Friday, 27 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

As regular readers of this blog will know I tend not to write about ‘personal’ things, mostly because I prefer discussing Afrika Reich than myself. Today is an exception as earlier in the week I saw The Dark Knight Rises… and want to tell you about it.

The first thing you need to know is that I very rarely go to the cinema. I find the communality of it off putting: all that chomping popcorn and chatting when I’ve come to see a film. In fact I’m a total fascist on the subject of talking in the cinema; when I saw Batman Begins I almost got involved in a punch-up because the person in front of me wouldn’t shut up. Second, and only a small cabal of people know this so I’m revealing more than usual today, I’ve been a closet Batman fan all my life… so my trip to the BFI’s IMAX was quite an occasion.

And well worth it. The Dark Knight Rises is a spectacle on a scale rarely seen these days: epic in its sweep with electrifying set-pieces and a real sense of danger, characters I genuinely cared about and a score so bombastic it threatened to give me a heart attack. Writer / producer / director Christopher Nolan’s insistence on getting as much of the action ‘in camera’ (as opposed to using CGI) pays off handsomely – as absurd as the notion of man dressed as a bat is, the whole thing feels real, credible. It’s not a perfect film (one plot twist is decidedly naff) but I found the overall emotional effect of the film deeply satisfying.

The whole experience was further enhanced by the gargantuan IMAX screen and sound so impressively loud that my ears were still ringing next morning! If you enjoyed the first two parts of Nolan’s trilogy I wholeheartedly recommend you seek this out, especially at an IMAX.

For me, the greatest triumph of The Dark Knight Rises was how effortlessly it fused character, action, morality and politics within a realistic, fairy-tale setting… and here I hope you can see the connection with Afrika Reich and why I’m enthusing so much. Indeed the mythology of Batman, its theme of revenge and aesthetic (more of the latter in ‘F is for…’), was an influence on my book. It’s always surprised me, for instance, that no one has made the connection between Hochburg and Ra’s al Ghul.

I read that Christopher Nolan is going to take some time off now before finding his next project; he’s looking for a thriller more grounded in the real world, ‘something like James Bond’. If anybody has a contact at Syncopy, let me know!

Monday, 2 July 2012


GERMANIA – or to give the city its full title Welthaupstadt Germania (World Capital Germania) – was the name the Nazis planned to give Berlin if they won the war.

Along with Hitler not appearing in the book (see ‘H is also for…’) another early decision I had to make was whether any scenes would be set in the capital of the new German Empire. It is, of course, the primary location of Robert Harris’s Fatherland, indeed I’ve often wondered why he didn’t call his book Germania. In a rather sneaky exposition scene Harris has his hero and son take a bus tour of the city so the reader can become familiar with its sights: the Great Hall, Avenue of Victory, Arch of Triumph und so weiter.

Germania is brought to life so vividly in Fatherland that I didn’t see much point in revisiting it, so during the planning of Afrika Reich I chose not to use it as a setting. This also coincided with me exorcising anything in Britain/London, apart from the prologue. I liked the intensity of having the whole book set in Africa with no European ‘relief breaks’, something my agent initially pressed for. I’ll come back to this in ‘U is also for...’

Speer admiring a model of his planned city as seen in the film Downfall.

On a practical note, it’s unlikely Germania as envisioned by Hitler and his architect, Albert Speer, could ever have been built. The planned buildings were so monumental that they required granite hard foundations; Berlin is built on marshy ground. To test whether such huge edifices could ever be erected several exploratory load bearing blocks were constructed. If they sank less than 6cm, the ground of Berlin would not have been capable of sustaining the structures Hitler imagined. They were built in 1941 and although they exist to this day, within three years had slipped 18cm!

Nevertheless there’s great appeal in the prospect of such a histrionic city with its Olympian architecture and convictions of grandeur. I was particularly struck by one, slightly apocryphal detail. Visiting dignitaries would arrive at Templehof airport, then drive directly through the city along the Avenue of Splendours to Hitler’s Palace and finally his study: an uninterrupted straight line of five kilometres from your plane to the desk of the Führer. Can you imagine such megalomania? In the earliest drafts of Book 2 Hochburg made this journey.

Unfortunately as I began developing the plot this scene became more and more unnecessary until finally I realised it had to be cut. Working on a novel, however, is a process of constant evolution, so even as Hochburg’s scene fell from the manuscript another scene in Germania presented itself. Something more gentle and unexpected. You’ll have to wait for the sequel to find out what, but it may just involve Burton... and ice cream!

See the next entry for a virtual tour of Hitler’s planned city.

Germania - a virtual tour

Normally I only include one or two pictures with each blog entry. However, when I was researching Germania I came across so many striking images that I thought I’d share some of them here, starting with this artist’s impression of the approach to the Volkshalle or Great Hall:

This monstrosity was so huge that it would have been the biggest structure in the world if it had ever been built. Rising more than 1000 ft it had a capacity of 180 000 people. One of the unpredicted consequences of having so many people in a single space is that their breath would have risen into the dome, condensed, then fallen as rain, making it the only building even to generate its own climate. To get a sense of its sheer size here’s a model with the Brandenburg Gate in the foreground to show the scale:

The Great Hall stood at the end of the Avenue of Victory. The following two images show its position within the city:

Another of Germania’s landmarks would have been the Arch of Triumph. Once again, it was planned to be on a gargantuan scale and have a cubic capacity 49 times larger than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. One wonders why they didn’t go the whole hog and make it 50 times. Rather presumptively, Hitler had drawn a sketch of it as early as 1924. Here’s his original:

If you’d like a virtual tour of Germania, I recommend this video: