In honor of today’s release of Christopher Nolan’s already-divisive Interstellar, here’s a look back at 18 outrageous facts about Batman Begins. It wasn’t the first film Christopher Nolan made, but for many it was the first Christopher Nolan film they saw. He came along, wanted to make something along the lines of 007: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service just with Batman instead of James Bond, and got his wish, an art-house director given $180 million to make an art-house superhero film parading as a big budget blockbuster. It was an insane risk on Warner Bros. part, one which didn’t really pay off until The Dark Knight three years later, and it became the new template for blockbuster filmmaking, directly inspiringmthe gritty, realistic franchise reboots of James Bond, Freddy Krueger, and Superman. It’s also among the better Batman films ever realized.
[All of the quotes come from a variety of sources, but they were all quoted in the book Billion Dollar Batman]
Yes, Christopher Nolan was a Batman fan before he got the job to make Batman Begins. However, he wasn’t obsessive about it, ala Zack Snyder with Watchmen, nor was he someone who had ever dabbled with actually writing comic books, ala The Avengers’ Joss Whedon. His fandom was tied to the Adam West TV show and Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams Batman comics of his youth, and the seminal Frank Miller graphic novels he read in his teens:
Adam West –
First and foremost, I know Batman from the TV show from when I was four or five years old. At that age, you don’t realize how tongue-in-cheek and camp it all is. You take it seriously-and I loved the character. It says quite a lot about the elemental nature of the character that it can reach you through different interptations, like the TV show even though it was so kitsch and silly in a way. There’s still something about that character, something about who he is and what he does, that comes through. It’s part of everybody’s upbringing-I was watching it 10 years after it had gone off the air.
Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams –
“They were clearly influenced by the Roger Moore James Bond films of the time. It was really that period which excited me because there was a tone of heightened reality.”
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One –
“It was like the way you felt about the character when you were five years old. Frank Miller was doing it for grown-ups, really. That was quite exciting; it put you back into that childlike appreciation of the magic of the character.”
2. Christopher Nolan freely sought out someone who knew more about Batman to help him write the script
Nolan: “I’d gone to the studio and said what I wanted to do with the film and the basic idea of the story, which was drawn from what I knew of the origin stories from the comics-and I was certainly no expert. So I had the basic idea of dealing with the origin story and the 7 years Bruce goes around the world. I was looking for a writer to do a first draft, who was very knowledgeable about comics, more than I was. I felt that the first draft needed to set us on the right track, in terms of the myth of Batman, the mythic quality and the iconography, and with all of the things we needed in there.”
That person turned out to be David S. Goyer, a former DC Comics staff writer who had since made a name for writing New Line Cinema’s Blade films, adapted the vampire hunter character from Marvel Comics. Goyer was actually suggested to Nolan by Warner Bros.
3. It was David S. Goyer’s idea to use Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow as the villains
Goyer: ”I just happen to think Ra’s Al Guhl is unique as a Batman villain because his goals, you know, although they are certainly perverted somewhat, he’s more realistic as a character. And the Scarecrow is unique because it allowed the opportunity, I think, to depict a villain that was truly scary and frightening. And because Chris and I wanted to tell a story about fear and overcoming your fear, it just seemed like a no-brainer.”
Goyer had an idea about somehow connecting one of the villains to the origin story, and he was adamant that whichever villains they picked be ones which hadn’t already been depicted in the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films. He chose Ra’s and Scarecrow. Nolan was completely unfamiliar with Ra’s, but quickly read up on him in the comics, liking what he saw since it reminded him of a 1970s Bond Villain, specifically Hugo Drax from Moonraker. Pretty much everything with Nolan comes back to James Bond.
4. The story was pulled from “The Man Who Falls,” Batman: Year One, a variety of other sources, and sometimes just completely made up on their own
Nolan: “There is no definitive account in the comics of the origin story. What you get are these flashbacks and glimpses. Over the period of history of the comics there have been quite interesting things that have arisen. The studio sent me a Batman story early on called ‘The Man Who Falls.’ It’s a DC Comics story from the 1970s. It’s not even a whole comic. I think it appeared in an anthology. It was a very good jumping-off point. It suggested the idea of traveling around the world, meeting criminals and flirting with the criminal life and learning about them that way. Then, in the forest, he goes to a martial arts teacher. It had a great feel to it. It’s very short, only a few pages. That was very important. So there are these kinds of influences. Then, looking at the middle of Batman Begins, it draws a lot from Batman: Year One, with Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. But then, with all of the stuff in between, what we would call “mileposts,” we were free to figure out what we wanted to do.”
