8.31.2011

Batman: The Movie (1966)

DIRECTED BY
Leslie H. Martinson

STARRING
Adam West - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Burt Ward - Dick Grayson/Robin
Cesar Romero - The Joker
Burgess Meredith - The Penguin
Lee Merriwether - Catwoman/Kitka
Frank Gorshin - The Riddler
Alan Napier - Alfred
Neil Hamilton - Commissioner Gordon
Stafford Rett - Chief O'Hara


Genre - Action/Comedy/Fantasy/Comic Books

Running Time - 106 Minutes


When it comes to comic books, I'm a major Marvel Comics fanboy. Spider-Man, X-Men, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, etc. - I'm all for it. I'll buy and read the comics. I'll watch the cartoons. And I'll watch the films. I just find the characters more interesting than the ones in DC Comics. Superman is too perfect for me to relate to. Green Lantern and The Flash are cool, but I'm not invested in them as much as I'd like to be. Even Wonder Woman doesn't grab my attention all that much, even though she's one of the more interesting DC characters. But DC does have one hero that rises above the rest - even above some of Marvel's characters. And that hero is Batman.

Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1938, a character that has evolved with the times. Batman was just a regular comic book hero that turned into quite a phenomenon, most likely due to his gritty and realistic take of the world and how he manages to use detective skills to defeat his foes to overcome the lack of superpowers his fellow Justice League members possess. Batman has captured the imagination of so many, as well with the help of a deep rogues gallery that are as colorful as Batman himself. These ingredients led to the predictable evolution into live-action media.

In 1943, there were serials that used Batman and his loved and/or hated sidekick, Robin, as propaganda for United States patriotism during World War II. The villains were your stereotypical evil Japanese baddies who wanted to destroy everything that America stood for, leading to Batman and Robin teaching him and his goons a lesson or two. While admired back in 1943, the serials were considered laughable during the aftermath of World War II and beyond - more campy than the more serious comic books. Producer William Dozier was really taken by how ridiculously funny the serials ended up being, inspired to produce a Batman television series that played more like a parody rather than follow the dark tone of the comics. Thus from January 12, 1966 to March 14, 1968 [120 episodes] on ABC, Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward was born. With its high camp factor and lighthearted take on the mythos, Batman was a big success. So big that it actually saved the comic book series from being cancelled [which had changed to match the campy tone of the TV show] due to the TV show helping the comics gain a huge audience it had lost during the 1950s and early 1960s. However, fans of the comics hated the comedic tone of the television show, which helped the comics go back to a much darker tone once the show was cancelled and lead to many successful movies from 1989 to the present.

While many consider Tim Burton's 1989 blockbuster, BATMAN, to be the first Batman feature film adaptation made for box office success, 1966's BATMAN: THE MOVIE was really the first feature to test Batman's popularity with the mainstream. Originally, the film was shot in order to boost ratings for the TV show. However, the TV show was a success from its pilot episode, making the film just another tool to help the producers cash in and make money off of merchandising sales. Whatever the reason for this film's existence doesn't change the fact that BATMAN: THE MOVIE is a silly, ridiculous, campy film that Batman fans will hate if they take it all too seriously. But if you ever loved the TV show and are able to open your mind to a more comedic take on Batman's adventures, then you'll love this film. To the Bat Cave with this review!

PLOT
Gotham City is in big trouble as its four major villains - The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Merriwether), and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) - have their hands on a device that can turn people into dust by extracting their moisture. The villains plan on using this on nine world diplomats in exchange for a ransom and gain power over the world. Luckily, Batman (Adam West) and his loyal sidekick Robin (Burt Ward) are on their asses to make sure their plan doesn't succeed.

However, Batman is a bit distracted as his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, has become smitten with Soviet reporter Kitka. What he doesn't know is that he's bait for a kidnapping since Kitka is really Catwoman out of her costume. Even if Batman can be saved and get his head back in the game, can he and Robin stop this frightening foursome from taking over the world? Or it curtains for the Dynamic Duo? Stay tuned - same Bat time...same Bat channel.

HOLY REVIEW, BATMAN!

BATMAN: THE MOVIE is a comic book film that has garnered much debate amongst Batman fans. While it's indeed an obvious tie-in to a successful television series, some diehard fans would rather ignore its existence, considering Tim Burton's 1989 film to be the first true Batman movie due to its more serious and darker nature. It's a shame some think that way because BATMAN: THE MOVIE is a very entertaining film that seems to be making fun of the characters while embracing them at the same time.

The narrative is pretty much the same narrative you'd get in any superhero movie: Villains want to harm world leaders to gain power, superheroes step in to save the day, add in a love sub-plot, and we know the rest. It's a fairly simple plot with a narrative that's easy to follow. It's your standard comic book film that luckily has more going for it than just that basic foundation. What makes this unoriginal comic book storyline stick out is the journey getting from beginning to end in terms of the dialogue and the bizarre scenes that flesh out this movie.

Seriously, who can forget that fake ass shark biting Batman's leg so hard that he needs Shark Repellent in order to kill it and watch it explode? What about that scene where Batman and Robin are magnetized on a buoy due to their belts, using a polarizer to destroy torpedoes - ending up being saved by sacrificial porpoises who risked their own lives to save the Dynamic Duo? And I honestly can't forget Batman's struggle trying to get rid of a bomb - not wanting to harm nuns, mothers with baby carriages, lovers making out, and even innocent ducks.

Plus, the dialogue is so strange that it's freakin' funny as hell. Especially during conversations between Batman/Robin and Commissioner Gordon, who must be the dumbest Commissioner of all time. Like getting a message from "P.N. Guin" [hmm...I wonder who that could be...], and deciphering the Riddler's riddles and answering them in ways that make no sense [yet helping them find the villains]. I also love Batman's stance on drinking and how it blinds inhibitions, which sounds like a PSA for the young kids watching the film. There are a lot of puns and funny references that make Batman look more like Frank Drebin rather than The World's Greatest
Detective, but it's all in good fun if you don't take it seriously. Not all the jokes work [due to the length of the film - it's really too long and the running gags drag] and some things are kind of dated, but you'll still be laughing at how silly the script is.

The character development isn't deep in a film like this, but there's not one unlikeable character in the film. While Batman and Robin are the main characters of the film, it's the villains that are the reason to watch. This usually seems to be a pattern in these Batman movies, but the bad guys are just so interesting that you kind of wish the good guys don't win at the end. The relationship between the four villains is quite humorous and the highlight of the film for me. While The Joker and The Riddler don't get that much to do really but be playful and act like goofs, Catwoman and The Penguin shine with their interesting alliance. Both characters get to play dual roles in an attempt to trick Batman and Robin [Catwoman is more successful at it, due to Penguin's constant squawking giving him away]. Both characters seem to be the ones pulling the strings [although Penguin is clearly the leader of this foursome]. And I love the way Catwoman and The Penguin act around each other. When around Penguin, Catwoman acts more feline like - laying down besides him seductively while running her claws on his arm, which Penguin doesn't really approve of. It just reminds you that cats and birds are natural enemies, and the two characters play that off. I wouldn't be surprised if Tim Burton wasn't inspired by this relationship for BATMAN RETURNS, where these two characters happen to be the villains of the film. Batman, and to a point Robin, are interesting heroes despite their goofiness and slapstick antics, but the villains are the glue that keeps this film together.

BATMAN: THE MOVIE obviously has a slightly bigger budget than the television show. While the sound effect cues are the same, the variety of vehicles that Batman and Robin have at their disposal trumps whatever was done in the television show. Besides the classic Batmobile, we have the Batchopper, the Batcycle, the Batboat, and etc. Even the Penguin gets his own submarine. I dig the different vehicles, and even the different contraptions both sides utilize.

The direction by Leslie H. Martinson is standard TV series direction. But BATMAN: THE MOVIE is filmed well, with bright colors, and decent cinematography. The film does feel long at times, especially during the end, but the pacing is good otherwise. The action sequences are silly, but that's the point, so it works. Seeing really bad stunt doubles during the final fight scene is pretty funny. It's shot like the Batman show but three times its length. I can't really complain about it because it carries the TV show's tone impeccably well.

