BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Knight – Novelization by Dennis O’Neil

August 2, 2008

In lieu of buying the shooting script for The Dark Knight, which wasn’t yet available, I bought this serviceable Dennis O’Neil novelization instead. A particularly annoying “rule of thumb” when it comes to books and movies is that the book is always better, but there are so many examples to the contrary (The Godfather, Jaws, and The Exorcist, for starters) as to make that rule seem more silly than useful, and here is one more example to the contrary. Of course, novelizations are based on the movie, rather than the other way around, so maybe it shouldn’t count, but sometimes they’re interesting to read, as they’ll often include variations on the final shooting script, or else they’ll provide some back story the film left out. Both these things are true of O’Neil’s novelization, and if you’re curious about what the Scarecrow character was up in between the two films, or about Harvey Dent’s childhood, which bears some similarities to Bruce Wayne’s own childhood, then you’re in luck. The latter material is actually the most interesting, since it illuminates why Wayne comes to view Dent “as the best of” Gotham City. The scene where Batman brutally interrogates Sal Maroni (played by Eric Roberts in the movie) appears here in a slightly altered form, making it more explicit that Batman was, in fact, torturing Maroni, a term Bruce Wayne later uses to describe it to Rachel Dent. My friend and fellow blogger John Nelson wondered if the cell phone surveillance that Lucius Fox reluctantly aids Batman in was a commentary on the Patriot Act, and that taken together with the novelization’s depiction of the Maroni scene seem to make it clear that The Dark Knight was directly commenting on the U.S. government’s handling of “the war on terror.” The Joker is, after all, referred to as “a terrorist.” The novelization falls seriously short in finding a means to replicate the visual power of the film, and it frequently seems the case that O’Neil only had a script to work from, and had not in fact seen footage from the film. Consequently, the action scenes, particularly towards the end, fall mostly flat. The Joker in the pages of the novelization is disappointingly a mere sketch of the full bodied characterization Heath Ledger gives him in the film. The book also suffers from the same lazy copyediting that has started to afflict many books being released these days. All in all, this novelization is only for the very curious and for the Batman completists out there. All others should either see the movie again, or just wait for the DVD.

P.S. And yes, I know I’m a total nerd for now having three separate The Dark Knight-related reviews in my blog.

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