Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fan Film Theatre - Feature Presentations: "Batman: Dark Descent" (Eric Smigiel, 2006)


Written and Directed by Eric Smigiel
Based on the DC Comic Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Executive Produced by Ryan Sciarrotta
Produced by Eric Smigiel
Cinematography by Eric Smigiel, Ryan Sciarrotta, Jesse Bravo, Tori Sullivan, Troy Jones, Brandi Reynolds, Marcos Doyon, Adam Yancey and Ruben Gaboldone
Edited by Eric Smigiel
Graphic Design by Stephen Garbesi and Bobby T.
Visual Effects by Andrew Mitchell
Music by Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Shirley Walker, Danny Elfman, Brad Fiedel, Ehab Tawfik and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Ryan Sciarrotta ... Bruce Wayne/Batman
Adam Yancey ... Police Commissioner James Gordon
Matt Livingston ... Harvey Dent/Two-Face
Eric Smigiel ... The Joker
Isaac Montoya ... Alfred Pennyworth
Tori Sullivan ... Rachel Dawes
Marcos Doyon ... Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow
Tom Verkin ... Richard Lee Dent
Mark Kruse ... GNN Cameraman
Dominic Williams ... Lucius Fox/Commissioner Gillian Loeb
Troy Jones ... Edward Nygma
Diana Delgado ... Veronica Vreeland
Kylie Upton ... Woman At Party
Adam Clark ... Police Officer
Sam Hobbs ... Man Running Across Street
Noel Blair ... Woman Running Across Street
Vicki Lewis ... Party Guest #1
Aleita Kiwanuka ... Part Guest #2
Rosie Aguirre ... Party Guest #3
Emily Warn ... Party Guest #4
Brandi Reynolds ... Party Guest #5
John Barnett ... Party Guest #6
Matt Dyer ... Party Guest #7
Amanda Gozur ... Party Guest #8
Adam Clark ... Party Guest #9
Adelle Lees ... Party Guest #10
Justin Bridges ... Party Guest #11
Junior Oyeyemi ... Party Guest #12
Rachel Maestas ... Party Guest #13
Krystal Jessen ... Party Guest #14
Tim Coggins ... Party Guest #15
Christie Johnson ... Party Guest #16

Following the events of “Batman Begins,” Batman and newly appointed Commissioner James Gordon decide to enlist Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent in their struggle against the escalating brutality of Gotham’s mysterious ‘Joker Card Killer.’


With the incredible success and popularity that followed the release of 2005’s “Batman Begins,” several ambitious fans took it upon themselves to imagine the continuation of the story in self-created fan film sequels. The passion of such a gesture obviously reflects on how much of an impact “Begins” made on people, to the point of making them so impatient that they couldn’t stand by and simply wait on Warner Brothers to satisfy their hunger.

Chief among those attempts, in my own opinion, would be 2006's “Batman: Dark Descent,” written and directed by New Mexico native and dear friend Eric Smigiel.

In the time since its release, Smigiel has grown into his own as a writer and a filmmaker, improving with every project. However, there are still elements to be found here and points of interest to discuss.

Initially conceived in the vein of “The Matrix: Reloaded” and “The Matrix: Revolutions,” the film was originally split in two in an attempt to act as the second and third installments of a fan-imposed ‘trilogy.’ This really strikes me; the fact that while Christopher Nolan has worked to craft the official trilogy, a fan could be so enthralled and dedicated that he wanted to create an UNofficial trilogy.

What other character could afford such a thing except for Batman?

The story is very straight forward given the hindsight of “The Dark Knight” release.

Following his success over Ra's Al Ghul, Batman continues to enact his war on crime by rectifying prior mistakes, starting with the re-apprehension of Jonothan Crane aka the Scarecrow.

Even for being unofficial, the story depicted here hits a lot of the same points that “The Dark Knight” would come to. To me, it’s the result of a combination of coincidence and logic.

For example, it’s logical that Harvey Dent would be brought into the narrative and, with the ending of “Begins,” the Joker for that matter. It’s logical that the story would be established more so in Gotham City and it would handle the criminal element, as depicted with Batman, Gordon and Dent’s proposed assault on the Joker...while “The Dark Knight” focuses their trio of efforts on the mob.

As far as serendipity is concerned, I think it most obviously lies in the fact that Smigiel trusted instinct enough to make the Joker be the one responsible for Dent’s transformation into Two-Face. At the time, prior to the release of “The Dark Knight,” Eric could’ve easily just done the original comic book origin with Sal ‘The Boss’ Maroni hurling acid in Harvey’s face. But instead he chose to bring interconnectivity to the piece by placing blame on the Joker, just as Nolan’s sequel would come to do.

It’s clear that we’re not dealing with an experienced cast here, however suspension of disbelief goes to some sort of length to forgive it.

The clearest stand out by far is Eric Smigiel himself with his portrayal of the Joker. I suspect that given his heading of the project and passion for the material, he was the only one that felt entirely comfortable going for broke whereas others might have been more timid. After all, asking high school kids to partake in an endeavor like this can be a tall order if they aren’t comfortable with the idea of dressing up in a Batsuit or having make-up on the side of their face while running around the suburbs at night.

Eric’s Joker has the breadth, the voice, the attitude and it shows. A lot of his mannerisms felt natural and in sync with the character he was trying to create. I especially loved the bit at the end where he frantically searches for a Joker card even as a bomb ticks down; there’s a moment where Batman offers to save him and, in his overwhelming and frustrating insanity, the Joker simply laughs and bangs his head against the ground, suggesting that trying to reason with him is a hopeless cause.

Eric found clear homage the most in Mark Hamill’s portrayal, specifically in “Mask of the Phantasm,” often recycling some of the dialogue from that film as well as vocal influence.

Ryan Sciarrotta has presence as Batman, but it’s meager at best. The costume, unfortunately, seems to be wearing the man more than the reverse. Anyone could’ve played this Batman given the material that the character has to work with (focus, as with the majority of official Batman films, is placed once more on the villains here rather than the title character).

One thing Ryan does have is the physicality of the character; the scene in which Batman maneuvers across rooftops in his pursuit of Two-Face is exceptionally thrilling as he fights to catch up. There’s a moment here where Batman even hesitates in his path, choosing to double step and fly off of another edge of a building, as if he’s trying to stage his entrance to have as much effect as possible.

Now truth be told, we’re talking about a fan piece; one crafted by a handful of kids in high school eager to take a stab at filmmaking.

The writing is crude, the performances are certainly rough, production design is non-existent and the use of previously scored Batman music is uninspired (though I’m not one to talk given my own attempt at fan filmmaking). One thing I WILL credit the music for is the use of Danny Elfman’s work on “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” for the Joker. That fits VERY well.

There are several things that occur that are rather tedious, such as Two-Face’s fight with Batman. Here we’ve got a moderate hand to hand combatant (if that) besting a man trained in this continuity by the League of Shadows, which seems highly unlikely.

Adam Yancey’s take on Jim Gordon is also a throw away character, reverting him nearly back to Pat Hingle benevolence. This doesn’t feel like the Gordon that drove the Tumbler and played a vital role in saving Gotham City. Now he’s been reduced to meeting Batman on rooftops with information, even to the point of being verbally scared off by the Joker, which Gary Oldman’s interpretation of the character would never have been.


The character with the biggest arc, like “The Dark Knight,” is Harvey Dent. However, there’s nothing at stake with his fall from grace as there was in the Nolan film; even the personal attachment between him and Bruce is a bit vague.

But in spite of all that, what makes “Dark Descent” stick out for me is its heart, which it wears on its sleeve. The intention and passion exudes in what craftsmanship exists and if nothing else, it remains a decent and wholehearted preview to the filmmaker Smigiel has become since and will become in the future.

His camera work here, given the circumstances and limitations, is inventive and he has a great sense of pace both in his sequence composition and editing. Clearly Eric has an interest and passion for movies; for example, I love the fact that when it gets down to it, within the terms of its own story, it’s really a battle between Joker and Two-Face with Batman acting as a moderator trying to council both of them. That felt like a very cinematic idea, at least where I was concerned.

As a fan himself, Smigiel also makes a few nods to the character and, more specifically, to how a fan would handle a film involving their favorite character. The biggest is the fact that we, as fans, love the idea of tipping the hat to the future and this film demonstrates that with a nod to the Flying Graysons. Nolan hasn’t done anything of the sort and he has his reasons, but Smigiel knows his audience and the things they’d look for because he’s a participant himself.

All in all, “Batman: Dark Descent” is really just a fun insight into the origins of a talented filmmaker working hard to improve upon his own skills.




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