What could have been: Darren Aronofsky’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE
With Darren Aronofsky on the brink of being “officially” announced director of Wolverine 2 I think its the perfect time to look back at Aronofsky’s other attempt at a big-budget superhero film. Yes, I’m talking about Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One… based on, but having absolutely nothing to do with, Frank Miller’s Batman classic. When news leaked of Aronofsky’s original involvement back in 2000 I was thrilled. I, like most Batman fans, was still haunted by Joel Schumacher’s 1997 debacle Batman and Robin… a film most have deemed UNFORGIVABLE (though that hasn’t stopped Schumacher from asking.)
Back in the late ’90s, Warner Brothers, knowing the franchise was in complete shambles, immediately began playing with the idea of a reboot (an idea that eventually led to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.) Aronofsky promised a new approach toward the Dark Knight: an original story and a darker, more realistic tone. How much darker and how much original, we had no idea. Now, on movie news sites at the time (remember AICN? It still exists!) this seemed like the best thing ever. Aronofsky was fresh off of Requiem for a Dream… a kick-as movie. And who did he bring in as co-writer? The dark prince of comics himself: Frank Miller. How could this go wrong?!
Well, it turns out that things could go wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. And if you think Batman and Robin was unforgivable… well, I don’t know what you’d think of this movie had it been made. On one hand, the film was turning out to be something that had absolutely nothing to do with Batman. On the other hand, it still might have been pretty cool. With that said, I guess there’s no better way to break this film down than these two categories: THE BAD and THE COOL.
Like I said, the script written by Miller and Aronofsky had little to do with the character we know as “Batman.” Back in ’00, Aronofsky said it best himself:
“it’s somewhat based on the comic book,” Aronofsky said. “Toss out everything you can imagine about Batman! Everything! We’re starting completely anew.”
It wasn’t until this project was scrapped (and the script was leaked) that we finally realized just what he meant. You know how Batman is Bruce Wayne? And that he’s a billionaire playboy? Well, scrap that. Aronofsky’s Batman is homeless, living on the streets of Gotham. You know how Alfred is the Wayne family butler? Has been so for years? Took it upon himself to raise the orphaned Bruce? Well, that’s crap too. In Aronofsky’s Batman, Alfred is an African-American mechanic. And don’t call him Alfred anymore either: it’s Big Al now. And you know how Batman has always driven the Batmobile: an incredible car unlike anything you’ve ever seen? Well, that’s no good either. Aronofsky’s Batman drives a souped up Lincoln Towncar. Seriously. You know how Batman uses bats to “strike fear into the hearts of criminals” and stuff? Well, that’s garbage too. Bruce gets associated with bats because when he beats up wrong-doers down on the streets of Gotham he punches them with a mighty ring on his finger bearing the initials of his father: Thomas Wayne… T-W… which ends up looking like a bat symbol on the foreheads of said criminals… hence The Batman. I’m not making this shit up. Here’s a good review of the script that goes on to say basically what I’m saying: the film would have had highlights and low-lights.
If anything good came out of this film, it’s the concept art (and I love concept art.) It’s amazing how much of it has been leaked. Most of it is straight up awesome (like the second set of Batman costumes and Catwoman.) What’s surprising is that it doesn’t quite match the details I listed above… probably due, in part, to the art work being commissioned concurrently to the script being written. Never-the-less, check some of it out for yourself (click on the images to see full-res):
Thankfully, luckily, amazingly, somebody at Warner Brothers realized that Aronofsky’s Batman simply wasn’t Batman. It was a cool concept and I’m sure it would have been a cool movie… but Batman? No, not at all. In the end, the project was scrapped. The franchise was passed around like a hot potato for a few years before landing firmly in the hands of Christopher Nolan… and the rest is history. Aronofsky, on the other hand, probably didn’t care much. Because he never cared. He went on to make The Fountain… which turned out to be one of the reasons he took the Batman job in the first place:
“I never really wanted to make a Batman film, it was a kind of bait and switch strategy. I was working on Requiem for a Dream and I got a phone call that Warner Bros wanted to talk about Batman. At the time I had this idea for a film called The Fountain which I knew was gonna be this big movie and I was thinking, ‘Is Warners really gonna give me $80 million to make a film about love and death after I come off a heroin movie?’ So my theory was if I can write this Batman film and they could perceive me as a writer for it.”
Do I resent Aronofsky? Not really. I’d be willing to bet he knew Warner Brothers would never let him make his movie. He probably went to such extremes to guarantee it. Batman is too iconic of a character to be taken in such a radical direction. Then again, that seemed to be in vogue at the time (look at the aborted Superman films of the same era.) So… who knows?
So what should Wolverine fans expect? Well at least this is a sequel. Aronofsky isn’t starting from scratch. In theory, he can only build on the world created in the last film and the X-Men films. And Aronofsky has also worked with producer/star Hugh Jacknan before. One can assume a “friendship” of some sort led to this reunion… so its unlikely he’ll intentionally destroy the franchise. But… I dunno. For Wolverine fans, their best bet is probably cautious optimism.
SO what do you think about Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One ? Bullet-dodged? Or “f*ck Chris Nolan, I want my Big Al“? AND what about this Aronofsky’s Wolverine 2? Will it actually happen? LET ME KNOW!
There’s been an interesting turn of events over the last few days: Aronofsky now seems to be implying that he would like to adapt his Batman Year One story into a comic AND/OR eventually make it into a movie. SOOOOOOOOO… maybe this Batman film isn’t dead after all! Read more here!