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"The Dark Knight"
a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Strait-JacketIn the 1960s, I did more producing and voicing of commercials than I did anything else at KELi Radio. The announcement I remember best required the use of some pre-recorded music and voiceover for the Joan Crawford movie, "Strait-Jacket" (1964) along with my localizing the spot. What I recall most clearly is the tag for the film, "Just keep saying to yourself: it's only a movie---it's only a movie---it's only a movie." I loved that line and I think it did a good job selling the film to a moviegoer.

I'm leading you into "The Dark Knight"---Batman's latest go at it on the big screen---by suggesting, while watching it, to just keeping saying to yourself: it's only a comic book---it's only a comic book---it's only a comic book---made into a movie. Yes, a film with some very good, serious actors cast in a totally absurd screenplay. I do hasten to say again that it is comic book fare, although most of the players in "The Dark Knight" seem to think they're doing lines from Shakespeare, not D.C. Comics.

Such actors as Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth); Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox); Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman); Gary Oldman (James Gordon); Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachael Dawes); and the late, great Heath Ledger (The Joker) make for a highly gifted, high-dollar cast of players doing lines by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. The latter Nolan, who also directed "The Dark Knight," is best remembered for his back-to-back films, "Memento" (2000) and "Insomnia" (2001).

Michael Caine

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Michael Caine

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Batman, Lt. Gordon and District Attorney Dent, in true comic book tradition, are set anew to clean up organized crime in Gotham City . Then the mob bosses start dying at the hand of Batman's most formidable nemesis, the cunningly nihilistic Joker, whose intentions are not for wealth and power, but simply social chaos. Sounds like a terrorist to me.

And that's the way Ledger plays The Joker: a razor-sharp, absurd clown with no fear of dying while reveling in death and cruelty for most anyone around him----and, of course, having the last "laugh," as it were. Truly one who has lost or never had a soul of his own. Ledger's The Joker is the only really substantive noir I could get my teeth into on seeing "The Dark Knight." His performance transcends the Comic Book and approaches a cinematic Magical Realism, leaving the other characters in Gotham's dust.

Much has been made of Heath's Ledger's untimely death after "Knight" was finished and he was already into a lead role in the shooting of Terry Gilliam's 2009 film, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus." Some film folks were conjecturing shortly after Ledger's accidental death last January that The Joker character might not have exited the actor's head easily and possibly helped to precipitate his demise. The idea of The Joker lingering in Ledger's head gives the performance even more oomph and it's a hellava an idea to sell more tickets, but apparently that's not the case.

Heath Ledger

Moviedom is already on the push to promote what will be the Perth-born actor's final performance in "Parnassus." News has it that Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell will take up (in some way) Ledger's remaining scenes, but Gilliam will cut not a frame from what Heath has already put in the can. If that doesn't bring every youngish female on the planet to see "Parnassus," I don't what will.

It's too early, but not unimaginable that Ledger will receive a posthumous Oscar for his performance. He was a truly fine and risk-taking actor. He is being missed, although his imprint will not likely be as indelible as another acclaimed up-and-comer from the 50s who met with an early and tragic demise by the name of James Byron Dean.

"Knight" is "PG-13," which means a paucity of coarse language and a plethora of bodily violence without blood. I found the frequent and extreme body smacks, chops and pummeling to be as off-putting as the barrels of blood usually seen in "R" rated flicks.

THEN THERE'S THE SOUND! Hello, can you hear me? I said, sound. Yes, sound, that invisible stuff which includes dialogue, music and background noise. Quite simply, "Knight's" damned good music by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer is almost always too loud for the dialogue. I suggest they redo the film and either put English subtitles in with the inaudible spoken English, or fade the music and wild sound down a smidgen when there's someone speaking. It's an old trick we used to do when running a live record show on the radio or putting together a commercial to air on the station. It's amazing how much better communication improves with this swell idea.

Then there's the voice of the non-Wayne character (no Duke intended) employed in some smooth digital fashion by Batman, himself. It doesn't sound like the same voice I hear when Bruce Wayne/Christian Bale is speaking on the soundtrack. I'm taking a guess that a ghost-voice actor was brought into the looping booth with his pipes being technically enhanced so Mr. Wayne's onscreen identity is less noticeable, also, as that of Batman. I think the ghost-voice is Clint Eastwood's!!! "Make my day, Joker!"

The automotive chase scenes are breathtaking, and will probably cause great gaspings for breath in the audience, especially when the IMAX print comes out following the initial less-sizable screen version I saw.

Noisy Batcycle

But wait. "The Dark Knight" does include a nuance of politics. Morgan Freeman's character (Fox, Wayne's expert business assistant) is advised by Bruce that Lucius must eavesdrop at once on all the cell phone conversations going on in Gotham in order to spot The Joker's location as the evil clown is about to wreak more mayhem. Lucius responds to Bruce that he will do the task, but only if he is allowed to resign following the audio spying---which he does, after destroying the electronic array developed to handle the surveillance. There must be a message here somewhere. Holy Decibels, Batman. Where's Robin, now that we really need him?

Have fun.

"The Dark Knight" preview

"The Dark Knight" official site.
Opens wide July 18.
Check Yahoo Movies  for Tulsa theaters & times.
Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net
Copyright © 2008, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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