Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dreams in The Bat House

In the early ‘80s Hollywood was beginning to forget how to dream; and at the same time, it was only just beginning to learn the language of the fantasy film.

Fantasy as we know it is a product of other media: books, comics, pulp magazines: a combination of the written word and art. With a number of exceptions that can be counted on one hand, the great works of Science Fiction and Fantasy were not to be found on the silver screen.

On the other hand, the movies early on perfected a kind of wakeful dreaming that was beyond the power of the written word: Carl Dreyer and F.W. Murnau were among its earliest practitioners, and the age of the silents was its greatest era, but all the great filmmakers up to and including Woody Allen knew how to weave their own little dream worlds around viewers. Internal logic is the only logic that matters: up until the early ‘80s it was possible to walk out of a theater and experience the same feeling as waking up.

George Lucas changed all that; computers changed all that; Hollywood’s realization that money could be made from straight-faced adaptations of comics and SF books changed all that, and now the movies’ stock in trade lies not in dreamtime, but in adapting the more concrete and literal fantasies of the written word.

Coming in 1984 as it did, Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape attempts, more or less entertainingly, to combine Dream Reality with Literary Fantasy. It ultimately fails because it is thoroughly of its time, providing too little in the way of dream, too much in the way of ‘80s storytelling tropes, and what is today a stunted sense of adventure.

Though Christopher Plummer and especially Max Von Sydow, he of Bergman dream/reality, are on hand to lend their gravity to the thing, it begins at a disadvantage with the casting of Dennis Quaid as the hero. Quaid has only two expressions: “Smirking” and “Trying to Look Serious.” True, this gives him two more expressions than Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio combined, but it’s not enough to make for an interesting lead character. Meanwhile, Kate Capshaw appears here all done up and looking just like an eighties porn star ... and serving much of the same function, though she gets to keep her clothes on. Dreamscape is not, to put it mildly, a bright and shining moment in the history of feminism.

By today’s standards, the structure of the movie is almost painfully expository. A quarter of the runtime is spent convincing the hero to do what we all know he’s going to end up doing anyway; another third is spent explaining what’s about to happen in the final third. A government conspiracy is thrown in just because Government Conspiracies were all the rage then: all of this dates the movie painfully, because modern audiences already know and accept the things that Dreamscape laboriously spells out. It’s not a bad picture: but more so than movies that were made decades earlier, time has not been kind to it.

It would be nice to compare Dreamscape with Christopher Nolan's Inception, which is, on the face of it, virtually a remake of the earlier film. Alas, Nolan’s picture stars the egregious Mr. DiCaprio, and my own personal code of honor forbids that I waste even a single minute of my life or a dime of my money on anything with him in it.

Still, Inception allows me to mention Nolan, and that makes for a slick transition to the other big movie for this week, The Dark Knight Ruses, I mean RISES. Here we have a movie that genuinely tries to combine old-style Movie Dreamery with New-Style Computer-Generated Funnybook splicers, and fails because it hates itself.

I’m glad that the name “Batman” doesn’t appear in the title, because as it happens Batman barely appears in the movie. The picture would be more aptly titled The Gimp-Man Rises. As the movie opens, neither Batman nor Bruce Wayne have been seen in eight years (and still the brilliant Commissioner Gordon doesn’t put two and two together). Wayne keeps himself locked in a wing of stately Wayne Manor (locked from the outside, oddly enough), and is even now incapable of moving, thinking, speaking or feeling without going “Ouch. Poor Me. Ow. I’m Hurting. Ouch Owie-owwitch!”

The front of the villainous forces this time around is a character called “Bane” — but comic book readers should be aware that this is not even remotely the Bane character that they are familiar with, and you have to wonder — if The Brothers Nolan had to change the character so drastically from the source material, why didn’t they pick a more interesting villain from Batman’s huge Rogue’s Gallery? The reason seems to have been that they wanted to use the specific “iconic” image of the muscle-bound wrestler lifting Batman overhead and then breaking his back — although this was a bad idea in the comics that nearly breaks Nolan’s movie.

Here’s the thing: the comic-book version of Bane pumped a kind of venom into his system to make himself all bloated and muscle-bound; this venom also had the Marvelous Magical Side Effect of Making Batman Stupid. Whenever Bane appeared, Batman simply forgot how to think: the only exception to this being a couple of marvelous episodes of Batman: The Animated Series in which writer Paul Dini effectively took the comics creators over his knee and gave them a damn good spanking.

The “let’s make Batman a Dumb-Ass” elements of Bane’s comic book appearances are about the only bits of Bane that Nolan held onto. In The Dork Knight Rises, (oops, I mean Dark) we have a plot that would be over in five minutes if Bruce Wayne had even two brain cells to rub together. Allow him to think, even for a nanosecond, and POW! The movie is over in the first act and Nolan doesn’t get to do all the apocalyptic end-of-the-world things that he seems to get off on.

But then, there are reminders all through the picture that Nolan hates making Batman movies and would rather be skydiving. In the final third, with the prisoners of Gotham having once again taken over the island (for the second time in three movies — sheesh, can’t these guys think of any other Nefarious Plot?), The Scarecrow appears as a circuit judge condemning the Good Folks of Gotham to a death worse than fate. Except that it isn’t the Scarecrow, it’s “ a cameo from the guy who played Jonathan Crane in the first movie.” No names are given and at no point does Crane even attempt to use his famous Fear Gas on the folks in the dock before him. At the very least, if this was a real Batman movie, Crane should have put his mask on as he pronounces sentence. But no. That would be, like, a comic book, you know, and Nolan will have no part of that, or as little of it as possible.

But then the ending comes around and turns everything on its head by pointing out how stupid much of the movie’s audience is. Shortly after its premiere, fanboys were online everywhere expressing mystification over the ending. “What did the ending mean?  Was Alfred dreaming? I don’t understand!

Well, no, you dumb fucks. The ending is as pedantic and literal as anything I’ve seen in any Batman movie, ever. It’s not open to interpretation. It means what it shows and it shows what it means. Pay attention. Or has the Bane venom had its effect on you as well?

— Frede

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear re: DARK NIGHT RISES. Notice Selina is never referred to as "Catwoman" (much as the first CAPT. AMERICA movie only uses the name "Red Skull" once, indirectly, and AVENGERS only uses the name "Hawkeye" once, as the Widow radios "Agent Barton" while the hordes of CGI shooting gallery targets invade New York). The DARK KNIGHT RISERS ending was painfully obvious from the instant that scene early in the movie plays, when Alfred tells Bruce what he hopes to see one day, after the veddy English Pennysworth has retired to Paris (of all places) -- Michael Caine said those words and anyone who's even slightly aware of Cookie-Cutter-Hollywood-Foreshadowing _had_ to know what the final scene was going to be. The phrase "offended my artistic sensibilities" have been bred out of the general movie-making and -viewing experience, but for me, at least, my artistic sensibilities _were_ offended.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...