Monday, June 23, 2014
Batman 1989: The film we needed AND deserved
Get the funk up to Batdance, because today is the anniversary of Tim Burton's Batman, which premiered twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five! How frightening it is how Bat-time flies. It's one of the first movies I can remember seeing in the theater and there was just no escaping the Batmania that movie caused. The movie tried so hard to shake the image of the 1960s series, yet was so popular that I remember the show making a comeback in reruns, such was the hunger for all things Batman.
As I just mentioned recently, I'm a big Batman fan, and the 1989 Batman is responsible for that. I had so much Bat-merchandise (I still think the quick-change Bruce Wayne figure is awesome and I still remember what a total disappointment the NES game was and how delicious the cereal was), and I remember just constant coverage of the movie...it remains one of my favorite iterations of the character. As much as I've come to enjoy the comics or the Christopher Nolan movies, I feel like Tim Burton's oddness was really at home in Gotham. (The die-hards of the comics grumble about Burton not being a comics fan, but he at least got the character and the character's world and was able to express himself through the character, whereas Nolan expressed himself in spite of the character.)
I love that Burton took Bruce Wayne in the direction of being an eccentric weirdo. Nolan ran with the Bruce Wayne that comics like Frank Miller's Year One used -- the idiot, frivolous playboy persona Bruce uses as a mask. So, I feel like Burton really took the character in a different direction, and that Michael Keaton was the perfect choice to bring this version of the character to life. Keaton also captures the haunted, tortured side of the character that I think can be lacking in other live-action adaptations.
Maybe it comes from becoming a fan of Batman through this movie, but I like film and live-action adaptations of superheroes the most. I mean, I've read a LOT of comics, especially Batman, but I still don't feel really super knowledgeable about comics. So, I don't really have an iron-clad image of a lot of superheroes. Being a movie buff, liking live-action, I know that there are necessary changes that need to be made in adapting a work. Basically, this is a long-winded way of me saying that I'm one of the only Batman fans who doesn't see a problem with Joker being the one who killed Bruce's parents. To me, it's actually kind of genius -- Joker is Batman's top nemesis. How to really solidify that, to really take it as far as it can go? Have Joker be the one behind the incident that shaped who Bruce Wayne is. That just adds another interesting dimension to the Joker, especially considering the Joker was a young thug when he killed the Waynes, not quite the Joker yet but well on his way...
While I enjoy Batman Returns, I feel like it's a step down in quality from the first one. Returns is a really closed in movie with its claustrophobic sets, and Batman '89 benefits from being filmed in England -- a lot of it is done on backlots, sure, but sets feel massive, and the set designer for the '89 movie created such a unique world and he ended up making Gotham seem like such a grimy, scary place. It's just sad to me that the sequels -- mainly Schumacher's movies -- take such a goddamn nosedive and pretty much bury all that the 1989 film accomplished and tarnish its image.
Batman 1989 is one of my top favorite movies, period, and is just such a cool, solid movie that's a good movie on its own and not just as a Batman movie. People need to remember how good it is, how gigantic and authentic of a phenomenon it was, how much it influenced the comic book movie adaptations that followed, and show it respect. (Comic book purists who always looked down on Burton's movies worship Batman The Animated Series, a show which wouldn't exist without the Burton movies.)
Batman 1989 Forever!