Sunday, March 16, 2014


A few weeks ago, I bought a Blu-Ray DVD player as a birthday present for myself. I'd wanted one for a long time but never could justify the expense. I had a perfectly good DVD player that I'd had for years and I have a sizable library of films on DVD. I didn't want to have to replace every film I have on DVD with a Blu-Ray copy (and obsessive/compulsive collector that I am, I sure want to!). But when the sound system on my old DVD player started giving me trouble around the first of the year, I decided to start pricing Blu-Ray players.

A brand new Wal-Mart store opened up just across the highway from our subdivision in late February. One Sunday afternoon after it opened, Judy and I went over there to check it out. I found a Samsung Blu-Ray player for $58.00. Sold. While I was in the store, I figured that I needed a Blu-Ray disc to play on my new device. There was huge bin in the store containing Blu-Rays for $7.88 each. I spied BATMAN (1989) on top of the pile and grabbed it. Since I already had the movie on DVD, I figured I sell that version on eBay and replace it with the new Blu-Ray. Done and done.

This marks the third version of this film that I've owned since it was released in 1989. I first had a VHS copy, then the DVD and now the Blu-Ray. Ten years from now (or sooner), I'll probably have to upgrade again to whatever format is state-of-the-art at that time. But for now, I have BATMAN on Blu-Ray and it looks spectacular.

I well remember all of the buzz and consternation among comic book fandom back in the late '80s when it was announced that there was going to be a big budget, major studio production of BATMAN, a film that was to be directed by Tim Burton and star Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Michael Keaton (shudder! gasp! choke!) as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Burton and Keaton were best known for BEETLEJUICE and most of fandom was convinced that Keaton was totally wrong for the part of the Dark Knight. Turns out they were wrong because then and now I think Keaton did an admirable job in the part. Of course, no one complained about casting Nicholson as the Joker. He was a perfect choice.

Still, many had their doubts about the production and we hung on every scrap of information that we could get. Remember, this was in the days before the Internet and complete and total information about any given film in production wasn't just a click away. We got our information in drips and drabs and each new bit of info gleaned served only to stoke our collective anxieties even more.

I remember seeing in a magazine (I forget which one) the first stills that were released showing Nicholson in his Joker makeup and Keaton in the Bat-suit. I was suitably impressed by both. I thought they'd nailed the look of both characters. About that same time, I recall attending a matinee of THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and seeing the trailer for BATMAN for the first time. I was blown away. I thought it looked great! I even went so far as to see THE DREAM TEAM just because it starred Michael Keaton and I was anxious to get another look at him in a film and see what he could bring to the part of Batman.

When the film finally opened, I wasn't disappointed. I loved it and saw it in the theater at least twice. When it was released on home video, I bought it and watched it another couple of times and then put it away for years. I hadn't seen the film since sometime in 1990 until I watched it again the other day.

There are a number of things to like about this movie but there are a few things I don't care for. The songs by Prince for one thing. I could live without that sonic swill. I think the score by Danny Elfman is a good one, especially during the opening credits sequence (something that appears to have all but disappeared from contemporary films). I thought Keaton did a good job as both Bruce Wayne and Batman but neither character seemed fully fleshed out. In fact, the whole script by Sam Haam and the late Warren Skaaren (an Austinite, by the way) seems in need of one more rewrite. The bat-suit looks great even with the too-long ears and stiff, immobile cowl. The great Jack Palance makes a menacing crime boss, Kim Basinger is lovely as Vicki Vale, Michael Gough is solid as Alfred, Pat Hingle is good as Commissioner Gordon and Billy Dee Williams is mostly wasted in his extremely limited screen time as District Attorney Harvey Dent.

But this film belongs to two people: Jack Nicholson and Tim Burton. Nicholson makes one terrific Joker, much better than the one played by Cesar Romero on the old BATMAN television show. Of course, no one could have known in 1989 that we would someday see Heath Ledger in the role, in a radically different (and Oscar winning) interpretation of the character. I think Jack's Joker was and still is great.

  Director Tim Burton brought a dark, Gothic visual sensibility to BATMAN and it shows in almost every frame. His massive cityscapes look more like Metropolis (Fritz Lang's, not Clark Kent's) than Gotham City and he pays homage to many different films including the Universal horror canon (FRANKENSTEIN and INVISIBLE MAN chiefly), THE WIZARD OF OZ (check out the scene where the Batmobile speeds through a nighttime forest), EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Jerry Hall's scarred visage hidden under a porcelain mask), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (a zombie like Gothamite attacks Vicki Vale's car in a scene that echoes the cemetery sequence in George Romero's masterpiece) and VERTIGO (the climb to the top of the mile-high bell tower at the films' climax).

BATMAN became a box-office smash and a cultural touchstone. It spawned three sequels: BATMAN RETURNS (good), BATMAN FOREVER (bad) and BATMAN AND ROBIN (throw-up-in-your-mouth awful). In the summer of 1989, BATMAN and a new wave of Bat-mania reigned supreme. It's far from a perfect film but at the time, it was groundbreaking in its' serious treatment of the character and his millieu. The best comic book movie ever made? No. The best Batman movie ever made? No. But Tim Burton's BATMAN remains an incredibly important and highly influential film that showed that big screen comic book super-hero movies, when done right, could win both critical acclaim and commercial success.

And it looks FANTASTIC on Blu-Ray!


  1. Like you, I was skeptical about Blu-Ray and the cost of them didn't help. Remember when Blu-Ray players were $200/$300 bucks and the discs were $20/$30/$40 dollars? But now, as you said, you can get a decent Blu-Ray player for a reasonable price and both Wal-Mart and Target have Blu-Rays for under $10.

    The first movie I bought and saw on Blu-Ray was "The Ten Commandments" and I was totally astounded. Here's a movie I've seen at least once a year all throughout my life and still, seeing it on Blu-Ray was like looking at a movie I'd never seen before.

    Terrific review of BATMAN and except for your opinion on the Prince soundtrack I agree. That prince soundtrack went a long way to helping back people aware of the movie. It's hard to convey to people now just how Batcrazy the whole country was back in 1989 over this movie. There's never been a fever about Batman like that since then.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Derrick. I'm afraid I'm beginning to catch "Blu-Ray Fever". I've since purchased Blu-Ray editions of GOODFELLAS, DR. NO and a Clint Eastwood double feature of FIREFOX and HEARTBREAK RIDGE. I'd love to see THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in this format!

    I understand why the Prince songs were featured in the film and I know his music helped to sell both the film and a second soundtrack album but I've never cared for his music and felt the songs were out of place in the film and at odds with the
    terrific Danny Elfman score.

    And you are entirely correct. If you weren't there and didn't experience it firsthand, it's hard to convey the Batmania fever that swept the nation that summer. It was almost like 1966 all over again. Nothing like it since.

  3. Wave to the Enema! George Patton