Friday, August 20, 2010

Batman (1989)

Batman (1989) screens tonight, Friday August 20th at 9:00pm. It screens again on Monday August 23rd at 7:00pm.

When I was a young child I was pretty deprived in terms of what films I got to watch. My father hated anything and everything science fiction, which means I had to watch anything Star Wars or Star Trek related in secret and without him knowing about it. He hated it that much. If he ever caught me watching anything science fiction related, he would literally tell me to turn that shit off and put something else on instead.

So what exactly does this have to do with Tim Burton's 1989 Batman? Well, in terms of how I viewed the film as a kid, quite a bit.

You see, my father might have hated science fiction movies, but he loved comic book movies. As a young child, I might have been too young to get caught up in the Batmania of 1989 and I could have cared less that the movie was the highest grossing film that year (and almost of the 1980s in general). My dad wouldn't let me watch what I wanted to watch and I honestly thought that Batman was a character for old dudes. I was given the VHS by some family member one year for my birthday. It sat unopened for two more years until my father finally watched it. I took no part in watching it and stayed in my room building a blanket fort (true fact).

I honestly didn't see the '89 Batman film until about two years ago when I decided to break down and take it out of the public library. I still find that funny because despite hating Batman Returns (which I did see in theatres and gave several second chances to after everyone kept raving about it) and seeing every subsequent film that followed almost religiously. I was very glad I did. I might have disliked my father for a lot of things, but when it came to Batman, he was genuinely on to something I would have actually liked.

Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne, the billionaire industrialist turned vigilante thanks to the death of his parents at the hands of a mugger while he was a child. Batman stalks the streets of a seemingly lawless Gotham city that is overrun by the mob, lead by Jack Pallance's Carl Grissom. After a struggle and a shootout one of Grissom's henchmen falls into a vat of chemicals and becomes horribly disfigured. The former number two man sees some very dark humor in the situation and rechristens himself as The Joker.

The Joker is played here by Jack Nicholson in one of his best performances. Nicholson doesn't walk the line between insanity and reality. The Joker is so far over the line that he almost has no basis in reality at all. This makes The Joker the perfect Batman foil simply because Bruce Wayne really isn't all that far off in terms of insanity, either.

I will go on record as saying that I am really not a huge Tim Burton fan (especially in the past 5 or 6 years), but I still think Batman remains one of his best. Strangely enough, for the longest time, Burton was really unhappy with how the film turned out. Burton was happy it was successful, but he maintained that it wasn't the film he really wanted to make. The much darker Batman Returns was a lot closer in tone to Burton's original vision, but for my money, the first Batman actually feels like a Batman film should. It is serious up to a point and if it injects humor into the story, it doesn't feel as labored or mean spirited.

As for Keaton, he delivers the best performance as Bruce Wayne in the entire series. Keaton does have a dark, tortured look to him in the role of a billionaire playboy so unhappy in his normal life that he has to resort to literal darkness in order to see the light. I would still love to see Keaton return to the Batmobile at some point in the future. Actually, I would just like to see Keaton make a full time return to acting in general.

Batman is a film that I might not have appreciate as a kid, but I have an affinity for now. I think a lot of people have movies like that. What are some of yours? Leave a comment and tell me. I am really interested to hear what you guys think.

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