SUPERMAN VS. BATMAN: Director Jay Oliva on The Dark Knight Returns Fight, :Part 1
In the first of a two-part offering from Voices From Krypton, Jay Oliva, director of The Dark Knight Returns, recounts the development of one of the highlights of Part Two, the battle between Batman and Superman.
This fight comes in the aftermath of the Dark Knight's Return and the President of the United States sending the Man of Steel out to stop him - this after Superman has been weakened by the explosion of a nuclear weapon. What follows, in Oliva's own words, is a look at how that fight was approach.
"I approached my board artist Mel Zwyer and said, 'Hey, I need you to storyboard the section and it’s going to be kind of tough, because I have a very specific thing I want to see.' We met a couple of times and one of the things I mentioned to him was, 'Remember the Brave and the Bold episode where they did an homage to Dark Knight Returns? Well, I don’t want to do any of that, so I don’t want to see any of the panels from the comic book on there just because it’s already been done.' I thought what James Tucker did on the Brave and the Bold was just fabulous, so I didn’t want to re-tread on that same ground, because this is a movie and I want it to stand on its own. The other thing I told Mel was, if they ever do a live action version of the Dark Knight Returns, I wanted them to have a really hard time topping what we do here. So that was basically the first mandate, that I didn’t want to follow the comic book.
"Now in terms of the major set up, Superman and Batman start in Crime Alley and it ends with the Green Arrow action. I wanted to have that feel of people reacting to the fight that's happening as they fight their way through the apartment building. That's one thing superhero films tend to not get right - they have to consider the fact that there are people around. Whenever you're doing a battle inside of a city, you have to cut to the populace at some point. You can’t not even show them, or just forget about them, and I think with just a few cutaways – you don’t have to do it all the time, but just those few – you kind of establish that these titans are fighting amongst us. It kind of helps add to the reality of the scene.
"One of the other things I wanted to do different from the comic was to make the weather a big part of the fight. In the comic you don’t get a sense that there’s still nuclear fall-out, that there’s some snow and with a lot of the interviews I’ve given, I’ve mentioned that I wanted to keep this water-steam theme in One and Two. How in the very beginning of Part One you have the rain, his baptism, and how in Part Two, Superman gets a similar kind of baptism or renewal after he gets nuked by the bomb, but then we go right into the nuclear winter, which is the nuclear ash mixed in with the snow. It’s kind of this dirty snow coming down, and I thought, this would be a great place for a fight, because… just adding to the cold, that layer of the fight, it kind of builds up to Bruce Wayne basically faking his heart attack.
"One thing I have to give Bruce Timm credit for is that when we originally screened the animatic, we didn’t have the scene where Batman is toying with his armor, you know where he lifts up the '89 Batmobile – that scene was originally just him talking to Alfred, and Alfred just helping him put on the armor. Which is kind of like how it is in the comic book. But when Bruce saw the final card sequence that Mel and I had planned, and choreographed, he said, 'How is Batman supposed to do this? He isn’t super-powered.' We said it was because of the armor. Bruce thought we needed to establish that earlier, and suggested we do it in that scene where he's talking to Alfred. It was funny, because Bruce suggested that he just lift something heavy while keeping the dialogue. That's when I started thinking, 'I'm going to have him lift the Batmobile.' Originally I was planning to have it be the Adam West '60s Batmobile, but the only problem is that it's not very big, and I needed something to look really big, to kind of show that Batman has a little bit of super-strength. And so I went through a list of all the Batmobiles, and I didn’t want to do the Tumbler from the Dark Knight Rises, because that would totally throw things off, and I still wanted to keep this 80s vibe. The choice was easy: the '89 Batmobile. So we put that in there, and it’s a good little scene. It’s a little Easter Egg for people to find – and in my mind, I can see the Michael Keaton Batman turning into the Batman we have in the Dark Knight Returns. I don’t see Christian Bale turning that way, but I can see Michael Keaton doing that. So that’s how we initially approached the fight.
"I wanted to start the fight in Crime Alley, but not in the place where Bruce's parents died. In the comic book it feels like it all takes place in the same spot. That's great and all, but I’m a huge Empire Strikes Back fan, and what I love in Empire Strikes Back is you travel to three different locations in that fight between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker: you have the carbonite freezing chamber, you have the area underneath the freezing chamber, then you have the area outside the chamber, and the film has this recurring theme of rule of threes. If you want something to feel epic or big, you need to have at least three locations, and so for Dark Knight Returns I wanted the fight to start in the vicinity of Crime Alley. If you notice, there are a lot of those lampposts, because it’s like the slums, and I wanted the fight to start in one area, work our way around, and by the end, by happenstance, be back where the birth of Batman was. I don’t know if I mentioned it on the DVD commentary, but there’s a scene in there where Batman gets launched out of the construction site, and he hits a pole that kind of bends. That's actually the lamppost where Joe Chill was the night Bruce's parents were killed. Then Superman comes down, hits him and, I think, knocks his helmet off before knocking him into the alley, which is the same alley his parents died in.
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