Batman-Logo

In this months edition of Film Club, Cathal, aka The Narrator, chose Tim Burton’s Batman as our film of the month. It was another interesting choice and one that didn’t go down as well with some as it did with others, while it also brought out inevitable comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films.

Keep reading for everyone’s thoughts on the original Batman.

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The Narrator:

On June 23rd 1989, the most expensive motion picture to date was released in cinemas worldwide. Twenty-five years on, suggesting that Tim Burton’s Batman originally held that title may seem baffling to modern generations, especially those who have grown up watching the Dark Knight rise in his more recent, brooding adaptations, as helmed by Christopher Nolan. But long before Batman began so successfully in 2005, he arrived on the scene fully formed, with Michael Keaton of Beetlejuice fame donning the cape and cowl in Burton’s classic, although dated, comic-book spectacle.

Pitched somewhere between the fondly remembered, camp 1960s television series and Nolan’s grounded and bleak reimagining, Batman depicts a dark fantasy take on Gotham City. Although the stakes are high, personal and romantic conflicts clash and sparks fly, it remains clear that this is a vision of hyperrealism, a perfect environment for Jack Nicholson’s Joker to wreak havoc within. Nicholson is simply a joy to watch, chewing scenery while maintaining a balance between clowning and maniacal violence throughout. This works well opposite Keaton’s understated performance as Bruce Wayne, a man clearly more comfortable hiding behind a mask than being the centre of attention due to his wealth. He remains wonderfully subdued throughout, displaying patience and caution with the help of Michael Gough’s welcome appearance as Alfred, his butler. Their short interactions are crucial to gaining the audience’s investment in the story as truth be told, there is little development to his character.

When you think about the best practical effects in cinema, certain films tend to spring to mind. The Thing, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Star Wars stand out for me, just to name a few. Revisiting Batman serves as a reminder of how well made it actually is on a technical level. This was a time before CGI took over visual effects in cinema. Enormous sets, real stunts, and the astonishing detail as regards production design make this a hugely rewarding watch all round. Throw in a heroic marching score by Danny Elfman as well as some gloomy cinematography, and you have a series of outstanding elements in place.

Sadly, there must be negatives. The story itself often lacks any real tension, with Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale serving as little more than a convenient fulcrum for the plot. It is Bruce Wayne’s discovery of his connection with the Joker that provides the strongest emotional beats, shunning the dull development of a relationship with Vicki. Because Gotham City has seen so many re-imaginings, it can be said that Batman suffers from the fact that it is now really starting show its age. Yet this adds to its charm, much like Richard Donner’s original Superman entertains despite its increasingly dated effects.

2016 will see the fifth actor since 1989 portray the Dark Knight in the latest take on Bob Kane’s timeless creation. I only hope that it does not inflict further damage on Burton’s original film which to my mind remains a practical effects masterpiece. It set the tone for the deliciously nasty sequel Batman Returns, the first Caped Crusader film to begin to incorporate CGI into proceedings more frequently, before the series lost all direction. Tim Burton’s Batman places high on my list of favourite comic-book films, even if it may not be one of the best. Not perfect by any means, but it certainly does not deserve to be forgotten. If you have only seen Nolan’s trilogy, do yourself a favour and watch Burton’s two efforts but judge them by their own merits, not as comparison pieces. Then get drunk and watch Schumacher’s toy advertisements.

Rating: 8/10

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What About the Twinkie?:

Tim Burton’s Batman is a seminal piece of filmmaking, in that was it was quite unlike anything that came before it and unlike anything that has come since. Burton’s take on the Dark Knight was a million miles away from the colourful shine of Richard Donner’s Superman, and brought a gritty darkness to the character that audiences were perhaps not used to, after years of seeing Adam West camp things up on the 60’s serial version of Batman. Burton’s Batman was a leather clad warrior whose single goal was to stop criminals and the destruction of his city, Gotham, while taking down a new anarchist in town known as the Joker.

