The Killing Joke (Movie) Review

The Killing Joke (Movie) Review

Ever since DC started cranking out animated features based on popular comic book runs, fans have been begging for an adaptation of The Killing Joke. After all, it’s not just the most famous/disturbing Joker tale of all time (from the mind of Alan Moore and the pen of Brian Bolland no less), but it’s the sort of thing that could never be done properly in a live action format. It’s simply too disturbing, perverse, and rooted in DC continuity. The only hope was for an animated feature and after Mark Hamill (aka the best Joker performer, for folks who care about such things) made it clear that he not only wanted to voice an adaptation, but that it would be the only Joker revival that he’d consider, it seemed like it might happen.

Well it did, and the good news is that the actual adaptation of The Killing Joke included on the disc is everything that fans might have hoped for. The bad news is that’s only half the movie and the first half ain’t great.

The thing about The Killing Joke is that as famous as that prestige format book might be, it’s actually rather short. Moore penned it to be an Annual, but it was bumped up to something bigger when his name grew in stature. The 48-page story only hits about 40 minutes of screen time and that’s just not enough for an animated feature. In an ideal world, the disc would contain two separate Joker tales (perhaps Ed Brubaker’s brilliant but similarly brief The Man Who Laughs) to make up for the briefness of the main event. However, that’s not what happened. Bruce Timm and co. instead decided to expand the tale to feature length, which was a real mistake. The opening half hour in particular is essentially a disconnected narrative that doesn’t remotely live up to what follows. In fact, it’s kind of brutal.

The opening section of the movie focuses on Batgirl (Tara Strong) and, admittedly, the motivation behind that decision was noble. In recent years there has been criticism flung at The Killing Joke because the brutal attack on Barbara Gordon is considered misogynistic for how it dismissively destroys an iconic female hero in a sudden aside. For me, that doesn’t feel quite right. It was designed to be a shocking, disturbing, unexpected and evil act that comes out of nowhere. Moore didn’t limit Barbara’s role out of dismissive sexism, but for maximum visceral impact that would deeply upset readers because of the years of devotion to that particular character. However, that’s not how many fans feel and the folks behind this animated feature decided to overcompensate.

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The movie opens with a Batgirl plot, and not a particularly good one. We see her fight a generic gangster character while crushing hard on Batman and cattily discussing it with her stereotypically gay friend in the library. At a certain point Batman and Batgirl have sex. Why? Purely to be shocking according to writer Brian Azzarello (who to be fair, has written some great comics). By defining Batgirl almost entirely by her sexuality and cornball romantic/jealous girlishness in the opening half hour, the movie actually comes off as more sexist and dismissive towards Batgirl than the original comic. The damage control went the wrong way and feels completely out of place given that the rest of the story is almost exclusively focused on The Joker and Batman—even though they are after thoughts in the first half. It unbalances the movie and feels tonally awkward. Quite frankly, that 30-minutes represents some of the worst work that the DC animation team has done in their direct-to-Blu features.

The Killing Joke (Movie) Review 2Thankfully, the flick was also deliberately constructed so that once that unnecessary business is over, it’s a pure and straight forward adaptation of The Killing Joke that represents some of the best work that the DC animation team has ever done. Dialogue is lifted almost entirely from Moore’s original comic script and sounds wonderful brought to life. Director Sam Liu (All-Star Superman) lifts as many frames and transitions from the book as possible and the look finds a nice balance between the angular house art style of Bruce Timm and Brian Bolland’s more expressive touch. None of the harshest beats from the grisly tale are ignored. It’s a nasty Joker story; one that’s rarely been topped and has the feel of a horror film when it reaches the Joker’s mind shattering funhouse. The dependent dichotomy between Batman and The Joker remains and wraps up with an ambiguous ending that should please those who have theorized endlessly about what it means (especially Grant Morrison’s murderous interpretation).

The voice work is also spectacular. Kevin Conroy’s base tones remain the definitive Batman and he handles the mixture of calm negotiation and pushed-to-the edge rage required perfectly. Even better is Mark Hamill’s Joker, who was clearly having a ball spitting out Alan Moore’s words. It allows him to push the playful version of the character that he developed on The Batman Animated Series to the horrifying psychotic limit that Moore created long ago (plus the origin flashbacks let him drop the theatrics for more heartbreakingly human work). Hearing him sing his climatic song in the middle of a fairground nightmare is the highlight of the piece and a brilliant bit of Joker horror. Ray Wise steps into Jim Gordon’s role for the first time and handles it well, especially considering the desperate places he must take the character. Tara Strong is a strong Batgirl, as always. She’s likely the best part of the forgettable first half and handles the horrors of the second have quite well.

