A stylized interpretation of Gotham, far from Nolan's vision.
In the late 80s, Tim Burton
met with legendary comics author Alan Moore
to discuss his upcoming Batman movie. Moore had only one piece of advice: "Get Gotham City right."
Looking back at the 1989 Batman
, Burton's hyper-stylized, punk Gotham is as colorful as it is decrepit - as much a character in the movie as Batman himself. Burton tapped into an aspect of the Batman universe that Moore was keenly aware of: Gotham City is more than just concrete and glass; it is a personality. Equally rotten as it is salvageable, Gotham is the wayward child in need of Batman's tough love. Gotham - not Rachel Dawes, not Vicki Vale, not anyone else - is who Batman is truly saving.
With The Dark Knight
, however, Nolan
took the visual look of the city in a drastically different direction. Filming on location in Chicago, the director seemed more interested in eviscerating personality from the city rather than engendering it. Instead of Burton's warped, twisted sets, we are treated to shots of stock skyscrapers and everyday streets.
Burton's brooding Gotham is a far cry from present-day Chicago.
Previously, Gotham had always been a step beyond reality: a city too stylized, too bizarre, too morbidly artful to truly exist. Burton himself described its look "As if Hell came sprouting out of the concrete and kept right on growing." But with Nolan's Gotham we get a blank slate: a cityscape that could stand in, interchangeably, with any American metropolis of our day.
I am not so sure this is an improvement.
Then again, I'm not so sure it isn't.
So, with some distance to the film's release between us, I invite you all to use our limited hindsight to engage in a debate: Did The Dark Knight
get Gotham right?
A shot of Gotham from The Dark Knight. Too real?
There are good arguments for both sides. Those who say yes
are likely to cite the franchise's newfound realism. By portraying a city that could reasonably stand in for any urban landscape of our day, Nolan brought Gotham down to Earth and the possibility of a psycho supervillain to our front door. There's a certain power to the fact that the city The Joker is terrorizing is, more or less, recognizable as a real
city you might live in.
Those who say no
are likely to cite the important role Gotham has always played in the franchise as a stylized distortion of reality. Sure, The Dark Knight
is super realistic, but the inability to adapt a wacky, dark Gotham to its world may just be due to a lack of imagination. After all, the Joker was brought down to Earth without losing his exaggerated edge. Gotham's personality is an integral part of Batman and losing it is like losing a part of the franchise's soul.
Nolan/Ledger's Joker feels simultaneously real and exaggerated. Could
Gotham have been handled similarly?
These aren't the only arguments, and they probably aren't even the best ones. I'm interested in hearing what you think. But, give some good thought to both sides. In the wake of The Dark Knight
's awesomeness, I suspect we all might have a hard time objectively evaluating it.
So tell me: Did The Dark Knight
get Gotham right? Or did it sacrifice the city in achieving so much else?