Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One Movie That Never Was

A revised book updates us on a Batman movie that nearly rebooted The Dark Knight before Christopher Nolan.

In an interesting bit of "What-might-have-been" Batman movie trivia, the newly updated book Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? written by David Hughes and just recently re-published by Titan Books gives us a glimpse of an infamous project that nearly rebooted The Caped Crusader a few years before Christopher Nolan and David Goyer pitched their take to Warner Bros. In the book, there€™s a write up on the failed Batman project from director Darren Aronofsky and writer Frank Miller, which would have been a spin on Miller's own Batman: Year One. Much of this we have talked about previously at What Culture over the years but we always love a bit of delving into alternative history around here. Here, a few snippets from the book; Aronofsky : €œI told them I€™d cast Clint Eastwood as the Dark Knight, and shoot it in Tokyo, doubling for Gotham City,€ he says, only half-joking. €œThat got their attention.€ Whether inspired or undeterred, the studio was brave enough to open a dialogue with the avowed Bat-fan, who became interested in the idea of an adaptation of Year One. Judging by how flippant the comment was made, I'd imagine Clint Eastwood was more an idea for Dark Knight Returns than Year One, given Eastwood's age but either way, Clint as Batman. WOW!

Aronofsky: €œI pitched the complete opposite, which was totally bring-it-back-to-the-streets raw, trying to set it in a kind of real reality €” no stages, no sets, shooting it all in inner cities across America, creating a very real feeling. My pitch was Death Wish or The French Connection meets Batman. In Year One, Gordon was kind of like Serpico, and Batman was kind of like Travis Bickle,€ Aronofsky: €œOur take was to infuse the movie franchise with a dose of reality,€ €œWe tried to ask that eternal question: €˜What does it take for a real man to put on tights and fight crime?€™The book goes on to say that Warner Brothers commissioned a screenplay, in which Aronofsky and Miller took a great many liberties with the Batman mythology that was completely reworked. For a start: €œYoung Bruce Wayne is found in the street after his parents€™ murder, and taken in by €˜Big Al€™, who runs an auto repair shop with his son, €˜Little Al€™. Driven by a desire for vengeance towards a manifest destiny of which he is only dimly aware, young Bruce (of deliberately indeterminate age) toils day and night in the shop, watching the comings and goings of hookers, johns, pimps and corrupt cops at a sleazy East End cathouse across the street, while chain-smoking detective James Gordon struggles with the corruption he finds endemic among Gotham City police officers of all ranks€ €œBruce€™s first act as a vigilante is to confront a dirty cop named Campbell as he accosts €˜Mistress Selina€™ in the cathouse, but Campbell ends up dead and Bruce narrowly escapes being blamed. Realizing that he needs to operate with more methodology, he initially dons a cape and hockey mask. However, Bruce soon evolves a more stylised €˜costume€™ with both form and function, acquires a variety of makeshift gadgets and weapons, and re-configures a black Lincoln Continental into a makeshift €˜Bat-mobile€™ €” complete with blacked-out windows, night vision driving goggles, armoured bumpers and a super-charged school bus engine. In his new guise as €˜The Bat-Man€™, Bruce Wayne wages war on criminals from street level to the highest echelons, working his way up the food chain to Police Commissioner Loeb and Mayor Noone, even as the executors of the Wayne estate search for their missing heir. In the end, Bruce accepts his dual destiny as heir to the Wayne fortune and the city€™s saviour, and Gordon comes to accept that, while he may not agree with The Bat-Man€™s methods, he cannot argue with his results.

Aronofsky: €œIn the comic book, the reinvention of Gordon was inspired, because for the first time he wasn€™t a wimp, he was a bad-ass guy. Gordon€™s opening scene for us was sitting on a toilet with the gun barrel in his mouth and six bullets in his hand, thinking about blowing his head off €” and that to me is the character.€The Batman: Year One comic and the script would also share many similarities; €œBruce Wayne€™s nihilistic narration, a heroic Gordon saving a baby during a hostage crisis, Selina as proto-Catwoman, the beating Gordon receives from fellow cops as a warning to give up his war on corruption, his suspicion that Harvey Dent is The Bat-Man, and the climactic battle in the tenement building. But it acts as a jumping-off point for a much grander narrative. Although the script removes the subplot of Gordon€™s adultery, it goes further towards blurring the boundaries between accepted notions of good and evil: Gordon decries The Bat-Man€™s vigilantism as the work of a terrorist whose actions put him outside the law, not above it, unaware that it was as much his own televised declaration of war on crime and corruption which inspired Bruce to vigilantism as the senseless and random murder of Bruce€™s parents.€ With the idea of sequels in mind, the book also goes onto to recount the future for this Batman world Aronofsky and Miller were attempting to create; €œThe script contains numerous references for Bat-fans, including a brief scene with a giggling green-haired inmate of Arkham Asylum, and goes a long way towards setting up a sequel, as Selina/Catwoman discovers the true identity of The Bat-Man€.

Unsurprisingly, Warners got cold feet but it certainly shows the studio's willingness to try new ideas with their big franchises; Aronofsky: €œI think Warners always knew it would never be something they could make. I think rightfully so, because four year-olds buy Batman stuff, so if you release a film like that, every four year-old€™s going to be screaming at their mother to take them to see it, so they really need a PG property. But there was a hope at one point that, in the same way that DC Comics puts out different types of Batman titles for different ages, there might be a way of doing at different levels. So I was pitching to make an R-rated adult fan-based Batman €” a hardcore version that we€™d do for not that much money. You wouldn€™t get any breaks from anyone because it€™s Warner Bros and it€™s Batman, but you could do it for a smart price, raw and edgy, and make it more for fans and adults. Maybe shoot it on Super-16 , and maybe release it after you release the PG one, and say €˜That€™s for kids, and this one€™s for adults.€™€ Nevertheless, he adds, €œWarner Bros was very brave in allowing us to develop it, and Frank and I were both really happy with the script.€ So there we have it, a seemingly unafraid approach to a Batman relaunch that never was. I personally think it sounds a little too extreme for its own good but there€™s a real sense that Warners had the right attitude about Batman after using him as a toy seller with Batman Forever and Batman Returns and you can certainly see how the franchise arrived at Batman Begins a few years later. You can order David Hughes' book now!
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