July 22, 2008

Putting a (Dark) Smile on Our Faces

"Whatever doesn't kill you . . . simply makes you stranger."

Like the great white star of Jaws, a theme announces his arrival . . . a noisy, steadily ascending blare, not unlike an air raid siren or an airplane free-falling to earth. When he's on screen, he dominates The Dark Knight. Batman's greatest villian has truly come to life.

Hannibal Lector. Norman Bates. Colonel Kurtz. Darth Vader. The Joker has joined them in the pantheon of Hollywood's all-time greatest villians.

I'll admit when the name Heath Ledger first crossed the newswires as the latest actor to play the Clown Prince of Crime, I was seriously concerned. Who? That was summer 2006, and he was best known for Brokeback Mountain. Cruel "Jokeback Mountain" jokes ensued. But we Batman Begins fans kept the faith, buoyed by director Chris Nolan and star Christian Bale, who'd brought us back from the bat-nippled abyss of Batman and Robin.

Then the first teaser photos appeared, followed by snippets of dialogue, and finally the Dark Knight trailers in all their glory. The critics were silenced, and July 18, 2008 was circled on the calendar.

The Bat-pod: I gotta get me one of those (Warner Bros. pic)

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen . . . we are tonight's entertainment."
It's been nearly a week since Kat, Jack and I stood in line for our first-ever midnight movie. All I can say is The Dark Knight was worth three years of waiting, three hours in line, and three hours of sleep the next day. In a world where "amazing" and "spectacular" have lost some of their impact, this one deserves the accolades: it's more like a crime thriller and psychological drama than a superhero movie, examining the blurry line between good and evil and the price of heroism. Those of us who grew up with Batman finally have a movie that returns Bruce Wayne to his noir roots, and gets the Joker-Batman relationship right (nothing against Jack Nicholson's portrayal, which we still love, but this is the real deal). And oh yeah, it's a two-hour, 30-minute thrill ride.

The breathless news media want you to believe that Knight's box office records are the result of morbid curiosity for a young actor who left us too soon, but it couldn't be farther from the truth. Of course, Heath Ledger's death tinges the film with sadness (especially during his final scenes with Bale), but we've been waiting for this performance long before the bad news broke. Heath's Joker is a character for the ages . . . it's a tour de force of twisted fun. Plus he does a mean disappearing pen trick.

All that's left is to buy the soundtrack, a thrilling piece of work by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (starting with the Joker's theme, with its single-note structure twisted and transformed like it was pressed through a Nine Inch Nails filter). Next we need a roadtrip to San Francisco and catch an IMAX show . . . six action scenes were filmed with the giant cameras, including a jaw-dropping chase scene that involves a SWAT truck, a semi, and Batman's Tumbler.

Mainly, I just need to see it again.

Jack who? (WB pic)


alex said...

Did you get a chance to see it at the Metreon in SF yet? I saw the IMAX showing and it was incredible. Definately worth the drive from Salinas in my opinion!

Elrond L said...

We did, Alex, thanks. Can't believe I forgot to add a note! We drove up to the Metreon in mid-August, and it was absolutely worth the time & gas. Our jaws dropped at the first IMAX scene . . . what an amazing experience. This was viewing #3 of DK, and by far the best.