The acting is what you would expect if you're a fan of the television show. Adam West is awesome as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He's like the William Shatner of superheroes - delivering lines in a way that's so goofy and droll that you can't help but laugh. It fits the material well. Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin isn't as good as West, but he's okay. His "Holy..." dialogue and his excited performance can be a bit grating at times, but he balances West's more subtle performance. The villains fare a lot better, as Cesar Romero is wonderfully batty as The Joker and Frank Gorshin more sinister as The Riddler. The best ones for me are Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, who I still consider the best actor in the role [sorry Mr. Devito], and Lee Merriwether as Catwoman, who replaced Julie Newmar due to scheduling conflicts. While Merriwether isn't the best Catwoman, she does play her in a way that's very sexual and feline-like that I appreciate. I think when Michelle Pfeiffer portrayed her years later, Merriwether was the major influence since a lot of their mannerisms tend to be the same. Plus, I love Merriwether's hot Soviet accent. Puuuuurrrrrrrr....

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE REALIZING THAT THERE ARE SOME DAYS WHERE YOU CAN'T GET RID OF A BOMB

- A shark bit Batman's knee to the point that Batman had to use shark repellent to make it explode. After stupidity like this, is there any wonder why Jaws wanted his revenge 20 years later?

- "A joke a day keeps the gloom away." Not if you're at a Dane Cook concert...

- Robin and Alfred were watching Bruce get his swerve on with Kitka. Even though he's Caucasian, his Dark Knight can compete with his black brothers...

- Batman had issues with getting rid of a bomb, not wanting to hurt innocent people and ducks. For some reason, I believe the Caped Crusader blew things out of proportion.

- Batman and Robin felt the villains turning the world leaders into dust was a problem. Ironically, this act could potentially solve the world's problems.

THE FINAL HOWL
If you're a fan of the 60s television show, BATMAN: THE MOVIE is essential viewing. Its campy nature, goofy fight scenes, and silly actors and characters brighten what could be seen as an insult to the Batman comic book series. But if you don't take it for face value and just enjoy the ridiculous ride, you'll get a kick out of this comic book flick. Too bad Joel Schumacher also got a kick of this film and used the same tone for BATMAN & ROBIN. Sigh...but that's a review for another time.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



7 comments:

  1. You don't like Wonder Woman? You don't like a comic that's basically women in bondage? What kind of a man are you! Haha!

    "Oh no, batman's dead" "Oh, I think not Robin, you see, just as the bomb exploded, I was shielded by these conveniently placed metal pipes".
    "Oh no Batman, our batcopter's about to crash"...Gee, lucky there was a pillow sale for us to safely land on". Haha, I love the Batman series!

    As for the 1943 serial, have you seen it? I have and it is hilarious. Until I saw it, I never realized just how big of a threat the nefarious JAPS were. I've now placed cameras around my house to watch out for the eeevil Fu Manchu's! Though seriously, it's hard to hold anything against the serial's views, after all, Pearl Harbour had just happened. So Batman 1943 gets different treatment from me as opposed to, let's say, this!...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8D93Awa434

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  2. Ha... I didn't say I didn't like Wonder Woman. Seeing Lynda Carter on that TV show did a lot for me as a kid. A WHOLE lot. I think she's interesting but DC tends to have so many universes and reboots that it's hard for me to really get invested in the character. But she's definitely cool.

    Yep, the Batman TV series was pretty awesome in its goofy ways. I used to watch the reruns as a kid and just loved it. They don't make them like that anymore.

    As for the serials, I have seen them. Pretty racist against the Japanese, but I understand it due to the WWII and Pearl Harbor deal. It's interesting to watch though to see how the Batman characterization has changed since then.

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  3. Always a true classic, great funny write up

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  4. To this day i still think that Tim Burton's 1989 Batman movie is an unwatchable abomination.

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  5. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 2, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    I want to bugger Lynda Carter (in 1969 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

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  6. This is my favorite comic book movie, and the show was one of my all-time favorites too. The tongue-in-cheek nature of it, and the way it's all carried off so well. The recent Black Dynamite was one of the few modern flicks I've seen to match the '66 Batman with that kind of humor. To me, it's perfection, great stuff.

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