Exclusive First Look: Batman - Under the Red Hood
It may not be coming out until this summer, but CBM has your first look at the animated DVD adventure "Batman: Under the Red Hood," featuring interviews with Bruce Timm, Judd Winick, Bruce Greenwood and Jensen Ackles.
Dark, brooding adventure is nothing new in the world of Batman, but from all indications, his latest animated journey – this fall’s Batman: Under the Red Hood – could be the darkest of all.
“It’s simply the darkest Batman movie we’ve made yet, and that’s including Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker,” offers producer Bruce Timm, who has been involved in Batman’s 2D world since the 1990s’ Batman: The Animated Series. “This is a really gritty, pretty darkly emotional story, and if it all comes together as I’m expecting it will, it’s going to be something really special.”
Following a line of films that includes Superman: Doomsday, Green Lantern: First Flight, Batman: Gotham Knight, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and, most recently, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, Under The Red Hood is adapted by Judd Winick from a story arc presented in the Dark Knight’s comic book adventures, part of which Winick himself had written. For his part, the writer thought the tale was a natural for animation.
“What I loved best about it is that it had a really amazing beginning and a really strong ending, which pretty much most movies ride on,” Winick notes. “The movie starts with Batman’s failure, which resonates throughout.”
That “failure,” the full details of which he won’t go in to, occurred some years ago, and its impact is felt in the present with the arrival of the Red Hood, a costumed vigilante and criminal whose actions reflect what Batman himself would be should he ever decide to step over the line from hero to villain.
“This is absolutely a Batman story,” he emphasizes. “It’s about Batman facing his greatest fear, and it’s a fear he was unaware of: failure. All Batman is trying to do is win a war. All he’s trying to do is right wrongs, beginning with the death of his parents and followed by another seminal event in his life, the loss of his partner, Jason Todd [who replaced Dick Grayson as his sidekick, Robin]. It was a major mistake in his life, bringing another kid into this war. So for Batman, it seems like one horrible mistake after another.”
Those mistakes, and a few others made in his career, come home to roost in the form of the Red Hood. “Batman is the Dark Knight, he has strange means and he’s tortured, but the bare essence of the man is that he’s trying to do right; to stop the bad in the world,” Winick explains. “In this story, his failure has increased ten-fold. He’s almost at a loss, because something unspoken about Batman is his emotional side. This ‘mistake’ is trying to undo everything that Batman does, trying to beat him at his own game, trying to be better than he is. So Batman has to battle this on two fronts: one, just this criminal, who’s coming in and trying to take over the city by force and being what he is, the villain. The flip side of this is that this is something from Batman’s past that has returned from beyond, which is maddening, confusing and horrible. And what does he do when he stops him, if he can stop him? These are wonderfully complex issues, which is why I just fell in love with the idea that this is Batman at his most unbalanced. What the Red Hood represents is Batman’s Achilles heel, and he tortures himself over it. The situation he is being forced to deal with is his fault, and it’s something he never lets himself forget.”
VOICES UNDER THE RED HOOD
One of the most impressive aspects of the various DC made-for-DVD animated projects is the sheer spectrum of voice talent involved in bringing the characters to life. Particularly distinct about Batman: Under The Red Hood is that the project brings into the fold a couple of vocal newbies.
Bruce Greenwood, most recently seen on the big screen as Captain Christopher Pike in last year’s Star Trek, takes on the role of Batman, whose gravelly voice he spent a lot of time experimenting with. “We just toyed around with different timbers for 20 minutes or so,” he explains. “We read the script the whole way through while we were looking for the tone of the voice. And by the time we’d sort of finished the first read through, we were kind of saying, ‘Okay, it’s got a little bit of smoke in it, but not too much.’ It became smokier as we went along.”
As to working in animation, he says, “I didn’t come in with too many preconceptions. I read the script beforehand, and the emotional through line of the story is what I’m trying to connect to. So when the director asks you to give it a certain tone, then you just go for that. But it was interesting to work this way. [Vocal director] Andrea Romano provided the visual – she’d describe everything. So you just kind of close your eyes and she’d set the scene and you could really imagine it very clearly, and then you do your thing.”
The other newcomer to animation acting is Jensen Ackles, who voices the villain of the piece, the Red Hood. Ackles, of course, is best known for his portrayal of Dean Winchester on the CW series, Supernatural.
“There really wasn’t any heavy acting choices to make,” says Ackles regarding Red Hood. “It pretty much just bounced off the page, and I just tried to do it justice. With working in this medium, once you get clear on all the specific pronunciations and how the tone of the voice needs to rise and fall, it was really about focusing on the more emotional elements of the script, especially in the intense moments and trying to envision the scene with the characters. And envisioning yourself in that scenario. A lot of times if you can do that, if you can put yourself there, I think the voice follows suit.”
Between his work on Supernatural and now the world of Batman, Ackles obviously has had some experience working in what has affectionately been called the “fan boy genre.”
“The positives of working in this genre are that the fans are extremely devoted,” he offers. “People really invest themselves in these stories and characters, and the mythology behind them. To be a part of something that so many people really get behind and want more of is extremely gratifying.”
Batman: Under The Red Hood will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in October.
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