Monday, July 21, 2008

It was worth the wait!

Three years have past since the release of "Batman Begins", and now the long awaited sequel "The Dark Knight" is here. Carrie and I saw it on IMAX. We got to the theater an hour early...and there was already a long line. All of the shows for that day had sold out, and a few folks were disappointed. Fortunately, we had pre-ordered the tickets, so we got pretty good seats. We sat at somewhat of an angle, but it did not ruin the experience.

The screen was huge! During the IMAX scenes, it was even bigger! It was almost too big, as there were times when I found it difficult to see the entire screen - perhaps missing what was going on on the right side or left side. This is a minor complaint, but it could be a bit overwhelming on an 8-story screen. Maybe that's a good thing! The picture quality was superb, and the audio was rich and full. The film is about 2 and 1/2 hours long, so toward the end, that big bottle of water I had guzzled was starting to be a distraction!

The cinematography was amazing. There are breathtaking shots of Chicago (which was the stand-in city for Gotham) and Tokyo. The editing was fast paced in the action sequences, (which can be difficult to take in on such a huge screen) but it wasn't as choppy as certain scenes in "Batman Begins". Flow of the film was more consistent and seemed to follow the tone of each scene. Clearly, the filmmakers honed their craft.

The dialogue was an improvement over the previous film, and the actors from the first film seemed a bit more natural this time. There are a few corny lines at the very beginning, which felt a little artificial, but the rest of the film was stellar.

The acting was also fantastic. Christian Bale returns as the title character, who begins to question his mission and the effects that it has brought the city. Bale plays three different characters in a way: The public Bruce - a flamboyant care-free playboy, the real Bruce - quiet, caring and focused, and Batman - vicious and full of rage. Each aspect is handled well. There are times when Bruce and even Batman seem a little overshadowed by the main villain, but that's understandable as the villain is so iconic.

Gary Oldman returns as Lt Jim Gordon, and his performance is leaps above the previous film. This is mainly due to the writing, which sees the character face challenges and have emotions that have never been seen in previous film/TV incarnations. Unlike the 90's films, he is much more than a supporting character. He is a moral compass and a hero.

Aaron Eckhart plays newly elected D.A. Harvey Dent, a character strait from the comics. As Director Chris Nolan said, he's the backbone of the story. Eckhart does an excellent job, and is very convincing. Dent is a character that you want to "win" and his journey is a heavy one. I do feel that the role should have been expanded, and even two movies would really be needed to give the character the depth he has in the comics. Although this is my only real complaint, his story works well in the context.

Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Kate Holmes as Rachel Dawes. She also is a central character, and plays the role with a more believable maturity than her predecessor, who I felt was a bit annoying in the previous film. Dawes is an assistant D.A. after all, and such a character needs to be strong and confident. Gyllenhaal makes the character more three-dimensional and likeable. I don't mean to critisize Holmes, but in many ways, I wish Maggie Gyllenhaal had been cast in "Begins" not only for continuity purposes, but because I felt Kate Holmes was simply too young for the role.

Michael Caine returns as the ever faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, and brings a warmth and charm that I felt was missing in previous versions, even in the comics at times. He is very much a father figure to Bruce Wayne, and plays the role with a natural charisma.

Morgan Freeman also returns as Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises, and Bruces go-to guy for gadgets. Fox's role is small, but very important. Not only does he give Batman new toys, but he helps Batman understand an important lesson.

The late Heath Ledger plays one of the most well known and iconic villains of all time - the Joker. His version of the Joker is the most manic and unpredictable version of the character I've seen on screen. Obviously, there will be comparisons to Jack Nicholson, who played a dark, yet rather campy version of the character in 1989. Ledger's Joker is more realistic - but more volatile. He shifts from funny to terrifying in no time, and makes a viewer feel guilty for laughing at such horrible actions. He causes destruction simply because it's fun, but he also has bigger plans. Ledger steals the show as Joker, but then that's what Joker is supposed to do. He commands attention with the classic purple suit, green hair and huge smile -extended by unsettling facial scars. He also wears white makeup, which is change from the comics, where his skin was bleached chalk white in a chemical accident. Although some die-hard fans did not like this aesthetic change, it seems to fit this incarnation better. No back story or origin is given for the Joker. He simply shows up right at the beginning, and establishes himself as a force of chaos. It's truly sad that Ledger has left us, and we will never get to see his characterization again.

The story is tight and focused. It's also very dark. It is about moral decisions and the consequences that follow. Each main character faces a challenge and must overcome it. Some do, but others don't. This isn't the feel-good hit of the year, but it is such a mirror to our society: We all want to be safe from madmen, but how far should our protectors step into our lives? Are the protectors really making things better? What do we do when they fail? This is gritty, meaty and relevant stuff.

It is a "PG-13" film, but it feels like an "R" rated film. There is a lot of violence, but most of it is implied, leaving your imagination to fill in the gaps. The action sequences are very entertaining. Batman fights with the fury of a raging animal...and we can see it this time, due to less frantic editing. Stunt work is unbelievable, especially since very little CGI was used. They really did flip that truck!

The scoring and music is almost subliminal. It fits each scene well, and enhances the emotion. The special effects are really not noticeable, except for a particular gadget at the end, which is a direct homage to the comics.

This is more than a comic-book film. It's more than an action film. It's a crime drama, which happens to have costumed characters. Even if Batman and the Joker had been replaced with more conventional leads, it would still be a gripping story. As I said, there are things that could have been better, but that is pure fan-boy nitpicking. These things work well with the narrative and theme of the film. In my opinion, this is easily the best Batman film ever, even better than the Nicholson and Keaton film of 1989. It works better as an action film, and it is more true to the 40's 70's, 80's, and 90's Batman comics.

