Jim Dooley’s review published on Letterboxd:
BATMAN is Cinematic Comfort Food for me. I have had a long journey with this film through the years, and it is the motion picture I saw the most times in theaters during its first run … 11 times. (1980’s FAME came in second at 9, and FM is third at 8.)
I was a tremendous fan of the dark side of Batman, the Dark Knight. But, that portrayal had become lost in many ways. My generation grew up with the farcical parody “Batman” television show which aired twice a week on ABC. After watching the first half-hour episode (which always ended with a cliffhanger), we tuned in two nights later (“Same Bat-Time; same Bat-Channel”) to see the conclusion. Adam West and Burt Ward (as the Caped Crusader and Robin, the Boy Wonder) kept things way over the top, taking nothing seriously (except the death in the first two-parter). Jokes and outrageous humor abounded.
During that same time in the 1960’s, the comic book Batman character was also much more friendly and smiled a lot. There were no really dark moments … and few grey ones. The Dark Knight instilled fear in no one, and certainly there was no danger of the youngest readers being traumatized.
When the movie, BATMAN, was announced and Tim Burton was revealed as the Director, there was a lot of fandom rejoicing. Finally, the silliness of Batman on the screen was going to be put to rest. Then, to our absolute horror, Michael Keaton was set as the title character! “Oh, God, No!” Images of more comedic parodies paraded through the mind when we’d had so many hopes that the Dark Side would re-emerge. There was a huge letter writing campaign trying to get that casting decision reversed. But, Warner Brothers wouldn’t budge.
Then, the film debuted … and something wonderful happened. It wasn’t merely “better than we’d hoped.” It was Really Good!
It began with Composer Danny Elfman’s music. This wasn’t parody music. This was Cool! And as the music reached a crescendo as the camera pulled back to reveal a metal-etched Batman logo, the first day matinee audience erupted in shouts and applause. This was soon followed by the elaborate Production Design from Anton Furst. The dark and foreboding Gotham from the comic books came alive before our eyes!
And then, the story started. A man, a woman, and their young son leave a theater and take a turn down a dark alley where they are attacked. Wait a second! Is this opening with the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents? No. It doesn’t signal “the origin of Batman,” but the familiar scene does bring his first appearance … and he didn’t disappoint! Michael Keaton was … well … Good in the suit.
For the next two hours, BATMAN held an appreciative audience in the palm of its hand. When Batman takes out a henchman with one punch at Axis Chemicals, the audience laughed and applauded. When the Joker’s discolored hand rises out of the water, there were lots of appreciative noises and several audible “Uh, oh” comments.
The most sustained cheering and applauding during the movie came when the iconic Batmobile made its first appearance … a Huge fan favorite! The Batplane wasn’t as popular initially. Then, it spiraled into the night sky to create its own “Bat signal.” Pandemonium resulted from the audience.
Although the film story didn’t delve deeply into it, fans picked up on the irony of Batman and the Joker “creating” each other. And a lot of us felt a strong sense of nostalgia when Jack Palance appeared. There was also a huge round of sustained applause as Batman stood sentinel underneath the Bat signal … and a lot of the audience was in no hurry to leave the theater as the end credits rolled. As I left the auditorium for the theater lobby, I saw several members of our audience at the ticket windows to buy tickets for the next performance.
Later, I read that Tim Burton wasn’t pleased with the studio interference that softened the overall darkness of his tone. Were they wrong to do that? Watch the next film, BATMAN RETURNS, in which Burton had control and judge for yourself.
I also read an interview with one of the Makeup Artists in which it was revealed that James Woods had been considered for the role of The Joker. The comment was that he wouldn’t have needed the facial appliances! Now, I love Jack Nicholson in the role. I’ll admit, though, since reading that, I’ve always been curious as to what James Woods would have done with the role!
I remember buying the VHS tape that came out around my birthday. I was so excited to see it that I took a vacation day from work to stay home and watch it. And, yes, I “traded up” for DVD and Blu-ray copies. Today, while I was watching it, I discovered that I could still recite most of the dialogue.
So, yes, I realize that BATMAN is a very uneven movie with some notable story problems. But, that doesn’t matter to me at all. BATMAN is more than a Guilty Pleasure for me. I bonded with the film, just as I know that many Viewers have bonded with a beloved MARVEL movie. It is a very special experience for me, and one that sets my heart racing just thinking about watching it.
I’m so grateful to have a love of movies!