THE DARK KNIGHT FANSITE!

A History of BATMAN 5:
What It Is and How It Came To Be

Friday, February 4, 2005
Author:
Jett

On June 20, 1997 Batman died. That was the day that BATMAN AND ROBIN was released and Batman – on the big screen – came to a horrific and agonizing demise. Really, B&R didn’t kill Batman, but it did put him on life support. After eight years, he has made a miraculous recovery and will finally emerge alive and well on June 17, 2005 when BATMAN BEGINS hits theaters.

This is a look back on BATMAN 5 and how BATMAN BEGINS came to be.

BATMAN TRIUMPHANT

Before BATMAN AND ROBIN hit theaters in June of 1997, the fifth Batman film was already in the works. Written by Mark Protosovich, BATMAN TRIUMPHANT was rumored to feature The Scarecrow as the main villain and include The Joker as a gas-induced hallucination. Protosovich eventually confirmed the Scarecrow and Joker rumors and revealed that Harley Quinn was in the film as well – she would be the daughter (not “Alicia” from the first film as rumored) of the Jack Napier Joker from BATMAN ’89. TRIUMPHANT was to be directed by Joel Schumacher and allegedly was a return to the darker Batman seen in various degrees in the first three films.

But thanks to BATMAN AND ROBIN, TRIUMPHANT was shelved damn near before the B&R finished its run in theaters. It must be noted that the TRIUMPHANT script has been locked away in a WB vault securely for years, and has not made its way onto the internet – not even a script review. As a result, there is very little detail of what this film had to offer. The general consensus from those who have read the script (or parts of it) is that it was sort of a cross between BATMAN ’89 and BATMAN FOREVER, and was definitely set in the Burton/Schumacher continuity.

Even though TRUMPHANT was canned, Warner Brothers actively sought out and developed BATMAN projects over the next several years. The question was, would WB finally “get it?” Obviously, BATMAN AND ROBIN was a huge wake-up call for the studio, but were they now gun shy? Would they ever pull the trigger on another BATMAN film, or would they euthanize the franchise once and for all? Let’s now take a look at the path to BATMAN BEGINS.

THE NET

By the time BATMAN AND ROBIN hit theaters in June of 1997, the internet was already starting to have an influence on films. In fact, one of the very first movies to be affected by negative internet press was B&R. While being dismissed at the time, who knew of the affect that fans and fansites would have on the future cinema incarnation of Batman.

My first permanent access to the internet came in late 1997 – just a few scant months removed from B&R. And guess what one of the first things I began to look for? You guessed it – any and all news about BATMAN 5. Actually, there were several websites dedicated to B5 at that time. While BATMAN ON FILM did not exist yet, I can recall “Mr. Mojo’s BATMAN 5 Page,” and several other very similar sites although the names now escape me. There were also websites such as DARK HORIZONS, COMICS2FILM, and AIN’T IT COOL NEWS - so you could stay somewhat up to date on the Bat-skinny – much more than you had been able to in the past. Even though the last Batman film was beyond terrible, it seemed that people were still interested in another Bat-film. Obviously, this was not lost on Warner Brothers.

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS

One of the first projects rumored was an adaptation of Frank Miller’s “THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.” It was reported that Clint Eastwood had been approached to play an aged Batman, which would have actually been pretty good casting if this film had panned out. No director was ever attached to the project (that I know of) nor did a script ever emerge online, so the validity of this whole thing can be questioned. Also at various times, Michael Keaton was rumored to be either “interested” or in the mix for a “DKR” Batman outing. As we obviously know, this project never happened. I am of the opinion that WB considered it, and that’s about as far as it got.
Buy TDKR!

JETT D 60’s BATMAN 5 PAGE

In June of 1998, I started a Batman website known then as JettD60’s BATMAN 5 Site The internet still being fairly new to me, I was interested in starting up my own website, and picked Batman as the focus of this new endeavor. Plus, I desperately wanted to see another Batman film – albeit a good one. So the purpose of this site would be to report any and all BATMAN 5 news and lobby Warner Brothers for another Bat-film. A GOOD Bat-film that is. As you all know, this site became BATMAN ON FILM in the summer of 2000.

