Batman: The Frightening (screenplay)

Dan Owen reviews

Batman: The Frightening (screenplay)

I had the great pleasure recentlyin reading a leaked screenplay for thepotential fifth Batman movie, Batman: The Frightening. The film readslike a darker continuation of the Tim Burton movies, particularly his1989 original, mixed with the verve of the acclaimed Animated Series.Indeed, Tim Burton parallels continue with nods to The Legend Of SleepHollow throughout.

The script utilizes perhaps the last villain untapped by the Batmanfilms: Jonathan Crane (a.k.a The Scarecrow). Interestingly, it takes 53pages for The Scarecrow to finally make his full-blown entrance! Beforethen, the script is a deadly serious crime investigation that puts heavyemphasis on the Bruce Wayne/Commissioner Gordon relationship merelyhinted at in previous movies.

The Batman/Gordon scenes are strong and believable; as is the gentlehumour of the Bruce Wayne/Alfred relationship (please recast MichaelGough!). These brief flashes of humour are welcome in a story that, todo it justice, will hardly be a film McDonald’s can sell Happy Mealswith! This is perhaps a good thing for all those people still ruffled bytheBatman & Robindebacle, but I can’t help thinking ‘Warner Brothers’will insist on rewrites to excise the more frightening aspects andambience.


The target demographic for a Batman movie is undoubtedly the under 15s,and I’m sure there will be uproar amongst parents if they are unable, orunwilling, to let this kids see a more adult-themed entry in thefranchise.

Concern would be justified, as the script contains: an autopsy, varioushorrific hallucinations and even scythe impaling. Different countrieshave different classification rules, but I know this will be of greatconcern for British parents if the studio decides to film thisscreenplay without revision.

I found the screenplay to be well-written, nicely paced and with somegood set-pieces around Arkham Asylum, Gotham Aquarium, a ChemicalFactory, etc. All of these action moments are strong and quite ballsy. Iparticularly enjoyed the fantastic updating of Batman’s arsenal; hisinstantly-drying Batsuit (which can also administer CPR!), theBatmobile’s ability to hide behind fake holograms of scenery, the returnof the Batboat and the Batwing, plus a new entry… The Batski!


So what of the characters themselves? Batman, Alfred and CommissionerGordon are the leads, and all dependable realized characters. It’s onlynatural you think of previous actors in their roles, but the scriptdefinitely nudges your thinking towards a return for Michael Keaton -particularly because of a surely crowd-pleasing “resurrection” of TheJoker (in flashback, using shots from Tim Burton’s Batman).

Sadly, The Scarecrow is the weakest link. He’s a wimpy stereotype,bullied for his rakish physique as a child, who is fired from his job inGotham University for “irrational methods” and his “request for humantest subjects”. Naturally he decides to wreak revenge using a gas thatinstils hallucinatory fear on people.


CRANE

            “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
            Fear is the little-death that brings total
            obliteration. I will face my fear. I will
            permit it to pass over me and through me.
            And when it has gone past I will turn the
            inner eye to see its path. Where the fear
            has gone there will be nothing. Only I will
            remain…”

The fear angle is a good device for the movie, but I just didn’t investmuch belief in The Scarecrow’s motives or “performance”. He comes acrossas a mix of The Joker (psychotic/gas attacks), The Riddler(intellectual/fired from his job) and The Green Goblin fromSpider-Man

At best he just gets some nice lines occasionally: “He will not die, whywill he not die?” when Batman evades death yet again, and the followingexchange with a henchman:

BROCK

            “Sir, The Batman, what about The Batman.”

THE SCARECROW

            “It’s Batman, just Batman, no The, not
            The Great, not The King, just Batman.”

But it’s not enough.

By the time The Scarecrow becomes an effectively pro-active villain inthe latter stages, the script it almost finished and ends on a fairlylow-key finale compared with previous big-bang film endings.

Another potential problem the studio should grasp upon is the totalabsence of a romantic interest. No Vicki Vale, Selena Kyle or ChaseMeridian here. This absence of a female lead certainly sucks thescreenplay dry of the sexual frisson that helped Batman and BatmanReturns between the stunts, and will it alienate female moviegoers?

Overall though, I did enjoy reading Batman: The Frightening, despite itsfaults. It shows great promise, invention, pace and spark… but will itget made? The use of potentially confusing multiple flashbacks, coupledwith the generally dark theme replete with gruesome moments, seem tosuggest it will definitely face rewrites so ‘Warners’ can sell themerchandise to children.

The piece fits the style of director Christopher Nolan (whose name hasbeen attached to this recently), but it will be a brave studio indeedthat releases the movie written here word-for-word.

Can you honestly see a certificate 15 Batman movie being released…?


Review copyright © Dan Owen, 2003.E-mail Dan Owen

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