Don’t you love discovering other people’s nerdiest pleasures? I love that no matter who your talking to, little topics can come up that unleash the inner geek in somebody and they just explode with their knowledge. To bring up a particular fad or series and then watch the most unlikely of which person start spouting Klingon or sing Disney tunes or karate chop invisible objects in the air. Its crazy the things that develop a fanbase and just how far those fans are willing to take it. Like I mention the film version of The Green Hornet released last year and people just implode with anger over inconsistencies in the philosophy and how it raped their memories of the original. I’m always like “Excuse me, wasn’t this a radio show and 60s Batman knock-off? When did people care so much about this craze?” Or people that know the entire history of the Autobots and Decepticons. Or begin alliances with friends by asking Team Edward or Team Jacob.
I guess what I’m saying is there are endless amounts of cults out there to follow. FromStar Wars and Star Trek, Harry Potter and Twilight, to 80s punk bands and Bruce Lee movies. Of course one can belong to many (I myself enjoy Blade Runner, John Hughes, French New Wave, Phil Spector, Tom Waits, G.I. Joes, etc.) but one fanbase always stands out the most. The geek temple that I have worshiped at the most since my earliest days of childhood is the Church of Batman.
The entire franchise of the Batman series will be explored through future posts in preparation for The 2nd Coming (i.e. the release of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20th) as well as the memories of viewing each film on its hot summer opening day from childhood to adulthood.
In the summer of 1989, the release of the first major Batman film, I would be 3 years old so I can’t really recall if my parents took me to see this one in theatres. I imagine that unless I was teething or had massive bladder control problems they probably would. However, I can recall extremely early memories of jumping off the couch with a baby blanket draped around my neck like a cloak imitating the VHS as it played. I can also remember soon after moving up here in 1990 having a re-occuring nightmare where The Joker would come in and try to kill my parents. That would be the effect on this child and children everywhere I’m sure when growing up with the dark, noir fantasy blockbuster from director Tim Burton.
Warner Bros had been hoping to make a Batman feature for years after the success of the first few Superman films but nothing could shake the camp of the notorious 1960s television series. The revolution of the character through the 80s with such works as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke would bring Batman back to his basic, darker roots. For the first time Batman walked a fine line between himself and the criminals he took down. Gotham City was portrayed as dirty, run-down. The cops crooked and corrupt. At the studio that brought usRoboCop, Batman finally had found a home.
The production went into filming without a complete script and most of the final act was made up on the spot. It is a great credit to Burton and his crew that the inconsistencies of the plot rarely shine through amidst the radiant performances from its cast, haunting Danny Elfman score and other-worldly production design by Anton Furst. Michael Keaton takes on all nay-sayers as Bruce Wayne with a wonderful charisma and enthusiasm. Keaton has always been one of my favorite actors and this is truly one of his best performances. He has a dry wit when conversing with his trusted butler Alfred that is hilarious, a stern authoritative voice when he portrays Batman, and a live-wire insanity when put under pressure. My favorite moment in the film is Wayne attempting to reveal his identity to reporter and love interest Vicki Vale.
“You’re a really nice girl and I like you a lot….but for right now…Shut Up.”
Soon after Wayne has an encounter with The Joker and eggs him on with this:
“You wanna get nuts, come on lets get nuts.”
Keaton is absolutely badass as Wayne, useful since Batman himself only has an estimate of 15-20 minutes of screen time total. Of course the star of the show is the legendary Jack Nicholson playing The Joker as only he can. There’s hardly a word that can describe Nicholson’s portrayal of perhaps the greatest literary villain of all time (comic-book or otherwise). Every line is delivered with a delectable, devilish dialect. Every mannerism and facial expression so thoroughly planned out the performance could be silent and you’d still be scared as hell. Nicholson knows the role is all about scaring the kiddies and he’s having a hell of a time doing it.
The film also features Robert Wuhl (am I the only one who likes Arliss!) Pat Hingle as Jim Gordon, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, Tracey Walter as a henchman and the legendary Jack Palance as mob boss Carl Grissom. Palance as Grissom almost makes Nicholson’s performance seem controlled, each syllable is uttered with a sinister, senile exuberance. Their final exchange together (Is that you sugar bumps?…Who are you?…Its me – Sugar bumps.) is something of screenwriting genius.