by Billie Doux
Superman Returns seems to have given me a superhero jones. I saw Batman Begins a second time the other night, and decided to review it. And here it is.
Fox: "So what do you think?"
Bruce: "Does it come in black?"
I have always had a difficult relationship with Batman on film.
The old series in the sixties was ridiculous, campy fun, and had little to do with the spirit of the original Batman. Dan loved the cartoon series, but most animation leaves me cold. Jack Nicholson was brilliant as the Joker, but I'm one of those people who thought Michael Keaton was woefully miscast. I liked both Val Kilmer and George Clooney in the cape, but they didn't get scripts that were worthy of them; the later films moved away from the tragic hero that was the core of Batman, and concentrated on art deco and neon and way too many bad guys in cartoon costumes.
But Batman Begins -- now, this is Batman as it should be. I'm not completely certain that Christian Bale is the ultimate Caped Crusader, but he is a terrific actor. And he certainly got the most to work with: the best dramatic story, and the most complex characterization of Batman/Bruce Wayne. And they gave him a supporting cast to die for. Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Rutger Hauer. One of my absolute favorite actors in the world, Morgan Freeman. Katie Holmes before she became a national joke, poor thing. And the brilliant Michael Caine, who gave amazing depth to the role of Alfred.
Christian Bale is impressive as both the haunted Bruce Wayne and the nearly psychotic Batman. Bruce's psychological problems, the darkness in his soul, are what Batman was always all about. As Bruce himself says, "A guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues." Batman's emotions pop out from under the mask. He whispers and rants; he sounds almost demented.
They tried hard for a reality-based interpretation. The costume, the bat mobile, the utility belt, all have real world explanations. Bruce keeps searching for meaning, keeps getting seriously hurt, keeps making mistakes. The way they interpreted Scarecrow is particularly interesting and actually frightening. It's hard to make this type of material so intense, but they did it.
So where's the sequel, already?
Three and a half stars,
I saw all the Lord of the Rings movies as they came out on the big screen, but I've finally caught up with the extended editions on DVD. (Yeah, I know – they came out years ago. Hey, they're long movies.) And once you see the movies, of course, you then get to watch the hours and hours and hours of documentaries on how they put the things together. I think they're the best bonus material I've ever seen by far, and I don't think that's just because I'm a New Zealander. The DVDs are pricey, but way worth it.
What struck me most when I saw the docos is what incredible patient loving care went into every single aspect of the movies. Everybody in Middle-earth has a different type of arrow, and there's even embroidery inside some of the costumes. And the locations? Well, the reason Helm's Deep looks so real is that it is real. (When I saw the movie the first time I assumed it was all CGI, but that would have been far too simple for Peter Jackson.) They even planted the hobbits' gardens a year in advance.
But after I finally staggered back into the daylight after what seemed like weeks in Middle-earth, I started to wonder – was it all worth it? Yes, the movies are incredible. But could Peter Jackson have gone to less trouble and got just the same effect? After all, some of the pickups are done not in the spectacular locations the scenes were originally shot in, but in the studio carpark – and I certainly couldn’t tell the difference. Why not save a few mil and shoot everything in the carpark in the first place? And I didn't notice all the different arrows, either: unless they'd used ones with suckers on the end, they probably could have got away with using just one standard pattern, couldn't they? And did they really have to spend forever getting Aragorn's belt buckle exactly right? I'm as smitten with Viggo Mortensen as the next girl, but I didn't even notice he had a belt buckle.
So, yeah, it could probably have been done a lot cheaper, and most of the audience wouldn't have seen much of a difference. That "much of", though, is key. Peter Jackson wasn't shooting for OK, he was shooting for definitive. Did he succeed? Hell, yeah. While the movies aren't 100% perfect, they're going to be the definitive version for decades to come. And the loving care that went into the movies is a big part of that. If Bernard Hill felt more like a king because of the embroidery inside his costume, his performance was probably just that little bit better. It's lot easier to act as if you're exhausted from hours of climbing over rocks, as Elijah Wood and Sean Astin did, when you really have climbed over rocks for hours. And who knows what subliminal effect all those different arrows had, even if I didn't notice them consciously?
