Bob Goodman On Writing The Two-Part “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” Animated Adaptation

A name familiar to long-time fans of the DC Animated Universe titles, such as Batman Beyond and The Zeta Project, writer Bob Goodman returns to Gotham City as writer behind the two-part Batman: The Dark Knight Returns animated adaptation. The Warehouse 13 writer sat down with The World’s Finest to discuss the animated feature Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One, currently available to own, and it’s pending sequel. Continue below for more.

The World’s Finest: First up, how did you get the gig to write this script? Did your previous experience with the animated Batman perhaps give a little edge?

Bob Goodman: Heh, I’m sure it did. Alan Burnett is in charge of the writing side of the DCAU DTV’s, and we’ve been working together and been friends for many years. My first job in LA was as his and Paul Dini’s assistant, and thanks to their kindness and mentor-ship, I worked my way up the ladder inside the Warner/DC Animation world, and have written for almost every incarnation of Batman they’ve ever done. I even wrote that Batman episode years ago (with Bruce and Paul’s guidance), “Legends of the Dark Knight,” that showed three different versions of Batman — including a segment in the style of The Dark Knight Returns. The feature adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns has been the dream job for me forever — and I think Alan knew it. He called me up one day, and said they had a few possible DTV projects coming up and wanted to check if I was interested in any of them. Then he listed about four possible projects, all casual like, “oh, there’s this one, and that one…” — and The Dark Knight Returns was third on the list — and he kept going. I stopped him, and said, “Are you f***ing with me?” He knew full well I’d move mountains to get to write this project. But that’s Alan. He’s a benevolent puppet-master — he toys with people, but always in the best way [laughs].

WF: When starting the script, it’s safe to assume you reread The Dark Knight Returns correct? How did getting this gig change your approach to the book? Did you see it in a ‘how can I make this work for animation’ way when reviewing the material?

BG: Absolutely. I dove back in and really immersed myself in the books, and tried to get inside Frank’s head. Many elements in the books are symbolic or open to interpretation, and I did my best to figure out what he meant — including talks with Alan and DC about some sections — and then interpret those ideas to the screen. I’ve always loved these books — I’m the right age that they were a big deal for my friends and me when they came out. Between The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, everything changed about comic books in 1986 — what was expected of them, what was seen as possible — and obviously The Dark Knight Returns changed everything about Batman since. But even with all that, delving this deep into the material has only increased my respect for it. It operates on so many different layers, and has so much complexity, so much ambiguity, it really stands up as a classic piece of literature. It really earns the “novel” part of graphic novel. And yes, of course, my job was to adapt this to the screen. As cinematic as the books are, they’re not a movie, and it was my job to make them one (Or two, in this case).

…I think your next question is gonna cover a lot of the specifics.

WF: Can you walk us through your thought-process when it came to making changes between the source material and the animated product? Such the changes in dialogue, or losing the internal dialogue. How do you make the decision on what to drop and keep?

BG: There are hundreds of little changes throughout between the source material and the movie — but the two biggest areas were structure and the internal monologues. Movies are all about the structure, and I had to do a lot of shuffling scenes around, tying ideas together, and even leaving some threads out, in order to make the two movies work as movies. And on top of that there was the challenge of making it two movies, each of which had to stand on its own as a satisfying experience, but with enough unanswered or left hanging at the end of Part One to leave you yearning for more, and enough tying them together to make them still feel like a unified experience. So it was like overlaying one big structure on top of the two individual ones. Then there’s the internal monologues. It was my pitch to Alan and DC that we cut those out entirely (except for when Batman is first re-emerging, and talking to Bruce in the second person). My pitch was that we wanted to make this as energetic and cinematic a movie as we could — and I asked for their trust to let me at least take a shot at externalizing and dramatizing all the ideas that otherwise would be in voiceover. Obviously this means some classic lines aren’t there… but at all times my goal was to honor the intention, the themes, and the ideas in the original books.

I’ve seen two very-frequent responses to the adaptation online, and it’s funny because you’ll see them together and they contradict one another. One is how pleased fans are that we stayed so loyal to the source material. I’m really gratified the end result feels that way. In truth, like I said, I did a lot of moving things around and changing details here and there — but if I did my job well, all that work should be invisible, and the viewer’s experience should just be that they’re watching the movie of The Dark Knight Returns. So I feel good about that. The other is how upset some people are that the inner monologues are gone. There, I can only say that I think it was the right choice to make these the best movies possible, and the fact that people seem to be liking Part 1 validates that choice.

WF: What kind of obstacles did you find yourself facing when working on the adaptation? How does it differ than working on a television episode?

BG: Well, the structural challenge I mentioned above was the biggie. And obviously, when you work on a project as beloved as this, you’re aware of the attention on it and pressure to get it right. But for me, there was much more of a sense of excitement and opportunity than pressure. And in many ways, this project was more liberating than working on a TV episode. It’s a PG-13 movie, and by far the most violent and sophisticated animated project I’ve ever worked on. There are countless moments in these movies that we’d never be allowed to do on kids’ TV, and probably rightly so. But we couldn’t have done The Dark Knight Returns justice if we didn’t include those elements, so I’m glad to say I was given all the freedom necessary.

WF: Is there more difficulty in coming up with an episode from scratch or adapting established material. Why?

