Got an aspiring filmmaker on your holiday shopping list? How about that comic book fan who can’t get Batman out of his system? Glenn Young’s got just the thing. The first release from Opus (distributed by Hal Leonard Books) will sate both movie aficionados and superhero buffs alike. The Dark Knight Trilogy: The Complete Screenplays is precisely what you’d think—a bulky (553 pp.) volume containing scripts for all three films in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman movie series. Nolan’s trilogy re-imagined the DC Comics hero for a new generation, starting with Batman Begins in 2005. Oscar-winner Christian Bale returned for the titular role in 2007’s The Dark Knight, which pit the caped crusader against the psychotic, anarchy-minded Joker (Heath Ledger). The story arc concluded in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises, yanking a fatigued Bruce Wayne from self-imposed seven year seclusion to stop muscular mercenary Bane from nuking Gotham.
Now moviegoers can savor every scene and devour every line of dialogue over and over again. Written by director Nolan and his brother, Jonathan (along with David S. Goyer), the three films are as sharp on paper as they look in IMAX. The genesis of a smarter, darker Batman and his crusade against evil in ultra-real environs started right here, with these fascinating scripts populated by credible characters doing amazing things under extraordinary circumstances.
Unlike novels or full-blown movie adaptations, which include requisite flowery descriptions and internal dialogue by the author, screenplays only present what can be seen (locations, times of day) and heard (conversation, extraneous noise). The writer doesn’t betray his characters’ inner thoughts or feelings, leaving the interpretation of what is said and done to the reader—or the director tasked with bringing it all to life. Locations are designated by “sluglines” like EXT. WAYNE MANOR—EVENING (END OF DAY), which establishes the scene without divulging details. Character names are capitalized and centered and their dialogue indented below in standard text. Angles and points-of-view are suggested by captions like EXT. ROOFTOP, MAJOR CRIMES UNIT—CONTINUES, meaning the camera follows characters (or vehicles) from one scene to the next without cutting away. Action is summarized in italics: Alfred talks to an elegant woman in her thirties, Miranda Tate. But rather than extrapolate upon the speakers, the script simply jumps to what they’re saying.
Which means Dark Knight fans can now double-check all those lines they missed or misconstrued, or simply relish their favorite moments and exchanges. Couldn’t understand what Bane (Thomas Hardy) was saying through that analgesic mask of his? Every word is here. In fact, The Complete Screenplays contains more dialogue than the films. For one reason or another, some lines didn’t survive the editing process. For example, the scene in Dark Knight Rises where Bane reads Commissioner Gordon’s resignation letter outside Blackgate Prison is lengthier here, with the burly baddy rattling off an extra paragraph or two on TV while the hospitalized Gordon sulks with head in hands. Poring over the bare-bones scripts for the millennium’s best trilogy thus far also underscores the sublime performances by Nolan’s all-star casts. Yes, Joker and Bane are deliciously-written foes—but one realizes just how much depth, nuance, and physicality Ledger and Hardy put into their characters after studying the naked lines. Fans will derive better understanding of what worked in the films, and why. And they can speculate why the extra material was omitted.
The Complete Screenplays comes readymade for college classes on film and literature. There probably hasn’t been a better how-to (or not) guide on blockbuster moviemaking since Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log. While not prose per se, the language wielded by Goyer and the brothers Nolan crackles with emotion, double-meaning, and allusion. This is abrasive drama for a post-911 world where isolated bank stickups and random kidnappings just aren’t nasty—or grandiose—enough to upturn society, create a city-wide panic, or warrant intervention by noble billionaire vigilantes.
The Screenplays get inside Wayne’s three-part transformation from sad orphan / bitter teen to empowered CEO and resourceful private investigator / crime fighter and affords better perspective of the magnitude of Ra’s al Ghul’s diabolical plans for Gotham (and other so-called “dying” cities). The Introduction, “A Sense of Ending,” is a screenwriter symposium moderated by trilogy co-producer Jordan Goldberg. Goyer and the Nolans discuss their vision for each film and the obstacles faced while crafting the individual stories. Comparisons are drawn to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and Homer’s Iliad.
The desk-whumpingly thick volume also contains select storyboards from each film. We’re treated to sketches of young Bruce falling into the cave in Batman Begins and illustrations of the climactic semi-truck flip in Dark Knight. Pencil renderings of Bane’s thrilling CIA plane heist from The Dark Knight Rises closes the book.