Years before Batman Begins and Dark Knight, filmmaker Sandy Collora produced the awesome short film Batman : Dead End. Andrew Koenig played the Joker excellently. Here's a link to the movie and Mark Finn's review, written in 2003.
The buzz had built before ComicCon was even over with. Someone, a professional movie maker, made a Batman fan film and put it in the hands of some of the comic industry's best and brightest, and also Frank Miller.
It's a good thing director Sandy Collora gave a copy to Alex Ross, because visually, that was the creator he swiped from the most. To be sure, there are some Neal Adams and some Berni Wrightson bits thrown in, but the initial suiting-up scene is a terrific homage to the comic industry's 1,000-pound gorilla.
It could be the best Batman ever put on film.
It's certainly most true to the comics, right down to the costume, which, for me, kinda stuck out. More on this later. Batman acted and sounded like Batman.
The Joker acts and sound like the Joker, meaning he's skinny and insane, not fat and Nicholson-esque. Visually, the film works just fine, and occasionally, blows through some of Tim Burton's ham-fisted visuals in the first Batman movie.
In particular, the scene when Batman stands up in the alley and his cape pools up from the ground. Well, frankly, that's about as good as it gets. Neal Adams would be proud.
Motivation in the story is also there. In thirty seconds, Joker and Batman play out their entire relationship, and while it come as no surprise to any old-school comic fans, it is satisfying to see and hear those points brought up on film. It's the scene that we should have seen in the first Bat-movie, but again, Tim Burton was doing his thing, so there you go.
In the fight scene with the Predator , when Batman is initially clocked by the dreadlocked giant, his first response is to strike at both knees and the groin. It's as if he's saying, through his punches, "That hurt." It's a nice, vicious touch.
As for the Fox / DC Comics character use, well, hey, it's a fan film. And it's the guy's audition reel. If you had access to Stan Winston Studios, I'll bet a million dollars you'd put the same things in your magnum opus.
Men in tights
The only place where the film lost me was Batman's costume. It looked spiffy, and the actor underneath it had the chops to pull off wearing tights, and good for him, too. Costumed heroes work, within certain boundaries.
In Dead End, there was an obvious style choice made here, and it's a pro-comics, not pro-realism choice. From a rational standpoint you understand that thin, clingy spandex is no protection against bullets and knives. Batman, it has been widely written about in innumerable comics, wears of light armor. A micro-mesh Kevlar weave blahdeeblah. It was certainly apparent in the 1989 movie.
Miller made a point about it in Dark Knight Returns: "Why do you think I wear a yellow target on my chest? I can't armor up my head."
Now, with that established, do comic book artists draw Batman in armor? They don't. It's a convention, an accepted stylistic shortcut to depict Batman, Superman, and all of the heroes in their old-school circus strongman skivvys, with the muscles bulging out from beneath the sheer fabric.
We, the educated reader, know that Batman is armored up in his suit and cape, but it's never drawn that way.
Now, when you watch Dead End, the costume looks great until the Predator opens up Batman's belly with his big knife. All of a sudden, I'm thrown out of the movie and thinking, "Hey, what about his micro-weave mesh blahdeeblah? Batman would be an idiot to go out crime-fighting in clingy tights."
While all of this is moot and academic, what we're really looking at is a big egg on Warner Brothers' stupid face.
Hey, look, here's what a fan did with 30 grand and four days. How's your current Batman film shaping up? What's that? You don't have one? Huh.
Warner Brothers SHOULD be embarrassed. They were a movie-making empire when Marvel was pushing comic book cutouts in front of an animation camera and singing dorkwad theme songs.
There are people clamoring to make Batman movies. A ten-minute interview should determine if they are right for the project. I'll be happy to conduct those interviews myself, lest any of you studio execs not want to risk your parking space on the lot if you mess up and accidentally hire someone competent.
You don't have to re-explain Batman. Everyone gets it. Start from scratch. Pick up the series continuity. Cross Bats and Supes into a World's Finest movie. I don't care.
But do something. Anything. Otherwise, Dead End, unfinished at 8 minutes long, will be the best Batman film of all time.