Nerd validation with "The Dark Knight"

September 19th, 2008

Last week Warner Bros. announced it would rerelease “The Dark Knight” in January. The announcement was made under the premise of giving the film more time on IMAX screens (it’s unclear at this point if it’ll be in the traditional theaters, too).

The underlying message, as an “insider” told Hollywood Reporter: “It’s just a matter of bringing it back as a reminder for people.”

Do the math: January rerelease. Half a billion in domestic ticket sales. This isn’t about breaking “Titanic’s” box office record (it won’t). This is about a statue—at least one, maybe more. Warner Bros. is hoping that “The Dark Knight” can bring home Oscar gold.

Heath Ledger will probably get a nomination for his Joker. But here’s the question circulating on comic book nerd message boards and now in more mainstream Hollywood publications: Can “The Dark Knight” get a best picture nomination? Can “The Dark Knight” win Best Picture?

I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt the movie will get Academy recognition beyond Ledger and some technical prizes. But the idea a big comic book movie could get an Oscar nomination is more than just a dumb prize for a movie—it’s validation for comic book nerds every-where.

Only 10 years and two Batman movies ago there were nipples on the Batsuit and cornball Arnold Schwarzenegger dialog like “The Iceman Cometh!” Go back in time and tell someone severely disappointed in “Batman and Robin” in a decade they’ll be talking about Oscars for Batman.

“Batman and Robin” is pretty much the epitome of everything wrong with superhero movies. Bad dialog, goofy costumes, actors and directors who don’t treat the material with the love and respect us nerds have for it. Bryan Singer (X-Men) and Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) changed that. Comic nerds (and I include myself in this) used to see movies, regardless of qual-ity, simply because it was a comic book property. The logic behind that was if enough people supported “Tank Girl” or “Judge Dredd,” maybe they’d greenlight (better) comic movies like “The Mask” or “The Crow.”

That’s pretty faulty logic, but after years and years of hearing about delays on the long-promised X-Men or Spider-Man movies, we had to take what we could get, no matter how bad. There was Richard Donner’s “Superman” and Burton’s “Batman,” but those were movies for our parents. My friends and I were Marvel kids. Batman was OK, but we wanted Wolverine. We wanted Spider-Man.

One of my best friends likes to tell a story about the time he saw the poster for Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” a simple gray “X” on black background, and flipped out because he thought the “X-Men” movie was finally on its way. Who could blame him? We were 11. The “X-Men” movie wouldn’t come out until we were 19.

Ten years ago there was only “Batman and Robin” (awful) and “Blade” (decent for what it was). Now our summers are pretty much saturated with superhero movies (there’s a distinction between comic book and superhero movies. “Ghost World” is a comic book movie. “Spider-Man” is both a comic book movie and a superhero movie). “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” were this sum-mer’s best, but there was also “Hellboy 2,” “Wanted,” “The Incredible Hulk” and, although not based on a comic book property, “Hancock.” Later this year, there is another “Punisher” and “The Spirit.”

OK, a lot of people complain how there are too many superhero movies. Enough already, they say. Me? I can’t believe “Sex and the City” and “Mama Mia!” has the audacity to sully my glorious summers of dudes in tights beating each other to a bloody pulp. Superhero movies will always be there, but maybe not as prevalent as they were in 2008.

But that’s not the point. The fact that Warner Bros. thinks “The Dark Knight” has a serious shot at an Oscar simply means what my fellow nerds and I have known all along: these are not dumb stories. At their best, they can be as good—or better than any great film. They can be complex morality tales. They can delve into the human psyche like any great thriller. They can utilize themes, metaphors and all the other literary tricks of the great films. They can be smart, scary, thrilling and inspiring.

There was talk six years ago, talk that pretty much died off at the end of the summer (and never really made it beyond comic message boards) that Sony might consider an Oscar campaign for “Spider-Man 2.” Why not? The movie was universally praised, had great performances and was about as perfect a movie as one could ask for, regardless of season or genre. Obviously that didn’t happen. I prefer “Spider-Man 2” to “The Dark Knight,” but that’s a matter of personal taste. It’s the kind of movie where Peter Parker can stroll goofily along the street to “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” It’s not a serious dark movie, the kind the Academy seems to love (“The Godfather,” “No Country For Old Men,” etc.) “The Dark Knight” is—and that’s why it’s getting all the attention.

“The Dark Knight”—a complex crime drama with unforgettable performances and sequences—does all of these. I still don’t think it’ll get a Best Picture statue, but the fact that Warner Bros. recognizes the possibility is good enough for me.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072 or jeiserike@insidenova.com.

Yeah, it’s a great movie, but every nerd needs to nitpick. Here’s Josh’s five (very minor) problems with “The Dark Knight”:
– They didn’t even try to pretend Chicago was Gotham City. Every car had Illinois tags. When they needed to evacuate the island and get everyone off the bridges– what, to where? The other side of Lake Michigan?
– Anthony Michael Hall said his character was supposed to be a surprise for fans. So who was he?
– Batman’s voice. As my cousin Andrew astuely points out, does he always talk like that? Try saying “I gotta go to the bathroom” or “I need to do laundry” in that gruff Batman voice.
– Seven Batman movies later and he still hasn’t fought Superman
– Needs more Pat Leahy

One comment to “Nerd validation with "The Dark Knight"”

  1. In Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne makes reference to Wayne Manor being in the Palisades, which is in New Jersey/New York border. Also, Gordon wants to send the cruise ships to Paramus, also in New Jersey. I believe that Gotham City is located in NJ too, so they did try a little.

    I know, I’m a dork.