A number of hangups have kept director Guillermo Del Toro from unleashing a new cinematic concoction on to the big screen. After his 2006 superhero flick Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, the imaginative filmmaker was set to direct The Hobbit, the project falling through after a number of financial hurdles. After that, he stepped up to direct his passion project, the 3D, R-rated horror epic At the Mountains of Madness, set to be produced by James Cameron. Budget and material concerns put the kibosh on the film, leaving Del Toro looking for something new. We'll finally see a new film from the Pan's Labyrinth director in 2013, the epic robots vs. monsters blockbuster Pacific Rim, but thankfully, even a Hollywood obstacle course can't stop Del Toro from leaving his stamp on the movie world. When directing isn't coming together, the modern master of the fantastical turns to producing.
In the interim of helming his own films, Del Toro has taken the role of overseer on a number of different projects, including a slate of horror movies (2010's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and the upcoming Mama) and the last two years of Dreamworks Animation films, including Mastermind, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Puss in Boots. This week sees the release of his latest and, perhaps, most personal, animated endeavor, Rise of the Guardians, a film that teams up Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost for a grand battle against the nefarious Boogeyman.
Guardians' weaving of familiar, mythological faces shares more than a little with the superhero movies of late, so it's fitting that when Hollywood.com met with Del Toro to discuss the cartoon epic and the many upcoming projects he has his hands in (including a stop-motion animated Pinocchio), the director was packing up a handful of freshly purchased few comic books....
Where do you buy your comics these days?
Guillermo Del Toro: In Manhattan, Midtown Comics, Forbidden Planet… Midtown is like a shrine.
Funny you say "shrine," because it seems like there aren't many places for geeks to hang out. The Internet doesn't have the same ambiance to it.
Del Toro: You know what the funny thing is? This afternoon I'm going to an antique bookstore… there's nothing like browsing. The other day I went to one of my favorite shops in L.A., The Iliad, and another called Adventures in Time and Space, and I spent a couple of hours just browsing. There is no substitute for that. Physically holding the book, seeing if it's illustrated or not, reading the jacket, seeing who is the author — it's very different.
As a comic book fan, did you turn to past superhero comics in order to figure out how to bring the characters of Rise of the Guardians together?
Del Toro: Ben Grimm and the Human Torch trying to get at each other in every issue of Fantastic Four. That's certainly a dynamic you can identify with. X-Men… all these themes are interesting in the Marvel universe because they are not clean, goodie-goodie guys. They have neurosis. I think Marvel had them in their whole superhero mythology. They brought neurosis into the game.
How did you know that these characters could blend together into something coherent?
Del Toro: One of the things we tried to emphasize is that they don't get along that perfectly in the beginning. Bunny hates Jack, Santa and Bunny have a rivalry of whose holiday is more important, and Sandy is the absent-minded zen master. Ultimately, them gelling together is a beautiful feat.
Was there ever a worry about making mythical figures into characters that would strip them of their inherent magic? What made kids believe in them in the first place?
Del Toro: The essence [is there]. It's not like we made Santa fly and have x-ray vision. When we say superheroes, it's not like they acquired superpowers. Santa is still the guy that can see joy in everything. He's ill-tempered and a force of nature, but he's not flying around with a cape. Bunny is not a superhero in the sense that he can use a webslinger — he just does what he does. They do what they do in the traditional sense.
How did you carefully heighten them into heroes that could fight a villain?
Del Toro: A lot of the time, believing and being earnest and gullible can be very confused in today's atmosphere. The easiest way to appear intelligent is to be a skeptic. If I say, 'Oh, I want to see that movie really bad!' I sound a lot less intelligent than the guy who says, 'That movie is going to be horrible.' The skeptic seems like he knows more. So we wanted to create these characters without post-modern or pop culture winks or nods. We wanted to make them really earnest, romantic guys who love what they do. But make them so big that kids could say, 'I believe in them,' and not feel uncool.
You've produced a number of Dreamworks Animated films, but where do you feel like your touch is apparent? And where specifically in Rise of the Guardians?
Del Toro: I think we, as a team, come up with stuff, but I think there are moments in the clash between faith and fear, in a few lines that I know came with discussions from me. The design of Bunny, the way the story is organized… but to go in and reference everything would be false — it's really Peter's movie. Whatever I have in common with him, it's there.
When we took Kung Fu Panda 2, I helped them distill the thematic element into a father and son story. The son healing about his past. Those are things that are second nature to me. It's really what I'm interested in. In Guardians, it's even closer to what I like.
Did Dreamworks originally come to you or did you want to be involved with them?
Del Toro: I came into them. Guillermo Navaro was working with them on Madagascar and he was telling me how great it was. And I always wanted to go back to animation, which I practiced as a pre-Cronos filmmaker. So I went there and I just renewed for another three years because I'm having such a great time. We're trying to make the movies go in a slightly different direction than normal.
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You have a love for the tangible so it's surprising you would embrace CG animation. Was that difficult?
Del Toro: I think the fact that 2D animation isn't practiced more is a crying shame. I think traditional animation should continue to be supported and celebrated. But I love computer assisted animation and I love stop-motion, which my Pinocchio is. I've been doing animation since Mimic. There are large parts of Hellboy and Hellboy 2 that are animated. Pacific Rim is the same thing — large portions of it require directing it like an animated movie. So I love the medium. 3D at Dreamworks is treated with religious zeal. We go through the whole process with Jeffrey [Katzenberg] asking us to maximize the experience for good. He hates when you try and do a cheap 3D gag. He says, 'Don't do that. That's cheesy.' Jeffrey's a very powerful figure and he's managed to catalyze and continue changing. Things like Dragons, Kung Fu Panda, co-existing with things that are completely dissimilar to that. There's a beautiful eclecticness.
Have you persuaded them to take a chance on a 2D animated project?
Del Toro: I think the pipeline of Dreamworks is so boutique, even now when they're expanding, is still something that you can not vary like that. But I personally am pursuing it. I'm doing stop-motion with Pinocchio and 2D animation as a producer. Projects I'm pursuing with European directors as producer that I haven't been able to setup. I'm trying to support Spanish animators.
How hands on are you with Pinocchio?
Del Toro: I am there all the way to the shoot. And then on the shoot you really have to be there at the morning and the end of the day — otherwise you would be there for 51 weeks. You don't shoot in one stage. In order to complete a feature animation in 51 weeks, you need to shoot in-between 10 and 15 stages. So you have 15 stages under one roof and there's no way unless you're the holy spirit to be in 15 stages at one time. So you check in the morning to see how the few seconds came out the day before, you check in at the end of the day and see how the new few seconds looked.
Is the superhero genre flowing through the veins of Guardians something you want to tackle yourself?
Del Toro: I actually want to direct horror next if I can. I've produced — the last one is Mama which comes out in January — and I love that dynamic. There's a project called Crimson Peak that I really hope happens.
