I’ve been a tv and movie junkie since I was a kid and the intersection of movies and television got me thinking about what tv shows successfully made the leap to the big screen. In my previous post, I celebrated the 50th Anniversary of “Batman”– the classic 60’s tv series. The eventual Warner Bros movie franchise that resulted made “Batman” one of the most accomplished superhero series to make that leap.
Catwoman, Riddler, Penguin, Joker
In 1989, Tim Burton set about the challenge of retooling the DC Comics superhero, “Batman” – this update veered away from the “campy” Adam West version and set in motion the money-making Warner Bros Batman films, most notably the “Dark Knight” trilogy.
I remember being in the grocery store when “Batman” (1989) premiered. Standing in line overhearing the chit chat, some people were truly upset that the Keaton movie was nothing like the tv series. They wanted the “pow” and “bam” of the William Dozier inception. I didn’t say anything but my husband is a comic book geek so I knew the real story and it was nothing like the “dynamic duo” of Adam West and Burt Ward. The 60’s classic was based on light-hearted portrayals and over the top villains. The real “Batman” is so far from campy it’s funny.
The film, directed by Tim Burton and produced by Jon Peters was based on the DC Comics character of the same name. It is the first installment of Warner Bros.’ initial Batman film series. It stars Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, alongside Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, and Jack Palance. The plot is more closely aligned with the comic book as Batman, widely believed to be an urban legend goes to war with a rising criminal mastermind known as “the Joker” (Nicholson).
I felt Keaton brought a vulnerability to the role while focusing on the conflict within. I remember reading an article about Michael Keaton speaking to Jack Nicholson on how to approach the character. Jack being Jack told Keaton to let the mask do the work. Following Nicholson’s advice, Keaton played with his voice’s lower register so the character’s intensity was amplified.
Michael Keaton as Batman (1989)
Director Tim Burton did a tremendous job bringing the “Batman series” back to life. The atmospheric presence of Gotham City created the perfect backdrop for the conflict between “good” vs “evil”. Along with Nicholson providing the maniacal humor,”Batman” couldn’t help but be a hit!
“Batman” was one of the first films to spawn two soundtracks. One of them featured songs written by Prince while the other showcased Danny Elfman’s score. Both were extremely successful. Prince’s soundtrack album was No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart for six consecutive weeks. It has sold over eleven million copies worldwide.
Burton explained the theme, “the whole film and mythology of the character is a complete duel of the freaks. It’s a fight between two disturbed people”, adding that “The Joker is such a great character because there’s a complete freedom to him. Any character who operates on the outside of society and is deemed a freak and an outcast then has the freedom to do what they want… They are the darker sides of freedom. Insanity is in some scary way the most freedom you can have because you’re not bound by the laws of society”. (Wikipedia)
Jack Nicholson as the “Joker”
The tone and themes of the film were influenced in part by Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns. Batman was a critical and financial success, earning over $400 million in box office totals. It was the fifth-highest grossing film in history at the time of its release. The film received several Saturn Award nominations and a Golden Globe nomination and won an Academy Award.
The American Film Institute anointed Batman the 46th greatest movie hero and the Joker the 45th greatest movie villain on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains. In 2008, Batman was selected by Empire magazine as number 458 of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
“Batman” initiated the original Batman film series and spawned three sequels: Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997); the latter two of which were directed by Joel Schumacher instead of Burton, and replaced Keaton as Batman with Val Kilmer and George Clooney, respectively.
Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Killmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale
Personally, I feel the franchise wasn’t fully formed until “Batman Begins” (2005) with Christian Bale as the “dark knight”. This and the subsequent sequels delved even deeper into the dark and intense storyline of Bruce Wayne and his inner demons.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and three BAFTA awards. It is followed by The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) in a continual story-arc, which has later been referred to as The Dark Knight Trilogy. Many consider “Batman Begins” to be one of the best superhero films of its decade.
The Dark Knight in 2008 and The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 (with Bale reprising his role in both films) earned over $1 billion worldwide, making “Batman” the second film franchise (and to date one of only five) to have two of its films earn more than $1 billion worldwide.
Well, I’m totally into this franchise and never miss a new installment in the series. Christian Bale is the man, he’s managed to capture Batman’s intensity with such vigor that the deeper he plunges, the deeper the journey we take with him.