The film starts brightly and confidently, and takes little time in showing the audience the title character. Modern audiences may be used to origin stories and having to wait 40 minutes or so in a heroes first cinematic outing before seeing the hero emerge, but Tim Burton shows us his Batman within the first ten minutes. It was a bold choice, but perhaps one that was made to placate the angry fans who had bombarded studio Warner Bros. with letters over Burton’s, and star Michael Keaton’s involvement in the film. After Batman’s brief introduction, we are then introduced to the films other main character, Jack Nicholson’s Jack Napier. Instead it’s Nicholson’s character who receives anything resembling an origin story, as we see him transform from a successful underling in Carl Grissom’s (Jack Palance) crime organisation into the clown prince of crime, otherwise known as the Joker. The two character’s back stories  interlink in such a way, that it soon becomes apparent that they did indeed “make” each other, and in a way, the two are inseparable. It’s a relationship that was perhaps better examined in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and one that Tim Burton may not have cared for so much here. Instead, Burton focuses on the basic good vs evil plotline, and barely touches the surface of the two characters being different sides of the same coin.

Burton leaves his mark all over Batman, from the noir style Gotham city, the OTT theatrics and the odd blending of colour to give the film an almost dreamlike appearance. He blends the action scenes with the story to good effect, and while Nicholson and Keaton stand out, the rest of the cast has little to do. Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale does little but look pretty and become a plot device later in the film, while Billy Dee Williams’ Harvey Dent was surely only here to be set up for future instalments. The story also lacks a killer hook to reel you in, and never feels as tense as it could have. The use of Prince on the soundtrack also gives the film an unwanted element of cheese, that we could have done without.

Despite the films flaws, Batman remains a highly enjoyable comic book film, and still, quite rightly, stands up as one of the better examples of how to do a Hollywood tent pole blockbuster. It may not please everyone, and modern audiences may be put off by the neo noir theatrics on show, but this is a Batman of his era, and one that deserves to be seen.

Rating: 7/10

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HC Movie Reviews:

It’s quite puzzling as with such a love for the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy you would think that I would have seen some of the older Batman movies but for whatever reason I haven’t. I was really pleased with this month’s choice as it was a film that I haven’t seen before and it gave me the excuse to go and watch the four Batman movies before Nolan’s, starting with Tim Burton’s Batman.

I wasn’tquite sure how to approach this film as I knew it wasn’t going to be The Dark Knight and I didn’t want to just compare it to that, although I didn’t know if I could really avoid that. It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected because I found myself being invested in this movie more so than I had anticipated. Michael Keaton’s Batman was surprisingly badass. I think I had been having visions of the really ancient Batman with the sound effects “BAM!” and “CRASH!” etc. flashing up on-screen but much to me relief Batman was actually quite dark and took it self seriously. Michael Keaton was a good casting decision for Bruce Wayne/Batman and he brought a presence to the role that I wasn’t necessarily expecting.  However his early scenes as Batman did seem quite wooden although he quickly eased into these and was more than convincing as the caped crusader by the end of the movie.

Jack Nicholson plays The Joker and of course does it brilliantly. However almost simultaneously his character enhances the film whilst also edging dangerously close to compromising it. Of course this film takes more influence from the comic book era more so than recent portrayals so that should be considered. Anyway whilst Nicholson does edge close to silliness thankfully he never enters too far into to it to detract from the movie and actually adds so much to this movie. Some of the best scenes in the movie come from his performance. However any scene he is featured in is a treat for the viewer. My highlight was probably the scene in the museum where The Joker and his motley crew unleash their mayhem all in attempts to woo Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), great scene.

The action in the movie also really impressed me. The combat scenes were great and meant that Batman was always in action and it only takes mere minutes for Keaton to mutter that phrase that we always want to hear, “I’m Batman!” To be honest as soon as he delivered this line I was sold. On top of these combat scenes we are treated to car chases and even some great scenes featuring the Batwing. Easily impressing on the action side of things the film also delivers in terms of its character building, maybe on a few occasions it does seem rushed however that critique is off the back of seeing it done brilliantly in the Nolan trilogy. I imagine that at the time it would have done nothing but strengthen this film.