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In the past, you've made films that have very specific audiences — does working with Dreamworks make you want to tackle a kid-oriented movie? Or is the hope to make movies that play across the board?
Del Toro: Across the board. There are still projects that I've been writing in the Pan's Labyrinth/Devil's Backbone mold for a while and I can't finish the screenplay. One is 40 pages in, the other is 60 pages in. Those are very slow. Devil's Backbone took years, Pan's Labyrinth took years. I do want to do adult bizarre movies still. But when you're a kid you can be an astronaut and an Indian and a cowboy and a submarine explorer — you don't need to do one thing. That's how I feel as a director and producer. I want to do a little of this and a little of that. I love it all.
Guardians was something that was a passion project. Puss and Kung Fu Panda… we took them absolutely to the wire in trying to make them as beautiful and crazy as we could do it.
That feels like the goal for Pacific Rim too.
Del Toro: Listen, Pacific Rim is bonkers. The fights between the Jaegers [fighting robots] and the Kaiju [giant monsters] in the middle of the movie, I have to direct like animation. I go through the layout, I talk to the camera guys, I move the camera this way, frame it over here. I talk about light with the cinematographer — 'let's change the light over here.' With the animator, we always talk through camera. I do mimicry. I do pantomime. I go, 'Make him move like this. Hold the hand longer here. Give me six more frames of that movement over there.'
Can the action be as nimble as in animation? Guardians has impressive single shot sequences.
Del Toro: I think there is a fluidity to animation and that there are certain stories you can not tell in live-action. I'm interested in telling the story of the Guardians. And I'm interested in telling the story of the one I wrote for Dreamworks, Troll Hunters, which will be in the future, I don't know exactly when. But those stories can only exist in animation.
Why can Troll Hunters only exist in animation?
Del Toro: [Laughs] The way we treat the Trolls and the way we treat the action — it needs the fluidity of animation.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Dreamworks; Universal; Jim Henson Company]
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When Sean Connery puts down his cigarette lighter, takes a puff of smoke while sitting at a card table playing Chemin de Fer, then purrs the words that would immortalize him—“Bond…James Bond”—it’s like 007 emerged fully-formed, Athena-like from Ian Fleming’s brain. Since then, the most famous agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service has starred in a further 22 big screen adventures with varying degrees of seriousness and even outright different genre trappings—blaxploitation, sci-fi space epic, Miami Vice-style revenge thriller—but for the purest expression of all things Bond, I still go back to the very first, Dr. No. It’s one of the most influential movies ever made, responsible not just for establishing the template for future James Bond movies but much of what we take for granted in modern action cinema. Everything you love about the franchise is already here: the vodka martinis, the colorful opening credits sequence, the exotic locales, the double entendre-named Bond girls. Fifty years after it landed in U.K. theaters on October 4, 1962, Dr. No is still Double-0 heaven.
The key to Dr. No’s rousing success, in the hands of workmanlike director Terence Young, is that it was patterned, in part, on Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal, modernist thriller North by Northwest—Cary Grant was even considered a likely contender to first wear Bond’s tux. But Young, screenwriter Richard Maibaum (who’d pen scripts for the franchise for decades), and producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, made a few crucial tweaks that turned Hitchcock’s blend of Cold War espionage and paranoia into the ultimate male fantasy. Namely, they abstracted it.
Grant’s Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest, a Madison Avenue ad man mistaken for a CIA operative targeted by agents working for a foreign power, was an ordinary guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He still had a mother to bicker with and a couple ex-wives to pay alimony to.
Connery’s 007 is almost a cipher by comparison. We know nothing about him except he has impeccable taste and can be pretty ruthless. The allure of James Bond lies in how truly extraordinary his life is from the start. And unlike Grant's character, Bond is ready for whatever the universe throws at him. Whereas Thornhill has his humdrum life turned upside down when carried off by currents beyond his control, Bond is always in control—whether it’s with women, playing baccarat, or tangling with Nehru-jacketed villains. Beyond all the beautiful Bond Girls, the vodka martinis, the Aston Martins, the sun-drenched getaways where Bond does so much of his “work,” I’d say that the single most appealing thing about Bond for guys everywhere, is the effortlessness with which he approaches and handles life. That’s what makes him cool. That's why guys want to be like James Bond. But if we really found ourselves dealing with international intrigue, we’d probably end up acting like Roger Thornhill—only without being anywhere near as good looking as Cary Grant.
The most intoxicating fantasies, though, are those that seem attainable. For that to happen, the flight of fancy has to be grounded in reality. Dr. No works so beautifully because it keeps Bond very much life-size. During his first big-screen outing, he relies on little more than his wits and his Walther PPK. There are no fancy fold-up helicopters, cars that turn into submarines or (shudder) become invisible. The plot is plausible too. Bond travels to sunny Jamaica to investigate strange radio signals originating in the vicinity that have been toppling NASA rockets and the disappearance of the MI6 operatives who had already been looking into the matter. Think a British Philip Marlowe with a license to kill. Along the way he tangles with a couple of shady women and finds an ally in one particularly comely shell collector before meeting the elusive, Mandarin-collared title character who’s every bit as evil as the name Dr. No suggests. Pretty straight-forward.
But the way Dr. No mixed sex and violence—and the film’s casual attitude toward both--was revolutionary in 1962. Everyone knows the famous shot of Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder emerging from the Crab Key surf. Her bikini alone represented one of the icons of the nascent Sexual Revolution. But think also of how quickly Bond goes from pulling a gun on Sylvia Trench, putting golf balls in high-heels after breaking into his apartment, to having her fall into his arms. To be exact: it’s 50 seconds. Or how he has sex with Dr. No’s ally Miss Taro, all the while knowing that he’s going to have her arrested immediately thereafter. Or Honey Ryder’s monologue about how female praying mantises eat their male partner after “making love.”
Even the suspense scenes are dripping with a cool, erotic dread worthy of Hitchcock. Where does Dr. No’s henchman plan to kill Bond? With the British agent in bed, of course! By releasing a deadly tarantula into his Kingston hotel room that’ll creep up on him in his sleep. And, to complete the Hitchcockian mood, who plays Professor Dent? Actor Anthony Dawson, who got a pair of scissors stuck in his back as the would-be murderer of Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. Dent’s demise in Dr. No would also set a new standard for movie violence, when Bond shoots the unarmed professor twice, including once in the back.
Aside from all its cinematic firsts, Dr. No is just damn good storytelling. For one, it sets up its villain beautifully--he’s heard, as a disembodied voice in an echo chamber, before he’s ever seen. For another, the film immerses itself deeply in the local color of its Jamaican milieu.
