Book Review: The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy

Wow. I honestly expected a big, overpriced picture book here to cash-in on the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” but I was way, way off. I can’t stress enough how impressed I am with this book. It’s astounding just how thoroughly it takes the reader behind the scenes of all three monumental films of The Dark Knight Trilogy. I have followed these films religiously so I know how hard info is to come by. Christopher Nolan is not Peter Jackson. We Bat-fans didn’t have the luxury of frequent online documentaries taking us on a tour of the set–hell, Christopher Nolan doesn’t have twitter, facebook, or even own a cell phone. His cast wouldn’t even dare talk about what character they were playing! His DVDs have no deleted scenes and no audio commentary either and for nerds who obsess over accumulating unprecedented amounts of trivia and anecdotes, it has been misery. Until now…

Presentation

This book was designed by Chip Kidd, one of the greatest graphic designers in the world and, perhaps more importantly to you, one of the biggest Batman fans in the world. The jacket cover is straight to the point with a close-up of the “Batman Begins” Batman’s piercing gaze before a stark white background. The text is bold and in the font you’d come to expect from The Dark Knight Trilogy.

To contrast the clean imagery of our hero on the front cover we see that the back is a tight cluster of all the villains of the trilogy. And unlike how the text was down at the base of the book’s front cover, the back cover jams a line from Ra’s Al Ghul right in the center “You must become fear.”

But if you’re like me and you always slip off the jacket when reading a big hardback, you’ll be very pleased at what you find. The exterior is a full wrap-around image of Batman surveying the Gotham skyline, likely a bit of concept art from “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight”. It’s so stunning that I haven’t quite decided if I’ll leave the jacket on or off when I put it on display.

When you open the book you are faced with the catalyst for Bruce’s quest for vengeance and ultimately justice: the murder of his parents spread across two pages along with the line “Your parents’ death was not your fault…” the next few pages are all large shots of Christopher Nolan, Batman, and various behind the scenes photography accompanied by the speech from Ra’s Al Ghul on becoming “more than just a man” that was used in ‘The Dark Knight Rises” teaser trailer. It builds and builds, with each right hand page delivering another line from Liam Neeson’s character until you are met with a title page so big that it had to pour across 4 pages! Get ready, you’re about to lose several hours to the most in-depth look at your three favorite movies!

Content

A better question would be “What isn’t in this book?” because it honestly covers almost everything you could want to know. There are interviews with the flm’s cast and crew including David S. Goyer, Jonathan Nolan, and Wally Pfister. There’s also an exclusive foreword by Christopher Nolan, an introduction written by Michael Caine himself, and an afterword written (again) by Christopher Nolan titled “Charisma as Natural as Gravity”. And of course, there is pre-production artwork, posters, screen shots, and (what I’m sure you’re even more interested in) tons of never-before-seen photography.

I’m not kidding around, bat-fans, this book blows my mind. It really does take you through every step of the film making process and it does so by dividing development of these movies into three parts…

PRE PRODUCTION: With special chapters on screenplay, production design, casting, and costume & makeup. This is probably my favorite section of the book. Seeing how the ideas were formed in the first place is the most exciting thing to me. Plus, there are loads of references to the comics that the writers looked to for inspiration such as “Batman: Year One”, “The Killing Joke”, “The Long Halloween”, “Knightfall”, and more. There are shots of the original red clay model Nolan molded to show Nathan Crowley what he was looking for in a Batmobile. And although we’ve probably heard the most about how the tumbler and batpod were made over anything else involved in these films there is a substantial portion of the production design chapter that focuses on The Bat, which we (at least I) haven’t heard as much about. The Batcave, Peña Dura/Lazarus Pit, all sets are pretty well covered here. Casting addresses all the characters from those who provided Bruce with emotional support to the villains but I do feel that this section was far shorter than I would have liked it to be. As you’d expect I immediately sought out the section on the casting of Heath Ledger and was disappointed to find that that bit of bat-history had been reduced to only half a page. The Make-up & Costume section actually goes into greater detail. Did you know that Nolan looked to Francis Bacon’s “Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” as a reference point for The Clown Prince of Crime? I didn’t. And I write for a site called “Batman-New”–if that doesn’t speak volumes I don’t know what does. I was surprised by how engaging the costume/makeup section was. You’ll see everything from sketches and 3D renders to makeup tests, and on and on. Want to see what a few of the original concepts were for Bane’s mask? Done. Catwoman’s goggles? Done. Early designs for a less-drastically burned Harvey Dent? Double done.

PRODUCTION: This section features chapters on all three films and an extra chapter that focuses specifically on the stunts and special effects. If you’re hungry for never-before-seen pictures from the set then you’ll be in heaven. Of course, if you have yet to see “The Dark Knight Rises” you shouldn’t read the chapter on that film as there are spoilers. Like I said, the book covers everything and that includes the conclusion of the trilogy in great detail. And take note that the special effects chapter isn’t only about how they did practical stunts like the truck flip or the mid-air sequence in the final film, but it also deals heavily with fight choreography and particularly the underground lair match between Batman and Bane that, in my opinion, is the best fight in the whole trilogy.

POST PRODUCTION: Editing, music, and sound get their own chapter as do the visual effects, and marketing of the films. You’ll learn about Nolan’s emphasis on not editing action scenes to music and how he would withhold the film from the composers so that way they were free to create the music that they wanted as opposed to shaping the score around beats of the film. The pages on Zimmer are quite extensive and are immediately followed by information on the film’s sound designers who discuss the effects for Batman’s gadgets as well as rigging Bane’s now famous mask with its own built-in microphone. The creation of Gotham and other visual effects are all discussed as well and that’s including the pyrotechnics, CGI, and miniature work on the films. The marketing section is probably the least interesting of the lot, but that might simply be because I was so disappointed with how little attention the viral marketing of “The Dark Knight” was given. I would have loved to see the chapter go more in-depth with what all of the contests and games were like and the sort of puzzles fans had to solve. I have the fondest memories of those days and I wish that I could flip to that section of the book and see the Long Halloween Pumpkin that melted down each day or a shot from any of the numerous websites that we all visited so frequently for clues like Betty’s House of Pies or Remembering Gina.

So as you can see, it’s a whole lot more than just a picture book. There’s so much content here that it’ll take way more than one sitting to get through it all and still my one and only complaint about this massive tome is that I wish it was even longer!

Value

I slammed this book on a table and asked friends and family what they thought it cost. The guess of $80 dollars was almost unanimous but they were all dead wrong. This book costs half that and I think it’s well worth the $40 bucks. In fact, it’s instantly one of the most prized pieces of my Batman collection. It’s perfect for repeat readings, I’ll want to reference it anytime I have a question about the films, and I’ll parade it around in front of guests whenever I have them over to re-watch the trilogy on blu-ray. It’s worth every penny is what I’m saying and you can get it at Amazon for a mere $24.00! That’s not a typo. Amazon is selling this thing for $24.00.

Overall

Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pourroy have assembled one of the finest “Making of the film” books I have ever seen. Every fan of The Dark Knight Trilogy should add this book to their collection as soon as possible. I love it.

SCORE: 10/10

Related: The Dark Knight Rises

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