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Friday, July 08, 2005

Batman Begins - The Omnimax Review From Navy Pier

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Batman Begins is the story of the real Batman, the Batman from the comic books and not some Andy Warhol "Now IN COLOR" Batman of 1967, nor some half crazy maniac as twisted as the Joker who makes us wonder who is crazier, but Batman, the real Batman, the caped crusader of justice, driven by guilt and the death of his parents to make Gotham City safe in a way he could not as a child who helplessly watched his parents murdered on the streets before him.

This is not to say that there are not sharp edges to this Batman, no moral cliffs on which he wobbles. Justice or Revenge? Its a fine line. What you do, how you do it, whether you do it at all become the essence of the question for Bruce Wayne as he emerges into Gotham Society as an adult. These questions become more rather than less real in the wake to the terrorist bomings on London's Transport's carrier's yesterday.

Odds are, no one had a clue that there was anything wrong with any of those involved in the attacks. But what if even one did. Did they pay the ultimate price for saying nothing? Or like Spiderman and Batman are they tortured with doubt at night wondering what if? Did I miss a critical piece.

Yet this is only one tiny thread of the tapestry of a rich and exciting film which I am going to do my best to no give anything away about.

1) Bats are very important to the film. They were used repeatedly in a terrifying manner in the film, accentuated by seeing it at an Omnimax theatre which I strongly recommend if at all possible. The only way to make those sequences more frightening would have been to make them 3-D. I have the feeling that some audience members, or at least their undergarments, would not have escaped the film safely in 3-D.

In the Detective/Batman comic books of the 60's and 70's, a large substance of my reading matter in those decades, the origin story was often repeated and the fear that the bat image might inspire was used repeatedly. The film however makes it palpable, and come alive. Don't think bat. Don't think bats. Think thousands and thousands of shadowy creatures flying swifly and blindly in the dark somehow just missing you by centimeters even as you move to avoid them in a never-ending stream of terror. Imagine a boy confronted by this as a child and forming the will to face this fear and overcome it and use it to his advantage, and form a will of steal.

2) There are Bat toys in the movie. We see many of them being developed. Yet Batman by this time could function without them, but hey, why not know and use your resources? Basic woodbadge training that. But Batman is no Boy Scout - is he? The Bat toys are worth seeing. The have umph, a real edge to them. No bat shark repellent in this film. And who would not want THIS Batmobile. Wait till you see who gets to drive it. Blues Brothers watch out, I think you may have been outdone.

3) I won't give away the villian, but its a fantastic choice. Right out of the 60's comic books, known, but not so well known that most in the audience will recognize him, if at all, until late in the movie. The clues are there for Batophiles, but until one key scene the regular public will not have a real chance for quite some time. All in all a really good choice for this real Batman. Someone to fight on more human terms, without the gigantic props.

4) Casting: For starters the film is full of people who can act, or at least look the part. Christian Bale, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000288/ , can act. This as you might imagine adds a great deal to the film. His interplay with both Michael Caine as Alfred, and Katie Holmes (Tom Cruise's sweetie pie - one wonders for how long after her obvious talents become manifest here) work on so many levels - and other relationships within the film are even more complex. His ability with whatever mix of stuntman help, CGI, special effects, etc., to give us a Batman who moves quickly, silently, decisively, terrorizing the criminals he wraps up for the police so that he becomes an almost superhuman figure. Except that he is not. Caine is superbe as Alfred. He has been in so many films now that printing out his entire biography might consume an entire printer cartridge, so obsessive has he about remaining employed, but I suspect that this has got to stand with one of his favorites for he seemed to have such fun with it. Perhaps it was that by playing Alfred he ensured himself a role in the history of Batmanology regardless of what the film did. Perhaps it was because as Alfred he is the one person who gets to boss Batman around. Perhaps it was the long experience that told him that just possibly this film would get enough critical acclaim to give him a best supporting actor nomination. Katie Holmes did quite well for what might have been a throwaway part, the childhood girlfriend of Bruce Wayne who has now come to despise his weakness. Sometimes she seems to switch between age 16 and 26 on camera, but all in all it was an excellent performance. One can see Flyboy's attraction, expecially at the end of the film.

5) The Omnimax factor. Omnimax theatres have 12,000 watts of speakers. 2-3 story screens. Crystal clear images. The Omnivization of this film was spot on perfect as far as I could tell. Incredible sound and music making the most of every speaker in the joint (Navy Pier, Chicago) with a nearly full house. No bad seats here. The only problem with this film is there is so much action, you want to see it again and again. Details you want to see more clearly. Bits with the Batcave, the Monorail, the Batmobile, especially the Batmobile, some of the stuntwork and explosions, lots of explosions, and really intense special effects.

6) Special effects. One thing that really helped this Batman is that far less of the film seemed to be shot on a soundstage which really opened up the film and added to the realism of the picture. So much of the recent Batman films depended heavily on studio work which closed them off too much and made them dark and dreary. How much of the mountains were real? Hard to say? How much of exterior Gotham from the high air shots (NY) and ground (Chicago) were cut into background shots? They'll have to tell us on the DVD. But it did add a lot of fun to the movie to us Chicagoans at certain points. No matter how you slice it, the LaSalle Street Canyon can only be one thing. Watch for it.

So that's my review. So far the best movie of the year. Beats the heck out of Star Wars. Why? Acting. Intense and believeable personal story. Well written, acted, directed, performed, great special effects, and much, much closer to the Batman of my Childhood. Very cute girl rescued by Bats does not hurt. Oh, and the star does not turn to the Dark Side of the Force. But you knew that, right?


Peter
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