BOF's Set Visit Report, Part 5 Author: Paul Wares
Originally Posted on: January 9, 2005
There were two main sets that we had yet to see. We were led first to Arkham Asylum, or a least a portion of it, the main portion of Arkham Asylum is actually a location, but the crew had also constructed the entrance to Gothamís Madhouse here, primarily because it involved a stunt that couldnít be achieved on location. The entrance of the Asylum was an exact replica of the location used, photoís of which leaked onto the net several months ago. For those of you that felt under whelmed by that, let me assure you that this set was incredibly intimidating. Huge walls surrounded this portion of the asylum with security cameras attached to them. The steps that led up to the entrance of Arkham were probably about 20 feet long, but seem to stretch on forever.
I had to crane my neck back from my vantage point at the bottom of the steps to see the top of the entrance properly, making the metallic letters that spelled "Arkham" that was emblazoned above the door seem even more imposing.
The set had a real neo-gothic, industrial feel and looked like some of the buildings I see everyday here in England. I could imagine very easily how this set could be extended with a miniature, or indeed the actual real-world location it was inspired by. I very much look forward to seeing how this will appear on film.
Geographically, the Narrows is on the same island as Arkham Asylum in the movie, in reality it was just next-door and that was our next destination.
As we turned the corner to The Narrows set I heard a pained yell. Unable to contain my curiosity I peered around the corner to see a man being hoisted up in the air on a harness (I later learned that this man was Buster Reeves, Christian Baleís stunt double). I watched as Reeves was pulled a good 50-60 feet in the air along side one of the Gotham City buildings. Once Reeves had been pulled into position, I was further amazed to see him rotate on his harness so that he was hanging completely upside down with his legs and arms holding on to the building in a "Spider-Man" style pose.
The Narrows, which Nathan Crowley had described as the American version of Kowloon was exactly that. Any pictures you see of the Kowloon slums is exactly what youíre getting, just imagine them with New York style iron balconies and youíre there. Unlike most movie sets that are constructed to show a faÁade on the front where the camera could see and nothing on the side or back where the camera wouldnít, these sets had been constructed so that you could walk completely around them.
Bolted to the existing buildings that were used for fire testing in the hanger, The Narrows could be shot from all angles giving the Director, Chris Nolan and Director of Photography Wally Pfister a whole host of shooting options. It also meant that the sets could be scaled from the inside, which we did. Avoiding the mountains of gaffer tape, lighting and grip equipment we climbed to the top of one of the smallest buildings in the Narrows (approx 30-40ft high) once on the roof of the building we could experience the set from Batmanís perspective.
It was like another world up there and we were told that just last week, the crew had shot a wire-work scene, which had Batman gliding from the top-most building (approx 60-70ft) down to the street below. As I stood there it was remarkably easy to imagine.
What I loved about this set Ė from the "clean-garbage" strewn street, to the ransacked stores to the apartment far above, which had a bicycle on itís balcony Ė was itís attention to detail. Due to health and safety considerations, the set dressers couldnít simply empty sackfulls of litter on the set and so the "clean-garbage" they created, alone must have taken many, many man hours to manufacture.
Before we knew it we were heading back to our waiting room. If that seems like a short tour, believe me it wasnít, the set was mammoth, but so deliberately confusing that itís very difficult to put into words. One thing is absolutely certain though, come the summer, this is going to look great on screen.
I have described the sets before as falling somewhere in between 1980's BATMAN and David Fincherís SEVEN. I continue to stand by that claim. Every part of Gotham that I saw was surrounded by rusting steel and covered in layers of filth Ė clean filth of course.
As we made our way back, we passed part of a set where the corners of two buildings converged. Sandwiched between them is what looked like an ornate stone balcony/wall and beyond that a massive Green Screen. I pondered on how this would look on screen. What would replace the wall of green? Would it be a cityscape, or would it be looking out from the Narrows Island to the distant lights of Gotham. I smiled; I was glad that with all Iíd seen and heard, some surprises would still await me in the theatre.
That was it, it was over. I felt huge pangs of sadness upon leaving Hanger 2, Cardington. If only I could have stayed just a little while longer and of course had been able to take my camcorder, not to mention a souvenir. Whilst I canít wait to see these sets on screen, nothing will ever be quite as amazing as seeing them and touching them in person.
We boarded the coach and I started listening to the tapes of the dayís events, relieved that all the interviews had recorded correctly. As the two gargantuan hangers disappeared behind us I began to collect my thoughts.
Although I was confident about the film's direction before the set visit, I had some minor misgivings that were all really connected to the visual approach to the film. All of these misgivings had for the most part been laid to rest after my visit.
The script was the best superhero script Iíve read, bar none. The cast was the best cast ever assembled for a comic-book movie, I loved the Batmobile, although I confess to being a little jarred by it at first. Iím a fan of the Bat-suit and have never had a problem with the "rubber suits" although at first I had concerns about the mobility of it and most importantly I loved how it seemed that WB were giving Nolan and Co. the room to be filmmakers and deliver an awesome spectacle of a movie.
I considered my opinion through the rest of September and into October. Interestingly, some fans were expressing the same concerns on various message boards across the net that had plagued me previously. Then it hit me exactly what had been bugging me.
The Reality of it All
October 2004 was somewhat of a roller-coaster month for me. I experienced unbridled joy with the birth of my son and by stark contrast, utter devastation at the death of a man I had never met.
Christopher Reeve was my first ever hero. The first SUPERMAN movie was my first experience ever of going to the cinema, I was a mere three year old and whilst I barely remember it, every time I see the film, something stirs at my core. Reeve as Superman was the first person outside my immediate family that I looked up to. He was my hero.
Later in life, when Iíd left Superman behind and became interested in the darker of the two classic superheroes, Batman. I was once again reminded of Christopher Reeve. Unfortunately it was the event of his tragic accident that brought him to my eye again, but as I followed his progress and his improving health, he once again became a hero of mine. To be a superhero on the screen is one thing, to be a superhero in life is quite another.
I will always be grateful to Reeve and Donner for the depiction of Superman that they gave the world, until recently I had no idea how arduous the film had been to make, particularly for Donner. This knowledge didnít come to me until the release of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE on DVD a couple of years ago. The DVD is one of the best I own, thanks largely to the excellent documentaries that accompanied it.
The first SUPERMAN movie made me believe a man could fly and introduced me to a whole world of wonder, the DVD documentary introduced me to something else. A word that for me describes BATMAN BEGINS perfectly...
Verisimilitude: The appearance of being true or real.
It hit me; a lot has been made of Nolanís "realistic" approach, in my opinion far too much. Whilst it is far more reality based than the previous movies, itís still about a man who dresses as a flying rodent in order to fight crime. Thatís why calling the movie realistic just never seemed to sit right with me. The realism refers far more, in my opinion, to the fact that almost everything has an explanation in this film in this film, from origins of the main characters to all of Batmanís gadgets. There is a reason for everything to exist. That is the approach the filmmakers have taken.
BATMAN BEGINS employs verisimilitude, the appearance of being true or real, just as the Donner SUPERMAN movie did. While Gotham may be made up of segments of Chicago and London, it will employ digital technology to composite hand-made miniatures and sets built at Cardington and Shepperton to give it the appearance of looking true or real.
Gotham may look more realistic and indeed far more epic than it ever has done before, but it will still be Gotham City. It will still look like no other place on earth. With that in mind and the word verisimilitude rattling around my head I was happy and so should everyone else that had concerns about Mr. Nolanís "realistic" approach.
Trust me, you may think you know how this movie is going to look, but you aint seen nothing yet!
As this is my last report regarding the BATMAN BEGINS set visit, I would like to take the opportunity to thank a few people who made it possible and the day so enjoyable...
So my thanks to everyone at Warner Brothers, Mr. Nolan, Ms. Thomas, Mr. Franco, Mr. Bale, Mr. Oldman, Mr. Crowley, Mr. Murch, Mr. Corbould, Mr Smith, John, Emma, Shane, Claudia and of course the main man, Bill "Jett" Ramey for making this happen. - Paul Wares