This book (and the review of it) contains spoilers for The Batman. If you haven’t seen the film yet, and don’t want to be spoiled, then I suggest you don’t read either yet. That said, if you are already pretty sure you’re going to love the movie, and you want to look at stunning artwork and photos from the production of the film, go ahead and buy the book now and set it aside for after you watch the movie. I’ll be recommending it at the end of this. Everyone else who wants a more detailed assessment of the official behind-the-scenes tie-in book to The Batman before they open their wallet, let’s proceed…
The Art of The Batman
The large-format hardcover measures 12.15 x 9.55 inches, which is excellent, because you want a big canvas for the art but you still want to have room to use your coffee table. The Art of The Batman is 224 pages long, mostly comprised of conceptual paintings, set photos, design sketches, 3D renders, interview excerpts with cast and crew, and a few essays. The book opens with a terrific forward by director Matt Reeves and a lovely introduction from production liaison James Field, who made this book possible.
The book is broken down into seven chapters with names like Justice, Honor, Retribution, etc. and the table of contents further clarifies what all that means, like that Power will explore Falcone and The Penguin but Vengeance will be about Batman… But these chapter titles are not terribly helpful for guiding you to where you’ll learn about the LED Volume or how they chose a location for the funeral scene. Mostly you’ll just have to flip through its pages to find what you want, but thankfully that’s not too much of a chore because, frankly, aimlessly flipping for anything that catches your eye is kind of what coffee table books are all about.
There’s hardly a conceptual painting in this book that I wouldn’t want to hang on my wall, and the crew did an absurdly good job of capturing the same lighting and overall atmosphere expressed through the paintings. The conceptual sketches are also quite engrossing because they are handled as if Batman himself drew them, with little notes about what will and won’t work in the field. The breakdown of the utility belt was particularly enlightening– did you know that he was carrying nunchaku the whole movie?
Exploring the craft of sewing costumes, prop-making and set design can go so deep it borders on trivial at times– and that’s exactly what I want, and it’s likely what you want too. Casual fans saw the movie and moved on, but you love this stuff so much that you’re not just getting the book on it, you’re doing the research before you buy it. You, like me, are going to be massaging your chin as you look at pages on the choice of pool cues in Falcone’s lair and saying, “fascinating.”
However, while most of the reading in the book is incredibly insightful, especially the essays (Falcone/Penguin and LED Volume being standouts) and interviews (of all of the actors, Kravitz was my favorite, she provided incredibly thoughtful answers), there are some things that made me go “Why even include that?”
Like this blurb that detracted from a dynamic painting of the car chase scene: “Batman is The World’s Greatest Detective. He follows The Penguin and some dirty cops back to this spot from The Penguin’s club, the Iceberg Lounge.” — James Chinlund (production designer)
Quotes like that tell me nothing I didn’t already know. Why not ask the artist about what instruction they received from Reeves or what techniques they employed to create the image? No one is getting this book to have the plot explained to them in simple words. Thankfully, that example is the worst offender. The other less-than-interesting commentary has to be the repeated variation on “we knew we needed to ground it in reality” from the crew. I didn’t need to see so many instances of a producer or designer comparing the film to Burton and Nolan, and then saying “but we wanted to make it look believable and functional.” I get it.
I also would have liked more discussion on what comics inspired the film. The book touches on the obvious ones like Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween many, many times. But despite name-dropping Batman: Ego it does nothing to ellaborate on that, and it never ceases to surprise me how nobody is mentioning Batman: Earth One. Is it really just coincidence that these two works have so much in common (an Alfred who trains Bruce, Arkham as Martha’s last name, a train terminal Batcave, etc.). All that said, inspirations from real life headlines and other media are covered quite thoroughly and I don’t just mean the Riddler’s Zodiac-inspired outfit/methods or that Reeves loved Chinatown. I know you know that already. No, the book also brings up a plethora of references you likely haven’t seen reported to death. Like, for example, the influence of Wong Kar-Wai’s films or that Penguin’s brow prosthetic was sculpted after John Cazale (Fredo Corleone, The Godfather). Fascinating.
It’s a book you’ll find yourself reaching for after/during future viewings of the film. A book you’ll want to lend to fellow fans, even if it isn’t quite as comprehensive as some will hope it to be.
While Field does a fantastic job of providing interview excerpts and bits of material from most stages of production, The Art of The Batman is not a complete guide to the making of The Batman by any means. Does it provide more information on the subject than any other book you’ll find right now? Absolutely. But anyone wanting to really learn about the production of The Batman needs to pair this book with the two phenomenal, long-form roundtable interviews that Dolby did with the crew (I’ll embed them both below so you don’t have to search for them). I think you’ll find that those two interviews fill in many of the gaps that this book has, and combining those videos with the book makes for a terrifically entertaining and informative experience. For instance, The Art of the Batman has nothing to say on the editing process or Michael Giacchino’s score, or the sound design and sound mixing. It also doesn’t acknowledge Joker was even in the movie, so don’t pick this up hoping for some character designs or backstory on him. The book doesn’t go into detail about how “drops” were conceived or how the creepy logo for drops came to be, either. And I still wish someone would ask Reeves why Batman doesn’t throw a batarang or if he ever will. As of right now, the book explains that the chest insignia was made into a practical tool (the big knife) that they refer to as the batarang. But if you ask me, until it’s getting thrown, it’s not a batrang. Yes, I am considering doing an article all about trivial things I want to see in (but won’t make or break) the sequel.
But what really stands out to me as being absent from the book is any substantial look at what was scrapped. It’s a celebration of everything that made it to the big screen. And as a detailed guide to what made it into the film, it’s wonderful and a joy to flip through. It does not, however, provide fans with much to fantasize about in the realm of “what might have been” nor does it offer any sense of relief in a “gosh, I’m glad they didn’t go THAT route” department. You’re not going to see Reeves’ 3rd choice for the Bat symbol or how Farrell would’ve looked with an even longer nose or a top hat. Nothing like that. No names of actors who turned down a role or anything along those lines either. This is about what is. Not what could have been. The closest the book gets to showing us scrapped designs are a few concept paintings that feature a Batman with longer ears or a wing-suit that has more in common with Bale’s suit from Batman Begins.
The Art of The Batman features gorgeous concept art and photography from the film, and if that’s what you’re looking for then of course it’s a must-buy. Production Liaison James Field did a fantastic job curating this collection of spectacular images. However, the The Art of The Batman wants to be a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production as well, and it falls a bit short in some areas. It is excellent at highlighting the final designs for characters, props, and sets that made it to screen, but it hardly explores their evolution. If you are hoping for a look at things that “might have been” such as close-call casting decisions or rejected early story ideas or prototype designs for costumes and makeup, you’re not going to find it here. Those seeking to appreciate spectacular artwork and photography with the occasional insightful blurb should buy The Art of The Batman without hesitation. But anyone looking for an in-depth look at The Batman‘s production will still need to supplement it with the two aforementioned Dolby interviews and whatever will be included on the upcoming Blu-ray release. You can buy the book now directly from Abrams Books or most other retailers. And if you love this book and want others like it, I recommend tracking down Batman Animated (you’ll have to go to eBay for that, it’s out of print) and The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy.
Abrams provided Batman News with a copy of this book for the purpose of this review.
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