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The best approach to watching this adaptation of The Killing Joke is to start at 31:04 where Alan Moore’s story begins. After that, you’ll get a brilliantly performed, beautifully animated, and impressively faithful adaptation of The Killing Joke that is everything fans could have hoped for (despite the fact the slightly expanded script needlessly implies rape a little more than even the original tale suggested). Even though it’s ultimately a simple tale about the never ending Batman/Joker game pushed to intelligent and terrifying extremes—by Alan Moore at his most playfully vicious—with an added tragic Joker origin for good measure, this is a great ripping Gotham City yarn that is impossible to forget given the twisted places it goes. It’s a shame that the folks behind the feature felt the need to tack on such an unfortunate opening extension that adds nothing but disappointment to the proceedings. Thankfully fast-forward buttons, scroll bars, and chapter select technology all exist. So you can make your own version of The Killing Joke and only watch the good stuff. If you do that, this release rivals the brilliance of this team’s The Dark Knight Returns adaptation. If you don’t…yeesh…you know what just skip the rest. It’s not worth it.

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Final grade:
The actual Killing Joke adaptation: 9/10
The nonsense opening: 3/10
Overall: 7/10

 

Now, onto the Blu-ray itself. The HD transfer is gorgeous, with colours that leap off the screen and a beautifully evocative score that fills out sound systems with atmosphere. Bruce Tjmm’s team might have added a few extra fight scenes to the tale, but for the most part it plays as written: a character and dialogue driven psychological horror. As a result, the moody score and carefully coloured visuals add a great deal to the tale’s nightmarish tone.

Sadly the special features aren’t as abundant as in previous releases. There’s a 17-minute documentary on the legacy of The Killing Joke that is an interesting piece filled with appearances from DC comics veterans and a few members of the film’s production team, but sadly there’s no input from Moore, Bolland, Conroy, or Hamill, which is a real shame since that essentially just makes it a fan appreciation doc. They cover the book’s impact in depth and attempt to explain the opening half hour of the feature, but it feels a little light compared to other docs that have appeared on these releases that really let viewers into the filmmaking process as well as the origins of the book. There’s a nice 10-minute documentary on the score as well and oddly enough that’s where Mark Hamill shows up. As always, it’s great to see him recording the voice, but sadly he doesn’t get into much detail about his approach to the Joker or his love of this material (which is a real shame since this will likely be the last time he voices the character). Oh well.

After that there are extended adds for a variety of DC Animated features, including the upcoming Justice League Dark that looks like it will be a damn fun anti-hero team up (plus it’ll have a proper Swamp Thing, which is a dream come true for this particular dork). There is also a pair of appropriate old Batman Animated Series episodes. The first ever Joker episode “Christmas With The Joker” is there, which isn’t the best but it’s nice to have Hamill’s first Joker performance included with his final one as bookends. Then there’s “Old Wounds,” a tale of why Dick Grayson left Batman to become Nightwing that explores the Batman/Joker/Batgirl dynamic in a more playful way than the main feature.

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Sadly that’s it. This isn’t an overstuffed release like The Dark Knight Returns, which is likely the result of Moore’s disinterest in discussing this book, Hamill’s Star Wars schedule, and the fact that Blu-rays just don’t sell like they used to. Unfortunately this isn’t likely the dream release that fans may have hoped for, but at least there is finally an animated version of The Killing Joke. It’s a bit of a miracle that even happened, so suck it up.

Batman: The Killing Joke to release in summer 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke to release in summer 2016

After 28 years of being published, Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke, is being animated for fans to enjoy this summer. The first trailer of the film and a preview featuring the creative team showcases just how much work is going into this incredible project.

“One of the main thrusts of the Killing Joke is a series of flashbacks that the Joker is remembering about how he actually became the Joker,” said Bruce Timm, executive producer on the project, famous for his work on Batman: The Animated Series. “His literal one bad day.”

The Killing Joke animated movie is not strictly a direct-adaptation of the comic. The film will feature a prologue about Barbara Gordon and her adventures as Batgirl, adding even more reasons for fans hearts to clench when we see the character’s inevitable fate.

“I think it was really important to show Batgirl in action in the story,” said Mike Carlin, creative director of animation at DC entertainment. “She wasn’t just somebodies daughter, she was someone important to Gotham city and Batman in particular.”

This will not be the only original piece of content added to the film because of the need to lengthen it to a full feature run time. Timm anticipates the movie will get a PG-13 rating instead of the hard R rating that fans expect.

Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their respective roles as Batman and the Joker as well as Tara Strong playing Batgirl. The art style of the film is inspired by Brian Bolland’s iconic artwork but has been toned down in detail in order to be animated.

The Killing Joke will have its premiere at this years San Diego Comic Con.

C-3PO Speaks: An Interview with Anthony Daniels

C-3PO Speaks: An Interview with Anthony Daniels

The name Anthony Daniels might not initially jump out at you as one that you know, but you know the man and his work far too well. For Almost 40 years, Daniels has been an intimate part of any child’s life thanks to his other name, C-3PO. Yep, that golden protocol that we all adore (even on a ‘love-to-hate’ basis) and that has been involved with every major Star Wars film or television project to date. In fact, with his appearance in The Force Awakens, Daniels has officially even been involved in more Star Wars movies than George Lucas. The man is just as lovable as his most iconic creation and infinitely less annoying. In fact, he might even be superhumanly charming.

As you may or may not be aware, the latest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, is now out in theatres. I know, surprising right? As part of Disney’s efforts to encourage the worldwide fire of fascination with the latest Star Wars effort, Daniels made his way to Toronto last week for a personal hype-building appearance at a local Star Wars exhibition. CG Magazine was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Daniels during his stay in town. Although, I obviously hadn’t seen the super secretive blockbuster yet, and nor had Daniels at that point.

c3poinsert5Yet, given that he’s obviously in the film and remains an iconic part of the most iconic movie franchise ever produced, there was plenty to discuss, from his excitement about reuniting with his old castmates to the new costume designs and the bizarre nature of recording his voice for a C-3PO satellite navigation system. He even drops some suggestive hints of what’s to come, though obviously without violating the vow of secrecy everyone involved in the project had to sign with Disney. Since we know that you all can’t wait for The Force Awakens, it seemed appropriate to share the interview. So please join us for this little chat with the man who gave us C-3PO. It’s a delightful visit that kicks off with Daniels seeing the Force Awakens poster and noticing a familiar face.

Anthony Daniels: Oh look at that. There’s C-3P0 in the centre. This is the first time I’m seeing the poster full-size rather than on a screen and look at him right in the centre.

CG Magazine: As it should be.

Anthony: That’s right.

CGM: Has it been strange to work on a project shrouded in such intense secrecy?

Anthony: Well, it’s actually become second nature. We all have huge respect for the whole story of Star Wars. Huge respect, how could you not? We have huge respect for George Lucas who started it all. We have huge respect for JJ. And I would say, huge respect for the fans. Why would we want to spoil something?

But it’s really become second nature, to that point that I was talking to someone the other day who is writing the Making Of book and I had to start by asking, “Can I actually tell you secrets?” My brain is so conditioned at this point that I thought, “Is it ok to even tell this guy?” Then I had to correct him about something that changed in the script and he had to run off to call the studio because he was about to write something in a book that was wrong. So I really felt duty-bound to say, “Nope!” But look, when you’re buying a present for a friend, you’re duty-bound to wait for the surprise on their face. Next week, you and everyone else will have a surprise on your face. And I’ll still be at the centre of the poster. I like that.

c3poinsert3CGM: What’s it like for you personally to be back in this franchise?

Anthony: The curious thing is that there may have been gaps over the last 40 years, but it’s basically been a pretty straight line for me in the whole thing. That includes all of the movies, all the television stuff, and everything else. I was in Canada doing Droids, maybe that’s why I feel so at home here in Toronto. Now I will tell you that we went back to New York about four weeks ago where I was opening The Power Of Costume. It’s the most stunning exhibition just off of Times Square where I was the star to present. I’m a bit like 3PO on a good day. It’s wonderful to see those costumes so close with beautiful lighting. All of the droids are there, R2 and 3PO and of course BB-8. You wait; you are so going to love BB-8. Anyways, I got off the plane for that exhibit and was recording lines for 3PO again with JJ. So if he sounds a bit jetlagged in the movie, that’s why.

But 3PO has rarely left my side since I do all the cartoon series whether it’s Droids or Clone Wars or any of that. And of course, I don’t have to wear the costume for that, which is lovely. But I also enjoy the costume, because there is a thrill when I walk out on the first day and everyone sees me in costume. On The Force Awakens, the feeling was palpable. JJ was beside himself when I came out. This time we 3D printed the costume because it’s the new way and they can make new pieces rather quickly if it doesn’t work. When I was trying those on, he wanted to take pictures. It was lovely, and his enthusiasm continued all the way through. It’s quite a chapter you’re going to see; you’ll like it.

CGM: Was this job as exciting for you as recording the 3PO satellite navigation system?

Anthony: Yes, I did a satellite navigation thing for cars as 3PO. It drove me crazy when I tried it. The strangeness of hearing my voice telling me something I don’t know was…somewhat sinister. So I changed it and have somebody else’s voice now. I have just recorded another one, that’s slightly more fun. But someone complained that I say, “what a desolate place this is.” He said that he’d just arrived home and heard my voice say that it was a desolate place. That was rather cute.

CGM: What do you think it is about C-3PO and R2D2 that continues to have such broad appeal to all audiences?

Anthony: I think you’re right. They’re fairly broad characters, to be honest. If I gave the same performance without the costume you’d go, . I think one of the clever things about R2 is that Ben Burtt whistled the voice himself and recorded some of his baby’s gurgling. Then he mixed that with the synthesized sounds, so that you have something visceral and human to connect with. It kind of anthropomorphizes and draws you in. It’s wonderful. With 3PO, he is incredibly vulnerable. Because very early on we find that he was programmed for protocol and etiquette, which is totally useless (Laughs). He’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time and nobody cares about him. He’s always trashed. Now, many of us are trashed constantly in our lives, whether it’s by the government or the state. Nobody cares about us, actually. So George planned the droids to be the man on the street, if you will. Nobody really cares about the man on the street, so there is that recognition that you share their lot in life. “We were made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” It’s all coming back to me now. This is scary. Then at the same time, you have the joy of their relationship. But 3PO knows that while he’s doing his job, nobody respects him. He is vulnerable and a benign character. So therefore, you care for him. And also, George did plan that he’s this thread between the nine movies. He did say that the droids would be the only ones to go all the way through. How lucky am I?

c3poinsert6CGM: Have they gotten any better at making the costume more comfortable for you to wear? Because I recall it was pretty rough initially, especially in the first movie.

 Anthony: It was a nightmare then and it’s still not the greatest thing. But they have changed the way that it fits together to make things much easier. What I didn’t realize in the remake of the costume, which takes a month, is that they are also able to show it all to me on the computer before they make it. One thing I do like is the new microphone. I used to have it taped to my head with a wire running to a transmitter down my backside, so that I am speaking to you out of my butt in all three of those movies. I now have a wireless microphone in this space here . And also I love that they can now dial down the lights in his eyes through a transmitter. So things like that in the technology have improved a great deal. The suit will always be…not great, but that’s part of the job. And I’m not the only one. There are some wonderful creatures of all sorts in the movie and a lot of hidden people in this movie. But because they are human beings inside, you still feel their humanity.

CGM: Not many people get to play the same character over this many years. Has 3PO evolved at all for you during that time?

Anthony: Well, he’s a machine so he can’t really evolve. That television over there will never evolve. But what you see on the television, the content changes. 3PO’s content changes due to circumstances. He’s not proactive as a character. Things have to happen to him. He’s reactive. So he will always be the machine. And you must remember…in the first two trilogies I have the first and the last line. In the A New Hope I say, “Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness. We’re doomed. There’ll be no escape for the princess this time.” And at the end of Episode Three I have the last line. It’s when Bail Organa says to get the protocol droid’s mind wiped and I say, “What? Oh no.”  That’s the last line of the movie. So you see, 3PO doesn’t remember a lot of stuff. He does not know, for example, that Darth Vader is his daddy. I remember on Episode One, George said, “You know, you’re made by Anakin Skywalker. He’s your creator.” And I thought that was wonderful because they have a very nice friendship in the movie. Then three days later I realized…wait a minute. Anakin is Darth Vader. 3PO still doesn’t know. So 3PO is always reflective. Who he is depends on what happens to him.

CGM: Even though you’ve done the character for so many years, it’s been a long time since you’ve done it with people like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher—

 Anthony: Oh, it was like Harrison never stopped. At the read-through, I just thought, “Jesus!” It’s like he left the set of Return of the Jedi and walked back into the room. I think you will be delighted by his performance, if I may suggest. He’s just delightful company. And his ankle, he was so brave about that. Months later he was walking around like it was nothing.

CGM: Were you at all apprehensive about The Force Awakens since it’s the first time George hasn’t been involved in any way, and it did take long for you to get used to JJ steering the ship?

Anthony: Have you met JJ? That’s a silly question! Of course we had different directors on the first movies, Irvin Kershner particularly. George is still a figure hanging over the whole thing. So you’re still in the hands of the master, if you’d like. That wasn’t a question that came up. I think it was Mark Hamill who said, “This is the most wonderful gift.” It didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but it does feel like a gift. This was huge fun to make and I believe that fun will come out on the screen. And if 3PO survives…but of course we don’t know that, do we? In a few days, you’ll know all the answers. I actually haven’t seen it yet. We only finished it three weeks ago. I’m genuinely excited to see it, believe it or not, because the bits I’ve seen have intrigued me so much.
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