9 Random Thoughts on “Batman: The Movie”

17Apr12

Success! Success!  They’ve done it!  They’ve done it! I made my kid like “Batman!” He requests it now, and we are going for round 2 of the movie. So that means more random thoughts like these:

1.) How does it rank as a Batman story? In comparison with the other Batman movies, that is, I’d say it ranks in the high middle. Taken at face value, the villains’ plan is pretty devious, and it could actually work. It’s not just a haphazard bunch of Plan-B’s (“Batman Returns”) or a parade (1989′s “Batman”). By no small coincidence, the 1966 story ranks closely to “Batman Forever” in terms of goofy bad-guy-ness, and it easily tops whatever the hell Mr. Freeze wanted to do in “Batman and Robin.” I’m not going to argue that it’s as good or better than the stories of both Nolan movies, but I’m not going to say that those aren’t unquestionably great. Given the same components, you could almost make the same story — same beats — into a successfully serious Batman story. Except for the ending, where Batman mixes up the council members and then wonders if it’s the greatest thing to ever happen to the planet. That would be a hard sell, unless you were making a serious case for Batman’s failing mental health. But everything up to that point is just a matter of tone.

2.) How Does It Rank, Writing-wise? I don’t know, again. I’ll get more into this later, but it has a weird foot semi-solidly in a comedy-ish zone. If I had to guess at the key ingredient for this script, it would be “indulgence.” This appears obviously with Batman’s labeling of EVERYTHING, but that indulgence carries over to the dialog. Commissioner Gordon’s lines are ridiculously proper in their grammar, and flowery as a rose garden (“A thought strikes me… So dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance”). Batman reads ever form of the word “Up” at the United World’s Center elevator even though A.) once you know one is “up,” you can press the button, and B.) everyone knows “Up” is the top button of the two without reading anything!Catwoman goes above and beyond with her line “We’re about as ‘united’ as the United Worlds Convention on the East Gotham River.” Why does she have to spell out where the UWC is? I know they’re going to enter the building via that river, but we would have gone along with that in the moment without this “key” piece of exposition. Like someone’s going to bust THIS MOVIE for not properly setting up the water-side location of the United World meeting center? THE POINT is that they overdo everything, and it’s what makes the jokes sly rather than annoying. Or at least not in-your-face annoying.

3.) Smoking Security Council. I know, I know, it was a different time, but I’d guess 4 out of the 9 members are smoking. Also, when the United Underworld dehydrated 8 of the 9 members, did the 9th keep arguing with nobody?

4.) Ransom is $9 Billion.  By the end of his new contract, Albert Pujols alone will earn $359 million. It would take 25 other major league baseball careers to get to $9 Billion.  That’s a roster. If will probably make that in his lifetime. Does that say more about inflation or our society? Only time will tell.

5.) Bat-Cat Dance. I think the song that plays while Bruce and Kitka dance is a version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You?” Same melody at least, but the words are… Russian, maybe? And here’s something else: I could only imagine the UB40 version when I heard it, so it was really confusing to me. I forgot that no less than Elvis Presley recorded the original. So, no, UB40 didn’t become super cool again for taking the melody of this random song and recording their own version. All is right with the world.

6.) Weighted Scores. As of January 15, 2012, this film has a higher Rotten Tomatoes rating than any of the 90′s movies. It’s pulling an 83% freshness ranking, which illustrates the flaw of Rotten Tomatoes: It doesn’t weigh the judges. Roger Ebert isn’t in there. It’s a bunch of (nearly) no names. Not even Leonard Maltin. And I don’t think many of the reviews were contemporary, so there’s a serious nostalgia factor at play. ON THE OTHER HAND… that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just spent a paragraph above discussing why this should be considered a legitimate Batman story and how it ranks compared to other live-action Bat-films, so I’m not trying to be my own Devil’s Advocate (67% on Rotten Tomatoes).  But at the same time, I would like for a serious film critic to give me a serious film-critic answer on its quality, or lack thereof, because I still can’t wrap my head around it. It’s a really weird movie, which brings me to…

7.) The Second Catwoman. Even when I saw this as a kid, I was bored with Catwoman in this film, and I think that has to do almost entirely with Lee Meriwether’s performance. This only goes to prove how important casting is for a film, and when paired with professional scene stealers Gorshin, Meredith and Romero, Meriwether just can’t hang. What’s interesting (to me, at least) is to think about A.) what the film would have been like if the more charismatic Julie Newmar had done the movie, and B.) what that would have meant for the Catwoman legacy. I always saw the rankings of villainy leadership in this film as the Penguin (he had the crew and the submarine, and a lot of the plan), Riddler (because he had missiles), Joker and then Catwoman. But when you actually look at the story, Catwoman’s really at the center of almost everything. She’s the first one to appear on-screen (in disguise, but still). She goes deep undercover to try and trap Bruce Wayne to try and trap Batman. She plays with Batman’s heart strings, threatening Miss Kitka’s fictional life. In the right hands, this could have been HER movie. Personally speaking, I’ve always found the Catwoman to be a hit-or-miss character. She gets described as being more interesting than she actually proves to be. But with an interesting take (“Batman Returns,” later period “B:TAS”), the character becomes fascinating. Obviously the 1966 film wasn’t going to hang its hat on interesting character choices, but they did rely on interesting actors, and Meriwether just wasn’t one of them.

8.) More On The Rankings. This film influenced my opinion of the villains greatly, and I’m not the only one. I hold Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith personally responsible for the longevity of the Riddler and the Penguin. They are barely characters. They’re “bad guys.” In a real comparison, there’s no way any of this crew’s villains should hold a candle to the Joker, but Meredith and Gorshin pull it off through sheer performance. Here now is a list of the top 1960′s Batman villains: Penguin, Riddler, The Newmar Catwoman, King Tut, the Joker, and Egg Head. Special marks go to False Face for being really creepy.

9.) What Type of Movie Is It? Most plainly described, it is a Batman movie. There are enough films featuring the Caped Crusader where I think you could make a case for a sub-genre, and therefore leave it at that. But internet is cheap, so we’re not going to leave it at that at all. It’s not a straight “Die-Hard-type” action movie, exactly, nor is it an action comedy, like “Lethal Weapon.” It’s definitely camp, but I don’t think that counts as a film genre. It’s a kid movie (or a “family movie”) in a way. Can a movie be a comedy where most of the audience doesn’t get the jokes? Or, more to the point, can it be a SUCCESSFUL comedy? Perhaps the best way to rank it (outside of its Batman-ness) is in the realm of 60′s Pop Movies. That way there’s some context. It’s like the Beatles/Elvis/Rat Pack movies, where you went to see it because stars were in it and that’s about it. But from there, where does it rank? It will never be as highly regarded as an art film as “Hard Days Night,” but is it better than “Help?” It’s gotta be better than any Elvis movie, right? And it’s way less boring than the original “Ocean’s 11.” It’s got a similar vibe to the Monkee’s “Head,” but the key difference — and the key bit of sophistication — that “Batman” has  over all of these films is the layers at work. It works as an exciting movie for kids, but as a silly romp for adults. It delivers something (who knows what) for Batman junkies, yet somehow the show was very popular, so it couldn’t have been exclusive.

So to sum up, I don’t know.

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