BG: Each presents its own challenges, and honestly, every project is different. Adapting an existing work can often be easier than coming up with an episode from scratch, because a lot of the heavy lifting is done for you and you don’t have to face the blank page. Other times, the amount of work needed to make an adaptation work is so great you might as well start something from scratch — or it becomes even harder than starting from scratch because you’re bound to serve material that doesn’t work on the screen. And this isn’t necessarily a function of the quality of the source material. A brilliant book doesn’t always make a good movie, or adapt to the screen easily. Anyway, this was rarely an issue with The Dark Knight Returns. The source material is fantastic and cinematic to start with — and the stuff I did have to adapt, I was given the freedom to do what was needed.

WF: Are there any stand-out moments for you in The Dark Knight Returns – be it the book or animated film – that you’d like to share? Any favorites? Any content you regret having to trim?

BG: This is as good a time as any to mention what an awesome job everyone on the project did. Jay Oliva’s direction, Andrea Romano’s voice direction, Chris Drake’s music, the performances by Peter Weller and the whole cast. There are so many subtle or multi-layered moments that were crazy to expect to work in animation… and it all works. It’s one of those charmed projects where everyone on the team brought their A-game and added their own brilliance to the finished product. I’ve worked with a lot of these guys before over the years, but this was my first time working with Jay — and I’m so impressed with him as a director, and thrilled beyond words with his work. I really hope we get to work together again.

That general praise said, I now feel comfy getting specific about Ariel Winter’s performance as Carrie/Robin. She friggin’ knocked it out of the park. Check out the moment in the Batmobile after Batman’s first fight with the Mutant Leader, when Batman asks Carrie her name, and she says, “Carrie. Carrie Kelly. (pause) …Robin.” Ariel managed to capture so much in those simple words — the fear and vulnerability, the yearning for something that’s absent in her life, the bravery and resolve when she says Robin. It’s such a layered performance overall, and she did such a great job.

I’m also personally really proud of that early bar scene between Bruce and Jim Gordon. This was one of those places that I had to rethink the ideas in inner monologue, and make them work in dialogue. And there’s a heck of a lot of ground to cover in terms of what gets established in this scene right at the beginning of the movie. And then there’s a lot of subtlety to it all. I’m really glad how it all came out, and again it’s a testament to the actors, and to Andrea’s and Jay’s direction.

I did have to take out some threads and sequences too, either for length or just structure and flow. Ask me when Part 2 comes out about regrets, because there are things in Part 2 I felt worse about cutting. In Part 1, there was a big cut that in retrospect I’m glad I made. The books include much more attention on the reactions of Gotham’s citizens to Batman’s return — including two sequences of would-be copycat vigilantes. I loved the sequences in the books, but felt like they didn’t fit structurally the way the movie was shaping up, and cutting them helped with length too. One of the two was about a guy who, inspired by Batman, decides to shoot up a movie theater. Given the recent horrific shooting at an opening of The Dark Knight Rises, I’m really glad I cut that sequence out.

WF: Can you drop any hints of teasers for what we can expect in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two? Any surprises in store?

BG: Yeah — it’s bad-ass! I just got to see the finished product myself for the first time the other day, and it’s uncompromising bad-assery. And yes, there’s a great casting surprise in there… but I can’t tell you because it’s a surprise.

WF: Any chance we’ll be seeing you write more DC Universe movie projects down the road?

BG: Man, I hope so. There are a couple already in the pipeline that I wrote, one of which I think will be coming out soon, and I hope the other one does too. Can’t talk about those, yet. And I really hope to get to do more of them in the future. Working with Alan, Bruce, Andrea, and everyone at Warner Animation is like a homecoming for me — and they’re such an incredibly talented and dedicated bunch of people. It’s always a pleasure to work with them.

WF: To discuss one of your other projects for a moment – Warehouse 13 is still going strong, and the fourth season is currently underway. Care to fill us in on what we can expect as the series quickly heads toward its season finale? And … will we see a fifth season?

BG: Oops — I guess I responded to your questions too slowly — because the “mid-season finale” has already aired. I hope you were pleasantly surprised with where it all went — we’re incredibly proud of that whole season. “Season 4.5” is almost entirely in the can already — I don’t think they’ve announced a premiere date yet, but you can count on that coming to your TV sets soon enough. And we’re waiting for word on a season 5 pickup. Fingers crossed.

WF: And, since I have to ask, any update on The Zeta Project Season Two on DVD?

BG: Unfortunately, no. I think the numbers on the season one DVD sales were too low, that they decided not to release it. I would love to see it come out — I think we did our better work by far in the second season. Write to Warner Bros!

WF: That’s a great idea! Thanks so much for doing this!

BG: Thank you, James! Always great to talk to you!

More on the The Zeta Project animated series can be found right here at The World’s Finest.

A co-production of Warner Premiere, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation, the direct-to-video Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One animated feature is now available to own on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD, On Demand and for Download. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two arrives in early 2013.

More details on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two can be found here, with new content from the title set for release soon. Click here to view the above interview at the The World’s Finest Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One subsite.

Click on the links below to discuss both the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One animated feature and its respective DVD and Blu-ray home video releases.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One DVD/Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Classic Comic Talkback (Spoilers)

Stay tuned for further updates and much more, here soon at The World’s Finest.

Discuss Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two at The DC Animation Forum!

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“The Dark Knight Rises” Arrives December 4th, 2012
On Blu-ray Combo-Pack, DVD, OnDemand, and Digital Download!
Click the above image to view the High-Definition Quicktime trailer!

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