By Aaron Sagers
Outside it was a frigid night in Gotham on Wednesday, but inside it was a Dark Knight. Last night New York City’s Paley Center for Media hosted the premiere for “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2” the second part of DC Universe animated saga based on Frank Miller’s 1986 game-changing miniseries, which goes on sale Blu-ray/DVD on Jan. 29.
The event featured a red carpet arrival and Q&A with special guests director Jay Oliva, dialogue director Andrea Romano and executive producer/Batman expert Michael Uslan. But it’s safe to say the Batman logo-bedecked fanboys and fangirls in the crowded theater were mainly there to see the Joker and Superman get their butts kicked by Bats.
Michael Uslan, Jay Oliva, and Andrea Romano (photo credit: Aaron Sagers)
Whereas the first part of the film, which debuted last September, featured Bruce Wayne re-emerging as Batman after a decade in retirement, this entry is 78 minutes of action with showdowns between the Caped Crusader versus his greatest foe and greatest super-friend.
And the audience ate it up. The violence was gritty, the death toll high, the action no-holds-barred and the payoff great. For instance, when the Peter Weller-voiced Bruce Wayne puts Supes (Mark Valley, “Human Target”) in his place, they cheered as if it was a cinematic moment they’d been waiting a long time to see.
Describing the animated feature as a “companion” to Miller’s work (who was not involved in the films, though the animation reflects Miller’s pencils and Lynn Varley’s watercolor palette), Oliva says this extended Batman/Superman fight scene was so crucial to get right because, as self-described fanboy Uslan puts it, “Batman whoops Superman’s ass.”
Oliva, who storyboarded Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Man of Steel,” said he was pleasantly surprised he didn’t have to cut down any major scenes for the PG-13-rated film. Those major scenes include a massacre at a late-night talk show (the host voiced by Conan O’Brien), and the entire carnival sequence where the Joker goes on a homicidal rampage. Even the Bruno scene featuring the famous henchwoman with swastika pasties remains intact – which Oliva said DC legal told him he could keep as long as she wasn’t smoking and remained really villainous.
With regards to the Joker, Romano said she was aiming for something different with the character than what audiences have seen in the past, and a complete break from what Mark Hamill has done in the role since 1992.
Andrea Romano On The Red Carpet (photo ctedit: Aaron Sagers)
Romano said a well-known actor in the past, who had to be let go, was trying too much to do a Hamill/Jack Nicholson/Heath Ledger take but that Michael Emerson, aka Benjamin Linus from “Lost,” crafted an “unusual, weird, quirky” voice for the role – and that she saw a bit of Ben in his characterization.
More of a clown king instead of clown prince, this Joker maintains a slightly cooler disposition with his insanity. He still clearly enjoys a killing spree but is determined to make his nemesis finally lose control.
“We get to see a side of him that is particularly terrifying as he is coming to his end of a reign of chaos,” says Uslan, who attended the premiere in a “Batman Returns” tie and Bat-socks. “He’s a lot more experienced and knows the ending is in sight, and that makes him far more deadly.”
Other revealing moments during the premiere event, moderated by Gary Miereanu with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment:
Oliva said he worked on the film from his hotel at night while spending four months storyboarding on set with Snyder. He added he had to hold back on certain visuals in the film that too closely mimics in “Man of Steel,” but promises Superman action on the level of what’s in “Dark Knight.”
The director also told fans he’d like to do the “Gotham By Gaslight” and “The Long Halloween” Batman stories, but sales have to be good to get future projects off the ground - “That’s why you don’t see Wonder Woman anymore.”
If Romano has anything to say about it, Hamill and fan-favorite Kevin Conroy will return for more voice work with Batman, and she keeps a wishlist of actors to work with – including Jon Hamm and Kyle Chandler as Superman. As for O’Brien’s work on “Dark Knight,” she was amazed by his ability to nail laughing maniacally on cue in one take.
Emerson told Romano the voice work was the hardest performance he’d done.
Uslan noted one mistake from the animated feature: The giant penny in the Batcave should be from the year 1947 not 1917.
“The Killing Joke” animated movie sounds very, very likely.