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'R' Rating Didn't Deter 'Batman: The Killing Joke' Filmmakers

29 Jul, 2016 By: John Latchem

(L-R): Ray Wise, Tara Strong, Brian Azzarello, Bruce Timm, Kevin Conroy and Sam Liu

One of the hallmarks of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s series of DC Universe animated superhero movies has been the way the brand has provided an avenue for movie adaptations of some of the most definitive Batman stories in comic book history.

Previous entries have included such notable stories as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, which benefitted from the darker tone and ‘PG-13’ mindset of the imprint. The latest addition to the line-up is the fan-favorite Batman: The Killing Joke, based on the 1988 graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland.

The Killing Joke deals with Batman’s attempt to stop the Joker from torturing Commissioner Gordon and his daughter, who happens to be Batgirl.

The book was controversial in its day for its graphic content, leading to the animated version becoming the first ‘R’ rated DC animated movie. The movie also features the return of Mark Hamill as the voice of the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman, roles they have played since “Batman: The Animated Series” in the early 1990s.

Some of the filmmakers and cast gathered July 22 at San Diego Comic-Con International 2016 for the film’s premiere before it arrived on Digital HD July 26 and on DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 2.

DC animation executive producer Bruce Timm said he wasn’t eager to adapt The Killing Joke, calling the story too bleak for his tastes.

He was spurred a bit to go ahead with the project thanks to Hamill’s public statements that he’d be willing to return to the role of the Joker if they did The Killing Joke.

“Which was his way of saying that if we did the movie without him, he’d be upset,” Timm said.

Once production went forward, Timm said the best way to make it was not to tone down the content, which stayed true to the story but limited the potential audience.

“I feel a little sad I made a Batman film little kids can’t see,” Timm said.

Another challenge presenting the filmmakers was that the original story wasn’t long enough to fill a full feature-length movie.

According to screenwriter Brian Azzarello, the original plan was for a faithful adaptation running about 40 minutes. However, it was decided to double that length by padding the script with a prologue that fleshes out Batgirl’s role in the story.

“She’s always been one of my favorite characters,” Timm said. “I’m glad we got to spend more time with the character.”

Azzarello said the extra material might give viewers the impression that The Killing Joke is a Batgirl movie before veering into the material from the book, though the transition shouldn’t be too jarring.

“I think it holds together really well,” screenwriter Brian Azzarello said. “It explores her relationship with Batman.”

Tara Strong, who voices Batgirl, said she appreciated the rawness of the story.

“It gets to explore so many emotional levels,” Strong said. “My favorite Batman is always the dark version.”

Ray Wise, the voice of Commissioner Gordon, like the film as a mystery thriller.

“It’s very film nourish, a good detective story with modern twists,” Wise said.

The Killing Joke recently earned $3.8 million in a limited theatrical exhibition, prompting speculation about whether some DC animated movies may end up receiving proper theatrical releases. Timm expressed wariness about the concept.

“These things aren’t budgeted at a theatrical film budget,” Timm said. “To me, they’re high-end TV productions.”

Timm said he’d like to do a true solo Batgirl movie in the future, but indicated there were no plans for a follow-up to last year’s alternate reality tale Gods and Monsters just yet.

About the Author: John Latchem

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