When I was a young lad Batmania was everywhere. The release of Tim Burton’s 1989 film was huge, like really really huge. I was already a batman fan by it’s release though because, thanks to UK TV often having no idea what to fill it’s daytime schedule with, I had been watching the 1960s TV series over and over. I loved that show as a kid. It was bright, colourful and more than a little bit insane. What I somehow didn’t know at the time was that there was a movie made after the first season had ended. Years later I caught up with it and enjoyed it in retro novelty kind of way. That was mostly down to me being more interested in the more mature and darker knight that had come since. Tonight I watch the film again for the first time in a number of years. How do I view it now? Click the link to find out!
This is high comedy. The series was never that serious. It always had a goofy cartoon like style that was very much running through it constantly but it was never this silly. Batman The Movie can be summed up by describing the opening scene. Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) rush to track down an apparent hijacked boat at sea. They do this by driving to their Bat-Copter and lowering a Bat-Rope Ladder to climb on board. Just as Batman is about to set foot on the vessel it vanishes and his feet fall into the water. When they emerge a shark is attached to him. A shark he defeats with a can of Bat Shark Repellent (It also comes in Whale, Barracuda and Manta Ray flavours), the shark then falls to the water and explodes. The shark is the first of 3 sea creatures that explode in this film.
So that”s the first 4 minutes or so of the film. Pretty Batty so far huh? Ho ho ho… The films plot as a whole involves 4 of Batman’s most ruthless and bothersome villains teaming up to dehydrate the United World Organisations Security Council which obviously would turn them into coloured dust. Oddly their plan is a lot more focused on killing the bat than actually turning the Security Council into dust, a feat they actually manage with little to no resistance. As far as villainous groups go this one is particularly nefarious. The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) don’t exactly get along but they’re united in their desire to see the Batman and his boy blunder Robin defeated. Even if it requires an exploding Octopus (The third exploding creature) to complete the task.
Now it would be very easy to level the many, many, criticisms I have with the Batman & Robin film at this one. It’s campy, silly and very very illogical at times. The difference here is that Batman the Movie is a pure joy to watch. It is Batman done as a farcical comedy/parody of comic book adventures. Sure the 50s and early 60s Batman comics weren’t that far removed from this but I’m pretty sure at no point was Batman & Robin saved by a self sacrificing Dolphin (The second of the exploding animals) that swam itself into the path of an oncoming torpedo. The scene in which Batman & Robin deduce who is behind the opening scenes disappearing boat and TNT filled Shark attack is possibly the single greatest piece of detective work ever put on screen. There’s an excellently farcical scene where Batman is trying to dispose of a bomb with a lit fuse that he just can’t get rid of due to the sheer amount of pedestrians, nuns and swimming Ducks that are getting in the way of a safe bomb disposal.
The performances in this Bat-adventure are delightfully campy and over the top, the villains especially working overtime to get the most attention. Of all the villains though none of them quite hit the sweet spot that Frank Gorshin’s Riddler does. He eats up every single moment of screen time he gets in a way that leaves you with no doubt that he was having a hell of a lot of fun in this role. The way he talks, reacts and moves is perfect. Maybe not perfect as a interpretation of The Riddler of the comics, even at the time, but perfect for the film he is in. It’s very easy to see exactly where Jim Carrey pulled most his performance in Batman Forever from. I love Cesar Romero’s Joker with his refusal to shave his moustache but still wear white face paint over it. Love Burgess Meredith’s squawking Penguin laugh and Lee Meriwether makes for a Puuuurfect Catwoman. But none of those three quite match the brilliance of Frank Gorshin.
Don’t get me wrong, on a technical level the films a mess. It’s story relies on coincidence and contrivances aplenty. It’s shot exactly like the TV show barring the widescreen format and higher grade stock, but still retains the Dutch angles and abundance of two and three shots. It also plays out a lot like a series of short episodes with little smooth transition from one evil scheme to the next. What makes the film work is just how Bat-shit insane and fun it is. I challenge anyone to not find the bomb disposal scene hilarious. Batman The Movie is very much a film of it’s time for the audience they had gained from the TV show. But today it’s pure campy enjoyment. I personally think this interpretation of Batman is just as valid as anything done by Tim Burton or Chris Nolan. It may not have the integrity of their works but it still represents a period in Batman’s history that does exist in comic form. It’s actually pretty awesome just how far you can go from one end of the tonal spectrum to the other with Batman. Love this film.
The next review I do won’t be Batman themed. But will the Caped Crusader reviews return? Is there room for another campy adventure? What of the other animated Batman films? Find out in a few days. Same Bat-site. Same Bat-place!