The Joker Blogs is an interesting web series on many levels. At it’s heart it is a fan film, being a direct continuation of Christopher Nolaen’s The Dark Knight. But it has grown into something more than the sum of its parts.
Fan films are nothing new, but they are always tricky to deal with. First off, due to copyright law, you can’t make a profit on them unless you have worked to secure rights, which honestly these kinds of productions can’t afford. So making one is always a labor of love, even if it is also an attempt to show off your film making skills, like the movie Batman: Dead End.
But The Joker Blogs is something more, as it is not just a film, it is a series.
The premise is simple. The series takes place directly after the events of The Dark Knight. The Joker is being held at Arkham Asylum, undergoing evaluation to determine if he is sane enough to stand trial. The first part of the series is presented as tapes from the Joker’s therapy sessions with Dr. Harleen (Harley)Qunizel, which the Joker says are going to be uploaded to YouTube by a friend of his. These episodes play out as a mental cat and mouse game between Harley and the Joker. The second half of the series takes place after the Joker escapes Arkham on Harley’s wedding day. The Joker takes Dr. Jeremiah Arkham hostage and films his antics.
The entire series is done in a ”found footage” style. In total there were 19 episodes of the original series, plus several side videos. Since then there have been six videos released called Further Evidence that have acted as filler and set up as the crew prepares for a second series which is planned to start in April.
The genesis of the series is from the premiere of The Dark Knight in 2008, when Scott McClure attended dressed as the Joker. Several people complimented him on his spot-on impression of the character as played by the late Heath Ledger. Being a film-maker McClure decided to make a video of himself as the character and put it on YouTube. The response to the video was overwhelmingly positive so McClure and his partner Andrew DeVary decided to use it as a pilot for an entire series.
So what makes this series stand out from all the other various fan films that get put online?
The one thing that can make or break a web series like this is the writing. McClure and DeVary have a clear understanding that at his heart, the Joker is a horror movie character. Even in the light hearted early installments, there is a feeling of tension brought on by the character that increases as the series progresses. By the time the Joker escapes, the series has become a horror story with some comedic elements.
The writing would not be enough without the directing and McClure’s direction is superb. In straddling the line between horror and comedy pacing is key. McClure knows that in a show with a low budget, less is more and what you don’t see can be more terrifying than what you do. Add to that the fact that most of the cast are not experienced actors, but still pull off good performances, which I would credit to the direction they received.
As the series presented itself as basically real-time found footage, the show used that to include an interactive element. The Joker would give viewers tasks to do, usually to act as an advertisement for the show. One example was instructing viewers to send Warner Bros. valentines that included the shows web address. Reports are that a few thousand were sent.
Then we have to take a look at the cast.
As the Joker, the whole series is built around McClure’s performance. While it is directly based on Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight, McClure adds his own touches, and creates the perfect balance between the humor and menace of the character. Since His face is the only one seen in the first 9 episodes (with the exception of a quick cameo by the Scarecrow in episode 6) the series lives or dies by him. Fortunately, McClure is more than up to the task. McClure also plays the character of Dr. Thomas Elliot. It is a credit to his ability as an actor that a lot of fans did not catch that he was the same actor playing the Joker.
Kira Westberg as Harleen Quinzel is the other lead in the series. At first she sounds wooden, but as the series goes on it appears that this was just part of trying to keep professional composure with the Joker. By the end, when she is an onscreen presence, she carries her scenes well, and shows hints of evolving into Harley Quinn.
Steven Molony rounds out the main cast as Jermiah Arkham, Director of Arkham Asylum. Starting out as a bit player in early episodes, once the series leaves the Asylum, Dr. Arkham becomes a major character. Molony conveys the horror of what is going on, showing Dr. Arkham slowly losing his own grip on sanity. Molony also plays Batman in the few bits where he appears.
Once the series was done fans made sure it was known they wanted more. McClure and DeVary set up a successful crowd sourcing campaign to fund it. The series of shorts Further Evidence, focused on different characters, and shows how they deal with the aftermath of series one.
As I said earlier, the next series is scheduled to debut in in April. Further Evidence appears to have set up part of the plot, and the trailer has hints that it will touch on events for The Dark Knight Rises.
Overall The Joker Blogs is an impressive web series and should be checked out if you are a fan of The Dark Knight Trilogy, or if you are interested in the potential of web based series making.
Overall I give it a grade of A-.