Batman: The Killing Joke, and its long-awaited showdown between The Dark Knight and the Joker, will be released digitally on July 26th and on disc August 2nd. Following on Empire's exclusive first look at the film, we sat down with producer Bruce Timm for an additional quick interview.
The Killing Joke focuses on Batman's efforts to rescue Commissioner Gordon from the Joker, and avenge the shooting of Barbara Gordon. The film also serves as a Batman: The Animated Series reunion in that Timm, who produced that show, works again with Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker.
What sort of changes did the material have to undergo on its way to adaptation?
This is really going to sound mercenary, but The Killing Joke part of the movie is something that we decided early on we weren't going to try to "fix." Even though I've always had issues with the original source material, it's one of those books that I admire more than I love. I never personally think of it as the ultimate Batman story or the ultimate Joker story. Obviously it kind of isn't, but I do admire certain aspects of it. The artwork was amazing. Even though we had issues with certain things that happened, it's, like, "Well, this is one of those classic stories." Love it or not, we felt we just needed to kind of do a straight-up adaptation of it. So we didn't deliberately tone anything down. We didn't deliberately change anything. We didn't look at anything and say, "It's just too disturbing, we can't do that." If we were going to do it, we were going to do it. So we left basically all of our tinkering to the Barbara Gordon/Batgirl prologue.
So what is different in this version?
There's very little changed in it. I mean, Brian Azzarello, who wrote the script, did come up with a couple of sequence here and there which just kind of filled things out a little bit, especially when Jim Gordon is being tormented by The Joker. He came up with that interesting kind of trial sequence, which, having watched the movie so many times in production from storyboard and rough cut and everything, is so of a piece with the source material that a lot of times I forget that it's not in the comic. It feels like it is.
Does this open the door for further R-rated animated films?
He's like a weird force of nature, a personification of the perverse.
Truthfully, if you did any straight-up adaptation of almost any current DC comic, chances are you're going to have to get an R rating. The material is pretty intense these days. People have asked me that, but it's not like we're going to suddenly do lots of R-rated animated movies. This is a special case. I've said from the beginning that home video, even though they were nervous about the R rating especially in terms of, frankly, how it's going to impact sales, knew this story had to be told in a certain way. That if we got an R rating, we would have to go with it, because we didn't want to have to sanitize it and tone things down just to get a PG-13. Again, this is a really famous, classic comic. There are very few things that I think would warrant going that extra mile to take the chance on an R rating.
Does this truly feature the Joker's origin?
One of the saving graces of The Killing Joke, one of the things I always liked about it, was that even though it supposedly gives Joker's origin story, Alan Moore kind of hedged his bets by giving the Joker that line towards the end where he says, "Well, sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes I remember it another." So we don't really know if in fact it is actually his true origin story. For lack of an alternative, it is kind of his de facto origin. At the same time, he's such an interesting character that I kind of feel like I would rather not know how he became the Joker. I think he's a little bit more like a weird force of nature, a personification of the perverse. I believe the door is kind of kept open for lots of different interpretations of the character.
Do you miss working in television rather than producing these films?
There are times when I'm on a project that I don't, frankly, love and then it become more like a job. You know, this is not a bad way to make a living, which is something I have to remind myself of. There are other times when it's kind of like, "Yeah, not that much fun." Then something like The Killing Joke comes along, or some of the other projects that I'm working on right now, where it's, like, "Oh, we haven't done that before. That'll be kind of interesting." So there are always different things to explore; different places we can go with these characters, marketplace willing. So there are good days and bad days, but mostly good.
There are pros and cons to each form. With these movies, we can spend a little bit more time focusing and polishing it and making sure it's all put together properly. On the other hand, doing a series is actually kind of fun, because you can really spread out and do a lot of your arcs and play around with different flavors. You're not locked in to one story. One week we're doing a comedy, the next week we're doing something really intense and dramatic. The next week we're doing something sci-fi, the next week we're doing something else. So there is something to the fast pace of a TV show that's really fun.