YEAR ONE

The very first story I ever wrote was about a rumor that I had heard from someone I knew that had “connections” to WB. He had told me that Kurt Russell – who had been rumored in mid-1998 as a possible replacement for George Clooney – was actually being considered for the role of Commissioner Gordon. That seemed sort of strange because Gordon in the movies (Pat Hingle) had been depicted as being much older than Batman (Keaton, Kilmer, and Clooney). Then just a few weeks later, news broke that made more sense out of this Kurt Russell rumor – Warner Brothers was interested in making a prequel out of the next Batman film.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE

Sometime in early 1998, director Joel Schumacher pitched his idea to the Warner Brothers brass for the next Batman film. Schumacher was rumored to have suggested a prequel based on “BATMAN: YEAR ONE” – the four part story arch by Frank Miller in “BATMAN” comic books from the mid 1980s. Now considered a classic, “YEAR ONE” told the story of Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham after a long, glob-trotting absence. Of course the first appearance of “The Batman” soon follows. At the same time, Jim Gordon arrives in Gotham from Chicago and soon finds himself the only honest cop in town. Eventually, the vigilante and the detective forge a “friendship” based on a mutual goal: to rid Gotham of the crime that has overtaken it.

While Joel Schumacher can be given credit for bringing the prequel/”YEAR ONE” idea to WB, he would not be the one to develop it. Instead, the studio turned to a younger, less experienced director and to the author of the “YEAR ONE” comicbook: Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller.

It was whispered that Aronofsky got the gig because the head of WB at that momment – Lorenzo Di Bonaventura – had enjoyed the young director’s work in Pi and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Nonetheless, it was somewhat of an inspired choice at the time (c. 1998), and it looked as if this project would actually make it to the big screen. However, YEAR ONE languished in “development hell” for years – in fact, it was still “in the mix” – allegedly – as late as 2002.

Very little details of this project became public while Aronofsky and Miller were actively involved, and the ones that did were very vague. YEAR ONE “…will have an urban, guerilla flavor [to it],” Aronofsky was quoted as describing the film. The project was also said to have a very 70’s-ish, urban crime drama element to it – much like THE FRENCH CONNECTION. Actors rumored for the role of Batman included Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, Brenden Fraiser, and some dude named Christian Bale.

By 2002, it was clear that WB had no intention of greenlighting the Aronofsky/Miller YEAR ONE. Recently, a review of the script has made it online (see next paragraph), while the story of the project was depicted in the book “TALES FROM DEVELOPMENT HELL.” And one can see why the studio didn’t go with this film.

I’m going to provide a short description of YEAR ONE, but I recommend that you read the script review by “LSOK” of DC-ON-FILM. I also suggest you pick up “TALES FROM DEVELOPMENT HELL” and read the chapter on YEAR ONE.

In YEAR ONE Bruce Wayne’s parents are still murdered in front of him as a child, but Bruce –instead of going back to Wayne Manor to be raised by Alfred – wanders lost on the streets, eventually to be taken in by “Big Al” – owner of an auto mechanic shop across the street from a brothel in a pretty seedy part of town. There, as he grows up watching the pimps, prostitutes, petty street criminals overtake his area of Gotham, he becomes an angry – almost dementedly angry – and swears to do something about it. He eventually takes on the guise of a bat, and “The Bat-Man” – as he is called – wages war on the criminal element of Gotham. While there are elements of the comic book “YEAR ONE” in this adaptation, quite a bit of it was changed (like the reason he chooses to become “The Bat-Man”).

Like the comic book, Jim Gordon is portrayed as the one good cop in the corrupt GPD. But he is written as a very dark character with suicidal thoughts. Also as in the comic, D.A. Harvey Dent is believed to be the vigilante known as “The Bat-Man.” Selina Kyle is also in the mix as well, written much as the character appears in Miller’s “YEAR ONE” arc.

In the end, Bruce is found to be the heir of the Wayne estate and accepts his destiny – as the billionaire Bruce Wayne we know from the comics, and also as The Bat-Man.

Although I know many of you would love a hard-core, R-rated, Batman film, you’ve got to understand why Warner Brothers did not go with the Aronofsky/Miller YEAR ONE project. One, the thing was just too small scale for a BATMAN film. Frankly, you want BATMAN to be a blockbuster and an “event.” Also, how in the hell would you be able to market merchandise and toys around such a violent, R-rated film? You can bitch and complain about that, but it is the reality of it. Finally, YEAR ONE just strayed too far from the core Batman mythos and I believe Warner Brothers realized that – perhaps that was the bottom line with YEAR ONE. An R-rated, smaller-scale, BATMAN film may not have appealed to the general movie audience - and with the Bat-franchise at risk, it was not a chance worth taking.

