Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Batman Broadens Media Horizons


The caped crusader has been in the news a lot lately, what with the announcement of a release date for the third film in Chistopher Nolan's reboot of the series. Of course we're all extremely interested in what Mr. Nolan plans to do with the new film. First, what Mr. Nolan plans to do about the villain situation, since his script apparently killed off one of the main holdover candidates - and tragedy struck the actor who played the other. Second, how Nolan's Gotham City will respond to the fates of its two erstwhile heroes (The Batman and Harvey Dent). And finally, whether he took Miley Cyrus's cosplay audition seriously enough to consider featuring Batgirl in the new film.

As always, I encourage you all to sound off about these issues and others in the comments section.

But my current Batman interests lie less in his next iteration in traditional media (film, TV, comics), but in how the Batman "brand" is expanding into new media outlets. His most recent video game appearance met with huge success and rave reviews. And now it appears that Batman will soon be treading the boards. I know everyone says it's good to try new things... but do you really envision Batman feeling at home on the stage? Find out what I think about the whole affair after the jump.

Batman on Stage

If you didn't happen to read the whole article about the stage show, Warners and D.C. envision the project as "an elaborate arena production" rather than a musical or drama. For my money, this is probably the best bet on how to translate Batman's particular heroic idiom to the stage. Chris Nolan (and Tim Burton before him) proved that our hero is most successful when portrayed in a large scale - both the 1960s Adam West movie/TV show and the 1949 serials serve as low-budget exceptions that prove the rule.

There is precedent for live Batman-themed spectacles. One need look no further than Six Flags' Batman stunt extravaganza for an example of costumed stunt performers reenacting the exploits of the caped crusader. I've never seen the show - which was reworked for Batman Forever and then again for Batman Begins - but I can understand how it could be an engaging spectacle. Lots of explosions, high falls, swinging from ropes, animated fistfights: who wouldn't be entertained by that kind of stuff? Add in the production value that comes from the show being backed by a major film studio, and I think they'll probably have themselves a hit.

As far as dramatic merit, I don't anticipate the show competing for any Tony awards in the future. Warners top brass have confirmed that the show will contain numerous villains, so it looks more like an excuse to showcase various villain-themed sets and costumes and production design rather than an exercise in storytelling and character development. But broad isn't necessarily bad when dealing with live-action excite-fests. And if the show ends up coming to the LA area, you can bet I'll be in line for tickets.

Batman on the Consoles

Batman is no stranger to the video game, having starred in no fewer than 27 game adaptations since the first Ocean-produced game came out in 1986 for the Armstrad CPC. These games run the gamut, from side-scrollers to open worlds, and they're based on such media as movies, TV shows, or LEGO figurines. I've played a few of these games, and they've all been very enjoyable to one degree or another.

None of the Batman-themed games I've played gave me more enjoyment or a deeper sense of living in the Gotham/DC Universe than Batman: Arkham Asylum. When I first saw it (Holiday Season 2009-10), the game permeated my consciousness and has rarely left my mind alone since. I even bought a PS3 copy of the game... and I don't even own a PS3. The cinematics are gorgeous. The voice acting shines (three of the leads are alums of the acclaimed late-90s animated series), and the story follows a competent enough arc while maintaining the look and feel of the most badass of comic book representations.

Although I'm not a videogame scholar by any means, I think I can safely say that Arkham is a good example of the state of the gaming industry. It has engaging yet occasionally frustrating gameplay mechanics, it's based on a recognizable and well-branded entity, and it's presented in a dramatic and cinematic manner. At the recent Milken Institute Global Conference, Activision Blizzard president & CEO Robert Kotick touched on the blurring of the entertainment industry with the gaming industry: "'For the first time, being in Hollywood has incredible value to us,' he said, noting that animators, screenwriters, and others from the TV and movie industries are crafting video games" (Hollywood Reporter, 4/29/10).

Whether or not games should be following this path towards streamlined visuals and storytelling isn't something I'd like to get into here - I see the games-as-entertainment conversation as a somewhat specialized, yet just as thorny branch of the games-as-art debate. But as long as they're making games that feature awesomely-detailed and impeccably-acted versions of our favorite pointy-eared vigilante, I'll at least be down to play them on my friends' systems.*

*Keep your eyes on the sky for the Bat-signal announcing the newest release - I hear that casting is already underway for Batman: Arkham Asylum II: Gotham City: The Streets: 3D.

Since Batman first jumped off the comic book pages in 1949 - just ten years after his inception - he's taken both the silver screen and the small screen by storm. And I see no reason why the character shouldn't continue his dominance through other forms of media. Batman is so technological minded that video games are a great fit, and he's so theatrical that it seems like he would be perfectly at home on stage (but maybe not so much in front of the lights).

Keep marching on, Bats, with your cape and cowl flowing in the wind. There will always be a dedicated legion of fans following you to whichever media outlet through which you choose to express yourself.