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NYCC 2012: "The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2" Panel Report

The usual enthusiastic crowd turned out for the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 panel at New York Comic Con 2012. The panel was held in the massive IGN Theater to handle the audience, and also to give the clips and trailers screened maximum impact. The panel was hosted by Warner Bros. Animation PR maven Gary Miereanu, who first screened a trailer for Lego Batman the Movie: DC Superheroes Unite, which is coming in Spring 2013. If the trailer is any indication, the movie ought to be a barrel of laughs, falling somewhere between the serious absurdity of Batman: The Brave and the Bold and the flat-out slapstick of Marvel’s Super Hero Squad Show. Clancy Brown seems to be reprising his role as Lex Luthor, although it doesn’t sound like any of the other DC animated universe voice-acting stalwarts will appear. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

At that point, Miereanu brought out the two panel guests: executive producer Bruce Timm and casting/voice director Andrea Romano. Timm opened by saying that when adapting Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as a DTV animated movie, he said he’d only do it if it was in two movies, and both movies were green-lit back-to-back. Thankfully, the home video people agreed with him, which made the job of adapting the graphic novel much easier in a number of ways. Andrea Romano specifically mentioned that it made scheduling the recording sessions easier to do them both together. With a cast of 33 actors filling 130 speaking parts, scheduling the voice records (plus the ADR work after animation is complete for the grunts and groans of the movie’s many fight scenes) was no small task. Romano solved the problem by casting a number of her friends, old hands to the voice acting business such as Rob Paulsen, Dee Bradley Baker, and Maurice LaMarche, all of whom did 2-3 voices for the movie.

Romano and Timm discussed Michael Emerson’s performance as the Joker in the movie, with Romano saying that she was a huge fan of his character in Lost, adding that Emerson told her it was the hardest work he had ever done in acting. It was also the first time that Romano had directed an actor via Skype, allowing Romano in Los Angeles to see Emerson performing in the recording booth. Timm said he really wanted a different Joker that wouldn’t echo the versions done by Mark Hamill, John DiMaggio, Jack Nicholson, or any of the other iconic performances of the character.

Timm detailed the selection of Jay Oliva as the director for the film, describing Oliva as “one of our top storyboard guys for over a decade now,” noting that he teaches storyboarding classes with one alumnus being Lauren Montgomery and has storyboarded a good section of Man of Steel for Zack Snyder. Oliva “elbowed and kicked” everybody else out of the way, and Timm was extremely happy with his work on the film. Romano loved the enthusiasm that Oliva brought to the recording sessions, and felt that it took a lot of guts to try to “plus” a story as iconic as this one.

The audience got treated to a scene where Batman attacks the police force guarding The Dave Endochrine Show, which is hosting a supposedly reformed Joker as a guest. Romano made a point to note how nice it was to work with Maria Canals again as Police Commissioner Ellen Yindel, since they hadn’t worked together since Justice League Unlimited, and how she felt Canals brought a different kind of toughness to Yindel than she did to Hawkgirl. Miereanu also made note of the announcement that Conan O’Brien will play Dave Endochrine, with Romano adding that one momentous scene with the character was done in only one take.

 

Andrea Romano demonstrating crowd scene recording in “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”

Timm also made note of the music by Christopher Drake, saying that the first instruction he gives composers is, “I don’t want it to sound like Danny Elfman and I don’t want it to sound like John Williams.” For this movie, Drake opted for a score greatly inspired by the 1980’s film music in John Carpenter and Dario Argento movies. While there was early concern that synthesizer music in cartoons tended to make them feel cheap, he and Oliva were convinced when Drake played them the music from the scene in part 1 when Bruce Wayne is about to break after seeing The Mask of Zorro on TV. Romano added that Drake even went back to using synthesizers from the 1980’s rather than mimic the sound using modern instruments, and Timm noted that this also allowed them to set up symphonic themes to represent Superman and set up a musical tension between the two characters.

The Superman musical cues led to Romano discussing Mark Valley’s work as the Man of Steel for the second movie. She stated that Valley managed to make the role sympathetic and avoided making the character unlikeable despite some of his questionable actions. He was also game for the hours of ADR work to add the fight scene grunts (including a moment where he gets shocked with an impossible amount of electricity); so game that he showed up for the session a week early. Timm added that Valley would wear a pair of glasses when reading as Clark Kent, saying they helped him get into character.

