The continued existence of the movie novelization is perhaps one of the more curious and enduring elements of blockbuster tie-ins. During the '70s and '80s, when you could only see a movie in theaters, a book of your favorite film served a more concrete purpose. Until you got a chance to rent the movie at some point in the future (owning a VHS copy of a film was generally quite expensive early on, and home video release frames were much longer than they are now), reading the story that you saw on the big screen allowed your imagination to recreate the experience, and some authors even added a few more elements and textures to the tale. In short, it was a way for movie fans to remain close to the characters and world they enjoyed so much until they got the privelege to watch it again. But in 2012, it's difficult to understand the purpose behind recreating a movie on the page.
It has been just over a full month now since Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" hit theaters, and you've likely seen it (maybe even more than once), read the various debates about the ending or other portions of the film, and of course, fully soaked up the marketing in the run up to its release. And if you need a stop gap visit to Gotham between now and the film's likely home video release around Christmas (if it follows the release pattern of "The Dark Knight," which it should) then Greg Cox's 413 page stroll through "The Dark Knight Rises" will do the trick, though will offer very little purpose once the movie hits DVD and BluRay.
As you might expect, Cox largely sticks beat for beat to the film. While there are some extra moments, including the much blogged about mention of the Joker whose ultimate fate is teased as a mystery (at least to the residents of Gotham) and some minor, blink-and-you'll-miss-it stuff with Foley's (played by Matthew Modine) family, and Ross (played by Reggie Lee), John Blake's beat cop partner, "The Dark Knight Rises" is largely a respectful run through the movie. Cox has mostly stuck to the finished version of the film (for those of you expecting any significant deleted scene type stuff, you will be disappointed), in pretty much every aspect in what at times feels like a replica of the script with some prose added to flesh things out.
But if there is one aspect to Nolan's film that reading it on the page does bring to the surface, it's a pronounced noir influence, particularly when it comes to the dialogue. Particularly early on, there is a hard boiled, clipped aspect to the lines that is enjoyably punchy off the page, especially as the story jumps from sleazy politicians bantering at Wayne Manor to Selina Kyle's nefarious transaction at a dive bar to a body washing up outside a sewage treatment plant. If it weren't a Batman story, you might expect this was the beginning of a "Chinatown"-esque yarn. For any avid reader of pulp noir, Cox's writing will be familiar in tone and style and it's interesting to note the difference in feel these portions take on in the book versus the finished film, and how much the actors really brought to Nolan's vision.
In fact, it's pretty much impossible to read the book (which came out the week after the film's release) without hearing the voices of the cast in each character. There is certainly an even great appreciation for Tom Hardy's work as Bane, whose fearsome confidence and sly humor really enliven the character. The greatest example of this are found in his first showdown with Batman and in his speech before the prisoners of Blackgate are freed. The sort of stock villain speak really takes on a whole other dimension once Hardy shapes it into his characterization. And of course, it's one thing to read about action the sequences, and another thing to watch them with the scale and finesse Nolan applies. The breathtaking opening sequence is hardly the same in Cox's words compared to watching it unfurl in IMAX.
Ultimately, however, "The Dark Knight Rises" book neither adds or detracts from the film making it largely unnecessary. Given Nolan's tight rein over any and all aspects of his movie, it's hardly a surprise that Cox doesn't stray from the narrative in any capacity, following the structure of the film from the beginning right through to the end. The book winds up being mostly a prose driven replay of what you've already seen. Perhaps Cox can be given some credit for not marring 'Rises' either, but considering half the heavy lifting is done already for him, that's not much of a compliment. Completists perhaps will be intrigued to pick this up, but otherwise, save your cash for the Blu-Ray. [C]
"The Dark Knight" rises novelization is in bookstores now.