I have had the Darren Arnofsky/Frank Miller YEAR ONE
script for quite some time now. With all the hoopala surrounding BATMAN BEGINS
for most of this year, I put off a doing a script review - until now.
Let me make this clear - YEAR ONE is a quality, well-written script, and I enjoyed reading it. I do understand why many Bat-fans like it. It would make a hell of a film - it just shouldn't be a "Batman" film.
In the late 1990s, director Darren Aronofsky (Pi) and Frank Miller (BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) were commissioned by Warner Bros. to develop an "origin" BATMAN film for the studio. Their film and screenplay would be based on Frank Miller's "re-do" of the Batman origin called BATMAN: YEAR ONE. This was originally a four-part story arc that appeared in a four part story arc in BATMAN comics in the mid 1980s. Aronofsky and Miller spent several years on the project, with concept art, logos, costumes, etc. done for YEAR ONE as well. Eventually, Warner Bros. passed on the project which opened the door for Christopher Nolan and BATMAN BEGINS.
Some of you already know the basic storyline of the YEAR ONE script. It is an origin tale of how Bruce Wayne - orphaned when his parents were murdered in front of him - eventually became The Batman of Gotham City. But that is about all of the classic Batman history you see in Y1. Aronofsky and Miller took a huge departure on the Batman origin mythos in their script.
I was shocked at how different the script was from the source material. I'm a HUGE fan of the comic book BATMAN: YEAR ONE - I just found very little of it in the script. While some elements from the comic book remain, I found myself saying, "And they based this on YEAR ONE" while I read it. BATMAN BEGINS has more in common with the comic book than this script.
This time Bruce disappears after the murders and ends up being taken in by automotive shop owners "Big Al and Little Al." His whereabouts are unknown to the trustees of the Wayne fortune for several years (more on that later). Also, there is no "Alfred" in the sense that we know him - the "Little Al" character takes the place of the traditional Alfred. Basically, he's Alfred, but he's not - you get my drift?
Anyway, this Bruce grows up in the garage in a crappy part of town - which is across the street from a seedy brothel. - He's an angry and very disturbed person. I mean he is downright wacky. He's in his mid-20s and lives in an apartment above said garage. Little Al knows that Bruce is a bit off in the head, but doesn't really know what to do to help him. If you have read the comic book, you know that Bruce narrates the story, and he does the same in this script with voice-overs.
Like in BATMAN BEGINS, Jim Gordon is not yet the police commissioner of Gotham, and he's the only good cop on the force. He is partnered with Flass, who is dirty as hell. One thing that is clear in this script is that besides Gordon, the Gotham PD is one seedy and corrupt outfit. Like Bruce, Gordon is a bit off himself, but nothing like Wayne. He's simply fed up with the corruption and nonsense that permeates his town and police force. He's so tired of it, a couple of scenes have him contemplating suicide.
From my point of view, YEAR ONE was more Gordon's story rather than Bruce's. He is certainly more of the story's "hero." I rooted for Gordon and his "War on crime." Frankly, I had a hard time even liking this version of Bruce Wayne.
Bruce starts his crime-fighting career by taking on the bottom barrel of Gotham's crime element - the pimps, thugs, etc. - and continues his "mission" all the way to the top. The top would be the mayor of Gotham - Noone - and GPD commissioner Loeb. He is given the name "The Bat-Man" because his punch leaves a mark on criminals in the shape of a bat. This mark is caused by Bruce wearing his father's ring that has "T.W." engraved on it.
Eventually, his disguise becomes that of The Batman costume that we all know - albeit very crude (I've seen the concept art of these costumes - I'm curious to what they would have looked like if they had actually been produced). An unused rail system underneath the garage becomes a pseudo Bat-Cave, where he builds his crime-fighting gadgets and paraphernalia. (A few of his "recipes" come from THE ANARCHIST COOKBOOK). Included in his arsenal is a suped-up (and basically tricked-out) black Lincoln Continental (with a supercharged school bus engine) becoming The Batmobile!
Like Bruce, Gordon wants to wipe out crime and corruption, but with the police force so corrupt, he finds it to be an almost impossible and maddening task (thus the thoughts of suicide). However, his motives seem to be much more sincere and legitimate than Bruce's. Gordon wants to clean up Gotham, while Bruce is out for revenge.
Gordon is eventually assigned "The Bat-Man Case" - a job that he doesn't particularly like. This storyline brings him to Arkham Asylum (which includes a very small cameo by The Joker) and in contact with D.A. Harvey Dent - whom Gordon suspects to be The Bat-Man at one point.
The script's finale has a wounded Batman finally taking on Loeb and bringing him down - with the help of Gordon (Gordon tries to set a trap for Batman in order to capture him). The Batman actually blinds Loeb by throwing a knife (I have heard it was a pen in another draft) into his eye! In addition to blinding Loeb, a cowl-less Batman saves Gordon's wife as Gordon watches - conveniently without his glasses. They have an encounter that leaves one with the feeling that they will be allies from this moment forward.
So, do we ever get to see the "real" Bruce Wayne - the billionaire playboy we know and love from the comic book? Sort of. It seems after the Wayne murders, Bruce - the heir to the fortune - had 15 years to claim his inheritance. Little Al realizes just who Bruce actually is - as does Bruce himself - and does claim his place as the heir. So where has he been? "...it turns out he was safe and sound all along pursuing his education abroad at the finest schools in Europe," according to the script.
Oh yeah, Selina Kyle - in the form of Catwoman - shows up at the end as well - stealing an "EXQUISITE OIL PAINTING" from an upscale Gotham apartment (She actually plays a fairly large role throughout the script).
The bottom line here is that there was simply no way Warner Bros. was going to greenlight this script, as it would have been impossible to market it to the "Average Joe" movie audience. Where they loved BATMAN BEGINS, they would have despised YEAR ONE. This thing would have tanked big-time at the box-office. And surely, it would have marked the end of Batman on film (movies, not the website) for quite some time.
In my opinion, YEAR ONE is in reality a dark, gritty, and violent (it surely would have earned an "R" rating) vigilante story. Aronofsky was quoted as saying it was a "gritty urban crime drama with an underground guerrilla flavor." He's right. You could very easily renamed many of the "Batman" characters, such as Gordon and Bruce, had the Wayne character choose another sort of disguise, and you would have had a pretty good movie here. But it just wasn't "Batman" to me.
The #1 reason why it fails for me is that I didn't care much for this Bruce Wayne. There are many scenes that he is virtually unlikable. His voice over dialogue - his letters to his dead father - are particularly cheesy. But going back to Bruce being unlikable, it is because his intentions - his "mission" - and his actions are all about self-gratification. He's not donning the Bat-suit to save Gotham, heís putting it on to beat the living hell out of criminals to make himself feel better. What kind of hero is that?
What makes BATMAN BEGINS so special is that the viewer connects with Bruce Wayne and truly cares about him. The Batman - and Bruce Wayne - of BATMAN BEGINS is a true hero. You don't find any of that with YEAR ONE.
Trying to figure out what Aronofsky (and Miller) were trying to do here is very hard. If I had to guess, it seems that they wanted to do something so different that what we had previously seen onscreen, that they strayed way too far from the classic Batman mythos. Bruce Wayne being raised in a garage by a mechanic called "Little Al," is as blasphemous as Krypton not blowing up in the JJ Abrams SUPERMAN script.
I'm not sure which particular draft of the YEAR ONE script I read. But obviously Aronofsky and Miller made a few - which may have included the infamous "Jive-talking Alfred" and "Gordon cheats on his wife and has another beer." This project wallowed around in development hell for years, and I can certainly understand why.
What's clear is that Warner Bros. didn't care for it, and neither did I...as a Batman film. Donít misunderstand me, it is not a bad script nor is it a bad story. But when analyzing YEAR ONE as a potential BATMAN film (and that's the POV I took), it simply strayed too far from the iconic history of Batman to make it a true and respectful "Batman film" in my humble opinion.
Luckily, Warner Bros. passed on the Aronofsky/Miller take on Batman and decided to go a different direction. Enter Christopher Nolan and the rest is history.