After screening another clip (showing the famous “Tonight, I am the law” scene from the comic), Romano revealed that the massive crowd scenes were recorded in groups of 5 actors in the booth at a time and then layered in post-production to make a crowd of hundreds. Timm relayed a story from Yuri Lowenthal, who plays the first Son of the Batman and pulled Timm aside before his first recording to reveal a picture of himself from Halloween in 1986 where he’s dressed up as a Son of the Batman.

Miereanu opened up the floor to Q&A:

  • Elements of Grant Morrison’s recent work on Batman will be making its way to the movies eventually.
    There are Boy Scouts in part 2 of the movie, “and not just Superman.”
  • While it was undeniably daunting to adapt the comic to a movie, Timm said that he and the crew didn’t spend a whole lot of time wringing their hands on how the movie would be received, saying “fans are not going to be happy anyways.”
  • In response to a question about the absence of tobacco use in these movies vs. one character in chapter 3 with tattooed swastikas on her exposed breasts and buttocks, Timm said, “There’s weird rules about tobacco usage in cartoons. Somehow, that automatically gets you an R-rating. It turns out swastikas on naked breasts doesn’t automatically get you an R-rating. Make of that what you will.”
  • The decision to remove much of the voice-over narration from the original comic was made because much of it happens during action scenes that wouldn’t fit that much dialogue. Timm cited the “why else would I wear a target on my chest?” scene as one example.
  • The crew hasn’t heard from Frank Miller yet what his reaction is to the movie.
  • Timm felt Bob Goodman’s first draft of the screenplay hit all the major moments from the comic they wanted in the film, and he’s happy that one scene that didn’t make it in was the Batman-inspired shooting at a porn theater.
  • Timm would love to do a Batman Beyond movie, and it comes up occasionally as a possibility, but there are no plans on the slate as yet.
  • It “might be a while” before they will do a two-part movie adapting the Kingdom Come graphic novel. Don’t get your hopes up, kids.
  • A question about the prospect of a Robin movie got an enthusiastic audience response, to which Timm said he wouldn’t disagree, but that it would be hard to convince the home video people to fund it.
  • The idea of doing a movie based on the Bane saga in the Knight’s End/Knightfall comics “comes up every now and then.”
  • Romano discussed the challenge of casting a new Batman, saying she’d be happy to use Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill perpetually and that she always asks if she can bring those actors back for new movies. However, she also added that she’s a freelancer and can turn anything down that she wants, but enjoys taking on a new challenge of casting a new Batman again.

    When Starro the Conqueror asks a question, you better have a good answer.

  • A cosplayer dressed as Starro the Conqueror asked how Romano figured out how they got the quirky slang of the movie, to which she replied that she just let the actors do what they do to figure out how to make language make sense, noting an acting exercise where they have to play a scene in gibberish but still communicate the meaning of the scene.
  • Romano added that she was told not to use any of her earlier actors for this movie, though Maria Canals got an exception because Ellen Yindel is different from Hawkgirl. She also didn’t remember the episode of Batman the Animated Series that borrowed from this story, which is a different reason why she didn’t think of re-casting Michael Ironside for the part.
  • To Bruce Timm, the dominating themes he wanted to bring to the movie were about not getting lost in the darkness, and that the story is ultimately about redemption. He also repeated something mentioned in the bonus features of the Part 1 Blu-ray, where Carrie Kelly/Robin really humanizes Batman and that the story wouldn’t work as well without her in it.

With that, Miereanu closed out the panel with announcements of the upcoming movie titles from DC Animation:

  • The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 will be coming in late January or early February 2013.
  • Mid-2013 brings Superman Unbound, based on the Superman/Braniac Geoff Johns series from 2008-9. Molly Quinn from Castlewill be in the movie.
  • Just after mid-year, Justice League: Flashpoint will be coming, also based on a Geoff Johns story. Miereanu had a sneaky feeling that if attendees to next year’s San Diego Comic-Con might see the premiere there.
  • The Batman Lego movie will also be coming out early next year.

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