Thursday, October 16, 2008
Dark Changes for Blockbusters: Movies inspired by comics get serious
“But I know the truth: there’s no going back. You’ve changed things. Forever.” The Joker’s sinister words from the summer season’s latest smash hit have a double meaning for moviegoers.
Not only has Batman managed to change things in Gotham, Acalanes, and everywhere in between, but he’s taken the course of both movies and comic books in a new, darker, direction following the release of The Dark Knight.
In its fourth month after hitting theaters last July, The Dark Knight has grossed $525,831,387 worldwide, making it the second highest grossing movie of all time, just behind Titanic.
It’s easy to see why The Dark Knight is so popular. Critics have been raving about the movie since before it premiered in theaters last August. Nell Minow, a film critic who primarily runs her own website, the Movie Mom, while also contributing to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, and Kansas City Star, believes that a combination of ambitious plot elements and a classic tale of a man with two identities aided the movie’s success.
“Adolescents have always been drawn to stories of transformation and duality,” said Minow in a Blueprint interview. “It’s a very well-written, acted, and directed mov ie that engages some ambitious plot elements about morality, compromise, and whether the ends justify the means.”
The movie also owes much of its popularity to late super-star Heath Ledger, the hugely successful actor who portrayed the eccentric mass-murdering Joker. Ledger met a tragic end after filming The Dark Knight, but before the movie’s release. Many attribute the actor’s untimely death to the mental stress caused by getting into the crazed character’s head. The cause of death is suspected to be an accidentally lethal combination of pills and prescription medicine.
The Joker has had a powerful draw from his fans. “Primarily what I liked about the movie was the Joker. He really just made the movie. I’ve never really been a big fan of the Joker as a bad guy, but this changed it around for me,” said senior Denis Shakhnovich.
“Heath Ledger is a god when it comes to the Joker,” said junior Will Nevin.
The Joker’s appeal comes mainly from the genuinely frightening look created by stringy hair, scarred lips, and distorted clown make-up, explained Minow. When combined with the tragic and terrifying inner character of Ledger’s character, things take on a new level.
“[I always pictured the Joker] exactly like Heath Ledger,” said Junior Alex Suarez.
Also, “[the Joker] did not care about money or power, which meant there was no way to negotiate with him, distract him, or placate him. All he wanted was to mess with people’s minds and that meant there was no place to hide,” said Minow.
The Joker stole into darker regions and themes than other villains that showed up this summer, such as the ultimately forgettable bad guys in Iron Man or Hulk, both of which were more interested in killing or money than getting in the good guys’ head.
Shaknovich knows that “Heath Ledger performed in a way the Joker has never been portrayed before. He’s why it’s so popular,” which isn’t what’s being said about the other bad guys this summer.
“I like The Dark Knight a lot more, because I thought Heath Ledger did an incredible job playing the Joker; Iron Man I thought was more action for the sake of action,” said junior Adam Hoffman.
One possible reason for the film’s success is the tragic death of Ledger after the movie was finished, but before it reached theaters. “I think Heath Ledger kind of became a martyr of the arts,” said junior Owen Spahr.
It’s unquestionable that Ledger’s death was a huge factor in his grim and attractive charisma. But even if a significant percentage of the crowds were desperate to see Ledger’s last film, even if it was a Batman movie, a lot of them became fans of the movie itself and possibly even the genre as a result.
While the Batman series began as a comic strip, most fans of today have only experienced the blockbuster side of the fad, unaware of the history behind the movie and a lot of the themes that were merely picked from the page and thrown to the screen.
“Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.” The Joker’s powerful line towards the end of the movie, one of Heath Ledger’s last, was taken directly from The Killing Joke, a graphic novel written twenty years ago. The gravity and atmosphere of the movie was taken straight from the madness of the comics, pushing the film to higher success.
“If a comic book has a deep and interesting plotline, I would read it. [In ones] I read in my younger years, it was kinda the same thing over and over again,” said freshman Michael Brady.
In an effort to trace the epic comic book reign of old, Joe Field, the owner of Flying Color’s Comics in Concord, recommends Dark Knight movie fans graphic novels The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore (showcasing the Joker’s many different origins, none of which are real), The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (the recreation of Batman into the darker form on screens today), and The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb (the primary inspiration for the movie’s plot). Loeb even had a bit character in the film named after him as a tribute. These excellent stories all helped The Dark Knight develop it’s one of a kind take on the Joker, dark themes, and complicated, detailed plot. these comics have proved unwitting prologues and preludes to the film to come, and all the changes it shall wreak.
“For a super-hero movie, I thought it did The Dark Knight story justice,” said drama teacher Ed Meehan, who was enamored with the film. However, the idea of a new Superman movie that explored that character’s dark-side prompted a more negative reaction, mostly based on what Mr. Meehan saw as a lackluster 2005 movie. “I think Superman needs to go away for awhile,” he said, hoping that a fresher look could be taken at the iconic hero after a break from any appearances from what he considers an overused character.
The failure, or at least disappointment, with super-hero movies from recent years has been consistant. Many people complain about boring characters, a laughable plot, and a void of any themes. The Dark Knight broke away from that sort of film, and its success points to all sorts of movies following its lead, part of what makes it so remarkable.
With a Warner Bros. official statement two months ago saying that, “We’re going to try to go dark to the extent that the character [Superman] allows it”, which suggests that the Dark Knight’s massive popularity will have an influence on films for years to come. Christopher Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight, is listed in Production Weekly as ready to return to make a sequel, even without Ledger’s talents.
Even Marvel Comics, DC’s major rival and the largest comics publisher worldwide, is going to be participating in the trend, with Daredevil being talked of as a Marvel version of the current Batman franchise. “What it [Daredevil 2] really needs is a visionary at the level that The Dark Knight director Chris Nolan was. It needs someone who has a genuine vision,” said Twentieth Century Fox executive Tom Rothman. Iron Man 2, coming in 2010, is planned to confront alcoholism and other dark story elements.
Mick Gray is a DC Comics inker, having inked comic books professionally for a little over twenty years.
“They [the comics companies] will change the Joker in lots of different books to look more like the Heath Ledger character. This is because the masses really dug this movie and by giving them more of what they dig, it will sell more comics,” said Gray.
Gray has recently finished inking an original graphic novel titled Dark Night. It was written by Brain Azzarello and penciled by Lee Bermejo, and will be the first comic book to feature the ‘scarred Joker’ design that Ledger so popularized with his bone-chilling scar tissue smile. While originally planned to be released alongside The Dark Knight, production on the book was held up and the novel couldn’t be in stores until now.
“The story goes that the director of the movie saw Lee [Bermejo]’s sketch a couple years ago and saw this as the direction he wanted to go with for this movie,” said Gray.
Both blockbuster movies and blockbuster comic books are slowly beginning to take a darker, grimmer turn because of The Dark Knight’s staggering success, and the trend can be expected to continue. Director Christopher Nolan and actor Heath Ledger have created not just a genre, but a new direction for the action story to go with their appealing and new take on the action film. This decade’s Darth Vader revealed himself last summer, and he’s wearing a gruesome grin.