Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Retro Movie Review: Batman (1989, PG13 - 126 minutes)

Earlier this year, Marvel and Joss Whedon did the unthinkable and made what seems to me to be the perfect Comic Book movie.  With amazing effects, great characters, good acting, great story, and the very difficult to achieve wide-ranging appeal, The Avengers may go down in history as the best 'superhero movie' of all time.

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.
In my mind, it feels like it came out recently, but it is officially 23 years old now (what?!?!).

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.

Tim Burton was given the job to direct Batman after the success of 1985's PeeWee's Big Adventure and his 1988 movie Beetlejuice, starring Michael Keaton.  Burton was excited about the idea after reading The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, both considered to bring a dark grittiness back to Batman. 
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. 
Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, and James Woods were considered for the Joker, however Robin Williams was the person who campaigned the hardest for it.  Jack Nicholson got the role after making several odd demands including having his contract specify the number of hours he was entitled to have off each day, as well as being off for Lakers home games, and receiving a percentage of the box office gross.  There are several actors/roles in cinematic history that I would consider to define the phrase "Chewing the Scenery".  I use the phrase to mean anytime an actor is overacting to the point of being campy - and yet, for some reason, it still works for the film.  Lawrence Olivier in the original Clash of the Titans, Marlon Brando in Superman, Brian Cox in Troy (although - almost anything he's in would count), Charlize Theron in the recent Snow White and the Huntsman, and Jack Nicholson in Batman.  His over the top Joker is fantastic, and was so good that there was a general outcry when Nolan stated he was going to re-do the Joker.  Nicholson was amazing - why would you re-do it?  I was one of those people, right up until I saw Heath Ledger's performance.  That shut me (and everyone else) right up. 
Kim Basinger stepped into the role of Vikki Vale after Sean Young was injured and Michael Keaton suggested not Michelle Pfeiffer (Burton's choice) due to the fact that he and Pfeiffer were together in real life (at the time) and thought it would be awkward to work together.
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 movie was groundbreaking, and set up the idea that 'comic book' movies could appeal to a wide audience, not just fanboys. Keaton's performance was unexpected and very good.  His Bruce Wayne is tortured and determined, his Batman is strong and clear.  Plus there is that one scene wear he hangs upside down in the gravity boots - clever!  Basinger was a little dumb-blonde for my taste, but that worked fine for the role.  Nicholson was impressive, just plain impressive.  The suit was beautiful, black and rubbery, staying away from the spandex that the original Christopher Reeve Superman suit went with.  Of course, Superman being invunerable and all - he can get away with wearing only spandex.  The movie was criticized for being "too dark", but I felt that it was the perfect tone, bringing a grittiness to the story and making you completely understand why this man would dress like a bat to go after criminals.  And, what do the people who thought that 1989 Batman was "too dark" say about Batman Begins? 
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 2:  Some Batman, the Animated Series, still my favorite Batman. And also - Mark Hamill - best Joker ever?  2nd best Joker ever?  debatable, I suppose.

Bonus Video 3:  Batman cast and crew interviews - ha!  Look how crazy the fashion was in 1989! Geez I'm getting old:

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