If there’s one area (and actually I think there are several, but that’s rather beside the point and I promised to remain focused like a laser beam on each individual subtopic in this “Batman reboot” series of posts) where I think Tim Burton’s Bat-flicks had it all all over Christopher Nolan’s it’s in their depiction of Gotham City. Not only did Burton’s Gotham have a fantastic Metropolis-gone-gothic look thanks to the late Anton Furst, but it felt like an intrinsically different sort of place than a real city, a place where you could sort of actually believe guys might run around in bat costumes and Joker facepaint , while Nolan’s Gotham was just, essentially, New York only a little grimier (even if his first two films were shot in Chicago).
I understand the reasoning behind making Gotham less fantastic, of course, and those reasons do make sense — Nolan’s Batman was supposed to be a more “realistic” character, to the extent that a billionaire who dresses up like a bat can ever be called “realistic,” and Joel Schumacher’s CGI Gotham was such an over-the-top visual disaster that a back-to-basics approach to Bruce Wayne’s hometown was a predictable enough move to make.
Still, I think something was lost, and that Batman works a bit better with at least some level of the fantastic still involved in its primary geographic setting. To that end, I think there are basically three things any self-respecting Gotham of the potential “soft reboot” of the Bat-franchise we were talking about should have —
1. It should look at least a little bit different than a garden-variety major US city. You needn’t construct anything as elaborate as Furst’s amazing two-city-block long set, but a city that has some fairly spectacular architecture in the form of bridges, tall buildings, etc. that you can focus in on would be a definite plus, especially if they’re all a bit past their prime and have seen better days, since Gotham pretty has to be a grimy place by definition. Some constructed set pieces that could stand in as fictitious local landmarks would be a plus, as well, so to that end it would be helpful if the filming location for future Batman flicks had something of an emptied-out urban core where you could build an Arkham Asylum, or a neat-looking miniature version of Wayne tower, etc. I’m thinking an ideal sort of look would combine elements of New York as depicted in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen combined with a toned-down Gothic feel at least somewhat reminiscent of furst’s Gotham, albeit scaled way the hell back.
2. There should be some ritzy neighborhoods or suburbs where you can find adequate exterior footage for Wayne Manor and its grounds. I don’t think the next Bruce Wayne needs to live in a fucking castle like Bale’s version, but certainly a “stately manor” that exudes old-school wealth and prestige and hearkens back to the city’s more prosperous days before it became Crime Capitol, USA (which Gotham pretty much always is).
3. As alluded to in the first two points, the majority of the city should be run down, and obviously well past its prime — a city in desperate need of a champion.
Finally, for reasons that will be made more clear as I get into the nuts and bolts of the plot outline I have in mind for this whole “soft reboot” thing, I think it would be essential for the city-to-stand-in-for-Gotham to be close to some wooded and even mountainous areas, since while the focus of this flick is most assuredly not going to be on the minutiae of the Batman’s origins per se, I still think some “flashback”-style sequences that show rugged wilderness survival-type training are going to be in order.
I suppose this is all rather just moot speculation since they’ll probably just film the next flick in Vancouver and it’ll look just fine because it pretty much always does no matter what, but just for the sake of fun speculation, I have something else in mind here — a locale that combines everything we’re looking for in terms of a run-down urban core; some truly spectacular architecture of its own; essentially empty areas that might as well hang a sign up saying “will build to suit;” palatial, ultra-wealthy, “old money” suburban areas; and fairly reasonable access to densely-wooded, geographically rugged forest. Batman Begins was filmed in Iceland, the UK, and Chicago, respectively, in order to capture all these various aspects, but you can do all this in exactly one place here in the good ol’ USA, and the state government is eevn actively engaged in rolling out the red carpet to film production in recent years, seeing the economic boom it’s brought to its northerly neighbor in Toronto.
Yes, folks, I think the next principal filming location for Gotham City — the ideal place to set the geographic tone for a re-launched, re-loaded (even if it’s done “softly”) Bat-franchise — should be (drumroll please) : Detroit!
I assure you, friends, I’m not kidding. Given the kind of place I think would work best for this “sot reboot,” as outlined in my (admittedly makeshift) criteria above, I think the much-maligned Motor City would be absolutely ideal, and bringing the production there would have the added bonus of generating great publicity for the film due to the positive economic impact it would have on an area that sure could use it. A multi-million-dollar Hollywood production setting up shop in Detroit? You can bet the city fathers (and mothers) would positively roll out the red carpet for Warner Brothers, and everything you would need is literally right there at your fingertips. Honestly, this idea’s almost too damn good. But maybe you’ve got a better one, in which case, please chime in before I move on to step three, which will concentrate on the overall tone of the film itself (now that we’ve — okay, I’ve — established a great location) tomorrow!