Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shepherd492 reviews: Batman Begins (Novelization)

Batman Begins (Dennis O'Neil)

                Batman Begins is the novelization of the hit 2005 film that covers Batman's origins, his time spent training with the League of Assassins, and his early days as a crimefighter. Unlike that film though, this book does absolutely nothing special with any of its aesthetics and it would be a totally forgettable affair if it wasn't for a pair of extra scenes that do give you a bit more insight into the League. This novelization is quite uninspired and therefore a tough sell to most fans, but it doesn't manage to go below the threshold of mediocrity long enough to earn a truly terrible rating.
                This is a pretty straightforward novelization of the movie's events except for a handful of additional sequences. One of the major ones involves Bruce's search for the origins of the League of Shadows after escaping their clutches. He spends time researching them, poring over texts that Alfred has recovered, breaking into libraries, and asking experts in the field to give him some pointers. This, coupled with the other major inclusion, is a good look into the way Ra's Al Ghul and the League are being portrayed in Christopher Nolan's version of the Batman franchise, but this particular entry falls a bit flat. For one, it screws up the pacing pretty badly. We get bogged down in page after page of mind numbing detective work and terribly dull folklore regarding the League's conception, while we should instead be moving through Batman's early adventures. The other problem is that it is poorly constructed and more or less an excuse for tons of exposition: this knowledge doesn't change Bruce's handling of Ra's different in any perceptible way and he doesn't seem to value what he does learn very much. It is basically a 30 page effort to fill the reader in on minor background details only true enthusiasts would care about, and as a result it is extremely easy to see why this would be left on the cutting room floor. There is a nice little reference to Jean Paul Valley that comes as a direct result of this sequence, but otherwise there just isn't much to appreciate.
                The other major revision from the films concerns Ra's himself. For the initial part of the book, there are several scenes told through Ra's journal, where he meditates on Bruce Wayne, the League's plan, and his own history. We learn quite a bit about the character in this way, and there is even a token mention of Talia which would seem to foreshadow her appearance in the most recent movie. This is by far the most enjoyable element that the book brings to the table as it is the only remotely original characterization we are given. Bruce is treated with an totally risk free and boring take on his usual "which part of me is the mask?" routine, plus the totally stock origin sequence any Batman fan knows all too well, and the only other character to get more than two or three point of view sequences, Rachel Dawes, was not a well defined or interesting character even in the original film (although Katie Holmes' take on the character did give it some much need vitality.)
                The writing is of a caliber merely on par with most of the novelizations I've read: good in some areas, bad in a few others, utterly nondescript in most.  The good mostly consists of dialogue:  the majority of the lines are ripped straight from the movie and emoted quite well here, and the few lines that aren't plus the "deleted scenes" manage to capture the characters and tone of the story quite well. There isn't much else positive to draw from, the action scenes are very bland and straightforward, with no attempt to capture anything that makes Batman special, just a play by play telling of whatever happened on the screen. Setting is another major failure as, unlike the film, the wonder and horror of Gotham don't come to life in any meaningful way. The various locales that Bruce visits during his sojourn are virtually indistinguishable and relayed without any of the essence that makes these locations, and Bruce's voyage to them, special. Even the part of the book that should be easiest to build a creepy atmosphere around, the Narrows misted with Scarecrow's hallucinogenic toxin, falls completely flat.
                Batman Begins is the subject of a mediocre novelization with a few interesting elements that major fans of the series may appreciate, but if you don't have a major interest in the League of Shadows or exploring potential deleted scenes, don't bother. There aren't any meaningful character insights to be had, and it never approaches the scope and sheer beauty of Nolan's designs.
Final Score

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