Around the time Quantum of Solace came out, director Marc Forster told The New York Times, “In the ’60s and ’70s…a large part of the appeal of the James Bond movies was the travel to exotic locations, but that’s not such an attraction anymore. People travel a lot more now, and with the Internet they’re more aware of what the rest of the world is like.” That right there explains a lot of the visual drabness of Quantum of Solace.
Dr. No is by no means a globe-hopping adventure, but in its one real location outside England, Jamaica, it finds a level of romance and exoticism that’s still potent. Part of that may be because Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, the man who “discovered” Bob Marley, handled location scouting for the film. It’s also because, in place of a traditional score, the movie laces funky island grooves into its aural palate. I mean, this is a movie that begins with a calypso version of “Three Blind Mice,” dripping with a whole new level of ska-derived menace: “They looking for the cat/The cat that swallowed the rat/They want to give that cat the attitude of three blind mice.” Yes, James Bond’s cinematic life began with “Three Blind Mice.” If that doesn’t make him the ultimate cool cat, I don’t know what does.
[Photo Credit: United Artists]
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This article contains major spoilers for the latest James Bond movie Skyfall. Once you've seen the movie, come back here and dive in!
The James Bond franchise has always been reactionary. Not necessarily to the trends of Hollywood blockbusters, but rather, to the state of the world. The films act as a mirror to culture — Bond is a character with a lifespan, so in turn, his missions are malleable, influenced by anything happening in the moment.
In our interview with franchise mastermind Barbara Broccoli, the producer made it clear that 2006's Casino Royale, a gritty, stripped down interpretation of the 007 mythology, wasn't a random 180 degree turn. After 9/11, the days of fantastical Bond were (at least temporarily) over. With the world in crisis, the adventures of the globetrotting super spy had to drop the invisible cars, space lasers, and ice castles and become a tad more serious.
Six years later we have Skyfall, a film that continues the hot streak with Casino Royale's 007, Daniel Craig, but manages to feel even more specific in its thematic timelines. Continuing the path laid out by Casino Royale would have been easy and worked for fans of the franchise. Instead, director Sam Mendes, working with longtime series writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan, took a stab at internally rebooting the franchise, daring to weave back in all the material that made a "James Bond movie" a "James Bond movie" while keeping the story uniquely modern.
The approach works wonders. It also raises questions for the series future.
Amazingly, both Casino Royale and Skyfall work as origin stories. Royale chronicles the beginnings of Bond, the events that transformed him into a distant MI-6 agent capable of carrying out any mission, however bloody. Skyfall is the origin of Bond as the product of family, a story of a group of people past, present, and future who define 007 as he grows into his own. Bond's work family was a staple of the series until 2002's Die Another Day, but Royale avoided the known characters (save Judi Dench's M) in an effort to drop Bond's cartoonish appearance and make him a human character. But archaic thinking is key to Skyfall's ideas of technological terrorism and war — you need an old school Bond to get the job done. That means the film needed the old school ensemble back too.
Mendes wears his love for early Bond on his sleeve, the days when Connery would spar with enemies using savvy wit, occasionally launching into a fist fight or ending the encounter with one well-placed bullet. But that's not the world established by Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, nor is it one that is easily accessible to today's younger audiences (read this recent horror story of a group of young people encountering From Russia with Love for evidence to that unfortunate truth). Those films go big and drop any semblance of swagger. It's all about the rough, tough thrills. Skyfall lives up to the action of previous films — the motorcycle-chase-turned-train-battle is one of the most impressive stunts of 2012 — but after the thrilling opening, the movie becomes noticeably smaller scale.
It's a talky movie, perfect for Mendes' theatrical roots. It's also fitting for the film's villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Words and silent, Internet-based attacks are Silva's two greatest weapons, giving him plenty of time for maniacal laughing. Silva is up there in the pantheon of Bond baddies, a flamboyant, unrestrained terrorist who wipes out the population of a South Pacific nation just so he can have an island lair. He has Blofeld (of heck, Dr. Evil) goals and the wild physical flair to match. The scene where Silva removes his fake jaw to expose a drooping face is demented — and fitting for Mendes' early-Bond vision.
Mendes peppers the familiar construction with great characters: Naomie Harris' Eve is sharp, ambitious, and a great partner for Bond (what I as a Bond nut wished Halle Berry's Jinx to be back in Die Another Day). Ralph Fiennes' Gareth Mallory is sophisticated and murky — he's just involved enough in the plot of Skyfall to know he matters, but the film never gives away the big picture of his character. Ben Whishaw's Q is the hipster revisionist version of the character 2012 demands, a computer whiz that fits in at MI-6 but could easily be a trasplant resident of Dumbo, Brooklyn. Mendes even reinvigorates Dench's M with a new sense of character. She gets out of the office. She has a fear for Silva. She's finally part of the Bond franchise!
Mendes establishes a colorful cast of players in Skyfall, and it makes the movie click. But in the film's final moments, he decides to go the extra step by taking us back in time to 1962.
Chalk this up to years watching 24 and Mission: Impossible, but throughout Skyfall, I pegged Fiennes' Mallory as a mole. With Silva's past involvement with MI-6, I thought there had to be an inside man assisting him — why else hire such a big name actor to play the part of the government overseer placing hurdles for Dench's M to jump? It became clear when Bond chases Silva into the M/MI-6 hearing and a big shoot out erupts. Mallory didn't miss a shot when assisting Bond and Eve. He was a good guy. By the time Skyfall's rousing conclusions rolled around, M biting the bullet (literally) in the stone church of Bond's parents estate, his purpose was clear. We had a new M, a man, like the day's of Connery's Bond.
Replacing Dench with Fiennes paved the way for one of the franchise's most emotional moments, the maternal government figure dying in the arms of her favorite employee. It forced Bond to acknowledge his investment in M and seek shelter in new friends like Mallory. He came to terms with his family. The move was also fulfilling for fans who may have underestimated their own love for Dench's M. What we can't tell until Fiennes returns to the roll in upcoming Bond films is know if Mendes' clever play on our hearts (and our nostalgia — there's nothing quite like seeing Craigs' Bond walk through M's office like Connery, Moore, and others did in the past) will feel like a step forward or backward. Dench was an unexpected choice for M back in 1995. Fiennes (a former Bond contender himself) fits the world to a T.
My bigger worry as a fan is the reveal of Eve as Moneypenny, the face of MI-6's secretarial department. After kicking so much butt throughout Skyfall, proving she could handle situations where her life was on the line, Eve decides by the end of Skyfall to take an office job. Mallory taking on the mantle of M was logical in the wake of Dench's M's death. Eve becoming Moneypenny is on par with The Dark Knight Rises' John Blake's reveal as "Robin." Total fan service. Satisfying in the moment, but with lingering consequences. I for one want to see more of Harris' Eve, and in the gun-toting, bad guy stomping capacity. Not getting a rise from 007 whenever he stops by for a chat with M.
Mendes found a balance in Skyfall that seems unimaginable, at once a noir-like thriller and a blockbuster that can live up to today's onslaught of superhero movies. The film wrestles with an internal conflict for Bond, a guy who finds his sole purpose in life questioned by authorities and challenged by the way villains do business. With all of Skyfall's challenging material, Mendes also has his cake and eats it too, nodding to classic Bond staples — fans even see a DB5 Aston Martin blown to bits! The producers of Skyfall embraced the approach, dropping their developing storyline established in Royale and Quantum — a secret crime organization known as Quantum stepping up to be Bond's biggest headache — in favor of following Mendes one-off idea. So where will Bond go from there?
The hope is it continues to reflect the times with as small a microscope as Skyfall. The movie isn't just a film for the naughts, it's a film for 2012 specifically. Rehiring John Logan for future installments is a step in the right direction to follow Mendes' thinking, but the final act of reverting back to the old format of Bond is a gamble. Right now, all we can do is enjoy the heck out of Skyfall, but as the film ends with the series tradition of declaring "Bond will return," it's hard not to wonder if 007 will continue to straddle the classic and modern as he did this year.
What did you think of Skyfall? Go crazy in the comments — we're only talking spoilers here!
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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Yesterday’s news that Disney purchased Lucasfilm and now plans to make Episodes VII, VIII, and IX of a new Star Wars trilogy was a bombshell that hit with the force of a superlaser slamming into Alderaan. But in a good way! Theories are abounding about the direction the saga may now take. (Check out Moviefone's take here.) Only one thing is certain, though. When "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." next pops on screen, it won't be preceded by that symphonic 20th Century Fox fanfare.
George Lucas and new Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy say they already have a treatment for a new Star Wars trilogy, though we don't know who's written it or anything at all of what it will be about. The thing is, Star Wars: Episode VII could take the franchise literally anywhere, because that legendary Galaxy Far, Far Away is one of the most expansive, detailed fictional universes ever created. Lucas, and the writers and artists he’s authorized to explore his galactic playground through the franchise’s Expanded Universe of novels, comics, and videogames, has created a Star Wars galaxy full of hundreds of memorable planets, alien races, spaceships, and nifty gizmos, thousands of characters, and millennia of galactic history. Quite simply, there’s no other legendarium riper for the cinematic picking. The six films that have already been made barely scratch the surface of what diehard fans know the Star Wars galaxy has to offer.
The funny thing is, until yesterday, it seemed entirely likely that we would never see a new Star Wars movie on the big screen again. George Lucas quickly reduced his initial plan in the early ‘80s for nine to twelve episodes of the space opera to six, with Return of the Jedi as the natural end point. The Emperor and his forces were destroyed, Darth Vader was redeemed, and Luke Skywalker could now begin the task of rebuilding the Jedi Order. All wrapped up in a neat bow, huh?
Well, not quite. Even if the Skywalker family had come full circle, common sense would tell you that the Star Wars galaxy itself would still have a lot of challenges to face. Namely, that the Empire still controls just about everything, even without old Papa Palpatine around to administer his unique form of lightning-based governing. Through a series of several-dozen novels—and a few graphic novels—written by various authors, Lucasfilm has allowed for the period after Return of the Jedi to be explored extensively. These books show how the Rebel Alliance becomes the New Republic and continues to beat back the Empire until the once-mighty dictatorship is just a sad little rump state full of petty, scheming Moffs. These also show Han Solo and Princess Leia getting married, having three kids named Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin (after the lad's grandfather), and Luke setting up an academy to train a new Jedi Order. Right now, the timeline after Return of the Jedi has been explored up to about 40 years after the events of that film, and Luke, Leia, and Han are nearing the galactic equivalent of AARP status, meaning that many of the novels published today focus as much, if not more, on the “next generation” of Jedi. Keep in mind, Lucasfilm has established that all of these books are canon. So that means this established galactic history, along with the template provided by the recent, highly successful reboot of another space-set franchise, may offer a roadmap for what we can expect from Episode VII. Here are eight points to consider when pondering what direction the new trilogy will take.
1. Will Episodes VII-IX still be about the Skywalker family?
I would venture to say, yes. George Lucas has made it very clear that the core arc of his big-screen saga is the story of the Skywalker family. That’s not to say that other non-Skywalker-centric movies could be produced. Especially considering that, in an investors’ phone call yesterday, Disney stated they’re looking at producing a new Star Wars movie every two to three years, beyond even this new trilogy. Joe Johnston, director of Captain America: The First Avenger and creator of Boba Fett back in 1978, may yet get to make the Fett movie he's talked about for ages! But when we’re talking about the actual Episodes, those have always been about the Skywalker clan, their discovery of their unique gifts, and their struggle to maintain the purity of their intentions in a chaotic universe. In that family, and in the particular father-son dynamic of Anakin and Luke, Lucas found a mythopoetic struggle between darkness and light, between intent and consequence—in short, a heroes’ journey worthy of his spiritual muse, Joseph Campbell. If Episode VII isn’t directly about Luke or Leia, it could very well be about Leia’s children or Luke’s son, Ben. That said, is Star Wars: The Next Generation really what the fans want to see?
2. Could Luke, Leia, and Han be recast?
Let’s face it. What Star Wars fans really want to see are more adventures with Luke, Han, and Leia. Their swashbuckling heroism and screwball interplay have pretty much set the standard to which all subsequent action-adventure films aspire. But it also seems pretty unlikely that we’d have fifty-something Carrie Fisher, sixty-something Mark Hamill, and seventy-something Harrison Ford playing these characters. Luckily, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot brilliantly established the idea that you can replace beloved actors in iconic roles. Who would have imagined anyone as James T. Kirk but William Shatner? Or anyone donning Spock’s pointy ears but Leonard Nimoy? Yet Chris Pine ably took his seat in the captain’s chair, and Zachary Quinto proved himself a fine 21st century logician. The new Star Wars trilogy could indeed take place just a few years after Return of the Jedi…but with new actors in the roles made famous by Hamill, Fisher, and Ford. If that’s the case, could any of the Expanded Universe novels or comics be tapped as story material for the new trilogy? Yes, and there are three likely contenders.
He was approximately 128,097 feet above the earth--that's over 24 miles. The edge of the ozone; the edge of space. Felix Baumgartner's Red Bull-sponsored, record-setting skydive centered high above Roswell, New Mexico, was officially a success.
Baumgartner initially held two world records from the single jump: one for the highest-ever skydive and one for highest manned balloon flight after jumping out of a balloon and back to earth in under 10 minutes. And now, he can add breaking the sound barrier to his list of accomplishments after traveling at approximately 729 miles per hour on his way back to earth. Achieving this epic feat made Baumgartner the first man to break the sound barrier without mechanical help in history.
Just another record under his belt in the time it takes most people to cook breakfast in the morning. Feeling completely useless yet?
Well, it seems like only a matter of time before Baumgartner's epic fall to earth becomes fodder for movies and television everywhere--so be prepared to continue feeling inadequate for a bit longer. How would Hollywood do such a thing? In TV and movies, of course! Events like this always find a way to influence popular culture beyond the initial events themselves, so we've taken this opportunity to let the entertainment industry know the best way to handle folding this history day into their world.
On TV: 30 Rock
It seems to be inevitable that Tracy Jordan would want to recreate this event for attention. He is one to live every week like it's Shark Week, after all. We imagine it to be something like this: Jordan, unable to mentally prepare himself for the end of TGS, decides that his next career move should be to mimic the jump of Baumgartner in order to raise ratings for his own fledgling show. Only Jordan is afraid of heights. So he plans to recreate the jump on a television set--explaining that if they could convince the world that a bunch of dudes landed on the moon, he could convince the world that he jumped to the earth from outerspace. As the event unfolds on live TV and it is patently obvious that Jordan is faking his jump (including several ridiculous malfunctions and forgetting to think about how he would actually "land" on the ground), the video ends up going viral (much to the chagrin of Liz and Jack).
In Movies: Speed of Sound
We all know a movie is version of the trials, dangers, and odd-beating of Baumgartner's jump is inevitable. Hollywood is probably knocking down doors as you read this. A film version (that we've tentatively titled Speed of Sound) will chronicle the training, dangers, and thrilling adventures of Baumgartner and his team to complete the death-defying jump. A thrilling drama directed by Kathryn Bigelow, it will star Guy Pearce as Baumgartner and Ed Asner as mentor and until-now record holder Joe Kittinger.
In Comic Books: Ultimate Flight
In a comic book series inspired by Baumgartner's flight, he is turned into a superhero with the ability to fly in outerspace. After encountering the toxic run-off of a science experiment gone awry, a young Felix develops the power of flight, and slowly-but-surely pushes the limit of his flight into outerspace. He moves to the moon where he establishes a top secret, NATO-run counter-alien operation to secure the well-being of Planet Earth from the intergalactic forces of evil hell-bent on destroying the human race.
No matter which way you look at it, Baumgartner's feat was an impressive one worthy of a place in popular culture. Check out Baumgartner's words, and his jump, below.
We live to conquer fears and pursue dreams, may our attempts and accomplishments progress humankind.— Felix Baumgartner (@FelixBaumgart) October 14, 2012
[Photo Credit: Red Bull Stratos]
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
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In 1954, Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale was adapted as an episode of the CBS anthology TV series Climax!. The episode starred Barry Nelson as "Jimmy Bond," and was generally loathed by anyone who had read Fleming's seminal spy novels (including Fleming himself). A Cary Grant-esque Bond may have sounded like gold to television producers, but it was a nail in the coffin for the character's cinematic potential.
Thankfully, Fleming had fans that were aware of James Bond's potential. After a few failed attempts by Fleming himself, producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman nabbed the movie rights to Bond in the late '50s, and embarked on a journey that would eventually result in the first James Bond big screen adventure: Dr. No, starring a then-unknown Sean Connery, premiered in the UK on October 5, 1962. Action movies would never be the same.
Decades after the overnight success of Dr. No, Broccoli and Saltzman's faith in 007 never wavered. Sean Connery's riveting take on the debonair killer hooked audiences across the globe (even more so in Japan than the UK or US — the Scottish star was infamously mobbed by Japanese fans during the shoot for You Only Live Twice), but after departing the series following Diamonds Are Forever, the franchise lived on. As other actors embraced the role of James Bond and made it their own, it was clear that the core of the franchise wasn't a movie star, but a perfect character. The missions could take place anywhere at anytime, as long as Bond had integrity. Malleability is hard to find in Hollywood, but it's the reason Broccoli's and Saltzman's Bond has survived for over five decades.
Not every Bond film has been a critical or financial success, but the longevity and demand of the character has given pop culture one of its greatest archives. 007's adventures reflect the zeitgeist like few other properties; you can see the evolving world through the lens of the films. Dr. No and the followup From Russia with Love are steeped in the politics and dangers of the '60s — Connery's swagger balances the terrors of the times and spins it into entertainment. 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, George Lazenby's only outing as Bond, is psychedelic in all the right ways. Moonraker put Roger Moore's Bond into his very own sci-fi adventure — two years after Star Wars blew the collective minds of every moviegoer, young and old. Timothy Dalton embraced Cold War politics in 1987's The Living Daylights and turned Bond into a gritty action hero that even audiences were unprepared to handle. The films continued to match the large-scale action of modern blockbusters throughout the '90s, the dashing Pierce Brosnan side by side with high-tech gadgetry and wonderfully goofy set pieces. But following the tragedy of 9/11, global conflict took the wind out of Bond's sails. There was a demand for realism again. Daniel Craig was the perfect man for the job.
Saltzman eventually ended his working relationship with Broccoli (1974's The Man with the Golden Gun was there last co-produced effort), and Broccoli passed away after the release of Goldeneye, but their combined efforts ensured that someone would always be there to pick up the baton and run the Bond race. Cubby's daughter Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson continue to preserve 007's cinematic legacy, and even more importantly, Fleming's vision of the character.
Over the years, the Bond series has had its missteps (there may have been one too many Moore-in-costume moments throughout the '70s and '80s), but its hard to imagine a world without the classic character. Every month sports one or two major blockbusters, but Bond's 50 year history gives each installment weight that one-off action flicks can never imitate. Even when the movies are fluffy and brainless (it's hard to feel an emotional connection in a film like Die Another Day, where James Bond fights an evil North Korean who lives in an ice castle and is bent on taking over the world with a space cannon), they are still culturally momentous, acting as a mirror to who we are and what we want from our entertainment. That's a demanding role, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Bond. James Bond.
For more Bond 50th anniversary goodness, check out the comprehensive documentary Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, which chronicles the ups and downs of Bond's five decades on screen. The entire Bond collection has also been recently released on Blu-ray, in an epic collection aptly titled Bond 50. The set, which includes every Bond adventure in pristine condition and a set of behind-the-scenes extras that dive deeper into the series history, should feed any Bond junkie's appetite. Or thirst (if there aren't martinis around).
[Photo Credit: Epix]
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For a major Indiana Jones fan, there are a few, Indy-themed dreams we can all accomplish at some point: learn to brandish a whip, dress up as Indy for Halloween, and either accomplish the perfect scruffy-beard/crinkled shirt look or find a handsome man who can. Then there are the ones that are a bit more difficult: become Indiana Jones (hey, we can dream), befriend Harrison Ford (slightly easier), develop a debilitating fear of snakes (oh wait, I've got that one down), and meet and have an all-Indy conversation with Marion Ravenwood (some of us are just lucky). This die-hard Indy fan had the chance to sit down with Karen Allen, the woman behind the classic character, to celebrate the Sept. 18 release of Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures, and to geek out about all things Indy. She may have even given even the most stalwart dissenters a reason to like the polarizing Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Hollywood: When you first got involved in Raiders of the Lost Ark, did you think it would be as huge as it was?
Karen Allen: I was an admirer of Steven [Spielberg] because I had seen... honestly, Jaws kind of just scared the crap out of me. I can look at it and see that it’s a really, really well-made film, but I’ve never been able to enjoy going back in the water ever since. (Laughter) I loved swimming in the ocean, but he sort of ruined it for me. But I had just seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind and I was very, very inspired by that film. I had grown up in the era where everything that came from outer space was evil and wanted to like eat us and blow us up or do something horrible to us. And I loved the story of something coming from another world, another planet, another galaxy and actually being something that had a desire to communicate and not be destructive. And I was very excited by the film and the message of the film. And I was a big fan of George Lucas’ too.
So the thought that I was going to get to work with the two of them in their very first collaboration was fantastic and I had read the script. At the point that they had asked me to be in the film, they gave me a copy of the script to read and I was quite fascinated by the script … It’s interesting. Usually, I’ll be given a script and then I can really study it for a while, you get a chance to really read it, and read it, and read it, but this one was messengered to me while I was working on a film up in Northern California. I was allowed to read it one time and then it was taken back. It’s funny I haven’t even thought about this for a very long time, but I think, I almost woke up the next day and I wasn’t quite sure what I’d read. I thought, what was that? I read it. I was engaged in it. And I though wow, this is such an interesting film and an interesting character, but I almost couldn’t remember what it was about. And there was a period of time before I was given back the script, because everybody was so secretive. I had to say “yes” and they had to say “yes” and all that.
I’ve always seen Marion as an incredible female character. She’s not typical, she’s got this unique way about her. Have you ever considered or noticed the impact her character has had on other female characters, if any?
I know, talking to younger generations of actresses who’ve kind of come up to me and said, “You know, that character made so much of a difference to me” in terms of suddenly seeing a broader spectrum of the kinds of characters that were possible, the kind of roles they wanted to play. They felt they were reading a lot of films and television scripts in which the female characters were being channeled into this very narrow idea of what a woman was and what a woman could be in a film. And suddenly, Marion and other characters around that same time sort of broke that all open. I think actresses really wanted very much to embody characters who had more to them than being the girlfriend or the foil of the male character – [characters] who were more refined.
That’s what makes the romance between Indy and Marion so classic – the fact that Marion isn’t just some girl. Do you count their romance among some of the Great Love Stories?
It certainly is a very poignant love story. There’s a huge gap in it between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and I find myself really interested in knowing what went on in between – how they went their separate ways and what really happened. I feel like there is something, because Indiana Jones is the character that he is, he’s so in his own world. He is, in a sense, resistant to romance. He puts up such a fight, and I think that there is something very ultimately sweet about him suddenly realizing that he’s in love with her.
Unlike a lot of really romantic stories where we get to see the core of the relationship, I think it is a much more, I don’t really have the right word for it. We kind of miss all the really intimate pieces and somehow or other, we end up believing that they’re destined to be together. And sometimes, you’ll see a love story where you’ll see a lot between the characters but you don’t really feel that they’re destined to be together. So I think that’s kind of – there’s something that works there.
Was completing that love story part of your decision to be a part of the fourth movie?
I’m not sure I would even say, I guess I did make a decision, but I was so quite moved that they had written my character back into the story and written her back in this particular way, that I don’t even think it ever occurred to me that I could say anything other than “Yes.” I wanted to be a part of it, for sure. I can’t imagine what they would have done with my character that I would have said, “Oh gee, I don’t think so.” I can’t think of a scenario in which that would have been possible. (Laughs) But fortunately, that wasn’t at all the case. I was just delighted to come back into the story.
You’ve undoubtedly come across lots of fans since the film came out, have any interactions resulted in something that was meaningful or impactful, or even just memorable?
One of my favorite little moments with a fan was when I was here in New York at the Paris Theater. They wanted to show Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen and the Paris Theater decided they wanted to show it three nights in a row and they asked me if I would come to New York and do a Q&A after the screening all three nights. And I said, “Yes, of course. I’d love to.” I was sitting in front of the audience one night and this little girl raised her hand, she was probably around seven. And she said, “I have a question!” and she said, “Is it hard to act when there’s music playing that loud?” (Laughs)
And I thought, now that’s one the best questions I’ve ever heard. [Laughs] I didn’t have the heart to tell her that they add it in afterward.
My last question is actually to settle a bet. We have a debate in the office over what you were actually drinking in the drinking contest scene in Raiders.
It’s supposed to be whiskey, I think. And he even says, (whispers) “Whiskey,” not that that necessarily meant it had to be whiskey. But I thought it was whiskey that we were drinking. I remember we colored the water so that it was sort of a whiskey color, and in fact sadly enough it was just dye or tea or something. (Laughs)
Thank you! You’ve just helped me win a bet.
(Laughs) You’re welcome!
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures is available on Blu-Ray starting Sept. 18.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credits: Paramount Pictures; Lucas Arts]
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Actor William Hartnell debuted as the very first Doctor in the 1963 pilot for the BBC TV show Doctor Who. 49 years later, the sci-fi staple is still trucking along, the Doctor zipping through time and space in his flying phone booth, the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), and saving the day week to week. Thanks to a mythology loophole that gives the Doctor the power to resurrect into a new being, showrunners have been able to keep Doctor Who alive and fresh for 11 different incarnations, with current Doctor Matt Smith continuing to reinterpret the character for the audience of 2012.
Smith began the show in 2010 and won quickly won over audiences, pleasing diehard Who fans with a mix of the super serious ninth doctor Christopher Eccleston and the goofy, hipster madness of the 10th doctor, David Tennant. But as with every sci-fi show with rapid devotees, Who is as much for the "what's next?" speculation as it is within the moment. So it's no surprise that two years into the Smith-era, lead Who writer Steven Moffat is already letting details slip for what could come next. His recent tease is a doozy: According to Moffat, the next Doctor could be a woman.
The Sun quotes Moffat responding the possibility of a female Doctor. "It is a part of Time Lord lore that it can happen. Who knows, the more often it is talked about the more likely it is to happen some day.” Moffat, Smith, and costar Karen Gillan were in New York City attending the premiere of the first episode of the seventh series, "Asylum of the Daleks," set to premiere in the states on September 1 on BBC America. Moffat followed his comments on the future of Who by ensuring fans that the show won't be going anywhere anytime soon. "“The TV show is the mothership of Doctor Who and it will go on forever.”
