ASHES TO ASHES: A BATMAN SHORT FILM
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
Julien Mokrani, Samuel Bodin
What's it about
In this Sin City flavoured look at Gotham City, three crooks break into Wayne Manor, killing Alfred in their theft of a priceless gem. As they rise through the crime world they are hunted down by a vengeful and demonic Batman, a hunt which climaxes with a bloody showdown between Batman and the Joker. See, one of the crooks was married to Harleen Quinzell, who left him for the Joker (In a most disturbing fashion). The short ends with Harley tormenting a chained up Selena Kyle, prompting yet more screaming from the darker and more hellish Batman.
Is it good movie?
In my opinion, anything that combines Batman and Frank Miller is awesome. Miller redefined Batman starting in 1986, bringing the darkness back to the world of the Dark Knight, with landmark works such as The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. So the idea of combining Gotham City with the distinctive visual style of Miller's Sin City (well, more the movie than than the comic) is just awesome beyond belief. Seriously, I'm surprised it took this long for something to be made like this. Unfortunately, as a lifelong Batman fanatic, and a huge fan of Miller's work, I just didn't like this short film. It was impressive on a visual scale, and in the radical changes it made to well established characters, but mostly for the latter reason I just didn't like it that much, despite the media love fest that has surrounded the short since it premiered in 2009.
Don't get me wrong, it's a good short film. The effects and the visual style are excellently done, and as an example of the effects work these guys are capable of it's top notch. The gorgeous black and white world of a grittier, more noir style Gotham City, tinged with copious amounts of red, really compliments the kind of story they were trying to tell. Most of the acting is good as well, and the short film format fits as well, making it seem like one of Miller's short Sin City comic episodes. However, what bothered me was that unlike most noir stories, this one was convoluted and seemed to never really find a narrative direction. The story jumped all over the place and this, combined with rapid fire French and a massive shitload of subtitles, confused me as I'm sure it did much of its audience. I love French movies, and I'm so into subtitles I have the closed captioning turned on my TV permanently even for English shows, but here it was just too much. The usually sparse noir style of narration was overdone here, because you are trying to keep up with extremely quick subtitles and a lot of narrative confusion crammed into the short running time. It really detracted from the visuals of the film, because you missed any nuance or detail because you were trying to follow the story by reading as fast as you can.
Like I said, some of the acting was good, I just didn't groove to the changes in characterization here. The thieves were okay, Harley was batshit crazy, and the Joker was suitably nuts as well. He was a bit too wordy at times, and a little more gruff and angry than he was crazy. The character that bugged me the most was Batman, portrayed here as a creature of pure rage, a demon who screams constantly and hardly has any dialogue. While I can admire this unique approach, it didn't jive for me, and compromised what was ultimately a very very well made visual film. The writer took a page from Miller and mixed up or outright changed the characters (and killing off Alfred, which is a no-no), like Miller did with All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. But where Miller's work was marred by the portrayal of Batman as an abusive psychopath, this film is brought down by an incomprehensible portrayal of Batman which goes further than just offering a different take on him, to the point that everything that makes Batman great is stripped away.
Oh yeah, and the scene of Harley and the Joker bumping uglies while she bashes her infant's head in, and her husband is restrained to watch with his eyes held open and spikes on his hands so he can blind himself? Yeah...umm, well. Disturbing and jarring, certainly. Does it belong in a Batman story? Nope. Points for being risky and disturbing, though.
Video / Audio
Video: Not entirely sure, but it looks like standard Widescreen at 1.65:1.
Audio: Again, I'm not 100% sure, but it plays through both a 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo setup.
Aside from a well made and cut Trailer, we have a three minute Behind the Scenes look, that shows the creative passion of the creators and fleshes out a bit more what they were aiming for. We also get breakdowns on the makeup and effects for the Penguin in O.C. Cobblepot, and also for the big climax fight in Batman VS. Joker. There's a short (49 seconds) look at the creation of the VFX, which is continued in the two minute VFX Breakdown. Finally there is a Poster and Still Gallery, which shows off some of the exceptional poster work used to promote the film before it's online and festival release.
It was a very well made short film visually, but the story was all over the place and the characterizations were a little too off of the DC Universe norm for my tastes. It might be best to watch it multiple times, so you can absorb the gorgeous visuals, and then in another sitting digest all of the dialogue. It was by no means a terrible movie, it just didn't groove for me the way I thought a Sin City inspired Batman movie should. It's too bad, because there is some film making talent here, for sure, and the actors were all exceptional in what they had to do. It was just that the changes they made to the mythos bugged me, the character of Batman made no sense in how he was portrayed, and the gaps in narrative drive and disconnect between noir visuals and very un-noir narration really took me out of the movie and made me want to watch something else. But the effects were awesome, the fight scene was epic and bloody, and if you want some squirming disturbing with your Dark Knight, then check this out. There's a lot to like (and even love) here, just for me as a Batman fan I wasn't into it. And for a Batman fan film, that must mean something, right?