Cinematic adaptations of classic comic tales, animated or live-action, are never perfect translations to the letter or the last panel. Warner Animation’s Batman: The Long Halloween Parts 1 and 2 will be no different, but screenwriter Tim Sheridan assures they tried to stay true to the essence of the Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale story.
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He told CBR in a new interview that fitting in as much of the graphic novel as they could was why they stretched the project into two features instead of one, which was the plan initially.
“The idea was originally to do it as one movie and I said, ‘Heck no! We’re going to have to give ourselves a little more runway here in order to be faithful to the ideas and themes of the book,’” Sheridan stated.
“We could’ve done it [as a single feature film] but, to be true to the book, I felt it really needed to be two movies and everyone else felt the same way,” he added. “Our supervising producer Butch Lukic and producer Jim Krieg and everybody at Warner Bros. Animation and DC felt that was the way to go.”
When it came to where they’d end Part 1, Sheridan says they “knew right away” what point needed to be the cliffhanger. “The point at which we end Part 1 feels like a monumental beat in the story and, from that point onward in the book, it’s a runaway train and mad dash,” he said without giving anything away.
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He added that Part 2 is different and has a different pace but, in a very appropriate allusion to Two-Face, the films are “two sides of the same coin.” Sheridan explained, “This side is the pristine, unmarred side of the coin and, once the events at the end of Part 1 happen, we flip the coin to the faster paced, more aggressive and dangerous story that moves at a very different pace — with the flipping of the coin obviously being appropriate for the story!”
But again, changes were on the table, such as injecting diversity, and they looked for places to do that. They found a place in the cast of characters, so one alteration came when an Irish mob – as it was in the comic – was swapped with a Chinese triad in the movie.
“One of the reasons was we were looking for opportunities to have more diversity in our cast so it seemed like a place where we could do that,” Sheridan said. “When you look at the original book, there’s not a lot of instances of diversity like that so we felt like that was a good thing to do.”
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To Sheridan and Warner, the idea of an Irish gang – influenced as it was by the Irish Republican Army and news items of the 90s like the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland – isn’t as relevant today.
“More importantly, at the time in which the book was written and released, we looked at Irish gangs much differently then; we were in a different place politically, with things like the history of the I.R.A., which were very relevant and topical. When Jeph and Tim did the book about the way we saw the Irish back then is not as relevant today,” Sheridan stated.
Chinese mobsters might not equal better optics but the filmmakers considered the idea more contemporary and resonant. “Today, I think the idea of Chinese mobsters is fresh and in our minds now and feels more like a real thing today,” Sheridan continued. “That’s as much as a calculation that went into it and I think that it works.”
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The most prominent Irish character in the source material, Nicky Sullivan, is Nicky Chen in the movie. Sheridan’s only regret there is he didn’t get to name him Nicky Sun so that the initials paralleled.
“The only thing that I regret is that the original guy in the book is Nicky Sullivan and I wanted to make it Nicky Sun and just cut out some of the letters in his name but it didn’t pass legal for some reason so you meet him as Nicky Chen,” he explained.
Another update Sheridan fought for is the “well-rounded” way women are portrayed in the films. “I wanted to make sure that we were making the women in the story as well-rounded and full as characters as the men in the story,” he said. “I believe this is a story about Gotham City and what it does to families who serve Gotham City. Just as much as the men, the women are a huge part of that story.”
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Sheridan also believes times have changed enough to look at mental illness and villain motivations in new ways. “There were opportunities here to look at the characters and be more thoughtful how we approach those things than we may have been if we did the movie in the ’90s; what better time than now?” he explained.
Where perceptions and plot points changed, furthermore, some narrative traits in the story didn’t make it in at all, such as Batman’s narration. “I sat down and tried to make it work but it’s a thing that doesn’t really work in animation for a lot of technical reasons,” said Sheridan. “One of the big changes we had to make is that a lot of things we learn in the book from the omniscient narration we had to do in dialogue or visually in the story.”
He continued, “That was a key point in the adaptation and how we adapt all these movies, comic books often rely on the omniscient narrator but animation is so tricky in that it can seem like fun parody. The Long Halloween is a weighty story about big, adult themes and it was important to maintain and unfortunately we couldn’t get the narration to work.”
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The summer wedding scene from the Long Halloween comic’s beginning also didn’t make the cut. Clearing up why, Sheridan said, “For us, it was a matter of only having so much time, even telling the story with two movies, especially without the convenience of narration.”
“We read comic books different than the way we watch movies, when we read comics, we insert panels and pages where there aren’t panels and pages,” he added. “We can’t really do that with a movie and jump from one thing to the next and feel like we’re having a cinematic experience, it would look like a hodge-podge collage of The Long Halloween.”
Sheridan stands by the movie’s new opening although he didn’t go into great detail about it except to say the proper pieces and beats are there. “When we depart from dialogue and situations slightly here and there, I hope people understand that we’re trying to translate something, if not visually then thematically,” he said. “I think it’s important that we did that first scene the way that we did.”
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He then concluded, “There’s no wedding but all the important beats from that moment in the book are all there playing out in that first scene: The relationship between Bruce Wayne, Falcone and Gotham City is all right there on display and I think that’s the heart of what The Long Halloween, Part 1 is.”
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 1, made its release on June 22nd. Part 2 follows digitally next month, July 27th.