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Saturday, July 8, 2017


Focusing not just on the title subject but on the entire life thus far of its uber-geek creator Sandy Collora, BEHIND THE MASK -- THE BATMAN: DEAD END STORY (Candy Factory Films, 2015) is the sort of documentary that offers fanboys both interesting information and a sort of vicarious wish-fulfillment fantasy.

I myself certainly would like to have lived Collora's life, or at least certain aspects of it. Turning on to comics at a very early age, and then movies with the release of such films as STAR WARS, Sandy Collora followed his dream into a job at Stan Winston's studio and, later, work on such films as JURASSIC PARK and MEN IN BLACK. 

As the brashly forthcoming Collora admits, his ego often worked against him even as it acted as a driving force in his ambitions.  He comes off, to me anyway, as an interesting and likable guy with a strong personality.

And he's incredibly creative, as the documentary never fails to demonstrate with plenty of visuals to augment the talking-head stuff.  The entire film, for that matter, is an easy watch--clean but unobtrusive graphics, well-presented interview and clip segments, and lots of interesting comments from genre notables such as Neal Adams as well as friends, coworkers, and family members (Collora's mother died tragically of cancer during the making of the Batman film).

Collora himself is an easygoing interview subject, coming to life when talking of Batman comics, genre films, or his favorite director, James Cameron.  He waxes excitedly about past and present film projects, modest productions over which he retains maximum creative control--a control for which he has sacrificed jobs on much higher prestige pictures. 

But what most viewers will be interested in, including myself, is that 2003 indy "Batman" short that Sandy Collora decided to put together one day in order to both show his stuff to Hollywood and to pay homage to his favorite incarnation (the Neal Adams period) of his favorite comics character.

Collora's drive and attention to detail are fascinating, as is his imagination in concocting one of the best Batman films ever made, one which captures the flavor of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns", "Batman: Year One", "Batman: The Animated Adventures", the Neal Adams comics (which reinstated Batman's serious side after the frivolity of the 60s TV series), and several other influences.

The short itself is a dark, rainy, and wonderfully gritty tale in which a beefy Batman encounters the Joker (the late Andrew Koenig in a stunningly good portrayal) in an alley shortly after his escape from Arkham Asylum.  But that's just the beginning, because the Caped Crusader soon tangles with Aliens (yes, those Aliens) and Predators in a mash-up that had packed comics convention audiences on their feet in furious applause.  

Clark Bartram's Batman is a solid take on the character, eschewing body armor for an old-fashioned Batsuit that he fills out well, and a surly attitude that bodes ill for wrongdoers.  (Collora initially interested Sylvester Stallone in the role and does a great impression of him.)  Technically, the film is exquisite and captures the spirit of the classic comics while often being dazzlingly cinematic.

While the story of this celebrated film serves as the main course, BEHIND THE MASK -- THE BATMAN: DEAD END STORY helps us better appreciate it by giving us a full perspective on the creator's life before and since, in about as compelling a manner as such a documentary can manage.  All that's missing is the eight-minute Batman film itself, which, although it's available to view online, seems a curious omission. 


Type: DVD//Digital HD (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play) 
Running Time: 99 mins.
Rating:  N/A
Genre: Documentary
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: Stereo

Street Date: July 18, 2017

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