Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
126 mins. Rated PG-13.
- Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.
On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.
Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.
I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.
Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.
Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.
I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?
Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.
For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.
For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.