Of course, it turns out Nolan’s wrong. There had actually been an effort to account for Bruce Wayne’s years spent traveling the world before becoming Batman. It was in “Blind Justice,” a three-issue storyline penned by Sam Hamm, one of the co-writers of Tim Burton’s Batman. In the story, Bruce is shown training with a martial arts master throughout Asia before apprenticing under detective Henri Ducard in Paris.
5. Howard Hughes and Teddy Roosevelt were the templates they used for Bruce WayneNolan penned a script for a potential Howard Hughes biopic, but that was shelved once he got the Batman Begins gig. Of course, it was shelved permanently when Martin Scorsese’s Hughes biopic The Aviator arrived in late 2004. Portions of Nolan’s script would later inspire The Dark Knight Rises, but they also influenced Batman Begins:
Nolan: “The thing about Howard Hughes as a young man that Bruce Wayne recalls is that Hughes was orphaned as a young man and given the keys to the kingdom and billions of dollars to play with. Essentially, he was given complete freedom to do whatever he wanted to do, in practical terms. For me, it was fascinating to see where that would lead. It’s something we all think we want, but when you look at a story like Hughes’s or, in fictional terms, Bruce Wayne’s, you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.”
Teddy Roosevelt also served as a template because like Bruce Wayne he came from a wealthy, urban family active in philanthropy, had a strong father he admired, suffered tragic loss, went into a period of self-exile, and was ultimately inspired by grief to do good.
6. David S. Goyer wrote the first draft in 7 weeks
Nolan: “[David and I] met for a couple of months and talked through the story and he came up with a story outline based on us thrashing around ideas and me saying what I wanted in the film. Then, he-within 7 to 8 weeks-provided a first draft, gave that to me and then had to go off and do his thing. So I took it from that point and did another 8 drafts.”
Goyer originally didn’t think there’d be any way he could work on Batman Begins. How could there be? He was too busy prepping Blade: Trinity, his directorial debut. However, Nolan convinced him to at least join long enough to produce the first screenplay, and then promised to pick up the phone whenever Nolan called with questions.
7. The original title was Batman Begininning
Goyer: “We were talking about how it would be promoted initially and we didn’t want to have the same title as any previous films. I came up with Batman Beginning. And then Chris just said, ‘Let’s just say Begins because then when it’s announced you can say I’m blah blah blah from Batman Begins.’ I was like, ’Genius.’ So from that point on, it was always that.”
8. Christian Bale was the first actor Nolan talked to, but he had to screen test against Joshua Jackson, Henry Cavill, and Cillian Murphy, among others
Nolan: “Other actors we would look at it, it would be a question of different interpretations. That is the very interesting thing about casting. It takes the character in a very different way if you cast it in a particular way. With Bruce Wayne, there are a lot of different ways he could’ve been played. But to me Christian was the way were writing the character.”
Christian Bale had wanted to play Batman for years. He was actually attached to both Darren Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One and Batman Vs. Superman. He was less interested in playing Batman in a big-budget summer blockbuster, though, which is exactly what Batman Begins was turning into. He only remained interested in the part because of his respect for Christopher Nolan. So, they took a meeting even though Nolan and Goyer had barely started writing the script. At that point, Bale had lost 60 pounds in preparation for his role as a delusional insomniac in The Machinist. His spine was actually visible through his shirt during the meeting. Producer Emma Thomas couldn’t quite see this emaciated man as Batman whereas Nolan concluded, “I came away from it feeling I’d never seen such focus and dedication from an actor.” It was then an uphill battle for Nolan to convince the studio that Bale was the right guy for the job, but from that point forward he was always Nolan’s first choice. Bale ultimately had to do a screen test, one of 8 actors to test for the part (Joshua Jackson, Eion Bailey, Hugh Dancy, Billy Crudup, Cillian Murphy, Henry Cavill and Jake Gyllenhaal). .
9. Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman was their template for casting
Nolan: “[Donner] He had Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty and so many other great actors in supporting roles. We cast our film in a similar fashion, with an ensemble of wonderful actors who bring a depth and complexity to the characters that make Bruce Wayne’s world all the more real.”
10. Rachel Dawes is one of the film’s only characters not based in the comicsNolan said Rachel, who is supposed to be the daughter of the Wayne mansion housekeeper just in case you never caught that part, was created to “represent the life Bruce Wane might have if he weren’t tied into his destiny of having to create a very dark alter ego through which he helps people.” Producer Emma Thomas further reasoned, “Rachel reminds Bruce of his father’s legacy, his duty to carry on his family’s philanthropic tradition, and she encourages him to do something meaningful in his life.”
