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The Dark Knight is one of the biggest releases of this summer, if not the year. How do you prepare yourself for such a monumental picture? By watching previous depictions of Batman in movies, of course. We’re making our way through ten feature length incarnations of the Dark Knight’s stories, from Adam West to animation. We invite you to join us for the ride as we analyze the good, the bad, and the Bat.
(And yes, we’re actually re-watching all of these old flicks rather than just relying on our memory, so we can honestly evaluate each of them in preparation for The Dark Knight).
Day One: Batman: the Movie (1966)
There’s no denying that the Batman television series of the 1960s is the silliest incarnation of the Caped Crusader (although Joel Schumacher would later give that some competition). There’s no dark side to Batman in Batman: the Movie, which is also one of the few Batman flicks to completely ignore the character’s origin. Most Batman stories give some sort of reference to the dark origins of the character, but here the grisly deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne are completely abandoned. When we see Bruce Wayne, he is a playboy, not just using it as a cover.
In fact, any darkness of Batman is eliminated early on in the flick. This is not a vigilante, out for justice. Instead Batman and Robin operate as fully deputized agents of the law - agents who are more than happy to support the local police force, as evidenced by the movie’s dedication and the outlandish statement of support from the Boy Wonder.
Instead Batman: the Movie gives a lighthearted frolicking adventure for Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) as they go up against the United Underworld, the collaboration of the worst of Batman’s rogues gallery: the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriweather). The evil team’s plot aims for nothing less than world domination, to be acquired by dehydrating members of the United World Council and holding their remains for ransom.
Don’t ask how ransom of council members leads to world domination. It’s one of many things in the plot that makes no sense. Also making no sense: the giant leaps of logic to figure out the Riddler’s riddles (all of which are solved flawlessly) or why the villains always think they’ve managed to outsmart the dynamic duo when Batman and Robin always emerge victorious. Or, for that matter, the non-stop Deus Ex Machina Batman always has up his sleeve to solve any problem, from his Shark Repellent Bat Spray in the first act to the Super Molecular Dust Separator used to clean up the story’s attempt at a twist.
Changes in pop-culture have not been kind to Batman: the Movie. The movie was probably already perceived as silly in the 60’s (Batman creator Bob Kane was not a fan of the lighthearted approach to his character). But now Burt Ward in the ridiculous Robin costume reminds me more of The Simpsons episode where Milhouse plays Fallout Boy in a parody that is more accurate than folly in retrospect. When Batman and Robin leap into the Batcycle, all I could think of was Sam’s comment in Garden State about riding in a sidecar making you the driver’s bitch. As if Bruce Wayne dressing his teenage ward in tights wasn’t already bad enough.
Still, Batman: the Movie should be required viewing to prepare for any future Batman movie, if for no other reason to remind us where Batman movies started, give us a little campy fun, and to set a low-water mark… provided I don’t think Batman & Robin becomes that low water mark when I watch it again in a few days.
The Good: Lee Meriwether looks awesome as Catwoman, even though the costume doesn’t begin to compare with other incarnations of the character. I have no idea why, but I’ll go around calling “Yo ho” and crying out like the Penguin for days (much to the chagrin of my wife and anyone else around). It sucks, but it’s about all I can say is good about the movie, except for it provides a low-water mark for the future.
The Bad: The story is beyond ridiculous and the characterizations are about as far away from what we expect from these figures as you can get. Most of the villains are poorly used and are one extreme character trait away from being generic, despite being some of the biggest names in the rogues gallery. Batman needs a dark side and an edge, and that just doesn’t exist here.
The Bat: Tons of bat-gadgets to be found here, primarily because anything is made a bat-gadget just by tacking the prefix “bat” onto it. In the first few minutes alone there is the Batmobile, Batcopter (kept at a public airport), Shark Repellent Bat Spray (as well as Barracuda Repellent, Whale Repellent, and Manta-Ray Repellent), Bat-drift, and Bat-ladder (clearly labelled, natch). Later we get the Batcycle, photography development (with Super Fine Batgrain), and Bat-charges. I have to wonder if they tried to sell audiences Bat-popcorn and Bat-cola when the movie was in theatres.
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