After finally educating myself Tim Burton’s Batman quite quickly elevates itself to being one of my favourite Batman movies. Great performances all round combined with more than enough action but substance too makes for some fantastic viewing. Batman feels right for the time it was released but can still be enjoyed today and it also paves the way for a great sequel. Keaton is the man and now I can understand all those popular culture references!  Oh and what about that soundtrack!? Unreal, yep I really liked this movie.

Rating: 9/10

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Ten Stars or Less:

Tim Burton brought the legend of Batman to the big screen with his vision of the comic book hero in the 1989 movie simply entitled Batman. Michael Keaton got the role of a lifetime as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, who faces off with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Long before Christopher Nolan came along with the Dark Knight Trilogy, this movie was considered the crown jewel of all Batman movies and Nicholson was the best villain. I myself agreed with that statement until 2008 when Heath Ledger turned the Joker into an Oscar-winning villain, all the while taking the character to deeper and darker depths.

Nicholson was already a famous actor at this point of his career, but took on the role of the Joker and made him more of a psychopath then Cesar Romeo ever did in the TV series. I’ve never read the comic books but Burton provided us with a unique spin on the Batman and Joker saga. The brilliant director showcased Batman’s inability to save Jack Napier, the man who would become the revengeful Joker after being thought dead and that the Joker was involved in his parents death. These events add a whole new level of hatred to their rivalry we don’t get to experience in any other films. There is a dark side to this Joker character, but the tone of this Burton movie isn’t as dark and mysterious as later versions. Nicholson is a really happy Joker who throws parties and always shows up in the public eye, not fearing the possibility of getting taken down. His flamboyant lifestyle makes him the life of the party all the while leading to his downfall.

Kim Basigner is one of the most beautiful leading ladies of the franchise, who falls in love with Bruce Wayne and Batman, only to find out they are the same person. Her work at the newspaper has led her to investigate Wayne even though there is not much to discover. He has worked a long time to protect his past and secret identity. Keaton was a solid selection for the iconic role because he could be the play both characters and no would ever think it was him. I’ve never been a huge fan of Keaton except for his work as Beetlejuice, but totally respect the effort he put in to become one of pop culture’s favourite superheros.

Tim Burton has a vivid imagination with an endless line of people who would love to work him. Some of his movies have disappointed me but Batman remains one of his best works for me. The old TV show didn’t get into fancy cars, flying Batpods, and new high-tech gadgets, which Burton brought to the table in 1989. It was great to watch a superhero movie that didn’t involve a whole of CGI and real people doing their own stunts. The writing makes the story flow very smoothly while Danny Elfman does a fantastic job bringing everything to life with his musical score.

Batman is one of the best screen adaptations of the cape crusader and was the benchmark of all the movies that followed. Anyone who loves the character has most likely have seen this movie, loved it, and held it high on a pedestal until The Dark Knight came.

Rating: 7/10

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The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger:

I grew up watching a lot of Batman, anywhere I could find it, you could be damn sure I would be watching. Even that Freeze-You-Later-Batman crap, awful as it was, I’d still be watching the caped crusader. So when it popped up to go back and watch some old school Batman and Tim Burton, I was sold. Michael Keaton is one of my favourite Batmans, I think he does a delightful job and he is exceptionally entertaining. He was dark but he was also pretty humorous, which I liked, he was balanced quite well. I also liked that Burton directed this – this was, of course, back in the day when he was still churning out much better work. Batman, however, does not contain the distinct Burton stamp that its successor, Batman Returns would bear later on, though it is still enjoyable. Batman is certainly far more comical than any of the masterpieces that Nolan provided, and was silly too, but not in that awful campy way that Schumacher took the series. Either way, Burton was really impressive here, pulling Batman together wonderfully, in my opinion: it wasn’t too serious, and it wasn’t overly campy.