I must make mention here of the first alleged script review of YEAR ONE that hit the Net sometime in 2001. The review ripped the Aronofsky/Miller script for straying too far from the Batman mythos. It mentioned a Gordon who “cheats on his wife and has another beer,” and a “jive-talking Alfred.” While this review was dismissed by many at the time as a hoax, there may have been something to it. Could this possibly have been a review of an earlier draft of YEAR ONE? In light of what the recent script review and “TALES FROM DEVELOPMENT HELL” revealed, that must be considered a possibility.

BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN

In 2002, a new BATMAN was nearly produced. And a new SUPERMAN film as well. Together. BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN - written by Andrew Kevin Walker and to be directed by Wolfgang Petersen – evidently was given the greenlight by WB, and then quickly went into “turnaournd.” In other words, it was canned. Hell, the thing even got as far as casting with word that Jude Law had been cast as Superman and Colin Farrell nabbed the role of The Dark Knight. Director Wolfgang Petersen made all sorts of comments on the project that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online. I mean, I REALLY thought that this thing was going to happen – as did a lot of people.

Actually, there was talk of a BATMAN/SUPERMAN team-up film for a while. Rumor in 1999 had it that the director of SUPREMAN: THE MOVIE was the first to bring the idea of such film to Warner Brothers. Rumor had Daniel Day-Lewis and Mel Gipson was Kent and Wayne. Nothing panned out of course, but obviously, the idea lingered.

Anyway, it seems that when debating the course the Superman and Batman franchises would take, two factions arose at Warner Brothers. One side favored the BvS film – and then shooting the characters off into their own film series. The other wanted to reboot the franchises with origin stories, before doing any sort of team-up film. The latter group won out, and thus we are getting BATMAN BEGINS - which is an origin film – and SUPERMAN LIVES - a quasi-sequel to the first two Chris Reeve SUPERMAN films – but a restart of sorts as well.

When asked, many of the WB higher-ups say that they are still interested in doing BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN in the future. But whether this film actually makes it to the big screen is another animal all together. This might not have been a bad film, but the timing was just off. The screenplay – basically set in the continuity of the previous Bat and Supes films – starts out with a Batman who seems to have shaken all the demons in his life, and in fact Bruce Wayne has given up the mantle of the Bat. On the other hand, we find a Clark Kent/Superman down on his luck and in despair. However, a tragedy in Wayne’s life forces him to become Batman yet again and embark on a “suicide mission” of revenge against an old – and believed to be dead – arch nemesis. This destructive path that The Batman takes leads to a huge confrontation and battle against The Man of Steel. The two heroes eventually discover that they have been being manipulated by the man who is really behind all of this madness. Predictably, they join forces to take down the classic Superman baddie who is the true culprit.

As stated previously, Andrew Kevin Walker (SEV7N) wrote the original screenplay for BvS. It was given a “polish” by – of all people – Akiva Goldsman (a story that was broke online by BATMAN ON FILM). Nonetheless, I felt that BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN would have made a pretty good movie and perhaps one day we’ll see Christian Bale’s Batman and Brandon Routh’s Superman go at each other on the big screen.

(CLICK HERE for a somewhat negative script review of BvS - one of the few I've ever found online.)

Before I move on chronologically, let me back-track and mention a few more potential Bat-projects and creative teams.

BATMAN BEYOND

Sometime in late 1999 to early 2000, Warner Brothers hired Paul Dini and company – the group behind the two successful ANIMATED BATMAN SERIES' of the 1990s to work on a Bat-film project. They were asked not to develop a project based on the “classic” Batman, but an adaptation of their BATMAN BEYOND animated series. Obviously, the film would be much like their TV show – an aged Bruce Wayne takes on a young protégé named Terry McGinnis as the new Batman. While a script has never became public, the project even had a director attached – Boaz Yakin (REMEMBER THE TITANS). Possible casting as the geriatric Bruce Wayne included Clint Eastwood and even Micheal Keaton! But that is about as far as it got. Obviously, Warner Brothers passed on this futuristic take on the Batman mythos and the details of what Dini and company had in store are still unknown.

The Wachowskis, Whedon, and BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT

There are a couple of other items that warrant mention. There was not a creative team that I've found in conjunction to this project known as BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT - which was a hot rumor around '99 to 2000. Allegedly, it was a B/S continuity film that featured The Scarecrow as the main villain and Man-Bat in some capasity. Obviously, no dice.

Sometime during their MATRIX run, Warner Brothers (allegedly) asked the Wachowski Brothers to develop a BATMAN project. BOF was told that they declined.

Josh Whedon (TV’s “BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”) did make an official pitch to the studio to do a Bat-film (around Christmas, 2002). Whedon came up with an origin story that he says he liked very much, but met with complete silence when presented to the Warner Brothers brass. Says Whedon, "I came up with an idea that I really loved, which was an origin story. After I finished pitching it, they looked at me like I was a video fishbowl."

Then, Christopher Nolan entered the picture.

BATMAN BEGINS

Director Chris Nolan is known to mainstream audiences for his films MEMENTO and INSOMNIA - the latter of which he did for Warner Bros. Nolan came onboard BATMAN around late 2002/early 2003. Nolan began looking for screenwriters to hash out a rough story that he himself had already crafted. While several would-be scribes were interviewed, Nolan settled on David S. Goyer – screenwriter of the BLADE films for Marvel – as well as author of numerous comic books. Plain and simple, Goyer was a comic book fan and someone who “meshed” with Nolan when it came to Batman. There was just one problem: Goyer was in the midst of prepping BLADE TRINITY.

Nolan was persistent – Goyer was the man for the job. Goyer was caught in a dilemma as he desperately wanted to do BATMAN - his “dream job” he said – but would he have enough time? Evidently, Goyer’s overwhelming desire to write BATMAN wouldn’t let him turn Nolan down, so he excepted the job – agreeing to write the first draft and then turn it over to Nolan.

Once the screenplay was finished (we’ll get to more of that in just a bit), Nolan and Goyer made their pitch to WB around mid-2003. WB dug what they had come up with and virtually overnight, greenlighted THE INTIMIDATION GAME - codename for BATMAN BEGINS. And they gave Nolan (and Goyer) virtually total creative control over the film. After six years and several projects – most languishing in development hell such as YEAR ONE - a new Batman film was finally, actually going to happen.

One of the first questions to emerge regarding this new BATMAN film was whether or not it was going to be a sequel – or a prequel – to the previous four Bat-films. Rumors had it being each at different times. But Nolan and Goyer knew exactly what they wanted to do. Their Batman film would not have any connection to the Burton/Schumacher (B/S from here on) films – therefore there would be a brand-new continuity. The things that were wrong in the first four films could be corrected – the Gordon/Batman relationship for example. This new series of films would be free to use whatever villains they would like – whether or not they had already been seen in the B/S entries.

So, who was/were going to be the villain(s) in the new film? From the get-go, the word was that The Scarecrow (who was going to be used in BATMAN TRIUMPHANT) would make an appearance in Nolan’s film. Speculation had the movie featuring a Bond-type opening with Batman chasing down and capturing The Scarecrow. At that point – perhaps caused by methods used to capture The Scarecrow – the setting would move from Gotham City to London! Regardless, it was fairly solid that Dr. Crane would finally make his way in a Batman film. But would there be anyone else? And the answer was yes. The rumor mill had another classic villain appearing – the nefarious Ra’s Al Ghul would match wits with The Dark Knight onscreen! Was this why the setting for this film would be in London?

While Bat-rumors were being discussed on message boards and in magazines, casting was well underway by the latter part of 2003. Just who was going to be the new Batman? If you asked Batman fans who they wanted, most would tell you “Christian Bale!” And obviously, this was not lost on Warner Brothers. Bale was indeed in the mix – and he was interested as well (more on that later). Other names emerged – Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Eion Bailey, Cillian Murphy, Joshua Jackson, David Boreanaz, and (GASP!) Ashton Kutcher among others. A select few were given a screen test with the choice being narrowed down to two – Gyllenhaal and Bale. And of course, Bale nabbed the role.

Christian Bale has been linked to this role for several years – all the way back to the YEAR ONE days. Mr.Bale had been interested in the Aronofsky project due to the fact it was going to be small-scale and different. Bale himself has said that he lost interest upon finding out that the new film (BATMAN BEGINS) was going to be a big “blockbuster” like the previous Bat-films. However, his opinion was soon to change when he heard that Chris Nolan was helming the film. And thus, Christian Bale becomes the new Batman.

