Continuing in our look back on the last decade, Screenhead examines the major movie events of the year 2008. For previous years, click to visit the article: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007.
The Year of the Dark Knight
As mentioned in the look back on 2007, there seemed to be a dissonance between talent and money in Hollywood, with big budget movies getting critically hammered by critics and public alike. But all that changed in 2008. No one can argue that the biggest and most important film of the year was The Dark Knight. In 2005 Christopher Nolan had won back audiences, after the awful Batman and Robin, with the dark and grittier reboot Batman Begins. Many analysts claimed that while the film performed well ($370 million worldwide), it only didn’t do better due to backlash against the previous Batman film. So by the time the teaser trailers appeared in late 2007 there was already a salivating fanbase counting the days. Rumours were circulating that Heath Ledger’s performance as Batman’s nemesis Joker was one of cinema’s finest. When Ledger died in January 2008 (see below) the incident created a sense of foreboding relating to the character, although some felt that the death would be an incentive not to watch the film. By the time the film was released in July, it instantly started breaking box-office records left, right, and centre.
The film may have been two and a half hours long, but its popularity was due to Christopher Nolan’s unrelentingly bleak vision. Ledger’s Joker is a grotesque character, relishing in chaos and quite successfully destroying the hopes of a peace that Batman fought so long to achieve. On the opposite side of Joker is Harvey Dent, the “white knight” district attorney set to fight corruption and put the bad guy away. It’s no spoiler that Dent becomes disturbed criminal Two-Face. The film was one of the most intense blockbusters ever made, injecting a sense of violence without fetishising it. In fact, one can label The Dark Knight as the real post 9/11 film, in which Batman and the city of Gotham must deal with the embodiment of Terrorism, Joker, a character that has no apparent motive, and no apparent history (in the film he tells contradicting stories about the origins of his facial scars), just the desire to corrupt. It’s also worth noting that the film ends on an interesting note: on a lie. Is Nolan trying to saw that our society can only function when based on an illusion?
The film ended up making a billion dollars worldwide, and is now the 2nd highest-earning film in the US. While it isn’t without flaws (the shakey-cam action can be unnecessarily confusing, Morgan Freeman’s character is largely superfluous, and of course Christian Bale’s performance as Batman is completely overshadowed by the brilliant Ledger) The Dark Knight was a breath of fresh air for the blockbuster. It proved that a high-budget film could be dark and thematically dense and not just make money, but have audiences returning to the same film several times over. It was perhaps a sign of the Academy’s snootiness to not even nominate the film for Best Picture in the 2009 Oscars. However, it will be fascinating to see the impact the film will have on future blockbusters, and whether we’ll be seeing more “dark reboots” during the summer months. READ ON »