Jack Nicholson stepped up to play Jack Napier, who rapidly became our Joker. He was entertaining, he was consistent, and I liked him. He was a very different Joker from Heath Ledger (I have to say it, the comparisons are bound to come up), but he was a good one. I think that if Burton had been given more leeway to make Batman his own, and had a deeper understanding of the character (I believe he was not overly familiar with Batman prior to this), Jack Nicholson would have fascinated and scared the pants off of you in equal measure. Michael Keaton, as I have mentioned, is a Bruce Wayne/Batman that I thoroughly enjoy, so obviously I was alright with this. Michael Gough was a lovely Alfred. I think there were some serious issues with the plot progression as it jumped erratically all over the show, which can be a little disconcerting, but overall if you don’t try to take this too seriously or anything like that it can be forgiven. I loved Danny Elfman scoring this, as he is a good composer and I think he and Burton work wonders together, but I cannot say that I was a big fan of the Prince tracks littered throughout – most just didn’t sit right. Batman was fun, though it definitely had flaws and some pacing issues and plenty that could have been more refined, but overall I think it was pleasant overall and stylishly executed and well worth the watch. Batman is a solid entry to the canon.

Rating: 7.5/10

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MovieRob:

The truth is in 2014, it’s very difficult to fairly appraise Batman (1989) because of two words, Christopher Nolan. Nolan singlehandedly changed how moviegoers will forever look at superhero movies in general and Batman in particular. He was able to raise the bar so high that anything beforehand just doesn’t do the genre justice. So, in order to properly give a fair opinion on this movie, I will call upon the 15-year-old me to do so when he first laid eyes on this Tim Burton wonder 25 years ago. Let’s hear his opinion:

“I just came home from seeing the darkest and most visually amazing superhero movie to date with a few of my friends. When I saw this trailer six months ago in the theater, I knew it would be awesome because it was made by the director of Beetlejuice and starred Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton. Nicholson has proved himself by winning a few Oscars and he was the perfect choice all along for the role of the Joker, being able to use his skills as an actor to show us a two-faced character who was a homicidal maniac but also knew how to have fun while committing those crimes.

I was a bit concerned with the casting of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but surprisingly, he actually fit both parts very well. The music by Prince worked extremely well to give the movie a face and the score by Danny Elfman is excellent. Basically, I hope that future superhero movie creators will take what Burton has given us and build on the techniques and look in order to raise the awareness and the enjoyment of this largely yet untapped genre.”

So there you all have it, my 15-year-old self has explained to us now how this movie helped change the genre to pave the way for the amazing superhero movies of today. 25 years on, I still completely agree with my younger self and believe that this movie opened up the floodgates for the superhero movies of the 21st century and will always be fondly thought of as the first amazingly done non-campy superhero movie

1989 rating: 10/10 (doesn’t count by today’s standards)

Actual rating: 9/10

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Enchanted by Film:

The name Batman spans across many different platforms, from comic books, to cartoons, to TV shows, films, and video games. When so many adaptations of the story of the caped hero of Gotham exist, each new version that appears relies on its originality to be successful. Tim Burton’s 1989 film stands as one of the earlier versions, and was the first of three Batman films he would thereafter work on (he went on to direct Batman Returns (1992), and produce Batman Forever (1995). So what makes Burton’s version different?

Contrary to many of the Batman adaptations, and indeed superhero films, which often over-rely on special effects and tend to remain in the same genre of action fantasy, Burton creates a hybrid of horror, fantasy, comedy, action, and drama in his film. Batman was made long before Burton was considered an auteur, yet his distinguishing filmic feature of colour in particular are evident. The mundane reality of Gotham city is cloaked in black, which hints at the later years of the German Expressionist movement (think of its influence and transition to film noir, for instance in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). Opposing this, is the fantastical world of the joker, which is clown-like and playful, and most importantly, dressed in bright carnival shades of purple, orange and green. Burton would go on to adopt colour to represent fantasy in the majority of his later films.

The Joker in Burton’s adaptation is one of the most original takes on the character, and certainly my personal favourite. What we see is a man gone insane, represented through his physical appearance with his Cheshire Cat smile (and as we all know, the inhabitants of Wonderland are mad as hatters), and through his child-like behaviour, going so far as to mark the wall with “Joker was here”. There is a great deal of focus on him throughout the film, not to encourage pity, but to encourage entertainment. That is what the Joker stands for in this film, as the clown, and we the guests, cheering him on whilst waiting wide-eyed for his next spontaneous act.

