Even if you're not the most frequent of moviegoers, you've seen the ads for a Fathom Event at least a handful of times. A specialty distributor that specializes in limited-run events, everything from Rifftrax to the Metropolitan Opera is run through their services, and you can see it at your local participating theater for a premium ticket price! Sometimes this works out wonderfully, as we saw this summer with the release of Batman: The Killing Joke, while other events don't work out so well. Sadly, Batman was also an example of when Fathom Events don't work out so well, asBatman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was a pretty cold fish this past Monday night.
I arrived at my local theater with just moments to spare, worried that I'd have a hard time finding seating. Images of everything from the Doctor Who simulcast for "Day of the Doctor" to the various Rifftrax screenings I'd been to over the years started to flood my mind. Yet as I turned the corner into the theater, it was dead as a doornail. While there was a handful of people scattered throughout the theater, I didn't have a problem finding a seat for myself or my fiancée, who was attending with me. It was shocking, and I couldn't help but ask myself, "Why's it so dead in here?"
The big reason I think Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders wasn't a terribly well attended event is simply the fact that the film itself is an extremely niche prospect. While the 1966 Batman TV series with Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar is definitely a geeky cultural touchstone, it's not as prevalent as it may have been when 1989's Batman was released. Though all three players had returned to voice their respective roles of Batman, Robin and Catwoman in the film, the nostalgia for the days when Batman fought in a dutch angled framing, complete with word balloons to accompany his every blow, is extremely limited.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than the fact that Batman: The Killing Joke performed like gangbusters this past summer. The nostalgia loop is strongest with fans who grew up with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill playing Batman and The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series. So having those two return for an R-rated adventure is a much bigger draw, and one that afforded Fathom an opportunity to gamble on brand recognition being the fuel for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's the case, as the thundering headlines of record making hauls for the Conroy/Hamill outing haven't been repeated for the West / Ward / Newmar collaboration.
Though Fathom Events certainly aren't hurting because of it. The beauty of Fathom Events is that they're so limited in their distribution and their release windows that even the most niche of events is worth a tumble of the dice. If this had worked out the way they'd planned it, another huge success from the Batman canon would be in their utility belt, and they'd be ready to plan the next DC animated outing. However, since it didn't work out the way they'd exactly planned it, they may want to count the receipts a bit closer before pushing ahead with the already planned sequel, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders 2. Though, to be fair, having William Shatner as Two-Face would definitely be helping to push tickets the next time around, as well as any sort of feedback from classic bat-fans who went to this event and loved it.
Not every Fathom Event is going to be a golden winner. Much like the brand itself, its offerings need time to evolve and perfect themselves into the finely tuned machines that Rifftrax, The Metropolitan Opera, and even TCM's Big Screen Classics events have all turned into over time. I certainly hope we get to see more DC animated films, and maybe even some of the extended cuts they're fond of releasing on home video, in theaters through the good graces of Fathom. As a long time fan of their distribution platform, I wish them nothing more than the greatest success. That said, perhaps the next DC Comics event will be kinder to Fathom.