Monday, July 9, 2012

Why We Don't Deserve The Dark Knight Rises

It’s almost been a year since I blogged last. And, while I have a lot of stories to tell (production and release of my thesis film Rearview, the production and horrible deletion of my film Special, my various life changes over the past year, etc.), I wanted to start off my blogging again with something that I am very passionate about that doesn’t completely relate to my life story.

Well, at least not directly.

As I’m sure you all know, Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises opens in just two weeks. It will be the follow-up to the massively successful 2008 film The Dark Knight and the end to Nolan’s popular Batman film trilogy. But I’m not sure that most people (at least the general public) understand just how important and rare this film is. And how much we don’t deserve it.

You see, The Dark Knight Rises is not just a summer blockbuster. It’s not just a realistic or a “dark” take on popular comic book character Batman. It’s a piece of art created by an intelligent, risky artist on the largest scale imaginable. And just the very fact that it exists and that we, an incredibly ungrateful and mostly ignorant race of people, get to enjoy it is staggering.

Just what Christopher Nolan has done with the character is astounding. He has taken a comic book character that is a well-known piece of pop culture and has taken him to limits that I’m sure no one ever imagined Batman going.

When Christopher Nolan first got the job to direct a Batman film everyone got a little bit excited. Nolan was an artistic director known for the challenging indie film Memento who seemed to want to return Batman to his darker roots (something that was very welcomed by fans and filmgoers after the incredibly cartoony and embarrassing Batman and Robin film). As Batman Begins went through production, the Internet was a buzz that with the notion that Nolan was creating the first true-to-comic Batman film. And it was going to be just as dark as some the late 80’s, early 90’s Batman graphic novels had been.

However, when Batman Begins came out, it was a little different from what everyone expected. Sure, it was truer to the comics and graphic novels than the last Batman films had been. However, Nolan’s Batman was still not the Batman that lived in the comic book pages. He was something else.

What Christopher Nolan has done is try to create a Batman that could hypothetically exist in our own universe. It’s a bold move as it takes out most of the magic and I guess you could say “fun” of the Batman mythos. However, it allows for a story that is more grounded, relatable and, thus, more powerful than any other Batman film before it.

So when you see a comic book fan spouting off about how he loves Christopher Nolan’s Batman films because they are so “true to the comic,” he’s actually very wrong. While Nolan’s films do mirror some of the Batman graphic novel plot points, they almost have nothing to do the Batman of the comic book world. They are not comic book movies. No, what Christopher Nolan is making is a film series that is his own, unique artistic vision of the Batman mythology. He has taken inspiration from a creative medium and made it his own. And he’s doing so on an incredible scale with the backing of a powerful film studio.

This is insane. It should not happen. Hollywood is a place where money and success matter. It’s not a very creative or risky town. And what Nolan has done with the incredibly marketable pop-culture icon known as the Batman is incredibly precarious. The fact that he has Warner Bros.’ complete trust and support to do whatever he wants with Batman as long as it is in his vision is unprecedented.  

Just look at the recent Marvel Studios films. Those are very much “comic book movies” that are incredibly studio-controlled. If you look at Thor, Captain America, and even this summer’s wildly successful The Avengers, it’s hard to differentiate a director’s voice or vision. A lot of people like to say that The Avengers was such a Joss Whedon film but I don’t buy that. Aside from a handful of moments, it was hard for me to find much of Whedon in there (which is one of the reasons the movie didn’t really blow me away). Why? Because it feels just like all the rest of the Marvel Studios films. This is because the studio oversees everything and does not allow its directors much artistic control and license (this is pretty well publicized).

This isn’t the case with Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. Everything in his Batman films is his and his alone. And it’s just so incredible and frankly heart-warming to see something like that happen in dark, old Hollywood, where dreams are sh*t on at the drop of a hat.

And lucky for us Christopher Nolan’s artistic vision of Batman is really, really good. The films have incredible scope, design, acting, directing, cinematography and music. They also have an amazing atmosphere that feels real and unique. Experiencing these films is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. They are amazing pieces of filmmaking that manage to be both entertaining and thought provoking. Who else could make a Batman film that deals with current political events such as the Wall Street crash and occupy movement that is not overtly preachy and can still be entertaining to the masses?

Nolan is also shooting these movies on film. Sadly, in this day and age, that is now a rarity. Of all the summer blockbuster films being released this year, The Dark Knight Rises is the only one actually shot on film stock. It is also one of the only blockbuster films not being projected in 3D. This is because Nolan refuses to give in to this gimmick. Still, he manages to push technology even further by shooting over an hour of the film with giant IMAX cameras. This allows for most of the film to be projected fully on 70 foot IMAX screens. On regular screens, the IMAX footage will appear crisper, fresher and more detailed. 

And, along with all of this, these movies mean a lot to me personally. After all, I would not be writing such a long and passionate article if I did not feel a strong, personal connection to these films.

