The Dark Knight disappeared from TV, radio and newspapers over the weekend. No ads, anywhere. But in Los Angeles, the image of the soul-ravaged vigilante superhero still loomed: Christian Bale’s chiseled jaw jutting beneath his Bat-mask on billboards in Hollywood and Santa Monica, Pasadena and Sherman Oaks, images of Batman and The Dark Knight Rises’ uber-terrorist villain, Bane, facing off on bus shelters and parking garage kiosks.
On Saturday morning, I was in a bookstore in Los Feliz, just east of the heart of Hollywood. There on a table was a whole Dark Knight library: the graphic novels, the movie tie-ins, and a giant new coffee table book, The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy. I went to grab it, and stopped. Somehow the book seemed tainted, the whole display table of Bat-books situated in a terrible new context. Aurora, Colorado. James Holmes, A dozen dead, 58 wounded.
L.A. is an industry town, and everywhere the talk was about Warner Bros., the $250 million spent to make Christopher Nolan’s final Dark Knight installment, the $150 million in marketing. Will moviegoers stay away? What about the theater chains? How will they handle security issues? What if there are copycats? Those weren’t the first concerns on people’s minds. The shock and hurt, the empathy for the victims’ families and the survivors was foremost, I’m sure. But Holmes’ midnight massacre in theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora on Friday sent a seismic wave trembling through this town. All the usual business paradigms, the publicity strategies, the box office spins, the IMAX revenue reports… sent off into some dark, haunted limbo.
Director Nolan’s statement, released on Friday from Paris, where Warner Bros. canceled that night’s star-studded premiere, was limned in pain. After expressing his “profound sorrow” for the victims and their families, he went on to note that “the movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”
Of course, unbearable savagery is what Tom Hardy’s masked sociopath, Bane, metes out in The Dark Knight Rises, and the long-running debate about violence in the media — in movies, on TV, in video games — and its influence and impact on society is once again at the forefront. Are there people here in Hollywood — writers, directors, actors, producers — wrestling with feelings of culpability, responsibility? Are these extremely well-paid “creatives” contemplating a shift away from the lucrative action, sci-fi, fantasy and comic book genres where body counts and carnage are integral to the equation, what audiences have come to expect?
The Dark Knight series, epic and brooding, had already been tarnished by tragedy: Heath Ledger, who played the Joker, the lethal clown criminal in 2008’s The Dark Knight, died of a drug overdose while the film was being readied for its summer release, casting a pall over its marketing and promotion. Nolan gave a beautiful speech, accepting Ledger’s posthumous supporting actor Golden Globe, talking about how the actor’s death opened “a whole rift in the future of cinema.” (Ledger won the Academy Awards supporting actor prize a few weeks later.)
Other people now, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, spouses and lovers, will be giving eulogies in the coming days, and arguments about gun control legislation (6,000 rounds of ammunition ordered over the Internet — really?) will take on new urgency, again.
At Warner Bros. in Burbank, where giant Dark Knight Rises murals herald the studio’s franchise, execs will be watching the grosses in the weeks ahead and calibrating their response, gauging when it seems right to resume the marketing push, what to change, what to leave out. (They swiftly pulled the trailers for Gangster Squad, featuring scenes of a mob shootout in a movie theater.)
And at Skylight Books on Vermont Avenue — just down the block from a crowded cafe where much of the Saturday brunch conversation centered around Holmes’ Aurora attack — customers will wander over to that Dark Knight table, look through the pulp noir images of the repackaged Batman comics, and maybe pick up that new 4-and-a-half pound coffee table book with the forward written by Nolan, an introduction by Michael Caine.
But I won’t be buying another book tied to the new movie’s release any time soon. Its title: The Dark Knight Manual: Tools, Weapons, Vehicles and Documents from the Bat Cave.