In 2003, a fan film of EPIC proportions premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con film festival and was THE talk of the Con. As there was an eight year gap between the 1997 disaster known as Batman & Robin and the rebirth of the franchise in 2005 with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the hunger to see the Caped Crusader hovered above the tip of every fanboy and fangirl’s tongue like the last drop of water in a canteen.
Then came design artist-turned-director, Sandy Collora.
A hardcore Batman fan, Collora spent $30,000 of his own money and turned the mean streets of North Hollywood, California into the back alleys of Gotham City. When the film premiered that Saturday, it not only blew up Comic-Con (including ANOTHER showing to kick off the SDCC Masquerade) the next day, pirated copies were already for sale at vendor’s tables on the show floor, and it was downloaded over 600,000 times within the first week. And for where our technology sat at 2003, that’s pretty friggin’ amazing.
Things I did NOT know about the film (but I won’t tell you all) before seeing this were that not only was B:DE originally meant to be part of his director’s demo reel, it originally had Sylvester Stallone (yes, THAT Stallone) attached as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker — chew on THAT for a minute — and the main influence for Collora’s Batman in Dead End came from Kevin Conroy’s portrayal in “Batman: The Animated Series.” Collora was also splitting his time between shooting all day in North Hollywood then driving back to Orange County every single night in order to spend time with his mother — who was dying of cancer.
It’s things like this that make me admire a passion project like Batman: Dead End even more.
Interviews with colleagues, mentors and crew members really flesh out what kind of person Collora was in 2003 and Collora himself has a couple of moments of humility as he is shown footage of the 2003 SDCC screening with him bounding on the stage “like he just won the Academy Award.”
The one thing that did end up bothering me about the film — and this could be because I knew him personally — is that it seems to quickly gloss over Andrew Koenig (above) and his contribution to the film as Joker. We heard a lot about Batman (because, DUH), Xenomorphs and Predators but barely any acknowledgement other than a few clips here and there of Koenig’s turn as the Clown Prince of Crime. As a fan, I’m grateful for the footage provided, but I would’ve loved to see some kind of behind-the-scenes interview with him. I would’ve loved to hear Collora talk about Koenig in some way; Neal Adams gives Koenig huge praise, as he believes his turn as Joker had influence on Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. I also see the irony that these two actors, who took the character of Joker to some serious levels of awesome, both passed away before their time.
I’m also curious if they tried to talk to Michael Uslan (who’s sat as producer on every Batman film — including the animated ones — since Tim Burton’s Batman); the dude has to have seen it by now, right?
And because I love you, here’s the original version of Batman: Dead End
(There are HD versions but the aspect ratio is off, so if you’re cool with seeing it that way — go for it.)
All in all, I really enjoyed this documentary – it should sit on your shelf beside another worthwhile documentary, The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?
Behind The Mask: The ‘Batman: Dead End’ Story is currently on Hulu and (I’m sure) everywhere else on the internet.
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