Sunday Mail (October 24th, 2004)

REBIRTH OF BATMAN

HAVING completed four weeks of shooting in Chicago after six months on London sound stages and a week in Iceland, the new Batman movie is budgeted at a reported $190 million.

But you could be forgiven for believing Warner Bros has spent as much again on a cloak-and-dagger operation surrounding the plot.

“We’ve spent billions of hours trying to keep this secret,” producer Larry Franco said as another night shoot in Chicago a few weeks ago went past midnight.

“Every piece of paper that has anything to do with the story has watermarks that trace it back to you.

“We have to turn our scripts in at the end of the day. I don’t even want to show my script to my wife.”

Franco was standing near the Franklin Bridge in downtown Chicago, one of four major drawbridges that were raised simultaneously as a camera-equipped helicopter swept low along the Chicago River.

Dozens of Gotham City police in cars and SWAT vehicles and on horseback gave the impression that total chaos had broken out on the ground.

It was exactly what 34-year-old British-born director Christopher Nolan wanted – what is known about the movie, titled Batman Begins, is that the climax involves a riot in a river island area of Gotham known as The Narrows.

Of course, the Caped Crusader will save the city because Welsh actor Christian Bale, who plays the title role, has signed for two sequels.

The Batman franchise has a chequered history, starting with Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman and his 1992 follow-up Batman Returns, both starring Michael Keaton, but then unravelling with Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (1995), starring Val Kilmer, and Batman and Robin (1997), starring George Clooney in his infamously nippled Batsuit.

As the title suggests, Batman Begins is a prequel. Supporting 30-year-old Bale is a predominantly British cast including Sir Michael Caine (as Bruce Wayne’s valet Alfred Pennyworth), Gary Oldman (Sergeant, later Commissioner, James Gordon), Liam Neeson (Ducard), Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow) and Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone).

The most high-profile American stars are Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Katie Holmes (assistant district attorney Rachel Dodson and Bruce Wayne’s love interest).

“Truthfully, it just worked out that way,” director Nolan said earlier.

“When I met Christian he was speaking with an American accent, although of course I knew he was British.”

And did Nolan help write the plot?

“It’s the story of this young boy becoming Batman,” was all he would say.

Bale, who plays Batman from ages 22 to 30, revealed little more.

“After the death of his father, Bruce Wayne falls off the face of the Earth for seven years and we see what happened to him, then something happens that makes us realise why the bat is the perfect symbol for him.”

Bale, who became a child star in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987), has carved out his adult career in far more serious fare than comic book heroes and was hardly the obvious choice for Batman Begins.

“Sometimes I sit back and think, ‘I can’t f**king believe I’ve done this’,” he said. “Then you look out from the cowl and you see Gary Oldman, one of my favourite actors from the start, Michael Caine and Tom Wilkinson and Liam Neeson – these are all great actors so you can’t be slacking it.”

For the record, his Dave Murch-designed Batsuit does not have nipples.

“No, no nipples,” Bale said with a grin. “It’s hot and dark and sticky and claustrophobic, but I ain’t complaining.

“You do get to take it off at the end of the day.”

By Lawrie Masterson.