a downer but with note of hope. It’s no accident that Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight’s director) is often cited as a possible future Star Wars director!
The Godfather Part II (1974; Francis Coppola)
Hero is warned to stop his quest. He doesn’t listen. He achieves his goal. But at total personal cost. Chunky, philosophical themes and reflective dialogue pervade a script that matches gangster underworld to flawed political overlords. Allows for yet renders redundant third instalment. Dark Knight might be a comic book movie, but its ambitions echo those of the Godfather saga.
Mirror Images 2 (1993; Gregory Dark)
True, this is a ‘soft porn’ film or ‘skin flick’. Connection? An entire sub-genre of these naughty (yet somewhat innocent in retrospective comparison with today’s pervasive pornographic plague) movies were a staple of every Blockbuster video shop and UK channel 5 Friday night in the 1990s. For all their awful scripts and B movie values, films in this mould frequently innovated in lighting and photography that turned small office spaces into set-pieces. The man behind that visual trick? Wally Pfister (Director of Photography, Dark Knight).
Batman (1989; Tim Burton) and Batman Forever (1995; Joel Schumacher)
Dark Knight IS a BATMAN film! Whilst the Nolan trilogy of Batman films is deemed to ‘fix’ errors in previous onscreen iterations of the character, they thereby also owe them a debt. Batman ’89 hinges on Joker v Batman and yes, Ledger’s 2008 Joker is more studied than Nicholson’s in ’89. But there are similarities (a similar movement of the mouth in one scene, especially). Batman Forever also sets up a very similar moral problem, it simply does so with lighter tone and less maturity (can Batman save two figures from his competing lives as man and crime fighter?). Oh and..sonar eyes!
Purely circumstantial evidence? Or a damning indictment on a revered classic? Jury is out. Matter is referred for sentencing to a trial by PODCAST. In an episode to be recorded /uploaded shortly, I will be discussing the merits / drawbacks to The Dark Knight. Details to be announced soon; feel free to join in with your views.
I do accept that in a sense, EVERY film is derivative and this one has VERY good taste in its assorted inspirations. I might even end up all singing the film’s praises again. I’m certainly a fan of the series as a whole. ‘Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded’ (The Dark Knight; 2008; A Christopher Nolan film; starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger).