This is a three-in-one review. I'm going to be commenting on, comparing, and contrasting three things- a book, Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder, and two films, Chris Nolan's Batman Begins and Tim Burton's Batman from 1989. And you say "um- that's a weird combination..." Right. Well, just hang on.
(Batman? Really? If you question the appropriateness of what I review, please see my statement on Questionable Films, and shoot me an e-mail if you want to discuss it.)
I'll start with Mr. Burton's 1989 work, starring Michael Keaton.
What I liked:
This film was one of the most artistically and aesthetically amazing and beautiful films I've seen in a long time. The set design was amazing- the directing was stellar. I still have one dutch angle (An angle that is off-kilter- not level. A powerful but easily overused artistic effect.) seared in my mind that is the kind of shot that is worth the whole film. From a visual perspective, this film amazed me. It translated comic book into film so well that while it still had a very strong comic flavor it was not at all overdone or garish. I loved it.
The score by Danny Elfman was also very appropriate, and while I wouldn't consider it an excellent score I would call it very good overall, especially for the film. The weakest part in the score was, I think, during a romantic scene- it wasn't very beautiful music, there, I thought. I enjoyed the opening credits, and would recommend the score itself as a good purchase.
What I didn't like:
Batman was a heathen. Our hero and heroine sin. Blatantly. And there was something in this one that seems common in most superhero films that I've seen- the woman is purposefully sensualized, by the costuming, by the angles, all of it. The romance in this film was thoroughly unBiblical and completely unnecessary. This was the big problem in the film for me- the sensual packaging of the girl in the film, and the immorality modeled by the hero. Yes, the corrupt officials are immoral too. But they're the bad guys. They're supposed to be.
And, of course, in this godless worldview, we're left to... *drumroll please* humanism, relativism, and at best situational ethics and man-made "laws". If Batman can be a fornicator and a superhero at the same time... well... obviously we lack an Objective Standard of heroism.
If you are considering watching the film and would like to know the content in more detail, feel free to e-mail me. I won't go into that here.
If you do go out to buy Elfman's underscore, take care not to buy the CD release of music by "Prince". These songs are played by the Joker on a boom box that he or his henchmen carry around as they commit crimes of all sorts. Remarkably enough, this makes a huge and very true statement about what music like that of Prince says. Why don't we use Prince for Batman's theme and some big brassy fanfare for the Joker? Because it doesn't fit. But a psychotic lunatic criminal? While I didn't like the "music" and we turned down the volume, I think it fit... please ponder for a moment, my friends. Music isn't neutral.
And the film is dark. Very dark. Artistically so, topically so. The excellently-acted Joker is an excellently acted wicked man. It's a corrupt Gotham with a psychotic villain and a hero who suits up in (remarkably tight...) black. Careful. Bathe in The Light!
Also- it's funny how the graphics in 1989 look so cheesy now.
3.5/5, I wouldn't recommend it unless you are a filmmaker or some other kind of visual artist- in which case I would highly recommend it as a remarkable study.
OK, there's that one. Now for Nolan's prequel to the oft-mentioned Dark Knight.
What I didn't like (because what I liked will tie into the book I'm going to mention):
Bad guy: "I never knew! I swear to God!" Batman: "Swear to me." When I heard this, I didn't like it, but I was searching for some other meaning that it could perhaps encompass than the blasphemous statement that my Dad later explained it to be. That was an unnecessary and godless line. Not that the bad guy should be swearing at all, nor cheapening God's name by using It as a cheap stamp of assurance.
There's some swearing in the film, and plenty of violence. I was pleasantly surprised with the romance in this film. It played a very small part and only went so far as a kiss. Which it would have been even better without. The girl in the film is, overall, well dressed- there are things that could have been better as far as modesty goes, but this was the first superhero film that I've seen where it didn't seem purposefully eroticised.
There is a short scene involving women in swimsuits and some scenes with women dressed in party gowns- very nice from the waist down, but a bit lacking up top...
There are also multiple spots where we see through the eyes (and hear through the ears) of people affected by hallucinogenic drugs- they had fun with the graphics on those, but it's neat or gross or disturbing or demonic depending on where you stand.
We also see Batman being a vigilante law-enforcer. This is one of those hypothetical moral dilemmas that's tough. He rarely actually kills anyone... he saves Rachel, which is certainly OK for a non-law-enforcement person to do. He comes real close to killing, if he doesn't actually kill, multiple police officers in his attempts to escape capture. He definitely speeds... he's not out to break laws or fight police... it's a tough topic worth praying over. Same issue here in the Keaton Batman.
Now comes a big issue, and here it gets real tough. (SPOILERS ahead, but this isn't a film with any huge twists or anything of the sort)
Bruce Wayne becomes a criminal so he can understand the criminal mind, but later we learn that apparently the only (major?) crimes he committed he committed against himself- he stole from his own company. Huh. (I say major, because I don't think the fruit seller was a division of Wayne Enterprises.)
He wants to "turn fear against those who prey on the fearful", or something like that. He then goes to study under Liam Neeson's character who trains him into a fighting machine. And we get a mix of good and bad and wacky stuff here, all confused even more because (here's the
Liam Neeson turns out to be the bad guy. So... was what he said right? Wrong? A mix?
And what did he say? Well, here's a dangerous one- that right and wrong aren't such hard-and-fast concepts. I'm sorry, but as a Christian Theist who believes that God has spoken to all areas of ethics (and everything else, actually) in His Law-Word, and we are bound to obey, I can say that that's not true. IF he means that right and wrong are ambiguous, situationally-relative and subjective concepts. Or does he just mean that there are some less clear areas and contextual dilemmas? I don't think so, or he wouldn't really need to say it...
"If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal and if they can't stop you, you become something else entirely - legend, Mr Wayne."
A good theme if understood rightly, but stated like this it sounds pretty much egocentrical. True meaning comes from devoting oneself to The Higher Cause or Ideal of God's Kingdom.
Further, he (Bruce's trainer) talks a lot about addressing the fear within Bruce's self, and becoming fear himself, and becoming one with the darkness, and all this- very dangerous. The solution to our fear isn't sucking some hallucinogenic potion and then dueling a bunch of black-clothed ninjas. Nor is it turning inward and addressing our inmost parts. It's focusing on God, submitting to God, repenting of our self-focus and sin, and giving ourselves wholly to obedience to Him, regardless the odds and the consequences. Turn inward? Well, only if you plan on bringing what you find inside you into submission to God's Objective Standard which is true apart from yourself and your perception of It.
And now we make a smooth transition into What I liked:
While in training, Bruce is told to kill a farmer who it is said murdered someone. Bruce doesn't deny that justice demands the man's life- he simply states that it's not his place to kill the man, and that the man needs tried for his crime, not just beheaded by vigilantes. An EXCELLENT statement.
Bruce is upholding the Wayne family legacy. Though his father and mother are no longer with him, their family was close and loving, and he honored his father in life and honors his memory now. Very nice to see.
Bruce does push-ups. I wish he was wearing a shirt in that scene, but I loved that, and all the other exercises and training scenes. :-D
Bruce also had an awesome car. "I've gotta get me one of those."
I also liked his suit, which wasn't disgustingly tight and form-fitting.
And now a smooth transition into the artistic value of the film, and how Save the Cat ties in.
There were a few spots that sniffed of cheese, especially when Batman was on screen. Over-epic, methinks.
The music. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard- how could I not like it? Well, here's how.
It was a very fitting and appropriate score, but the thing that I missed from Elfman's work was the melody. This one didn't leave me with anything but a very simple string part, a staple of action music, stuck in my head. I missed the Batman Theme- something big and grand and heroic that I could leave the theater- or living room- with. Though I'm quite glad there was no pop song in the credits.
As far as filmography goes, it was a well done film, no question about it. I missed the dramatic, comic flair and the distinctive sets of Mr. Burton's, but the graphics, stunts, etc. were much better here.
Now for the story. This was a classic example of Mr. Blake Snyder's story template discussed in his book Save The Cat!
I haven't finished the book yet, and there are some swear words and a few less-than-modest pictures, as well as- well, he just writes like a non-Christian screenwriter writing a book on screenwriting would, I suppose.
That said, he's very fun to read, and the book is excellent as far as information goes.
Lest I give away one of the best bits of information in the book, the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, I shall refrain from telling in detail how amazingly well the two correlated. Save The Cat! readers and owners who would like to see the film "beaten out", just e-mail me and let me know. I'll give you what I've got so far. :-)
But one can watch this film with the popcorn in one hand and the Beat Sheet in the other. I was.
Oh, and my favorite line from the film?
"What's the point of all those push-ups if you can't even lift a bloody log?"
Batman Begins: 4/5, great for studying story, well done, remarkably romance-free, and with plenty of action, but not without its issues.
Save The Cat: 4.5/5 - excellent book for screenwriters, cautions above being understood.