Just remember, this one is not for young children. There have been complaints from parents who apparently thought it was another campy, shallow superhero film. What can I say? Batman is a dark character, and he deals with homicidal maniacs, terrorists, and madmen in the comics, so why should a movie be any different?

I give it a 97% grade.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Only a couple more days until The Dark Knight is released.

July 18 is the official release date for The Dark Knight...but some folks are seeing it early. In fact, a few have been lucky enough to have already seen it. First, some theaters are adding more show times, including ones in the wee hours of Friday morning, just because the regular times have sold out. Second - WB launched a final "viral game" that resulted in many lucky winners getting free IMAX tickets to an early show! Everyone who's seen it that I've talked to said it's stunning, so for me the next two days are going to be rather long. (We're seeing it Saturday). I will post a spoiler free review Saturday night (I hope).

Parents! It is rated PG-13...and they mean it. Even Director Chris Nolan said it is too intense for young children, so be aware.

Side note: I'm planning on writing a review for every Batman film since 1989. Some I liked, some I hated. :)

Also: After the film has been released, I plan on doing little bios of characters that I would like to see in future Batman films.

Rant Time:

So crude oil has fallen about $10 a barrel in the last couple of days. That's nice. Are we going to see a big difference at the pump? So far, not in my area. Other areas across the nation have seen a $0.01 drop. Wow. Maybe in the next couple of days we'll see a difference. I guarantee it will drop right after I fill my tank. That always seems to happen.

So why is gas so high? Peak oil? Maybe. Apparently the worlds oil resources have met their peak. There isn't going to be much more oil coming out of the ground, but demand is still climbing. Well I beg to differ. The reason why oil prices have dropped lately is because of larger than predicted stockpiles. People are not buying as much America at least. I figured this would happen, but I doubt there will be a significant drop at the pump.

You see, there currently is no shortage, and there never was. It is a perceived shortage. Industry traders are trading "futures" of oil. Essentially, they are saying "this is how much oil would be if there was another war, another terrorist attack, etc - so lets trade at that price anyway just to be sure." Speculators - they are called. If there really was a shortage, we would not be able get gas. It wouldn't be available. Oil will eventually run out, and we need to be more eco-friendly, but we also don't need to be ripped off.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is a Discovery article about a guy who has found a way to make crude oil from...anything. Slaughterhouse byproducts (all the guts and stuff they can't use), plastic containers, tires, and even....poo. This isn't a joke. Pretty much anything that's organic can be made into oil if there is enough heat and pressure. This basically mimics what the Earth does in thousands or millions of years. There are already facilities that are producing the oil. It's light weight and yellowish - rather like cooking oil, so it requires less refining than heavier crude oil. It comes from renewable sources - trash and slaughter house waste.

Think about it. This could solve three major problems in modern society: how to get fuel, what to do with trash, and what to do with sewage. Each city could produce its own fuel. That is something to get excited about.

There are some drawbacks: It's new and difficult to implement. It's expensive, but still cheaper than the oil wet get from OPEC. The process is also rather smelly. It seems all of these problems can be addressed with time, though.

Now - don't think that I'm apathetic about global climate change. I really care about it, but I would rather not see the U.S. fall into another Depression in order to be "green". Not to mention the fact that the Earth has periodically warmed in the past...well before the industrial age, and that the other planets are also getting warmer (though not as much). I think it's a natural process - but we are adding to the changes. The polar ice caps are melting, and as far as we know, that hasn't happened in millions of years, if ever. We need to find better energy sources, but we need to be smart about it.

By the way, here is a nice web site that can help you find cheaper gas.

Rant Over!

Astronomy Bit:

Check out the Moon. It's "full" and that bright "star" next to it is Jupiter!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Welcome to Legends of the Dark Gnat

What's a Dark Gnat? A gnat (those little annoying flies) in the...dark?

Sort of. It's a play on The Dark Knight, aka Batman. Not the cheesy '60's pastel spandex Batman, but the bad@$$ butt kicking guardian of Gotham. The guy that makes criminals scared to go out at night. That guy.

Anyway, I thought it would be funny to make a parody of Batman called the Dark Gnat,'s just easy to remember.

As for the future content: Well, I like a lot of different things from Astronomy to Arachnids...and of course Batman! I also like movies, music, and other random things. Sometimes I may just rant about subjects that annoy me. Other times, I'll talk about stuff that fascinates me: be it science, art, food, or something simple.

You'll see some pictures of backyard wildlife, as I live an a rural and woodsy area. I like to take pictures of interesting creatures I find, much to the dismay of my wife. She wants me to plug her blog now: She has a gluten free food blog (complete with recipes and photos) at
Ginger Lemon Girl
. Yeah, I have to eat that stuff. It's not that bad. In fact, she's a darn good cook!

Listen up! I'm really excited about "The Dark Knight", which is the sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins". "Batman Begins" (I call it BB for short) was a "reboot" to the Batman films, which took a very campy and cheesy route in the 90's. Sometimes, you can't undo the damage, so WB decides to start fresh. Good call. "The Dark Knight" will feature the late Heath Ledger as Batman's arch nemesis; Joker. There are some really good surprises, and twists. Word has gotten out, and tickets are selling like mad. We were fortunate enough to get IMAX tickets. By the way, this is the first feature film to be partially filmed in IMAX. Nice!

Make sure to visit the
Official Site (where you can get info and buy tickets...and see the trailers.)
Also checkout Batman-on-Film, a nice fan-site dedicated to all things Batman. Believe it or not, that site is one of the main reasons WB decided to start making serious Batman movies again. Just so you know. ;)

Thanks for looking in.