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!

4 comments:

  1. Oh god yes. This might seem silly to anyone who wasn't young enough to be around when the movie was released but it was EVERYWHERE. That poster of the gold Batman logo has to be one of the best movie posters of all time--even in it's simplicity. Michael Keaton and his bank of monitors SHOULD be what Batman is rather than the man who takes eight years off to collect cheetos in his beard.

    You definitely hit it right on why the Burton films were so good. Everything just fit into place. The characters, story, and atmosphere were all perfect. I hate to use the word, but Burton put in the perfect dash of whimsy in the first film. Returns had plenty to make up for the darkness that the series took. I kinda liked Returns better because Vicki just got annoying after some time in the first movie.

    To be honest, I didn't think Batman Forever was too terrible for some reason--probably because I kinda liked Jim Carrey in it (Tommy Lee Jones was godawful, though). Batman & Robin though...ugh.

    You kinda mentioned briefly that you've come to like the Nolan films. Even Rises? I left the theater thinking it was awesome, but after thinking about it for a week straight I couldn't help but see everything in that movie as some extreme bullshit. I get pissed off just thinking of that movie.

    Atleast this came out of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unQLV9FKHJg

    Anyway, boy did I get off topic. All this talk about the original Batman movie this week has been a great nostalgia trip. :D

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    1. I remember being SO excited for Batman Forever -- even though Keaton was missing and Madmartigan is Batman now? -- I would reread the novelization in anticipation. Jim Carrey was my hero in '94 and '95, so his casting was a plus. I liked it enough at the time, but remember coming out of the theater underwhelmed. Now, the movie's weaknesses just stick out too much for me. I can watch it if I hadn't watched the Burtons for a while, but it doesn't hold up with his movies.

      I liked parts of Rises, but it has two huge problems -- it overstays its welcome and Tom Hardy is godawful as Bane. (It's a seriously long movie -- when I first watched it, I literally felt like it took all day to watch.) The main thing I like about the movie is that I feel like there's a pathos to Bruce/Batman. Bale's Batman is pretty invincible in the first one and a non-entity in the second, but I like that he's sort of broken down and finds it within himself to fight again, even with the odds so stacked against him. There's just such a sadness to the character in the movie, and I think that's something necessary for the Bruce Wayne character and it was lacking in the first two Nolan movies. I'm still surprised Nolan didn't end up killing him off, even though it's obviously what he wanted to do. I also like that Bruce is a bit closer to the Burton interpretation of the character in that he's an eccentric, Howard Hughes-type of weirdo.

      I can see why the people who liked Dark Knight so much had a problem with Rises, because it kind of has more of a heart and isn't so outrageously bleak, it goes a bit more over-the-top, but that's one of the things I liked about it -- that it actually started to seem like a superhero movie.

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  2. I've always viewed Tim Burton's Batman as the first real attempt to at a serious, dark, gritty superhero movie!! This movie is a melting pot if a great a story, great acting, and an overall great viewing experience
    I mean you had Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Jack Nicholson, Billy Dee Williams, I mean this movie was loaded with stars and feel like it started the now craze of hiring well known actors to play sub acting roles like Michael Caine playing Alfred in the Nolan Dark Knight series, Sally Field playing Aunt May in Spiderman, etc. like Tim Burton basically defined how a superhero movie should be handled
    This movie just holds a special place in my heart and is like my favorite movie of all time!

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    1. I also feel like Batman is a special movie. It certainly feels like kids today don't appreciate just how much Batman did for comic book movies -- you can still spot its DNA in most superhero movies. But it was really Superman: The Movie that first tried to cast known and respected actors (Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman) in order to prove that it wasn't going to be an ordinary comic movie.

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