While we appreciate that you’re probably focused on this Friday’s release of Daniel Auteil‘s directorial debut “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” this week also sees the release of another little film: “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final chapter of Christopher Nolan‘s reinvention of the Batman character and world. The most critically acclaimed superhero franchise to date, the films have seen Nolan (who before turning to the series had only made three movies, all relatively small-budgeted thrillers) take a grounded approach, tackling the on-the-surface silly premise of a man dressing up as a bat to fight crime, and making it psychologically plausible in a way that’s proven endlessly influential on tentpoles ever since.
We’ve got all kinds of content planned in the run up to the release on Friday, but we thought we’d kick off by going back to where it all began, 2005’s “Batman Begins.” Written by Nolan with “Blade” scribe David Goyer, the film reenvisioned the character’s origin tale as a globe-trotting adventure, as Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), reeling from the death of his parents in lawless Gotham, falls under the influence of the sinister League of Shadows, before returning to Gotham City to face off against the mob, in the shape of Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), as well as Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) a mad psychiatrist with a gas that can induce your worst fears, and his old mentor Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson). Below, we’ve assembled five things you may not be aware of about the production and development of “Batman Begins” — check back tomorrow for more about its even more acclaimed and successful sequel, “The Dark Knight.”
1. A fifth “Batman” movie went through many, many incarnations before Christopher Nolan got involved.
In the mid 1990s, “Batman” was a serious crown jewel for Warner Bros. As such, even as the fourth film in the first series, “Batman & Robin” geared up for production, the studio hired Mark Protosevich (who’d go on to write scripts for “I Am Legend,” and “Thor,” among others) for a fifth movie, which became known under the name “Batman Triumphant.” The film, due for release in the summer of 1999, would have featured The Scarecrow as the main villain (director Joel Schumacher told us last year that “I was talking to Nic Cage” for the role), with Harley Quinn featuring too, and a cameo appearance for Jack Nicholson‘s Joker also planned, as part of a toxin-induced hallucination. However, the vicious reaction to “Batman & Robin,” along with the disappointing box office results, found the studio putting those plans on ice, with Schumacher shunted away from the project. By 2000, two parallel takes were in development.
Firstly, there was “Batman Beyond,” an adaptation of the futuristic cartoon series (which sees an elderly Wayne training a younger Batman), with “Remember The Titans” helmer Boaz Yakin in the director’s chair, series creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnett writing a script, and cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson (whose seminal novel “Snow Crash” is now being adapted by Joe Cornish) serving as a consultant. Then there was “Batman: Year One,” inspired by Frank Miller’s gritty re-envisioning of Batman’s origins. Schumacher had actually been the one to pitch the idea to Warners, not long before “Batman & Robin” released, and the Wachowskis flirted with the idea, before Darren Aronofsky, the wunderkind behind low-budget mindbender “Pi,” was hired. Aronofsky brought on the comic’s creator, Frank Miller, to work on the script with him, and the duo turned in a gritty, R-rated take that was swiftly rejected by the studio.
Around this time, in August 2001, “Seven” writer Andrew Kevin Walker pitched a “Batman Vs. Superman” movie to the studio, who jumped at the chance to reinvigorate two major franchises in one blow, and appointed Wolfgang Petersen (“Air Force One,” “The Perfect Storm“) to direct the project. Walker’s script, later rewritten by “Batman & Robin” scribe Akiva Goldsman, sees the Joker gunning down Bruce Wayne’s wife, causing him to don the Batsuit again in vengeance, and clashing with Superman, who he blames in part for the death, only for the pair to discover that the whole thing is a plot by Lex Luthor. Josh Hartnett was linked to the Superman role, with Colin Farrell the favorite for Batman, and the film was set for a 2004 release, but a J.J. Abrams script for a “Superman” stand-alone film became a priority (that film later collapsed after director McG dropped out, due to a fear of flying to the Australian location), and Petersen swiftly departed the project for “Troy.” At around the same time Nolan, who’d just worked with the studio on “Insomnia,” had his Howard Hughes film, which was to have starred Jim Carrey, fall apart because of rival project “The Aviator,” and became intrigued by the prospect of a Batman movie.2. Jake Gyllenhaal, Joshua Jackson and “Band Of Brothers” star Eion Bailey were all serious candidates for the part.