After the casting of Bale, filling out the remainder of the cast came quickly in late ‘03/early ’04. Michael Caine would play Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler/partner Alfred Pennyworth. Liam Neeson would play Wayne’s mentor Henri Ducard. Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow (Murphy actually tested for Batman, but ended up as The Scarecrow instead). Gary Oldman nabbed the role of Lt. James Gordon (as rumored, over Dennis Quaid and oft-mentioned Kurt Russell). Ken Watanabe would portray the villain Ra’s Al Ghul. Katie Holmes as Asst. D.A. Rachel Dawes, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Rutger Hauer as Richard Earle, and Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone rounded out the rest of the major cast.

One thing for sure, one hell of a good cast was put together by Chris Nolan for this film – arguably the best ever for a BATMAN flick.

Filming began in Iceland in February of 2004 – some 16 months before the film’s scheduled premiere. The production would then move to the U.K., New York, Chicago, and then back to the U.K. to finish (the latter English stint was when the BOF SET VISIT took place). BATMAN BEGINS wrapped up production in September of 2004 – a seven month plus shoot. Longer, I assume, than any of the previous Bat-films. As I write this (February, 2005), BATMAN BEGINS is finishing up post-production as the hype machine is just gearing up.

So how good is BATMAN BEGINS going to be? Will this finally be the “definitive” BATMAN film? Based on everything we’ve seen so far – the pictures, the casting, etc., it is quite possible. The script for film received several online reviews by mid 2005 – most of them singing the praises of Goyer’s THE INTIMIDATON GAME (aka BATMAN BEGINS) and some even hailed it as the best script adaptation of a comic book they had ever read. I myself was sent the script very early on (before the infamous “script leak online) and reluctantly read it. (Hey, that’s part of the gig here at BOF). I must say that I concur with most of these script reviews – it is REALLY good. For one thing, it is the most faithful adaptation of the character that I’ve seen on film or in a script. All of the things that were wrong with the B/S films have been corrected or eliminated. The crappy depiction of Gordon and the Batman/Gordon relationship – done right. The elements of camp, the fantastical, the bizarre, the macabre, the cartoonish – all gone. Batman will not be “sky surfing,” nor will villains oozing black mucus from the mouth. The Batman of BATMAN BEGINS is of “our world” – everything he is able to do or possesses is grounded in realism. And the why and how he became “The Batman” is revealed in BATMAN BEGINS.

This will be a film that will make all Batman fans proud.

In conclusion, you can see it has been a long road from 1997 and BATMAN AND ROBIN to now, only about four months away from BATMAN BEGINS. Personally, I find this story of “BATMAN 5” to be quite fascinating. And we as Batman fans have been lucky. To get a new film of our favorite character – and a restart at that – only eight years after a film that seemed to kill the series (and probably should have), is almost unheard of. How long have Superman fans been waiting?

And YOU - the Batman fan – you played a role in getting this thing made. You let Warner Brothers know that there was still a desire for Batman on film. You let the studio know that you wanted Batman to be taken serious and treated with respect. Hell, a fan favorite for the title role (*cough* Christian Bale *cough*) actually got it! So whether or not you like the new Bat-suit, the casting, the new Batmobile, the “realism” approach, or other various aspects of BEGINS, you need to keep one thing in mind – you helped bring The Batman back to the big screen. I believe that when you watch BATMAN BEGINS at the movies this summer, Warner Brothers is saying, “This ONE’S for YOU, Batman fans!”

A note from the author I’d like to dedicate this to all the patrons of BATMAN ON FILM. Some of you reading this right now have been with me since the days of "JettD60’s BATMAN 5 Page.” Some of you jumped on board at various times over the last seven years, even very recently. I want you to know that I am truly humbled and thankful to you for making BOF what it is today.

When I started this thing back in 1998, I had absolutely no idea what was in store. Many times I became discouraged – I thought that it was going to be a very long time before we saw The Batman on film again. Several times I contemplated shutting down the site, but I hung in there. BATMAN BEGINS has re-energized me. I believe that the cinematic future of The Dark Knight is very bright. And I also believe – thanks to you – that just maybe there is a place for BOF.

As long as they keep making BATMAN films, and as long as you keep reading, BOF will be here.

I also wanted to say thanks to my wife Rachel, who puts up with my Batman and Dallas Cowboys obsessions!

-"Jett," February 2005

"Jett" is the creator and editor-in-chief of BATMAN ON FILM and ON-FILM.NET.

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