Fans with 49 years worth of Who ingrained in their memories may point to specific references from the show's dense canon as to why a women could never play the Doctor, but on the show's modern course, there's no reason it couldn't happen. In fact, it's time the seminal series recruited a female lead. There is so much weirdness to love in Doctor Who from the aliens to the mishaps with historical figures to the genius balance of comedy and drama nurtured by its continually rotating cast. It's like nothing on television — in the UK or US. But one of the stranger elements of Doctor Who has been the "companion" role. The second lead is generally a regular joe from Earth who stumbles into the Doctor's cross-universal adventures. Since all of the official TV Doctors have been male, the main companions have typically been female. There is always romantic tension — how could someone not be enamored by a guy who wields a do-anything "sonic screwdriver" and can jump from 1596 to the 31st century in a matter of seconds?
Totally reasonable, but as Doctor Who continues to boldly stride forward past its half-century mark, the show would be wise to establish a female doctor. There is even precedence: In the 1999 TV movie The Curse of Fatal Death, actress Joanna Lumley briefly appeared as a version of the titular hero. Great actresses have stood alongside The Doctor and helped define the female voice of the show — Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, and now Gillan as Amy Pond — but none have been able to play with the malleable fabric of the Doctor, to be empowered and stand alongside their own companion.
Maybe in the 32nd century?
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures, Yellow Mountain Imports]
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In our quest to bring you the best TV reading, sometimes we have to look... backwards. That's why we have Thursday TV Throwback, wherein each week our staff of pop culture enthusiasts will be tasked with bringing back some of the best television clips that have been forgotten by time, space and the general zeitgeist.
This week's theme: '90s Cartoon Theme Songs!
Long gone are the days when you could be in another room and hear your favorite cartoon's theme song come on the television, signaling that you had exactly thirty seconds (give or take) to sprint to the kitchen, grab your TV-viewing snack of choice, and plop down in front of the screen for another thrilling edition of... well, whatever it is you were watching at the time. Do modern-day cartoons have the same signature jams? Not even close. Are we so wrong for pining for a simpler time? A time when cartoon theme songs flowed freely, like a plunging mullet over a jean jacket or a rainbow waterfall on a Lisa Frank trapper-keeper.
Need your fix of TV cartoon theme songs? Here's what our staff picked in this week's throwback.
Shaunna Murphy: Animaniacs
I don't know what this says about me, but I always wanted to join them on their madcap adventures. I was jealous of Dot. She was so CUTE. Also, they introduced the world to Pinky and the Brain, which is my other favorite '90s theme.
Matt Patches: Mummies Alive!
A cartoon only I seem to remember, Mummies Alive! wisely uses its minute-long theme song to explain its bizarre premise: mummies who come to life at night to fight crime in the name of the present day reincarnation of Ramses.
Alicia Lutes: Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears!
It is probably one of the most annoying theme songs, but also the catchiest. My brother, sister & I would sing it non-stop whenever it came on and I'm pretty sure by the end of season one my mother wanted to murder every single gummi bear. I guess it's no surprise that we weren't allowed to eat gummy bears as snacks after this. Michael Arbeiter: Freakazoid! Calls his home the Freak-a-lair. Freakazoid. Fricassee. Floyd the barber cuts his hair. Freakzoid. Chimpanzee.Brian Moylan: Jem Sorry, everyone, but there would be no awesome '90s cartoon theme songs without the '80s, and the ultimate musical cartoon of all time: Jem! Anna Brand: Powerpuff Girls God, I always wanted to be Buttercup because she was feisty with black hair and mean green eyes. Plus they got to fly and fight crime + the forces of evil.
Abbey Stone: Duck Tales "Life is like a hurricane…" Gets me every time. I definitely still know every word of the Duck Tales theme song, even though at this point I can barely recount what the show is about. And it has a bridge! What theme song do you know that has verses, a chorus, and a bridge? "Duck Tales, Woo-oo!"Kelsea Stahler: TaleSpin How many cartoon intros involved cartoon bears dressed like gangsters and Carmen Miranda? Only Talespin. This theme song consists mostly of “oh-ee-ays” and “oh-ee-ohs,” but riddle me this: what other children’s show theme song inspires as much actual dancing as this island-life anthem? That’s what I thought. Amanda Villarosa: Doug I am all about Quailman. Marc Snetiker: Hey Arnold! It's not exactly the most lyrically elegant of theme songs — all of the spoken lines come from Helga yelling — but the jazzy jam is exactly what '90s kids remember when they think of this tale of struggling children in the inner city. Oh, did you not realize that that's what this show was about? It's called hindsight, people. Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter @Hollywood_comMORE: Thursday TV Throwback: '90s Couples We Love Thursday TV Throwback: Memorable '90s Commercials Furby's Back! (And 6 Other '90s Toys Worth Reviving) 14 Bumpin' TV Theme Song Remixes For Summer
Minor spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises follow.
When Christopher Nolan decided to take the filming of his final Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, to downtown Manhattan in late 2011, he opened Pandora’s Box. At that moment, the location was synonymous with one of the biggest grassroots movements our country has seen in the last decade: Occupy Wall Street. Months later, the first major trailer landed, featuring Selina Kyle (Anne Hathway) whispering “A storm is coming … you’re going to wonder how it is that you lived so large for so long and didn’t leave enough for the rest of us” in Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) ear, scenes of violence in the streets, and the stock market flashed intermittently. Suddenly, The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t simply the epic conclusion to a series we’ve all followed rabidly; it was a direct commentary on the OWS movement — reality of the story’s actual origins in the French Revolution be damned. Out of that apparently inescapable connection comes a confounding question: where does Batman stand? Is he the 99 or one percent?
By now, most of us know consciously that the film’s premise and OWS are independent of each other and in truth, any real connection between the two movements dies with revolutionary Bane’s penchant for violence and mayhem. Perhaps that’s why Nolan has worked so hard to express that the film is not in any way associated with the movement, instead pointing to its roots in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Equating Bane’s upheaval to the OWS movement in the real world would be an unflattering comparison, a sentiment Occupy Chicago activist Michael Ehrenreich shares. He tells Hollywood.com, “As far as OWS is concerned, [Nolan] seems to regard populist uprising negatively, judging by the reaction of Catwoman to the excesses of the ‘revolution' and the kangaroo court Cillian Murphy presides over … It's hard to tell where the Nolan brothers' political allegiances lie, but it's hard to see a positive portrayal of OWS in this film.”
But the film isn’t actually making any comment on the real-life movement. As TDKR producer Michael E. Uslan says, “The film is emotionally impactful and thematically important.” It’s not aimed at any specifics of modern U.S. politics. But while filmmakers have reiterated that fact time and again, the echo is hard to silence. That’s because none of us can avoid the fact that the issues of both the film and the OWS movement are unavoidably connected.
