This coming friday Christopher Nolan and WB will attempt to top it with the long awaited conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. So, next week, I'll blog my review of Dark Knight Rises. Since I was busy dancing at Bastille Days this past weekend (http://www.tamarindtribalbellydance.com), I didn't get to the theater (what?!?). I figured it would be appropriate to think about the first major Batman appearance on the big screen. 1989's Batman by Tim Burton, starring Michael Keaton.
Batman was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. He swiftly became one of the two most iconic comic characters in DC comics history (Superman is the other one, but you should not have needed me to tell you that).
Batman's orgins have never changed over the long history of the character. Bruce Wayne was 8 years old when his parents were gunned down in front of him by a mugger. This caused him to dedicate his life to fighting crime so that the citizens of Gotham City could walk without fear through their city. Being the heir to an incredible fortune, Bruce was able to study all varieties of martial arts and detective skills while traveling the world. On his return to Gotham to take over running Wayne Industries, a bat flies into Wayne Manor, giving Bruce the inspiration to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham's criminals by using the persona of "the Batman."
Batman is instantly the most relatable of the comic book heroes due to his lack of superpowers. Everything he has he gets through his brain, training, hard work and determination (and oh yeah, the limitless Wayne fortune, which may or may not count as a superpower). Plus there's the fact that no one, NO ONE has anywhere near the cool gadgets that Batman does. Beginning with the batsuit and going through the utility belt (in which he always keeps a piece of kryptonite - just in case!), batarangs, grappling gun, and going all the way through the batmobile and batcave. Batman's assortment of gadgets and toys makes him the envy of every superhero, and some villians.
Many top stars were considered for Batman including Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Perce Brosnan, Tom Selleck, and Bill Murray of all people. Burton was pressured to cast an established 'action' star, but after having just worked with Keaton in Beetlejuice, he felt he had a dark, edgy quality that would suit Bruce Wayne. This just proves my point that comedians have an easier time doing drama than vice versa. There were 50,000 protest letters sent to WB by Batman fans who were not convinced the casting was correct. Most of those protesters were won over in the end by Keaton's understated and powerful performance.
Michael Gough became the stalwart bat-butler Alfred, and Robert Wuhl (remember Arli$$?) was Allie Knox. Billy Dee Williams was Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent and Jack "one armed push-ups" Palance was crime boss Carl Grissom. Nicholson's read life friend Tracey Walter played Bob, the Joker's number one henchman.
Burton's dark and gothic look for Gotham City was epic and trendsetting. The story was interesting in that it wasn't an orgin story. We stepped directly into Batman as Batman and were told the orgin story through flashbacks. Jack Napier is a low level crime boss in Carl Grissom's crew, in a battle with Batman, he falls into a vat of chemicals, creating the bizzare face and mental dysfunction that becomes the iconic Batman villian of the Joker. The Joker then sets out to poison Gotham by inserting half a chemical compound in everyday items, and pump out the other half from giant balloons during a parade. Bruce Wayne is battling crime in the city by night and faking being a drunken useless playboy during the day when he falls for photographer Vikki Vale. The Joker kidnaps Vikki, leading to a climatic battle on top of Gotham Cathedral, from which the Joker falls to his death. Oh - spoiler alert, the Joker falls to his death.
The music, scorewise, was Danny Elfman's best work, and was later used for the (in my opinion!) best version of Batman, the Animated Series (1994). The songs were by Prince and were fantastic. That casette tape became my family's roadtrip tape for years. I still love Batdance!
The movie did win an Oscar for Best Art Direction, which was well deserved. There were three sequels, and I'm sure you have your own opinion about those (2 - not good, 3 - not terrible, 4 awful, just awful). Burton's orginal Batman ended up grossing just shy of $412 million worldwide, and I know I helped add to that total. If you haven't seen it in a while - check it out before you go see the new one this weekend!
8 out of 10 - Gained points for Keaton and Nicholson, lost points for the Batmobile, while it looked cool - it actually didn't drive much and had to be pushed around - lame. Gained points for the design and art of the city and movie in general. Lost points for Basinger, sorry, she's just not that great. Check out Cool World if you don't believe me. Oh no, wait, don't - it's terrible!
Bonus Video 1: The original 1978 Superman, comparable in that it was the best 'superhero/comic' movie up to that point. Also comparable in that it had one of the best scores ever, created by John Williams.
Bonus Video 3: Batman cast and crew interviews - ha! Look how crazy the fashion was in 1989! Geez I'm getting old: