DC and Warner Bros. Animation’s highly anticipated conclusion to the two-part adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns will be available on Blu-ray and DVD at the end of the month. I caught up with veteran animation producer Bruce Timm and Voice Casting Director Andrea Romano at New York Comic Con last fall where they talked about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and taking from page to screen the iconic 1986 graphic novel that forever re-defined Batman.
Timm, the Executive Producer on the project whose history with Gotham’s Dark Knight goes back to 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series, revealed how long he had been looking forward to bringing this particular story to life.
“Right out of the gate when we first started doing these direct-to-video movies,” he told me shortly before taking the stage at a NYCC screening and Q&A panel.
“We did the first one, Superman: Doomsday [in 1997] and we were throwing out ideas about which comics we could adapt. The Dark Knight Returns was at the top my list back then. I don’t remember exactly why we didn’t do it back then. I know there were some hesitation on somebody’s part and then,” he said.
“About three or four years ago when Christopher Nolan was between his second and third Batman movies, I brought the idea up again. At that point DC was saying ‘Well we don’t know because we think Christopher Nolan might be using some of The Dark Knight Returns material in The Dark Knight Rises, so we need to kind of stay away from that.’ Then some time passed and they got a little more concrete idea about what he was planning for The Dark Knight Rises. They said ‘It’s different enough, so go ahead and do it.’ At that point we jumped on it.”
Of course one of the aspects in translating a work from one medium to another is deciding which aspects are included, and which ones need to be left behind. Timm was happy to admit that particular task was for the most part out of his hands.
“Fortunately I left that pretty much up to the writer Bob Goodman, who so many people have worked with over so many years. He took his first pass of breaking down the comic into an outline of two movies. So we went through his outline and went ‘That, that, that. Oh yeah he’s got it all there.’
“He basically kind of hit the high points. There were maybe little things here and there that we went back and said ‘You have to put this one bit from the comic in.’ Maybe a line of dialogue here and there, but for the most part I think his first pass was pretty dead on and we kind of just went from there,” he recalled.
Peter Weller, best know for his portrayal of RoboCop, is the latest actor to lend his voice to Batman. Casting Director Andrea Romano told me what he brought to this aged, long retired version of the Caped Crusader.
“He has the perfect voice for it,” she said. “He’s a wonderful actor and it was kind of a no-brainer. Is he available? Does he want to do it? I didn’t even know what a comic book fan he is. So it worked out beautifully. We really lucked into getting him. As I listened to his performance, he sounds as the character looks. It has all those little layers of history of a man who has lived a long life and has seen good and bad. It all comes through just in his voice. Then you add his performance on top of that and you get really something special.”
Timm had this to add regarding Weller’s casting. “The very first time I saw Peter Weller as RoboCop in the theater, there was one shot at him when he’s got the mask on and does this weird turn thing and I said ‘Wow, he looks like Batman.’ So even back in the day I was equating Peter Weller with Batman, so it’s kinda neat to bring it all to fruition here.”
Lost and Person of Interest star Michael Emerson brings life to the Joker, who appears in Part 2.
“He’s terrific. Very different from Mark Hamill or any other Joker you’ve heard before,” Timm assures us.
Romano admitted she had been determined to find something special for Emerson for years. “I met Michael Emerson at Comic Con in San Diego many years ago after Lost had been out. I thought I must find something for this man. He was so pleasant to meet and chat with, so open and available as far as being a person. I will find something.”
“It’s not the typical voice for the Joker. You wouldn’t really think of him as far as the timber of his voice. He’s such a great actor, he did such a beautiful job. After I worked with him I saw him a couple of months later and I said ‘Well how was the experience for you?’ And he said it was the hardest work he’d ever done. Which I found fascinating because it was something he just wasn’t familiar with, but he does a beautiful job. You have to wait until Part 2 to see that but it’s a remarkable performance I think.”
I had to ask both of them when it comes to the decision of casting actors other than Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker. For a growing number of fans, they have provided the definitive voices for the characters over the past two decades.
“My first questions whenever I’m getting a project like this is: Can I use Kevin Conroy? Can I use Mark Hamill?’ Romano told me.
“And the powers that be, the people who sign my checks, tell me whether I can or not. I always petition for them. I do believe Kevin Conroy would have given a beautiful performance in this role, as would Mark Hamill. But they just wanted something different. It’s a different look, it’s a different project. We wanted new voices,” she said.
“Any time we cast anybody other than Kevin or Mark we get crap for it,” Timm laughed. “So I’m just used to it.”
Romano also revealed which actor has so far unfortunately eluded her casting call. “I’ve been trying for years to hire Jon Hamm. It’s not because I don’t think he doesn’t want to do it. I think it’s just that his availability is just so dreadful. He’s such a lovely actor. He can do comedy, he can do drama and everything in between. So that hasn’t worked out yet, but I’m not done with my career so I’m still trying to get him,” she promised.
“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 picks up where the first left off with Batman having returned to Gotham with an all new Robin, however not everyone is welcoming him back to the streets. Gotham City’s police are on a manhunt for the Batman as is the newly released Joker. As Batman attempts to stop the Joker one last time, the United States government teams up with Superman to bring the Dark Knight down for good.”
In addition to Weller and Emerson, The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 features Mark Valley (Human Target, Fringe) as Superman, David Selby (The Social Network, Dark Shadows) as Commissioner Gordon, Ariel Winter (Modern Family) as Carrie/Robin and Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap) as Dr. Bartholomew Wolper.
It arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on January 29, 2013.