Terry Gilliam's Batman Tribute

terry-gilliam.jpgThe week of The Dark Knight's release back in July, director Terry Gilliam made headlines for blasting Warner Bros over using Heath Ledger's death to market the new Batman film. Many fans thought Gilliam was crazy for his baseless accusation (I can't recall a single ad or promotional material highlighting or even mentioning Ledger's death... The marketing's focus on Joker had always been the plan, because, well, he's the f-cking Joker), some fired back at Gilliam for calling attention to his own Heath Ledger movie. But anyway, the point is, most blogs and news sites used the headline "Gilliam Hates Batman." Why? Because it's catchy. But does Terry Gilliam hates Batman?

Of course not, and I have proof.

The evidence I have is admittedly old, but still pretty cool to see. This is a page from Detective Comics #598, published on March 1989. It's the first part of the 3-part story "Blind Justice" written by screenwriter Sam Hamm, who wrote Tim Burton's Batman. The issue features a special 16-page "tribute" section where various renowned people write/draw to express their love for Batman as a character. This includes people like Harlan Ellison and The Brave Little Toaster author Thomas M. Disch, but Terry Gilliam is the only filmmaker in the bunch. [Scan credit: Scans Daily]gilliam-batman.jpg

I like how the anecdote of his love for Batman is very much a director's way of thinking. You can tell that he already had a visualization of that signal in the night sky. I keep thinking how much I would have loved to see his take, probably something of a cross between Nolan and Burton's approach. Less goofy than Burton, but more theatrical than Nolan. I'd imagine that his Gotham City would have resembled the metropolitan lunacy he invented in Brazil.

A little bit of history: if you're wondering how DC got their hands on Terry Gilliam to write this short blurb for a back-up feature in a random Batman issue, the most likely answer is because they were in a working relationship at the time. Not for Batman, but for the Watchmen movie. Gilliam was the first director signed to helm the project, after Joel Silver commissioned Sam Hamm to pen the screenplay adaptation. Gilliam disliked Hamm's script (I own a copy and yes, it's one of the worst comic book adaptations I've ever read, dumbing down Alan Moore's story SIGNIFICANTLY), so he hired his Brazil co-writer Charles McKeown—they had just completed The Adventures of Baron Munchausen at the time—to write a new draft. After a few budget problems, Gilliam eventually came to the conclusion that Watchmen is unfilmable and dropped out.

“The problem with Watchmen is that it requires about five hours to tell the story properly, and by reducing it to a two or two-and-a-half hour film, it seemed to me to take away the essence of what Watchmen is about,” he once said. “I was happy when I didn’t get the money to make it because I would have been embarrassed if we’d done it.”

You know, out of all the directors that came and went on Watchmen, Gilliam's the one I could tolerate the most. Paul Greengrass' would have been interesting, but he probably would've focused it solely on the Cold War politics and shortchanged the old comic book nostalgia that's very essential to the characters. Gilliam seems like the kind of artist who's wise enough to know what would work for the film... but I guess he was so wise, he knew that the correct approach to adapting Watchmen for film is to not do it at all.

Nudge, nudge, Snyder.

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.


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