“Nolan directly confronts the issue of income inequality, corporate malfeasance and, to a small extent, police overreach,” says Ehrenreich. “We all know that the script was written and most of the principal footage was shot before the outbreak of OWS, but these are ongoing political questions, especially since the 2008 crash,” he adds. While the film drops its big ideas when Batman eventually saves the day in a blaze of assumed martyrdom, Nolan’s film weighs those political and social questions. We encounter the notion of Gotham’s inhospitable environment nurturing a new class of desperate, downtrodden criminals, forced to formulate their plan below the city streets in the sewer system. These unfortunate souls join the ranks of Bane’s revolution forcing us, the audience, to contemplate the society circumstances that led them there. We find a shiny politician Harvey Dent being wrongfully upheld and memorialized in order to promote his act, which wills Gotham into a police state and eschews the usual due process in order to eradicate crime.
The film also offers up the larger question of pursuit of wealth versus humanity, showing characters who seek nothing more than money as weak pawns in Bruce Wayne’s, Selina Kyle’s, and Bane’s plans. Bane even responds to a Wayne Industries board member’s cry that he paid him “a lot of money” with the retort, “And this gives you power over me?”
To some extent, the film upholds the starry notion of achieving the American Dream, the childlike idea of being all that we can be. When Bruce makes the impossible climb out of the subterranean prison, Selina finally manages to wipe her slate clean and live happily with Bruce. We also see it to some extent when Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) makes his meteoric rise from former orphan and police peon to Batman’s successor rising up into the Batcave.
But a proliferation of thematic and topical similarities doesn’t necessarily create a bridge between OWS and TDKR. Professor Bryan Waterman of New York University, who specializes in New York literature and history including Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, says that while the connection seems obvious, it’s actually a stretch. “Conservatives will make the same easy connection and think Bane represents Occupy. But even though the scenes of police clashing with scraggly punks on Wall Street may bring up recent memories of similar events, Bane’s crowd resembles OWS even less than Gotham’s virtuous police force under attack resembles the NYPD.”
To be fair to those who might find contemporary issues in the plot, the events in Gotham and Batman as a character have always been difficult to get a definite read on, especially in Nolan’s complex film series. “The Nolan movies don’t offer any easy political readings … Starting as he does from a question that takes the Batman legend seriously — What does it mean to make a mentally damaged hero a figure of American justice? — the film led to all sorts of conflicting readings of Nolan's hero,” says Waterman.
In the weeks after The Dark Knight was released, Batman/Bruce Wayne endured a bevy of theories about his political stance. His ominous sonar/wire-tapping device encroached on the privacy of an entire city, but he created it in order to stop the Joker. Could this be a metaphor defending George W. Bush for his tactics in executing his war on terror? Similarly, it’s Batman’s decision to uphold Dent in the public eye, which then provides a foundation for the Dent Act in The Dark Knight Rises, which in turn makes Gotham into a police state. By this logic, Batman is a de facto advocate for tighter government control, yet he operates outside of it. So, can Bruce Wayne be a strictly conservative hero? Do his methods make him a symbol of the wealthy and powerful?
Not necessarily. Wayne treads a very murky line between the wealthy and the disadvantaged. On one hand, he’s born into privilege but he’s robbed of his parents as a young boy, thus struggling to adulthood as an orphan. The character, especially in TDKR, serves as both a benefactor and supporter of the culture of wealth within Gotham and a beacon of hope to the young displaced boys at the St. Swithin’s home, including grown orphan John Blake.
Political blogger Jim Newell has an idea about why this back and forth is so difficult. “It’s hard to look at the politics of superheroes because superheroes, in general, are very illiberal. The solution to problems is never having people organize and find out solutions democratically. It’s always about turning power over to one sovereign who solves it himself, so it’s very paternalistic,” he says. It’s true, Nolan’s Batman operates under the notion that he’s “whatever Gotham needs me to be,” but it’s largely Batman who’s deciding what it is Gotham needs and it’s his wealth and resources that determine the outcome. It’s a problem Ehrenriech sees with the hero as well. “Batman represents the belief that we need elites, that we need representatives, that we depend on the rich and powerful,” he says.
But despite the criticism that Batman puts us in a situation of deferring the solutions to a few members of the wealthy elite, he still has the super human trait that helps to serve as the great equalizer: his humanity. “Nolan’s Gotham is so real … we believe in this man [Bruce Wayne] and we believe in this city,” says Uslan. Bruce’s constant inner conflict and his desire to do good amid his wealth of multidirectional traits creates a unique phenomenon for those looking to dissect the hero. “He’s a blank slate … we project our viewpoints onto Batman,” says Uslan.
We see this in both film and comic form in Frank Miller’s 1980’s revival of the Dark Knight. Batman occupies a space that’s not as easy to situate in a socio-political context. On one hand, he upholds the notion of tight control and regulation in the city of Gotham, policing its streets through heavy surveillance and excessive force. He’s a seeming advocate of tight municipal control. On the other hand, he’s strongly against gun violence — a reaction to his parents being killed at gunpoint — and he operates outside of the city governments laws, acting as a vigilante when governmental measures prove ineffective. His acts are in some ways selfish, as many Gothamites see him as the instigator of the dangers that plague the city while others insist he’s simply brave enough to fight against the wave of crime and fear in Gotham that most of the public has accepted as part of the immovable landscape.
Batman complicates his position a bit further in The Dark Knight Rises when he loses his fortune, essentially joining the 99 percent. He finds himself in a prison lodged deep below the earth’s surface, with a tower he must conquer with only his personal might and perseverance in order to regain his position as Gotham’s savior and Dark Knight. (If that’s not a metaphor, I’m not sure what is.) In that respect, while his inherited wealth is technically what got him to this point, it’s his own blood, sweat, and tears that allow him to truly earn back the position and act as a savior.
If these elements add up to anything, it’s that Batman’s not a character that actually fits into one category or the other, and if his constant bouts of self-doubt and reflection are any indication, even he’s not sure where he fits in the grand scheme of things: the only part of his character that we can really hone in on his humanity. Thus, our interpretations are bound to be determined by our own views as we process the idea of the caped hero.
While he is not easily categorized, Batman/Bruce Wayne does feel more real than many of our other fictional, flying saviors. Perhaps that’s why we strive to find so much political significance in his adventures. However, just as Bane’s revolution is more of a thug’s anarchic initiative than a reference to OWS, Batman is not a hero for one side or the other, but rather the hero for the occasion. His millions do not make him a member of the one percent any more than his status as an orphan makes him a member of the oppressed 99 percent. He is as he promises, simply “the hero we need him to be.”
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
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A four-part special commemorating the 20th anniversary of man's first moon landing. Includes NBC television and radio coverage, Russian news clips, historical newsreel footage and interviews with those who made space history.