July 18, 2008

Aficionados Trust ‘Dark Knight’ Will Deliver on Its Hype

By Doug Pullen, El Paso Times, Texas

Jul. 18--Holy hyperbole, Batfan, can "The Dark Knight" possibly live up to the, uh, well, hype?

Pow! "The haunting and visionary 'Dark Knight' soars on the wings of untamed imagination," gushed Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers.

Bam! "This is a rich, complex, visually thrilling piece of pop entertainment," raved Richard Roeper of TV's "Ebert & Roeper,""as strong as any superhero epic we've never seen."

Kapow! Associated Press' Christy Lemire's offered the melodramatic assessment that "The Dark Knight" is "an epic that will leave you staggering from the theater, stunned by its scope and complexity."

Can a movie about a caped crime fighter that stars the late Heath Ledger as disfigured psycho The Joker possibly be that good? Eastsider John Townsend hopes so. He thinks it's going to be a knockout.

"I want to see it a couple of times," the 51-year-old furniture salesman and longtime Batman fan said.

"I want to see the movie by myself," he added, preferably at a sparsely attended morning show, "but this is one I do want to see with a crowd, a fanboy type of crowd."

It's possible Townsend already has seen the 152-minute "The Dark Knight" by now. As is the custom these days with potential $300-million grossing blockbusters, theaters started showing the movie at a minute after midnight

Thursday night (Friday morning, technically).

If he winged it to one of those screenings, chances are Townsend was elbow-deep in fanboys.

"Across the board, the majority of our midnight shows (were) sold out," said James Meredith, vice president of communications for the Plano-based Cinemark Cinemas, which had 12 midnight showings at its three El Paso theaters.

Meredith also said that advanced ticket sales for the movie "are going well. They're selling very well." He didn't divulge numbers.

Townsend and other fans will have a number of chances to see the first Batman movie not to have the Caped Crusader's name in the title.

A total of 242 screenings will be offered between the midnight shows and Sunday night. The movie is likely to stay in local theaters for several months. It's playing on about one-fifth of all the first-run screens in the city, a total of 16 screens at four local theaters -- Cinemark's Tinseltown, Cielo Vista and Cinemark West as well as Carmike 16, part of the Carmike Cinemas chain of Columbus, Ga. Premiere Cinemas in Bassett Place is the only local first-run theater that isn't showing the movie.

"There's a high-level of excitement for this film," Cinemark's Meredith understated.

Townsend said he can't overstate why he's so enthusiastic about "The Dark Knight," the sequel to the 2005 blockbuster "Batman Begins" starring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader.

"With this one, I'm looking for the best version of Batman made," Townsend said. "Take the bar that 'Batman Begins' set, that 'X-Men' set before that and Richard Donner's 'Superman' (before that) and take that up even higher."

That's a pretty big cowl to fill.

Townsend credits the film's creators, including Christian Bale as the conflicted crime fighter and returning director Christopher Nolan (whose "Memento" flipped the script on narrative filmmaking), for steering the franchise away from the campy '60s TV show and the cartoonish '90s films. He's encouraged that Nolan has adopted the darker, psychological tones of the Frank Miller comic book series of the 1990s.

"He's the person who took Batman ... where it's supposed to be," he said.

The film's biggest curiosity is Ledger's performance as The Joker. Ledger died of a drug overdose in January, shortly after completing his work on the movie. But the advance Oscar buzz suggests it's a performance that will live on for a long time. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman praised Ledger's Oscar buzzworthy performance as having "a maniacal gusto" of Marlon Brando.

"The Joker ... is a very dark character," Townsend said. "I hope he played it the way it was supposed to be played."

He said his appetite was whetted by the July 8 release of "Gotham Knight," an animated DVD with six stories that bridge the gap between "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight."

"They pose some interesting questions I hope are answered in the movie," Townsend said, such as what becomes of the Scarecrow (Batman's nemesis in the last film).

Just as comic books have changed and grown up, Townsend said, so have the movies based on them. He points to recent examples, such as "300,""Road to Perdition" and "A History of Violence."

"The bottom line is they are going with the script first, a good storyline, and building a movie around it," he said, "as opposed to coming up with the special effects and the characters ... the explosions, the kick-- car chase, the copter, the cycle, the boat and writing them into the script. Now it's all about the story."


To see more of the El Paso Times or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.elpasotimes.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, El Paso Times, Texas

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.