Batman - Classic Bat
| In 1989, I remember going to my local mall and finding the line for opening day of Tim Burton's film adaptation of Batman winding its way through the entire mall and out the doors into the parking lot. In a stroke of luck, a friend was 5 people from the front and I was able to see the first showing that day. At the time I was completely in love with the film so as I went to review Batman after not seeing it for quite a few years, I was nervous about whether or not it would live up to my remembered expectations.
The work of neither Tim Burton nor Danny Elfman hold the same fascination for me as they did in the early 90s. Today the horrible memories of Schumacher's films (Batman and Robin) taint our perceptions of the series that Burton started while shiny, flashy trailers for Nolan's Begins make the original seem a tad quaint. Revisiting Batman again caused a great deal of excitement and trepidation for me.
However, as Elfman's score - probably his career best - began and the classic symbol of the Bat appeared, I began to remember what a great film adaptation Batman is. Burton's film is all style. From the first scene (a tease that hints at the familiar origin of the superhero) the film creates an entire world that is complete in and of itself, existing in no specific era and lacking nothing that the story requires. From Anton Furst's Academy Award winning sets to the periodless costumes, Batman is visually spectacular, even when viewed through today's CGI jaded eyes.
Burton's style extends to the way he loving crafts each scene. He imports the conceits of old gangster and monster movies to create the kind of pulp fiction homage that Sin City wishes it could be. My favourite scene is the almost silent remembrance of the fatal mugging that left Bruce Wayne an orphan. There is such a palpable emotion to this moment that no Batman adaptation will ever do better.
Burton is fascinated with dualities in his work on Batman. The center of this is naturally the main character himself who is at once Bruce Wayne/Batman but also Justice/Lawlessness, Sanity/Insanity at the same time. The Joker is his foil and the movie's conceit of the two characters "creating" each other works well here even if it is offensive to die hard comic book fans.
Another duality here is the balance Burton finds between the natural campiness of the character and his darkness. This was the first non-comic adaptation of Batman to be dark and frightening but it also wonderfully embraced the theatricality of the man who dresses up as a bat. This is also seen spectacularly in the realisation of the Joker who osculates between being ridiculously silly and remarkably terrifying often managing to be both simultaneously. Jack Nicholson's performance as the Joker is an absolute stroke of genius.
Another thing to love about this film is the soundtrack. Elfman's work is his most tight and emotional and ironically his least cartoonish score ever. Plus, this is balanced with Prince's delightful song score (okay, honestly not his best work but still really fun) and the two together continue the theme of balancing apparent opposites. It seems that the art of writing song scores has disappeared. Rarely are songs actually written for a movie anymore. Instead pop stars simply submit their latest cookie cutter single to get played in the background or over the credits. Here we have an example of not just one but a full slate of songs written to enhance the film, written in the voices of the characters and exploring the themes the movie brings up. I wish this kind of work was still being done today.
Okay, not all the film is wonderful. Kim Basinger, as always, is truly horrible as she looks like she is always about to break into 100 pieces and delivers her lines without ever showing one emotion. Robert Whul as her reporter partner manages only one emotion, smarmy sarcasm, but at least that's one up on her.
Also the DVD is a bit of a disappointment as there has never been a "Special Edition" with the "making of" or "behind the scenes" features fans love. Instead the DVD, while offering both Widescreen and Fullscreen versions, is bare bones.
Still, Batman is a film that truly stands the test of time, remaining one of the greatest superhero movies ever. Nolan has a lot to live up to with his new film. This is a great film to rent in anticipation of the new Bat and since the DVD is remarkably affordable, it's also well worth purchasing.
Before Batman Returned or Began or met Robin there was Tim Burton's feature. How does the DVD stand the test of time? Find out what our reviewers think.