Nolan, once aboard, decided he needed a writer more familiar with the comic books to work on the script with him, and met with “Dark City” writer David Goyer. The scribe was gearing up to direct “Blade: Trinity,” and initially reluctantly turned the offer down, but Nolan convinced him to work on a first draft in the eight weeks he had before heading to the superhero threequel, setting up shop in Nolan’s house, as production designer Nathan Crowley worked in the garage (Nolan’s wife and producer Emma Thomas gave birth to their eldest son around this time as well). The script, later rewritten by Nolan alone, was enthusiastically received, and it moved on to the casting phase, with a wide-ranging search taking place. Goyer had favored Jake Gyllenhaal from early on, while future Superman Henry Cavill also auditioned. In the end, at least seven actors tested in a serious way including Gyllenhaal, “Almost Famous” lead Billy Crudup, “Dawson’s Creek” actor Joshua Jackson, British actor Hugh Dancy (who had recently appeared in “Black Hawk Down“), Eion Bailey from “Fight Club” and “Band Of Brothers,” and Cillian Murphy, who’d recently broken out in “28 Days Later.” Murphy came close, and Nolan went on to cast him as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow, but it was ultimately Christian Bale who was the runaway choice. While the actor denies reports that he’d auditioned to play Robin in “Batman Forever” back in the day, he had met with Darren Aronofsky about starring in “Batman: Year One” a few years earlier, and had actively pursued the part on hearing that Nolan was on board. The director was won over by Bale’s turn in “American Psycho,” telling Empire at the time of the film’s release: “There was this very edgy, very dangerous set of thoughts going on behind Patrick Bateman’s eyes. And Bruce Wayne has that. He is a very dark character, but ultimately his decision is altruistic: he’ll fight to stop what happened to him happening to other people. He’s this flawed, human, heroic figure being driven by very negative impulses – rage, anger, guilt and fear – but he challenges them into something positive; that’s the essence of what distinguishes Batman from a psychopath.”
3. An alternate version of the film might have seen Guy Pearce, Christopher Eccleston, Chris Cooper, Anthony Hopkins and Claire Danes in supporting roles.
As ever, various possibilities were considered for the major supporting parts before Nolan got his cast. For the part of mentor Henri Ducard (who turns out to be villain Ra’s Al Ghul), Nolan had early discussions with his “Memento” star Guy Pearce, before the two agreed that the actor was likely too young for the role. An approach was made to Daniel Day-Lewis, and Michael Caine let slip at the time that an offer was made to Viggo Mortensen, before Liam Neeson took the role. As for The Scarecrow, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Davies and Ewan McGregor were reportedly in the running, and future “Doctor Who” Christopher Eccleston apparently came close, until Nolan decided that one of his Batman candidates, Cillian Murphy, had the right eyes for the role. Gary Oldman, meanwhile, was originally approached to play a villain — most likely Carmine Falcone, later taken by Tom Wilkinson — as Nolan’s intial choice to play Jim Gordon was Oscar-winner Chris Cooper. But the actor turned down the offer, concerned about spending time away from his family, and Oldman got to play the more benevolent part. That said, Dennis Quaid also came very close to the role. There are also reports, though never confirmed, that Anthony Hopkins was offered the part of Alfred before Michael Caine got it, and Claire Danes and Reese Witherspoon were said to be considered to play Rachel Dawes. However, despite some reports, Laurence Fishburne was never considered to be Lucius Fox; the part was written by Goyer specifically for Morgan Freeman.4. Even with his biggest budget to date, Nolan gave a hat-tip to his origins.
Although filming began in Iceland, stepping in for the Asian hideway of Ra’s Al Ghul, the shoot took place mostly in the U.K., both at Shepperton Studios and the vast Cardington Hangers, where the Narrows and whole streets of Gotham were built from scratch (Nolan has since made those studios his home away from home, with enormous sets for all the subsequent Batman movies, and “Inception,” constructed there). But even for such a huge movie, Nolan kept a personal touch, nodding to his roots. The Gotham City exteriors were shot in Chicago, where the American side of the director’s family hails from, while Nolan shot the Gotham courthouse in buildings of University College London, his alma mater (he started shooting debut “Following” while still there), and has returned to Bloomsbury for both Bat-sequels, and “Inception.” That wasn’t the only nod to his low-budget debut, either — two of the film’s leads, Jeremy Theobald and Lucy Russell, cameo in the “Batman Begins” (Theobald is the younger water technician in the film’s climax, Russell actually has the second-largest female role in the film, as the Gothamite that Bale has dinner with later on). And if you’re wondering where Alex Haw, who played Cobb in “Following,” was? Haw was never a professional actor, simply a friend of Nolan’s, and became an experimental architect.
5. Bale put on so much weight to play Batman that he swiftly had to lose it again to fit into the batsuit.
Watching Christian Bale across the last seven years on screen has been like watching Matthew Perry in the last few seasons of “Friends.” Bale has veered from bulked-up action hero in the Batman movies to dangerously-thin in “Rescue Dawn” and “The Fighter.” He was in the latter mode when he was cast in Batman, as he was wrapping up work on Brad Anderson’s psychological thriller “The Machinist.” Nolan told Bale to get “as big as possible,” and the actor took him at his word, but as production came nearer, they realized that the actor might have gone too far. Emma Thomas recalls on the DVD wondering “Is he gonna fit the batsuit?,” and Bale himself remembers crew members he’d worked with before joking to him, “Bloody hell, Chris, what are we doing, Fatman or Batman?” Given that he had to be a martial artist, rather than a brute, Bale managed to slim down enough before production that all was well. As for the martial arts itself, the film utilized the Keysi Fighting Method, created by Justo Diguez and Andy Norman. Blending a number of styles, and designed to be used in close quarters, and utilizing whatever weapons you can find to fend off attackers from any angle (even if you’re sat down), the technique was popularized by its use in Nolan’s films.
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