For those of you who like such things, Neal Stephenson writes about the new Star Wars movies versus the old ones in a Times editorial. He's right to point out one of the important things about the Star Wars movies, at least the original ones, is that it made technology a 'fun' topic for movies. Everything before then had the new digital age as the end of democracy (Lucas's own THX-138) or the end of the current form of humanity (2001: A Space Odyssey). Star Wars predicted that the age of digitization would more or less involve silly drunken digital pictures, finding cheaper airline tickets and looking up tour dates for obscure bands – and not at all involve evolution replacing humanity by star babies or emotionally odd machines.
It's also funny where he asked "who was the republic fighting?" and nobody, including myself, was actually all that sure.
Batman Got on my Nerves
Now I can all see exactly the idea behind the Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies. When the kids of the 70s all had B-movies reels, Flash Gordon and diabolical Nazis in their pop culture vocabulary, they got the same products repackaged back to them as their “own” movies. My generation grew up on comic books. Not just any comic books – but the moody violence of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, and the expressionistic teen angst put to four-colors of the Image artists (Mcfarlane, Liefeld, Silvestri, Lee).
Harry Potter aside, there isn't much left in terms of new bankable franchises where the audience already knows most of the story walking into the theaters. The miners are getting deep, hitting the last remaining ores of 50s television (Bewitched, The Hooneymooners), late 60s/early 70s cinema (Guess who's coming to dinner?, The Longest Yard) and 70s television (Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky and Hutch). It doesn't help that the some of America's “auteurs" are aping the sentiment by re-making successful foreign films as American films – the most egregious example being Soderbergh's "Solaris", and the most accomplished is probably a tie between "The Ring" and Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia."
He was running me amock.
And now Mister Nolan has inherited the Batman title. In the same way all of our parents knew what a swashbuckling space smuggler looked like, everyone my age knows who Bruce Wayne is, even if they've never read a comic book. I feel silly trying to expand an essay out of this movie; you probably already know if you are going to go and see it or not. So I'll make this short.
The first thing is that more money went to the supporting cast than extensive special effects, which was an excellent idea. There are less fireballs or bizarre Matrix-esque freeze frames, and more Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. Caine's old-school butler and Oldman's perplexed cop especially standout against the background. Chicago kids will love that the movie was filmed here – seeing the Batmobile fly over the Wacker Street bridge and later screech across Lower Wacker drive was a nice touch (I think the Merchandise Mart was Arkham Asylum).
It's been a day and the editing for the action scenes are still making me queezy. The editing is all Michael Bay – you never are quite sure where the actors are standing or what they are doing in relation to each other. This shouldn't be that hard – the movies where people kick and fight each other that audiences adore (the first Matrix, Crouching Tiger and other Hong-Kong action, Blade) all allow you to clearly see what is going on. They are entirely composed of mid-range shots with a strong linear focus to them (The vampire missed his kick, then Blade stabbed him with his sword). It's particularly bad with the chase scene, which should be a perfect Blues Brothers style pileup of cars (cinematically, if Chicago is good for anything, it’s for car chases). But the jump-cuts and non-sequitur shot sequencing gave nobody the simple, but essential, satisfaction of watching a car make a fast turn. This becomes even more of a problem during the last battle set on the El.
Perhaps the idea of perfectly framing a grown man in a rubber suit kicking someone was too much for Nolan to bear, and that he thought he could dodge, or perhaps even make atmospheric, a lot of what was going on by making it incoherent. It didn't work. It is notable that he didn’t do this in the beginning of the movie where it was just Bruce Wayne learning how to sword-fight in the hills.
He ridiculed me, calling me a bum.
The co-scriptwriter is David Goyer, who in addition to being an excellent comic book writer, brought you the script for the 2nd and 3rd Blade movies. Blade can get away with chatting it up about Big Ideas while delievering a roundhouse kick to someone – Christian Bale in a rubber suit cannot. The scenes where he's supposed to be the scariest as Batman come off as the most absurd. Bale plays the best asshole in current movies (see American Psycho, the new Shaft), and his Bruce Wayne is perfect – at least they keep the standing around in the Batman suit to a minimum.
At the end of the film you have gotten three movies – an excellent first one of the training of Bruce Wayne, a pretty good one of Batman's first days on the job, and a third one where Batman has to save the day that may make you dizzy. Don't feel ashamed to leave 2/3rds of the way through the movie.