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<i>Batman Begins</i> Delves Into Origins of Comic Book Hero

A new action-adventure film takes a fresh look at a veteran comic book character that has been made into movies and TV shows before, but never before with this kind of compelling, dark and almost film-noir drama. Alan Silverman has a look at Batman Begins.

A familiar figure on the pop culture scene, Batman began in 1939 as a comic book by the late Bob Kane. Over the years, Gotham City's caped crime fighter with his face partially obscured by a bat-eared cowl has become more caricature than character. In 1988, however, writer and artist Frank Miller re-fashioned the story in a graphic novel titled Batman: Year One. It is those origins that English-born filmmaker Chris Nolan taps into for this fresh look at how - and why - billionaire Bruce Wayne becomes Batman.

He is the most human of superheroes and he is the one I think we can all most easily relate to," explains Nolan. "I don't know how I would go about adapting a superhero like Superman who is just other-worldly and omnipotent and all the rest. I find the character of Batman much easier to relate to and I think a lot of people do. He is ultimately a very flawed human being who is taking his negative impulses and turning them to positive ends."

Christian Bale stars as Bruce Wayne and, of course, his alter ego, Batman. The physically demanding role is his first foray into the action movie genre and Bale says he modeled the character after the graphic novels, approaching Batman as though the previous films and the campy 1960's TV series had never been made:

"I realized that there was a great character here that had never been defined in any portrayal," Bale says. "Unlike if you look at, say, Christopher Reeve and the way he played Superman - to many people, that is the defining Superman. I don't find that when I look at any of the previous Batman characters, so there was room to be able to try and achieve that.

Of course, the symbol he chooses is the night-flying bat; and Bale says as important as it was for him to develop his physique for the role, he also had to come up with a voice for Batman.

"We went for a completely different animal. I just could not take seriously Bruce Wayne in a bat-suit, so I said he has to become a different animal completely," he says. "You have the obvious need for being incognito, so you want to change your voice for that; but also for me it was about him becoming this primal demon that allowed him to channel all of his rage and years of dissatisfaction into this one beast.

Katie Holmes co-stars as Wayne's childhood sweetheart Rachel, who grew up to be a prosecutor trying to fight crime via the legal system.

"It was exciting to play a female character who so strong. At times she needed help and, for lack of better words, was a damsel in distress at moments; but she was a fighter and I liked that. I like fighters," she says.

Batman Begins also addresses the issue of using the criminals' own tactics to fight back. He is on the other side of the law, so does that make him hero or vigilante?

Filmmaker Nolan says the story offers no cut-and-dried answer.

"That's really why I made the film, because I think it's a very interesting question and one that can't be answered in a single sentence," he says. " I think it's one that has to be felt out and explored through fiction and a great character like Batman who sits on the line between genuine heroism and selfish vigilantism."

The cast also features Michael Caine as the Wayne manor butler, Alfred; Morgan Freeman is the inventor who comes up with all those great gadgets, including the very powerful new Bat mobile.

Tom Wilkinson is a crime boss; Cillian Murphy plays "Scarecrow," the first of Batman's bizarre and deadly villains; and Gary Oldman plays the quietly dedicated police detective Gordon, who becomes Batman's ally within the law.

Batman Begins is co-written by David Goyer and director Chris Nolan. The musical score is also a collaboration of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.