11. Daily Variety accidentally and briefly ruined the film’s big twistWhen Liam Neeson’s addition to the cast was first announced in February 2004, Daily Variety reported he’d been cast to play Ra’s al Guhl. WTF! We’re not supposed to know that until the film’s third act! The very next day, Variety ran a correction clarifying that Neeson was playing “Ducard, mentor to Bruce Wayne.” Ken Watanabe was announced as Ra’s al Guhl five days later. Could you imagine the PR nightmare this snafu would have caused in today’s spoiler-obsessed internet?
12. Gary Oldman preferred constant jet lag to spending long periods of time away from his familyOldman has joked that the secret to his portray of Gordon’s world-weariness in the film is that he simply played the jetlag he was really feeling. He didn’t want to spend long periods away from his family while making the film. So, he made round-trip flights from his L.A. home to London and Chicago, wherever they needed him. As he explained, “I did 24-hour flights. I would fly in, go to the set-one day I flew in, I got out of a car and walked into a building, and I went then back, and I came back to L.A.”
13. Christian Bale showed up to set better prepared to play Wolverine than Batman
Bale: “I finished The Machinist in July, and we had to start shooting this film at the end of February. So, yes, I had a considerable amount of work to do. This part demands that you be in decent shape, and I also needed to be ready for being in that suit for 12 hours a day. I was eating like crazy, trying to put on the pounds and pounds, and I actually went way overboard. By the time I arrived in England, Chris stared at me in shock and said, ‘My god, you look like some kind of grizzly bear!’ because I arrived with long hair and a beard. I had put on exactly 100 pounds from the day of finishing The Machinist to arriving in England in January, and that wasn’t a healthy way to go. I could lift a lot of weights, but if you had asked me to run across the room, I would have been exhausted. So when I got here, I started running and doing stuff like that, and I brought my weight back down again.”
14. Remember that sword fight on the ice? Yeah, that ice was completely melted 24 hours later
Bale: “We’d start hitting each other and smashing into the ice and then suddenly hear a big crack! Right through the middle of the lake. We’d all stand perfectly still and look around. Then the safety guys would shout, ‘Okay, get off. Get off!’ Thankfully, we got the whole thing in that one day because by the next there was no ice whatsoever. It had melted into the lake again.”
That fight/training session between Wayne and Ducard was the first thing they filmed, on location at the Vatnojokull Glacier in the South East of Iceland. The film’s safety crew only allowed 6 people on the ice at a time, including Bale and Neeson, but even then it was kind of insane.
15. The stage the used for the Batcave just also happened to randomly be the same stage where Michael Caine acted in his first filmThe batcave set was constructed on stages at Shepperton Studios in London, but they had no idea that nearly 50 years earlier Michael Caine filmed his first movie on that very same sound stage. It was called A Hill in Korea (1956), and as Caine put it, “I had eight lines in that picture, and I screwed up six of them. It was on this stage that I said my very first line in a movie!”
16. The Batbark was actually something Christian Bale put a lot of thought into
Bale: “I saw it as a way for him to channel the clarity of his mind that he must have had as a young boy when he first declared that he would get revenge. It’s difficult to maintain that throughout your life. Things become memories, and it takes a great deal of energy to maintain that sharpness of emotion. So, I figured everything about Batman should be different-the look, the voice-so Bruce is able to have his own life. If he was just Bruce Wayne in a batsuit, that would be ridiculous. You have to really go for it in every way, and for me that involved taking on a slightly beast-like voice.”
It also didn’t hurt that whenever he was in the batsuit Bale felt like a wild animal ready to pounce. Still to this day there are those who simply cannot get past Christian Bale’s batbark when evaluating his work as Batman. It’s actually ruined the Dark Knight trilogy for some people, but haven’t we moved past it at this point?
17. The Batmobile caused one Chicago driver to believe an alien invasion had begun
Bale: “And you see that thing just going down the street, and everybody’s stopping and looking. There was even this guy who crashed into it. This poor drunken guy who didn’t have a license, who said he got so panicked when he saw the car, he thought aliens were landing. And he put the petal to the metal and sideswiped the Batmobile!”
Chicago was very accommodating when Batman Begins came calling for some location shooting. Entire city blocks were shut down, helicopters were brought in, etc. However, in-between filming the most efficient way to transport the Batmobile was sometimes to simply drive it from location to location using actually city roads with live traffic. As Bale explained, one time that caused a drunk man to completely freak out.
18. There are only 557 special effects shots in the entire film
The majority of the special effects works was simply having to go in and clean stuff up, like removing visible wires from the rigs of flying stuntmen. According to director of photography Wally Pfister, “We didn’t do any green screen work at all [to depict Batman flying through the skies of Gotham]. The flying was done using real wires and real cameras.” So many of the other tricky shots were realized using scale miniatures. Cut to today, and among current blockbusters Godzilla represents the low end with 997 special effects shots and Avengers: Age of Ultron the high end with over 3,000.
Sources: Billion Dollar Batman