Monday, July 16, 2012

8 DAYS OF BATMAN COUNTDOWN: #4 - Batman: The Movie

To celebrate this 1966 version of the hero as a piece of pop art might seem a disservice to Batman Returns, a film I ranked lower than this film despite considering it a work of art in and of itself.  But there is a difference in art, so there is a difference in these Batman films and the energy they bring.  Where Tim Burton's second film slogged through visual mastery avoiding a necessary substance over style, this original film is an effervescent, sparkling testament to the decade in which it was created.  It is as tongue in cheek as any film can be, as corny as hell, but it commits fully to the cause of being zany and off the beaten path.  It also happens to be a childhood favorite of mine which is, more than anything, the reason it beat out Batman Returns on the list.  If I were staring at copies of the two films, there is no question which one I would choose to watch.

Consider the following passage, before the credits as an introduction to the film:

ACKNOWLEDGMENT We wish to express our gratitude to the enemies of crime and crusaders against crime throughout the world for their inspirational example. To them, and to lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre--- To funlovers everywhere--- This picture is respectfully dedicated. If we have overlooked any sizable groups of lovers, we apologize. ---THE PRODUCERS

What a bombastic quote to drop in front a film, and a great way to welcome us into the zany world created by the producers at 20th Century Fox.  Released between the first and second seasons of the popular TV series, Batman: The Movie is partly responsible for making The Joker, The Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman the first off fanboys lips when they list villains of the caped crusader.  Sure, The Joker has always been tops on the list, but this film corralled these four villains together for one awesome spectacle.  There is a plot involving the dehydration of the United Nations brass into vials of multi-colored dust, and world domination of course.  But the plot doesn't matter the way it later will in the Nolan films; this is pure eye candy.

And what a shame I have made it this far through my article without even mentioning the mastermind of the universe, Mr. Adam West.  The embodiment of Batman, West was basically all we had to work with before 1989, and his Shatner-esque energy and faux-seriousness towards the subject matter fit so incredibly well.  Alongside West's Batman is Burt Ward as The Boy Wonder, Robin.  "Holy (insert pun here) Batman!"  The two work off each other with an effortless zeal throughout the film and the series.

A few of my favorite moments:  the shark-repellent Bat Spray, placed carefully inside the Bat-copter.  The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) masquerading as Commodore Schmidlap.  The odd and Russian-themed romance between Bruce Wayne and Miss Kitka (Catwoman, Lee Merriwether).  Get it?  Miss Kitka?  Batman and Robin's uncanny ability to piece together absurd riddles into clues into a way to solve the crime.  The onomatopoeia explosion atop the surfaced submarine.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Batman: The Movie may not take itself seriously in any way, but it never tries.  For that, I think it belongs here more than Burton's sequel.