Batman is of course the main character, but his position in the film is less interesting. It is not surprising though when we think how he stands as the caped black figure of the monotonous reality, attempting to rid us viewers of the Joker that so entertains us. Without these character binaries however, there would be no story, and that is after all what we are being told.

What Burton presents to us, is a gorgeous retelling of an over-told tale. One that has remained as one of the most comical and entertaining pieces of superhero adaptation. Everyone remembers Jack Nicholson’s mad joker act as one of the best, perhaps only marginally missing the top spot to Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Christopher Nolan adaptations. Admittedly I do not find a great deal of interest in the story itself compared to the fascination I find in the mise-en-scene, in particular the smoky streets which are heavily reminiscent of 1930’s film noirs, and in the way that Burton plays with genre to bring us something new entirely. The soundtrack, composed by Danny Elfman who would go on to regularly collaborate with Burton, hints at the danger, mystery and fantasy that lurk within the film, and compliment the story, as well as encouraging the viewer to experience the story through the Joker’s perspective. Batman is definitely worth a watch, even if you are not a fan of the superhero himself.

Rating: 8/10

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Oracle of Film:

There are a few things I keep forgetting about Tim Burton’s original Batman movie. The most pleasant surprise is always how Burton handles the origin story here. Rather than Nolan’s heavy-handed exploration into how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, Burton gives us a fully suited Dark Knight in the first five minutes. We get the important details gradually through the use of well-timed flashbacks. The other surprise that always gets me is the lack of action. Other than a punch up in the bell tower to end the movie, Burton relies on the power of storytelling to keep us hooked.

And it works. Burton directs with precision and certainty, even if the producers don’t let him go full Burton. Michael Keaton is great as Batman, although slightly overshadowed by Bale (in Keaton’s defence, there wasn’t a bar set when he took the lead role). He also has to compete with Jack Nicholson, who in all honesty, blows everyone out of the water. Yes, there are better Batman films, but this deserves credit for being the first.

Rating: 7/10

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Films and Things:

I’m going to preface this review by saying that I don’t follow many superhero films. The only Batman film I had seen prior to watching this one was The Dark Knight, so I didn’t really have any preconceived opinions or biases when I stuck Tim Burton’s original 1989 Batman on. In fact I wasn’t really a fan of anything about the film apart from Jack Nicholson; I’ve never been into Tim Burton’s stuff, Batman has never interested me and I don’t particularly watch a great deal of films from the 80s because although not ‘old’ old, most of them are quite dated and I’m just not a big fan.

So all in all, I was less than looking forward to watching Batman.

Being as the majority of people seem to be big fans of this kind of thing, though, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that actually quite liked it. I was struck by how unimpressive Batman actually was and found myself favouring Jack Nicholson’s nutty Joker character. I have always leaned more towards the baddie than the good guy, unless we’re talking Iron Man in which case I’d happily lean towards Robert Downey Jr at any given moment!

I have to confess that, due to stresses and a very busy schedule, I did fall asleep at some point during the film for about ten minutes. My copy of the film then proceeded to cut out around twenty minutes before the end, so I am still yet to watch it in its entirety. But honesty is the best policy, I always say!

Tim Burton’s original Batman was altogether unremarkable save Jack Nicholson’s fabulous performance. Batman himself is underwhelming and incredibly camp and his love interest is irritatingly screamy. It’s dated and although that is to be expected, there’s something about watching dated 80’s films that just doesn’t appeal to me.

Overall I enjoyed the film more than I expected to, but I feel that my enjoyment of it was wholly reliant on Jack Nicholson’s role. Without him I would probably have turned it off before even getting to the halfway mark. Not something I would usually choose to watch but I definitely don’t regret the experience. My feelings towards it are pretty neutral, I wasn’t overwhelmed or massively impressed but I didn’t hate it.

My position is very much on the fence.

Rating: 6/10

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Overall rating: 7.6/10

General consensus: Batman is perhaps not the classic it once was, suffering over time from dated effects and the ever popular Dark Knight trilogy. However, it still remains a pulpy ride, that has some great moments and two defining performances from Keaton and Nicholson that carry the film. While also being iconic in helping pave the way for the films we are all clamoring for at the cinema today.

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