Should I Watch..? Batman: The Movie
What's the big deal?
Batman: The Movie (titled as Batman when first released) is an action comedy superhero film released in 1966 and is based on the popular 1960's TV show featuring the Caped Crusader. It marks the first feature-length appearance of Batman who had only appeared in comics, the aforementioned TV show and an obscure 1940's cinematic serial. Reuniting almost all of the TV cast for the film, the movie sees Batman and Robin face off against an unholy alliance of Batman's greatest foes. It was originally intended as a prequel to the TV show but 20th Century Fox refused and the film instead premiered between the first and second series. Despite the inherent goofiness of the production, which matched the camp tone of the TV series, the film has gone on to become a cult classic over the years as well as spawning a series of internet memes.
What's it about?
Our Dynamic Duo receive a tip-off that Commodore Schmidlapp is in peril aboard his yacht, forcing Batman and Robin to conduct a daring rescue from the Bat-copter. However, as Batman descends down towards to the yacht, it mysteriously vanishes and Batman is suddenly attacked by sharks. Heading back to Gotham City, Batman meets up with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara and deduces that the whole escapade was a rouse conducted by the United Underworld - a criminal syndicate led by the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman and the Riddler.
They have managed to get their hands on Schmidlapp's invention, a powerful dehydrator that can reduce people into dust within seconds. As the four of them scheme aboard Penguin's submarine, Batman fears that their plans could involve a meeting of the United World Organisation's Security Council. Pursuing Penguin's sub on the Bat-boat, can our heroes manage to save the day and prevent these vile villains from completing their wicked plans?
Batman / Bruce Wayne
Robin / Dick Grayson
Catwoman / Miss Kitka
Leslie H. Martinson
Lorenzo Semple Jr. *
Release Date (UK)
16th December, 1966
Action, Comedy, Superhero
What's to like?
Fans of the more camp interpretations of the character will be in Seventh Heaven with this larger-than-life cheese fest. Unlike the current and dark version of Batman popularised by Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman (1), this movie understands that the world of Batman is a completely insane one with gimmicky villains (complete with pirate henchmen on board Penguin's sub) and a hero sometimes more reliant on luck than any talent. Compared to Christopher Nolan's brooding Dark Knight (2) trilogy, this almost feels like a spoof or a kiddie's version of our beloved brooding avenger.
Retaining the familiar cast from the show was a wise move as nobody else could play the Dynamic Duo as pitch-perfect as West & Ward, their one-dimensional performances somehow in keeping with the pantomime feel of the picture. But its the villains who have the most fun - Romero's cackling Joker would lay the foundations for the Clown Prince of Crime for many years afterwards while Gorshin and Meredith would also become synonymous with the Riddler and Penguin respectively. Actually, I take that back - it's the viewer who has the most fun with a dizzying array of bat-gadgets (who doesn't want a can of Bat-Shark Repellent?) and vehicles that never appearing again in the show. The film even starts off with the sort of introduction you'd expect from a showman outside of a circus freak show, claiming the film is for "lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre!" It's very much a movie of its time and feels a lot more fun and genuine than Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin (3) which tried to emulate it, with catastrophic results.
- The first criminal lair seen in the film is called "Ye Olde Benbow Tavern". This is a reference to the tavern seen at the beginning of the novel "Treasure Island" - the Admiral Benbow Inn.
- As in the TV series, Romero refused to shave off his moustache to play the Joker. So the makeup team simply painted over it, something which is quite apparent at times in the film.
- Of the three new Bat-vehicles appearing in the film, only the Batcycle made the transition to the TV show. Budget restraints prevented the Batboat or Batcopter from appearing - the producers simply used stock footage from this film instead of shooting for the show.
What's not to like?
Assuming that the clash of cultures between serious Batman and schlock Batman isn't too jarring, the film does have some significant flaws. The story is a load of codswallop, even by the standards of comic books at the time, and the effects aren't much better either. The dehydration cannon Joker uses looks little more than rubber hosing crudely attached to a backpack and when the thing is used, the effects ruin any possible tension that might have been there - not that tension ever creeps into the film. This is a film that is almost strictly for kids with goofy action and thinly-disguised preaching distracting youngsters from questioning just how awful that rubber shark looked.
I do understand what they were trying to do with Batman: The Movie. It attempts to hark back to the character's early days when he was a larger-than-life figure and it didn't take itself too seriously. But unfortunately, by turning it into a somewhat comedic escapade, it feels like a weird parody of itself. I reckon it would have worked as a silent movie - obviously the sound effects are written on screen during fight scenes anyway but the expressionist acting would have fitted right in. Plus dialogue cards would have saved us from West's ridiculously wooden performance. Just a thought.
Should I watch it?
Batman: The Movie is like magic - either you hopelessly believe in it and enjoy it or you simply can't suspend your disbelief enough. Instead of being the broody vigilante he seems to be these days, Batman is now a full-time goody-two-shoes who (I suspects) barely thinks about his murdered parents at all. My advice is to watch the trailer above - if it puts a smile on your face then you'll probably enjoy the film in some capacity. But if you are a fan of the more modern Dark Knight through-and-through then this will frankly leave you colder than one of Mr Freeze's victims.
Great For: nostalgic viewers, fans of the 1960's TV show, children.
Not So Great For: actual Batman fans, cynical adults.
What else should I watch?
After just three seasons, the TV show was cancelled in 1968 and Batman was sent back to the comics from whence he came. It wouldn't be until 1989 that cinema goers would see him again in the unlikely form of Michael Keaton in Batman. Taking its cues from successful graphic novels like "The Dark Knight Returns" and "The Killing Joke", the film introduced a darker and more serious Batman along with Jack Nicholson's unforgettable portrayal of the Joker. It was one of the most successful films in history at the time and would spawn three sequels and numerous animated interpretations of the character as well as reviving interest in the Batman.
By the time the series had ran stagnant thanks to the rank awfulness of Batman & Robin in 1997, it would take some time off and the brilliance of Christopher Nolan to reinvigorate the franchise once more. Batman Begins (4) saw an even darker version of the character, torn between his desire for revenge and his no-kill philosophy. This was followed by the game-changing The Dark Knight which unleashed Heath Ledger's Joker on an unsuspecting public and would go on to become one of the most successful films of all time. And while The Dark Knight Rises (5) would inevitably disappoint some viewers, it remains an engaging and exhilarating film for fans like myself to enjoy.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox