You just can’t get enough DC at a comic-con these days. In addition to our NYCC coverage of what to expect from Green Lantern in comics and from Arrow on television, we’re also excited to share what we’ve heard about the future of DC home video. We sat down with the architect of DC Animation, Bruce Timm, at a roundtable discussion to talk about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2, the latest home video release from DC Entertainment.
Most film adaptations of comic book properties tend to abridge the material and leave certain parts on the cutting room floor. Was there anything from Frank Miller’s orignal story that didn’t make it into the film?
Bruce Timm: There’s nothing really big that was left out. We had a lot of elbow room since we had two movies to spread out in. I think we got all of the important stuff in there.
Since the story has been broken up into two parts, was it difficult to find an appropriate point to separate the two halves?
BT: It’s a pretty even split. The original comic was four thick issues and we split it right after issue two. We jury rigged the endng [og Part 1] a bit, moving up the scene where Joker wakes up in Arkham Asylum in order to make that the cliffhanger, but other than that, it was pretty obvious where to do it.
The Dark Knight Returns carries a PG-13 rating and there have been rumors that The Killing Joke might be adapted to an animated feature. Can this potentially push animated films towards an R rating?
BT: There is a discussion that comes up now and then about broadening the marketplace and maybe doing an R-rated DC adaptation. For a while, we were talking about The Killing Joke. After the theater shooting this summer, I don’t think anyone wants to go that route with these animated movies at the moment. But the possibility does still come up of us doing something a little more adult. It almost happened with Dark Knight, Part 2. Part 2 is actually pretty violent in places and we were crossing our fingers, hoping we wouldn’t get an R rating and have to go back and cut something out. But we got PG-13, thankfully, but it could happen down the road. It’s tricky. You don’t want to make an R-rated Batman movie just for the sake of making an R-rated Batman movie, so it has to be something that feels appropriate for the material. We’ll see what happens down the line.
Is there a possibility of seeing a part 3 and 4?
BT: You mean Dark Knight Strikes Again? I would be willing to give it a shot. If the numbers come back on this one and are huge, and we get interest from [Warner] Home Video to do more, I’m ready.
Having done an episode of Batman: The Animated Series where a scene from DKR was featured, was the style or voice cast from that episode in the back of your minds during production, or was this a completely fresh start?
BT: It was a fresh start. That was really just a shoutout to a beloved classic. When we did the movie, we knew we were going to have to take a completely different approach to the whole thing. For one thing, we wanted to make sure the art style was a little more reflective of the original source material. It was difficult coming up with an art style that represented the comic, but was still “animatable.” We were struggling for weeks – we couldn’t come up with something that hit all the bases we wanted to cover. In desperation, we did go back and look at the model sheets for the Animated Series episode, but they weren’t really helpful. They were too simplified. So we had to put our nose to the grindstone, sweat more bullet, and eventually we came up with the look we came up with.
Did Michael Ironside enter your mind for this film, since he voiced Batman in that episode?
BT: I thought Michael was awesome as the older Batman, but we wanted to try something different for the movie. And since it’s a more high-profile project, we had a little more money to go for stunt casting. Not to say Michael Ironside isn’t any of these things, but we wanted someone who was iconic back in the 80s and who was also still relevant now, and on top of that, most importantly, just a really great actor. Jay Oliva suggested Peter Weller, so that’s why we went with him, and I’m very happy we did.
Was there any push back from [Warner] Home Video with regards to this project? And if so, how did you calm their resistance?
BT: I first brought it up as a possibility back when we started doing these movies – back when we did Doomsday. I don’t remember what the objections were. Some people might have been nervous about it, so we dropped it and did other things. But it came up again a couple years ago during a period after Christopher Nolan’s second Batman movie, but before he got started on part three. At that point, DC was aware that Nolan was wanting to do something with the source material from Dark Knight Returns, so we need to stay away from that for now, but once his movie was in production, DC came back to us and said that his movie was different and we could go ahead and do this as an adaptation. At that point, I jumped on it.
With so many Batman stories in the DC Universe, how do you decided which ones to tell in animated form?
BT: It’s a messy process. We meet every week with people from Home Video, DC Comics, and Warner Brothers Animation and talk about everything that’s in production and what we might want to put into production in the future. Sometimes we’ll have a favorite Batman comic from when we were a kid and throw those ideas out, but not every one of those would make a good movie. There is something undefineable about what makes a marketable and interesting feature-length film. But everybody throws out ideas, and most of them get rejected, but usually we find something everybody agrees upon, and that goes into production.
If Arrow, the new television series, continues to be popular, might we see a Green Arrow movie in the future?
BT: Possibly. I wouldn’t say never. It’s a tricky thing. People always ask, “How come you’re not doing a Flash movie or an Aquaman movie?” and I would love to do all of those things, but the reality is these movies are made on a tight budget and cost “X” millions of dollars and the Home Video people want to bet on a sure thing, so that means you’re going to get a lot of Batman movies, a lot of Superman movies, and a lot of Justice League movies. I’m hoping something happens along the way that allows us to broaden our horizons and do something like a Nightwing movie or a Batgirl movie, but what that something might be, I don’t know.
There’s been a lot of controversy with regards to the politics of The Dark Knight Returns. Were you concerned with that when you opted to make a film version?
BT: Fortunately for me, what I took away from reading the original, in terms of political mindset, is that Frank Miller seems to hate everybody. [laughter] It’s not that he hates liberals or he hates conservatives. Overall, I think the tone of the book leans right, but at the same time, he has all the stuff where he’s bashing Reagan, this huge conservative icon. There are a lot of satiric barbs to throw around on either side, so we just wanted to make sure we kept it fairly even so we couldn’t be doling out right wing of left wing propaganda.
In making the adaptation, what would you say was the most significant challenge in trying to get this seminal work to play well on screen?
BT: There’s not an easy answer to that. There are a lot of different things. From the discussion with the writer, Bob Goodman, about the broad view of what the movie should be, and giving him a shot at breaking it down into an outline. Reading his outline, he hit all the high points, then when he turned in his first draft, we said, “Well you need to put in this one line of dialogue that’s missing” or “This is an important point that you need to put in” so it’s a little bit of back and forth, but it’s a complicated process that doesn’t sound very interesting when I explain it.
Was there talk about how much you would replicate the comic book’s art in the film?
BT: We wanted to make it look as much like the source material as possible, but knowing that we weren’t going to make it look exactly like the comic because the comic is all over the place. Batman can look different in every other panel, which happens a lot in comics. It happened when we did All-Star Superman too. It’s always a trick to find the most iconic things about the art that make it look like Frank Miller art, and yet, at the same time, can also be translated into animation. Again, that’s just a vague process that happens, and how successful we are at it, we can’t be the judge of that. We definitely referred to the comic on every background character, every vehicle, every location, and every color scheme. We were constantly referring to the comic, saying, “Somehow we have to make it look like that.”
Thank you, Bruce, for taking the time to answer the multitude of questions about the conclusion of Batman’s next adventure. Be sure to check out the other half of the B:DKR roundtable discussion with voice director Andrea Romano.