On sale this week is "Batman: Gotham Knight," the latest release from Warner Bros.' DC Universe line of direct-to-DVD features based on the iconic DC Comics superheroes. Split into six chapters created by six different teams of writers, directors, animators, and composers, "Gotham Knight" bridges the gap between 2005's live-action "Batman Begins" and the forthcoming sequel, "The Dark Knight."
Executive Producing the project is Bruce Timm, the fan-favorite and award-winning mastermind behind the legendary "Batman: The Animated Series." But Timm told CBR News that in terms of creative control over the DVD, he had "almost none." However, that doesn't mean Timm didn't have a lot to say about the project, which brings an anime style to the Batman character.
"I was excited to see how other creators would interpret [Batman in 'Gotham Knight')," Timm said. "Specifically, these were Japanese guys who didn't have a tradition of American style superheroes and culture. They do have superhero comics and anime in Japan, but they're really, really different than the 'Western' style heroes -- they're very, very different. Anime is something that is constantly evolving. If you've seen some of the weirder, more avant-garde anime that has come out of Japan in the last two or three years, there really isn't a traditional anime style anymore like there were when we were kids. Some of the designs we got from some of the teams were really realistic, like live-action rotoscoping, and one segment was almost like a garage band punk visual style -- a really, really cool visual style but we're telling everyone we're doing an anime style Batman, and this doesn't even look like anime, it just looks really different. So at one point we wanted to be sure we got at least one or two segments of what we Westerners think looks like anime -- small, lipless mouths and stuff. We got some of that in there too. There's a good variety of styles throughout the movie, it's cool."
Asked why the Batman lends himself so easily to experimentation and interpretation, the producer said it's hard to "mess up" Batman. "He's is just a cool character. We've already seen all different various media, so many different kinds of Batman, from Adam West to Christian Bale to all flavors in-between," Timm remarked. "You can go goofy with him, you can go really, really dark, cloth costume or armor, high-tech or low-tech. You have a pretty wide parameter of how far you can take the character. We were really gratified that some of the designers in Japan went a little bit further away from the traditional Batman then some people here in the states were really comfortable with. I had to kind of fight for it. I said, 'you know, this is weirder than what we expected, but I think it's valid and it's cool and it's what we wanted to see.' We didn't want to see the traditional comic book Batman with semi-anime touches. We wanted to see something that was really, really unusual and different. I was one person that let some of the more weirder designs go through."
The six different segments of "Gotham Knight" interlock to form a feature film that takes place between the end of "Batman Begins" and the beginning of "The Dark Knight." Each segment is approximately 12 minutes long,and written by such talents as Brian Azzarello, Greg Rucka, Alan Burnett and Josh Olson. Interestingly, Timm said that it was not his preference to have the stories link -- he believed that may have limited some of the creators.
"That was one of the weird things about this project, my preference would have been to have the segments not link together, to have them stand alone more," Timm said. "I thought that would have given more of an opportunity to open up the possibilities to the Japanese [producers]. Fortunately or unfortunately, we do have a through-line so we couldn't go too far outside the central framework. One of the things I liked about the 'Animatrix' project was that some of the segments had almost nothing to do with 'The Matrix.' Some of them were really bizarre -- really, really weird. I would have liked to have given a little bit more artistic freedom to the Japanese so they could really go to town. But I am gratified that within the concrete framework that we had, there was still plenty of room to bring a lot of punch to the page."
Many fans will be happy to hear the voice of Kevin Conroy as that of Batman/Bruce Wayne in "Gotham Knight." To many his voice is the ideal Batman, having served in that role in so many different endeavors -- from "Batman: The Animated Series" to "Batman Beyond" and "Justice League." "Originally, we wanted to use the movie cast," Timm said. "But these are some of the most famous actors in the world. We couldn't make the schedule work. In the early part of our production, they were still filming 'The Dark Knight.' As soon as they wrapped they were all spread out around the globe. At that point we decided to go a completely different way. We can't get Christian [Bale], who do we want to get next? We decided, let's just get Kevin. He's an awesome Batman voice. There was no downside to using Kevin."
As to the future of DC's direct-to-DVD features, Timm talked about the possibility of using lesser-known characters in upcoming projects."It's hard to say at this point," he said. "This project is still kind of early. I think we're going to end up using more of the A-list characters for the time being. I do hope that we get to the point where we're successful enough that we can start going into the more obscure characters, I think there are a lot of interesting characters in the quote-unquote 'B-list' and 'C-list.' That's one thing to me that's really interesting about the huge success of Iron Man this summer. Iron Man is not really a household name, and yet it's the top movie of the year. I'm going to use that argument as much as possible when we're talking about future projects to DVD, just because Joe Blow in Kokomo doesn't know who the Question is doesn't mean we shouldn't use him."
Presently, Bruce Timm is hard at work on the forthcoming Wonder Woman DVD feature. "We're starting to get footage back from overseas on that, I'm very excited, it looks great," he said. "Very, very violent. After that, it hasn't been officially announced yet so I can't say. But another DC DVD."
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