On Wednesday January 23, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation once again returned to the Paley Center in New York for a premiere of their newest direct-to-video animated film. This one was unique, however, in that it was their first ever part two.
The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 hits blu-ray/dvd and digital download January 29, 2013. DCE brought Andrea Romano, casting and voice director, Jay Oliva, director of the pair of films, and producer Michael Uslan along for red carpet interviews and an after-viewing panel that was open to the fans who watched the premiere.Romano and Oliva approached the films from opposite ends of the spectrum, where Romano admitted she "wasn't too familiar with any of these books before the movie starts production," while Oliva has been a lifelong fan.
Romano said, however, that Bruce Timm and his staff never tells her, "okay, this is a big one," when working on an adaptation like this or All-Star Superman. "It's a good thing because it doesn't intimidate me, I don't get freaked out about it. It's usually after we produce it that I find out it's an enormous part of the world.
"Every time I cast Batman it's an enormous responsibility anyway," the 22-year veteran of DC animation continued. "It wasn't easy the first time, and it wasn't any easier the 2nd, 3rd, or fifteenth time! Whether the fans barely know about the story or are crazy about it, I just want to cast the best people I can. That's the only thing that matters or I won't sign off on a project, whether it's this, or Spongebob, or anything else that I'm working on."
Oliva however, felt the pressure a bit, but said he actively pursued the project while he was working as a director on Young Justice. He cut his teeth directing a segment of Batman Year One, and initially lobbied for just a segment of Dark Knight Returns as well.
"When they said they were doing Dark Knight Returns I went right away and begged for a part of it. They asked what I wanted to do, and I said 'Give me the Joker fight!' But they said, well, that's part two. So then I asked for the Mutant Leader fight.
"Then early on they said the director they had was leaving and asked if I wanted to take over. I was like, 'are you kidding me? Yes!'"
Oliva said he felt confident because he's at a point in his career where he can really do an adaptation like this justice. Getting to take on the full two-part film worked, as he said "they're meant to be one long movie. If you watch parts one and two together, you'll realize why part one is a slow burn; if I went super crazy in part one, where would I go with part two?"
The director really enjoyed doing the fight choreography for part two, with the major fights between Batman and Joker and later Batman and Superman.
"I wanted to make it so that if they ever did a live-action adaptation of Dark Knight Returns, it'd be really hard to beat what I did," said Oliva. "The first thing I wanted to storyboard was the Joker vs. Batman fight. When we got to part two I already had it all mapped out."
Romano noted that while this is a different Batman incarnation than most fans know, it wasn't the first time she had to deal with the older, even more grizzled Bruce Wayne, citing Batman Beyond and one episode of Batman: The Animated Series that offered its own take on this story.
"We really wanted Peter Weller and we knew he was the right actor. We actually recorded both parts with the main actors at the same time, rather than producing one entire movie then coming back for part two. It really made the story flow," Romano said. She did say she was glad the film was broken into two pieces so that they could fit more of the material from the story in.
Uslan, meanwhile, said the story, when it came out in comic book form, turned his life "upside down." He had acquired the rights to Batman for film over six years earlier, in 1979, and this graphic novel "helped us get over the hump to actually getting that first 1989 Batman movie done!"
The future of Batman sees him going back to an animated series, with 26 episodes of Beware The Batman recorded by Romano. She's also working with Nickelodeon on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Avatar: The Legend of Korra, which she said is a particular blast, getting to return to the Avatar world.
"The gentlemen who came up with that story are really geniuses. When that first series ended I was really sad, and when they called me to tell me they were putting together a spin-off I was thrilled!"
Oliva, meanwhile, has another major film coming out later this year, as he worked as storyboard artist for Superman's next live action stint, Man of Steel.
"Zack [Snyder] and I storyboarded the entire movie. It was amazing. Zack's a great collaborator, he's one of those guys who's very visual, has a lot of great ideas, and we'd throw them back and forth to each other.
"He'd throw me an idea, and I'd tell him, 'hey, we did that in All-Star Superman!' I'd pop the DVD in and show him, and he encouraged me to come up with something that hadn't ever been done before in live action or in animation. It's really cool."
He also promised there's "a lot, a lot of action" in the film. "It's a great character piece, but there's a lot of good action. Compared to the other Superman films of the past, this is bar none the most action you've ever seen in a Superman film."
As for Batman in live-action once more, Uslan was mum. He did, while noting "this is my fanboy hat, not my Producer hat at all here," tease a dream project of his though. "When we were working on this, it dawned on me that there are two actors who are at the absolute right age to do The Dark Knight Returns in live action: Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson!
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 is available now on DVD/Blu-Ray and digital download.