THE BOOTLEG FILES: CAPED CRUSADER: THE DARK HOURS Image

BOOTLEG FILES 566: “Caped Crusader: The Dark Hours” (2014 fan film based on the Batman franchise).

LAST SEEN: Now on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The unauthorized use of copyright- and trademark-protected characters.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Very unlikely, given the film is self-identified as a “non-profit film.”

To be perfectly rude, I could never understand the appeal of fan films. I can appreciate when teens and pre-teens decide to pay tribute to their favorite Hollywood franchises with their own lo-fi/no-budget versions of the big screen favorites – these films, which usually offer a delightfully weird adult-free alternative universe, are fueled by natural charm and a refreshing lack of pretension. But while it is cute to see kids pretend to be action and adventure heroes, it is decidedly less than adorable to find adults doing the same thing – especially when they know in advance that their work is done in violation of copyright and trademark laws.

Of course, there are exceptions, especially in regard to Batman-inspired flicks. Sandy Collora’s 2003 “Batman: Dead End” and 2004 “World’s Finest” (a trailer for a nonexistent film where Batman meets Superman) were inventive exercises that were superior to the misguided Tim Burton series of Batman flicks from the 1990s — and an argument could be made that they were also more emotionally invigorating than the Christopher Nolan reboots. Parody shorts like James Duffy’s 2005 “Robin’s Big Date” and Wesley Freitas’ inventive 2012 music video “Batman Maybe” brought much-needed humor to a franchise that, quite frankly, has taken itself much too seriously.

Into this batty mix comes a new fan film that had its premiere at the tail end of 2014: “Caped Crusader: The Dark Hours” from Boston-based filmmaker Ramsey Eassa is billed as “a fan-film that does Batman justice.” And while that bold statement can be debated, the film is brashly entertaining.

“Caped Crusader: The Dark Hours” takes place, of course, in Gotham City – and helicopter shots of the Big Apple, including the new One World Trade Center, offer an overview of the story’s location. (Though whether intended or not, a brief shot of a store canopy featuring a phone number with the 617 area code betrays the actual Beantown roots of this endeavor.)  The story begins after the Joker’s reign of terror from “The Dark Knight.” Batman is officially considered to be a criminal by the Gotham police force, now under the jurisdiction of Commissioner Crowe, who replaced Commissioner Gordon. A single police officer still believes in the goodness of Batman, and is willing to disobey orders and shine the Batlight in the evening sky to summon the mysterious masked crime fighter.

And, it seems, that Gotham City needs Batman. Black Mask, the crime lord known for wearing (what else?) a black mask, is running amok. Batman is trying to bring down this operation, but his heart and his muscles don’t seem to be in the effort. During his off-hours, Bruce Wayne is moping about his mansion in an advanced state of depression. His butler Alfred is not pleased with this situation, angrily chiding his employer about his behavior. “You do remember food – that thing you eat?” Alfred snaps at his self-starving boss.

Meanwhile, a pair of documentary filmmakers is snooping around to uncover the true identity of Batman. They review their footage in a screening room sequence that vaguely recalls the landmark film projection segment of “Citizen Kane” – and faster than you can say “Oja Kodar,” these filmmakers are in pursuit of their hunch that Bruce Wayne may know something about Batman.

While all of this is happening, Batman/Bruce Wayne gets an unannounced visit from Barry Allen, also known as The Flash. Dressed in a tight red t-shirt and tight jeans that highlights his gym-toned physique, one might assume that The Flash just came from showing off at a speed dating session. Instead, The Flash tries to convince Batman/Bruce Wayne that he just arrived from an alternative universe where the two of them were good friends. But the Caped Crusader is uninterested in this intrusion and handcuffs The Flash – but our speedy visitor easily breaks out of the manacles, thus convincing his host that he could be a great ally in bringing down Black Mask.

And what happens next? Well, I’d rather not give too much away – Batman fans will want to approach this film fresh, and the absence of online spoilers (as of this writing) will ensure that the film’s surprises unreel without giving away anything to ruin the effect.

It is undeniable that “Caped Crusader: The Dark Hours” was a labor of love. Tom Mariano, who plays Batman/Bruce Wayne and served as executive producer, recently told NewEnglandFilm.com that this effort tried to stay close to the original spirit of the DC Comics.

“All the characters in our movie are all from the comic books,” he explained. “These are characters that have never been brought to the screen before like Black Mask, Hush, Lady Shiva and whatnot. So, besides Flash and Batman, that have been brought to the big screen before, the rest of the main characters in this movie have never been brought to the big screen before, so that’s how it’s different. And we are strictly following the comic books on this. I think that the other franchises followed a little bit of the comic books, but we’re following just strictly the comic books and bringing new characters, new villains to the screen that have never been. And I didn’t want to do the Joker. I didn’t want to do Bane again and the Riddler. Those have all been done. So, we decided when we did this, that, you know, we would like to bring some big guys to the screen.”

At the risk of being sour, I would say that Mariano’s performance as Batman was the main problem I had with this film – the actor lacks the charisma needed to bring the character the life, thus creating a central void in the action, and his enervated presence recalls the A-list actors in the Tim Burton films that failed to channel their respective personalities into the tight confines of the Batman costume. In comparison, Ryan Salvato as The Flash resonates in his role – he has such a great screen presence that it makes you wish he was the main focus of the plot, and he manages to sneak in the film’s one genuinely hilarious joke line. (Again, no spoilers – you’ll know it when you hear it.)

Director Eassa, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, mostly manages to keep the film’s minimal budget from being a distraction. Fight sequences in a parking lot are artfully staged, and there is some subversive humor in a montage where Gotham City citizens are asked to voice their opinion on Batman’s value to the local quality of life. There are a few moments where the film’s lack of big bucks becomes obvious, especially when Commissioner Crowe shows up with the police force (all four of them). But, on the whole, no one outside of persnickety film critics will take offense with this.

“Caped Crusader: The Dark Hours,” in its pre-credit sequence, defines itself as a “non-profit film”  created for “entertainment purposes only,” so you will not find it at your local theater or favorite DVD retailer in the near future. But the film is online for free viewing on YouTube – and I would encourage Batman fans to check out this well-intended and often delightful (if unauthorized) tiptoe into Bob Kane territory. Plus, the film seems to suggest a sequel is in the works – and, hopefully, Eassa and company will improve on their shortcomings to create an even bigger and better foray into Gotham City.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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  1. RustyStardust says:

    You’re so wrong about Burton’s Batman. The sequel is over the top. But, the original was a refreshing & exciting change to cinema that still resonates today. Not to mention, Michael Keaton kicks a*s as Batman & brings a pathos to Bruce Wayne that no one has recaptured.

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