My first exposure to Batman was actually the campy Adam West 1960’s television show. Re-runs (obviously, I was a kid in the 1990’s) would come on this one channel and I just couldn’t get enough of it, no matter how stupid it was. I soon moved on the Tim Burton 1989 film and the 1990’s animated television series. It was during this time that Batman became my favorite comic book hero.

However, it wasn’t until I began reading Batman graphic novels during my late high school years and early college years that I really fell in love with the character. Book such as The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, The Long Halloween, Hush and Year One changed my perspective on the character and just what you could do with him. This wasn’t a comic book character like Spider-man or Superman. He was a real human being who lived in a dark and dangerous world. And he could be used to explore some really important and sometimes disturbing issues.

I feel like Christopher Nolan realized this and used Batman to his fullest extent with 2008’s The Dark Knight. This film changed a lot on my perception of the character of Batman and my understanding of filmmaking. I saw The Dark Knight five times in theaters in 2008 (a rarity for me, seeing a film twice is usually my max). I was so excited for its release that I arrived with some friends to the midnight show at 6 pm just because I wanted to be first inside.

By the end of my first viewing of The Dark Knight, I realized that I had seen something truly spectacular. I had seen my favorite interpretation of the character and his world so far. Heath Ledger’s incredible performance of the Joker had blown me away. The atmosphere and scope of the movie had sucked me into the film’s world. I found Wally Pfister’s cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s score both beautiful and haunting.

My eyes were actually tearing up and my heart was swelling by the end of it. It sounds stupid but it happened. But it wasn’t because the movie made me sad. It was because I knew I had witnessed something really special. A work of art that was both intelligent and entertaining. A new, innovative form of storytelling. A comic book movie that transcended the idea of being a comic book movie.

Now, in just two weeks, The Dark Knight Rises will be released and it has the potential to do all of these things and more.  And, as we get closer and closer and I get more and more excited, I start to think we honestly don’t deserve a film this incredible.

Because The Dark Knight Rises is incredible.

I can say that without even knowing if it is even any good (though earlier reports are suggesting it is that good… more even). Just the fact that Christopher Nolan has gotten to make one of these films again is amazing. The fact that Warner Bros. has put so much trust into him to do whatever the hell he wants with Batman again is amazing. The fact that the man gets to make his art on such an expensive and giant level is amazing. Because no one believes in art anymore. And no one can create it like this.

So when I see people complain about Catwoman (“she should have a cowl on her head like in the comics!”), I want to say “f*ck you, you don’t deserve this film.” When I see comic book nerds complaining about the changes that Nolan makes for his films, I want to rip them apart. We shouldn’t be nitpicking or whining about these films (and yes, this was even something I was guilty of when I first saw Heath Ledger’s Joker costume back in 2007). We should realize just how damned lucky we are to live in a world where someone like Chris Nolan exists and is giving us his vision of a character that we love.

We don’t deserve a movie with this much care and love put into it. But, damn it, I’m so glad we get to have it.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Harry Potter Birthday Bash

About a month ago, I turned 24 on the day that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was released in theaters. Because of this, I felt it was only natural that I have a birthday party that led into the midnight show. Below, you can see pictures from the whole event.

This is Heather, my new girlfriend. She is pretty awesome and a big Harry Potter fan.

Blossom in his pretty terrible Dementor costume.

The best cake in the world.

Rebecca was on the verge of a breakdown the entire evening. I think it was a mixture of excitement and exhaustion.

I caught Whoopie Goldberg on TV. Win all around.

Blossom made us Butterbeer jello shots. They were pretty good. You can't tell in this picture but there were sprinkles on them that made them Gryffindor and Slytherin themed.

We met Ann and her sister at the theater.

This picture makes me happy.

I ran into Cami Roebuck in the lobby. This kid is awesome.

Who brings a book into a theater? Nerd.

Overall, it was a really fun night spent with great friends. I really enjoyed the movie and it was great to experience with those closest to me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Oh Yeah, I Have a Blog

So this past semester got pretty rough and, in the process, I stopped updating this blog and lost touch with a lot of great things in my life. Now I'm on a much needed break and I'm feeling much, much better about things. For one, I can say that I'm actually excited about making movies again and that's a really great thing.

So what did I do while I was gone? Well, a lot. I just realized that I haven't put a lot of my recent films on here. So let's do that now.

First up is At the End, a project I did for Professor Bear's 710 Film and Digital Production class. The goal was to tell a complete story creatively in one camera shot that lasted one minute long. We were not allowed to alter the image in any way in post. The film tells the story of a young man dying of cancer and how he views the last week of his life as a blur that jumbles up visiting friends, loved ones and his own memories. The blurred effect that appears in the film was created by using a 50mm Lensbaby Composer.

