Saturday 27 February 2010

Screen time: Batman Begins and The Last Dragon

I've never been a fan of comic book superheroes but I'd heard good things of the Batman Begins film so I thought it was worth a spin. What I'd heard was right; the film attempts to establish a logical reason for the creation of the Batman identity and the source of his advanced technology (including the Batmobile). These efforts to make a basically daft idea credible move it (somwhat) towards the SF rather than the pure fantasy camp. Fortunately there is no mention of Robin and his somewhat questionable relationship with the hero.

Much time is spent on establishing Bruce Wayne's personality as he develops from a young boy to a troubled adult, leading to his training with a ninja-style organisation and his decision to use the output of the advanced projects department of the family firm to help him to wage war on the organised crime which is running Gotham City. Cue lots of dramatic flying around, fighting, and car chases. Still, it's a lot better than most such movies and I realised why when I saw in the credits that it was directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige). 'Nuff said.
The Last Dragon I want to talk about isn't the 1985 Hollywood martial arts movie but the 2004 feature-length production re-shown on UK TV at the beginning of this year (known in the USA as Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real or Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real). It purports to be a drama documentary and is set in the near future (the obvious sign of this being portable equipment able to replicate the most advanced scanning and analytical techniques available today, and to do so almost instantly). The main character is a scientist who has an obsession with dragons which has ruined his reputation: he believes that there must be a core of truth behind the world-wide stories of giant, fire-breathing flying creatures. So when the frozen corpse of a large unknown animal is discovered in an ice cave high in the Romanian mountains he goes to investigate.

The rest of the programme is split between the a dramatised version of the scientist's detailed investigation of the corpse and excerpts from a mock-documentary describing the evolution of dragons. I liked the problem-solving approach to the investigation, in which much trouble is taken to find logical reasons for the dragon's unique features. For instance, special gut bacteria produce a hydrogen-methane mix which is stored in large internal bladders. These make the dragon light enough to fly despite its relatively small wings, and also provide the fuel for the flame-throwing; this is ignited by using platinum (obtained by grinding up ore) as a catalyst, as the expelled gases reach the oxygen in the air. Obviously, the dragons are limited in the amount of fire-breathing they can do at any one time because it affects their ability to fly. This may all be nonsense, but it sounds good!

The documentary element is modelled on a typical wildlife programme with a sober, authoritative narrative about the life of dragons and is illustrated with lots of good CGI. It is reminscient of the popular TV programmes which have been produced on dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. We learn that dragons co-existed with dinosaurs and although the land-based ones died out when they did, a marine version survived and later re-emerged onto the land, evolving into various forms in different parts of the world. We see the non-flying Chinese forest dragon as well as the European mountain flying dragon. Towards the end, attention focuses on the fate of the dragon which has been discovered in Romania, which died in a battle with soldiers at the end of the 15th century - perhaps the last one to live. But there is a hint at the end of the programme that there are discoveries still to be made…

The programme is played with an entirely straight face throughout. It is very well done and hugely enjoyable if you are at all intrigued by the dragon myths. One to look out for.

1 comment:

LarryS said...

Hmm, I thought Batman Begins was the best in the series so far