Good dialogue is hard to come by these days. Too often it feels as if people in movies don’t talk realistically, or are just saying whatever explanatory dialogue is necessary for the viewer to understand something. This is partly due to the limitations of film as a medium, since there’s no way to look directly into the mind of a character and see what he or she is thinking, short of using a narrator, which many films do not have. Literature does not have this problem, since it is able to enter the minds of characters more easily. (Depending on what kind of narrator you use, anyway, but that’s a literary discussion for another time.)
But what does all of this have to do with Christmas? Nothing, particularly, I just wanted to convey how much I appreciate well-written and well-delivered dialogue. I was thinking about this last night when I watched “Christmas With the Joker,” the Christmas episode of Batman: The Animated Series, which I watched religiously when I was but a lad and still enjoy to this day.
After the Joker makes a typically-ludicrous escape from Arkham Asylum, this time via rocket-powered Christmas tree, Batman is paranoid on Christmas Eve that Joker is going to try something. Robin, ever the optimist, tells him he’s being paranoid, reasoning that “Even scum spend the holidays with their families.” Batman is unconvinced however, so Robin makes a deal with him that if they go out on patrol and Gotham is quiet, then they’ll go home, have Christmas dinner, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Batman considers this, then says, “You know, I’ve never seen that. I could never get past the title.”
I love this. It’s great. For one thing, it’s funny. It makes you laugh. For another, it’s well-delivered. Kevin Conroy, who voices Batman, and Loren Lester, who voices Robin, are both fantastic, and give their lines a lot of emotion. Third, it tells you about each character’s personality. Robin is cheerful and upbeat, Batman is dour and grumpy. And fourth, connecting to what I was talking about earlier, it feels natural. It’s a conversation that two actual human beings could really have (outside of the context of superheroes and escaped supervillains, anyway).
I love that little exchange so much that I just had to point it out. But moving on to the rest of the episode, Batman of course turns out to be right about the Joker, who has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, reporter Summer Gleeson, and crusty Detective Harvey Bullock and plans to kill them if Batman can’t figure out where he is by midnight. All of this is conveyed via Joker’s television broadcast, which takes the form of one of those cheesy Christmas specials hosted by some famous guy. I don’t really know how else to describe one of those cheesy specials, I think that kind of thing was maybe a little bit before my time. Regardless, Joker’s Christmas special is complete with cheesy one-liners, canned laughter, and Words From Our Sponsor. He even wears a green turtleneck and a red sweater instead of his usual purple suit, although the purple pants remain in place.
Christmas-related shenanigans ensue, including the Dynamic Duo fighting off some gigantic if apparently poorly-constructed mechanical nutcrackers, and Batman whacking a bunch of little Joker-airplanes with a baseball bat, leading to the somewhat obvious joke from Robin, “They don’t call you BATman for nothing!” ZING!
Come to think of it, I have no idea what remote-controlled Joker-airplanes have to do with Christmas, but music from the Nutcracker plays in the background during that scene so what the heck.
They eventually track down the Joker, where he has his three captives suspended precariously over, what else, a giant bubbling vat of acid (there were a lot of giant bubbling vats of acid on this show). He tosses Batman a present and tells him to open it. He cautiously does, despite Robin’s warnings, and…a pie comes out of the box and splats in his face, and Joker laughs hysterically.
Think about this for a second. Think about all of the things that Joker could have put in that box. A shotgun to blow Bats’ head off. A bomb to blow him up. Some kind of horrible Joker nerve gas or something. But no. It’s a pie. Splat. Maybe I’m overthinking this, I dunno. Batman and Joker really do have kind of a symbiotic relationship with each other, it almost seems like Joker doesn’t want to kill Batman (Christopher Nolan would explore this later in The Dark Knight, of course).
But despite what that may or may not say about the nature of the twisted relationship between these two great adversaries, the episode ends with the hostages rescued, Joker back in Arkham (you’d think they could keep him there for longer than five minutes at a time) maniacally singing Christmas carols, and Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson back home at Wayne Manor, having just finished “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “And it is a wonderful life,” Dick says. “It… has its moments,” Bruce admits with a grin.
Next up is the 80’s British television adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” starring the inimitable Jeremy Brett as the famous detective. I enjoyed the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock movies well enough, but for my money Jeremy Brett is and forever shall be the greatest screen incarnation of Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. Every movement, every gesture, every line of dialogue is so perfectly contained and controlled. It had been a while since I had last watched one of Brett’s Holmes episodes, and he reminded me a lot of Alan Rickman in how he is able to convey so much with relatively little movement and a very clipped way of speaking.
The story concerns a famous jewel, the titular Blue Carbuncle, which has gone from owner to owner, with many people murdering whoever the current owner was in order to obtain it. It is currently owned by some rich, stuck-up baroness or countess or something, until it is stolen from her and finds its way into the gizzard of what was doubtless a very confused Christmas goose.
The story is composed of how the carbuncle came to be in the goose’s crop, which of course entails the identity of the person who put it there and how he came to subsequently lose the bird with such an important item lodged in its gullet.
The Blue Carbuncle is a fun story, I think it’s one of Conan Doyle’s less dark ones. There are no nasty murders or general creepiness, aside from the carbuncle’s previous owners all being murdered. It’s also a fun Christmas story, with lots of talk about the Christmas Goose and whatnot (“The Christmas Geese” would be a good name for a rock band). It’s so odd now to think about carrying a dead goose around by the neck with the body slung over your shoulder like Santa’s sack of presents.
Watched back to back, “Christmas With The Joker” and “The Blue Carbuncle” make for a fun Christmas double feature, and if you have them both handy I suggest you give it a try.
As a side note, on Christmas Eve I am going to post about the Greatest Christmas Movie Of All Time, which also happens to be the Greatest Movie Of All Time, period. So keep an eye out for that if you’re interested.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.