The next film is my final film that I did for 710. It is called Spotless and plays off of the urban legend of "The Hook," which is about the young couple that is terrorized by a hooked killer in a lover's lane. I re-wrote the legend though and gave it a little twist to make it more interesting to me. The film turned out pretty solid. I'm pretty happy with it. It's definitely a lot fun and feels a lot like a lot of the horror films I used to watch growing up.

The next film I have for you guys is my Self Portrait that I made for Professor Kocka's 729 Directing for Film and Television class. The goal was to simply express who I am creatively. The project became an obsession for me and what resulted is probably my favorite thing that I have made as a filmmaker. I had a lot of people be real with me for this thing and I really love the way it turned out.

The last film I have for you guys is a studio exercise entitled Possible that my classmate Rachael Abrams and I co-directed for Directing class. The goal of the project was to take what we had learned in the class and use those techniques to help explore the idea of memories and dreams. The film follows a young man as he daydreams about a girl in the park and then, after some thought, tries to make those dreams a reality. The film was a lot of fun to make and I feel like it turned out quite enjoyable. Rachael and I created the dream sequences all in camera via the technique of "lens walking," in which you detach the lens of the camera and "walk" it back and forth from the camera body. Great stuff.

I also completed my final film for Directing class called Student Teacher Conference. There is a cut of it but I'd like to have it re-cut slightly and cleaned up for festival usage. Because of that, you will not be seeing it online. However, I will be putting together a small trailer for it, which I will put on here.

The movie tells the story of a girl named Jill who has had a 4.0 her entire college career. When she does bad on a paper for Professor David Lister, she finds her precious grade point average threatened. She tries to persuade David to change her grade but no avail. So she decides to turn to alternative methods to have the grade changed. Possibly dangerous methods.

Student Teacher Conference is a hard movie for me. It's incredible uncomfortable and raw. Because of this, it's not the most pleasant thing to watch. However, that's kind of the point. Overall, I'm pretty happy with what we achieved, especially considered my lack of sleep and sanity at the time of filming. The movie is good but will kill a party vibe in a second. It came from a pretty personal place from me and that shows. I've been trying to get the film made for two years now and it's nice to finally have it out of me.

In a few months, I begin work on Rearview, my final film at SCAD. I don't want to say much about this film yet. But one look at the teaser poster should give some strong hints to its subject matter and theme.

That's it for now. Expect blog posts at a regular pace from here on out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coming Soon: Self Portrait

If you ran into me over the break, you probably know that I am working on my Self Portrait for Professor Lubomir Kocka's Directing for Film Television class right now. You know this because I probably harassed you into being in it. I got the assignment before the break started and, for some reason or another, I began to instantly obsess over it.

Basically the assignment is that I have to create a visual work that creatively expresses me as a person, filmmaker, artist, etc. I could go about this in a variety of ways. I decided to go a route that is slightly experimental. Since I was going back to Mississippi for a week during Spring Break, I decided to interview as many people from my life as I could during that time. This included people that were my friends, teachers, actors, crew members, parents, grandparents, ex-girlfriends, etc. I did my best to get what was best and worst about me out of these people. The goal was to get a variety of opinions, ideas and stories from these people and then to express what they say about me visually.

Basically, I wanted to have the people that grew up with me paint a picture of who I am. I didn't want to influence them. I didn't want to say who I am myself. I wanted them to tell me and paint my project for me. I took the assignment as sort of a spiritual quest to try and figure out who I am as a person, what I've done wrong and what I've achieved.

Now I sit here at 2:24 am rendering clips and patiently waiting to cut everything together. I have over two hours of interviews, home movie clips, Mississippi landscape footage, etc. My Self Portrait is only supposed to be five minutes long.

Needless to say, I have a lot of work ahead of me. The crazy part is that I'm not even done filming yet. Still, I couldn't be more excited and enthusiastic about this project. I'm working hard to create a real sensory experience with this film. I hope it works the way it does in my head. It's going to be a pretty strange thing to watch.

I'm still blown away by how many people did interviews for me in the break and by how much content each of them gave me. It's going to be hard to find the nuggets of gold in each of their interviews. You can see a screenshot of each person who participated below.

Andrew Hinds: friend, composer, co-writer, artist

Guy Stricklin: friend, artist, DP
Laura Murphy: friend, actor, performer

Zach Osborn: friend, actor, co-writer, performer

Margaret: ex-girlfriend

Rebecca Goysich: friend, film extra

Kelli Gann: friend, film extra

Dr. Everett: undergraduate English / Film professor

Hugh Latimer: grandfather

Kevin and Michele Caldwell: parents

Caleb Graham: friend, actor

Jonathan Blossom: friend, actor, various crew member positions

As you can see, I have a lot to go off of. I have to have the project ready to screen a week from today. Wish me luck. I'll be sure to put it on here. Also, I'll be putting up articles on the One Minute Film and the Urban Legend Film from last quarter soon as well.