More than anything, it's about the effect that dedication to excellence can have. If you're a member of the crew, and everyone around you, from actors to costume designers to set builders, is passionately dedicated to making movies that are the best they can be, it's going to lift your game too. In turn, your dedication inspires everyone else. And that kind of virtuous circle is how we ended up with movies that were as good as Peter Jackson knew how to make them. Yep. It was worth it.
by Billie Doux
Richard White: "Were you in love with him?"
Lois Lane: "He was Superman. Everyone was in love with him."
This was a big, gorgeous, intense movie.
Singer deliberately paid homage to the first two Christopher Reeve movies, right from the opening credits to actually repeating crucial bits of dialogue. This is the Superman III that should have been. And Brandon Routh (rhymes with 'south') just knocked my socks off.
Dan and I spent most of the ride home from the theater talking about what was "off" about Superman Returns (maybe "different" is a better word than "off") and we figured it out. Superman and Superman II had a certain lightness, a touch of camp that allowed us to enjoy it and get into it, but not take it all too seriously. Superman Returns also had some funny scenes, but for the most part, it was dead serious. Even the big blue suit was darker.
In Superman and Superman II, my connection with the wonderful Christopher Reeve was more to his performance as Clark Kent. There was some distance to his performance as Superman, partially due to the state of special effects at the time; he was more like a human being who just happened to fly and do amazing things.
But Brandon Routh spent most of the movie as Superman, not Clark Kent, and I was aware at nearly every moment that he was an alien. Routh's Superman was isolated, alone, different, and oddly vulnerable. The Jesus imagery, the feeling of sacrifice, was everywhere. When Superman did those amazing things (the effects in this movie were out of this world), we were right there with him, up close and personal, and constantly getting the feeling that he could get hurt. Which he did.
Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor was excellent, with some of the flavor of Gene Hackman's portrayal, but with a major difference. My god, he was dark. Very dark, totally evil, and actually pretty scary. There was no Otis or Miss Tessmacher to lighten him up. Parker Posey, as his girlfriend Kitty, reacted to the terrible things that Lex did as we would. In a sense, she was us -- the audience.
Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane was angry about Superman's five year absence, and prettier, less quirky and fragile than Margot Kidder's Lois. When I first heard that Lois Lane was a mother, I thought, oh, no, please, not a cute kid. I hate cute kids. But the little boy who played her son Jason was very good, and the character worked. (And yes, we did learn who Jason's father was. And no, I'm not going to spoil you.)
There were a couple of things I wanted that I didn't get. Especially, a conversation that needed to happen between Lois and Superman, and it didn't, what with saving the world and all. Guess I'll have to wait for the sequel.
Bits and pieces:
-- Routh looked, acted, and sounded like Superman to me. His blue, blue eyes were simply amazing. Odd, because Routh's eyes are really brown.
-- Krypton itself was a character in this movie, and Lex became obsessed with recreating it on Earth. It was dark, cold, dead, and unwelcoming, not as immediate as, say, a missile headed for Hackensack, New Jersey.
-- As mentioned earlier, the Jesus imagery was fairly obvious. But there were also references to Atlas, and Prometheus. In one stunning scene, Superman carried the Daily Planet globe on his back.
-- They used John Williams' original music, and it was perfect. The way they recreated the original credits actually gave me chills.
-- James Marsden (Cyclops from X-Men) played Lois' long-time boyfriend, Richard White. Would you want to play the guy who has to get between Lois Lane and Superman? But he was just fine; I liked him.
-- Bits of Marlon Brando as Jor-El were used, and it worked. Eva Marie Saint, who coincidentally started her movie career with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, played Martha Kent. And there was a photo of Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent on the mantle at the Kent farm. Lovely. (Pointless digression. On the Waterfront is one of my absolute favorite old movies. Brando's best, as far as I'm concerned.)
-- Jimmy Olson was actually the best Jimmy Olson I've yet seen. Excellent casting.
-- Peta Wilson (La Femme Nikita) had a nice supporting role as the host of a press junket for the launch of the new space shuttle.
-- This film was dedicated to Christopher and Dana Reeve.
The audience in the theater applauded at the end of the movie, and I did, too. I loved it.
As good as it was, I'm not ready to give it four stars. (I think I need to see it again to be sure.) But I'm definitely giving Brandon Routh four stars for his performance as Superman. And I really, really, really want a sequel.