MOVIE PAGE PICK: BATMAN RETURNS
Keaton Batman/Bruce Wayne
Danny De Vito The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot
Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman/Selina Kyle
Christopher Walken Max Shreck
Michael Gough Alfred The Butler
Michael Murphy The Mayor of Gotham
Cristi Conaway The Ice Princess
Andrew Bryniarski Chip Shreck
Pat Hingle Police Commissioner Gordon
by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Daniel Waters and Sam
Hamm (from the story by Waters and Hamm, based on the
characters by Bob Kane). 1992. Running time: 126 Minutes.
knew something was wrong when we were the only two people in the
cinema. My date and I were there to
Returns. It was
the second time that I would see the film and her first time.
While we both had a pretty good idea what to expect, what we
weren't really prepared for was an empty cinema. It may have been
an early evening show during the week, but still! This was the
sequel to the 1989 Batman - one of
the biggest grossing movies of all time. (Although ironically
more money was made with the Batman merchandising than
actual ticket sales! But that's the way movies work these days:
it's a multimedia opportunity rather than a film . . . )
would, however, have expected this when the week before a
colleague of mine told me that she wasn't going to allow her kids
to see it. She has heard that it was too dark and violent a film
for children - even though they wanted to see it very much. This
could only have been a bad omen for the financial success of the Batman
sequel. If the kids didn't go to see a Batman movie, then
who would? Definitely not the "adults" who weren't
supposed to take mere "comic" books seriously. (Or at
least that's what my dad tells me every time he sees his
29-year-old son with one of those comic books . . .) Comic book
readership (along with literacy) has been changing in the past
decade or so. People don't read much anymore. It simply isn't
cool, there isn't time, it's easier to go rent the video instead.
More fun to play CD-ROM games. Whatever. The demographics of
comic book readers have also changed. Although kids still make up
the largest chunk of comic book consumers, comics readers have
become older. Why? Because kids aren't interested anymore and few
new readers have come into the fold while the existing fans.
Well, they just turned 29, that's all . . .
explains why Marvel Comics (which mostly prints juvenile titles
such as X-Men) has to scale down while the Vertigo
branch of DC Comics which caters for more "mature"
tastes actually recently expanded its canon of printed titles.
Comic readers have become an older (if not wiser) bunch. Yet they
remain a small sub-culture within a small sub-culture. After all,
it's easier to watch the latest episode of The X-Men on
television on Saturday mornings than going out and buying the
latest edition of the said title . . .
the viewership of a multi-million dollar Hollywood production on
that particular tiny sub-culture could only spell financial
disaster. Because that is what Batman Returns was aimed
at: the "mature" comic book readers. It had more in
common with the dark brooding graphic novels that saw the light
(?) after Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns than the pure
comic book stuff that appears on the shop shelves every month.
When my colleague felt that Batman Returns wasn't really
for kids, she was probably right. When the film was criticised by
critics for being too psychopathic, too tormented, too brutal for
children they were probably right too.
when Ebert complained that Batman Returns denies us (the
audience) what "we more or less deserve from a Batman
story," he was wrong. When he wrote that "no matter how
hard you try, superheroes and film noir don't go together;
the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes"
one could clearly see that he hasn't exactly been in on what has
been happening in the comic scene since Frank Miller re-invented
(or rather re-interpreted) the Batman character for modern
audiences. Perhaps he should take a look at those graphic novels
or at Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum.
I probably do take my comics too seriously. The fact remains that
when one compares the first two Batman films, it is
obvious that following the commercial success of Batman,
director Tim Burton was given free rein with its sequel. Batman
Returns is more malignant in its style, atmosphere and
feeling. Like one critic remarked: "It . . . is probably one
of the only live action movies to date that successfully converts
from its comic origins. Batman Returns captured the comic
hero's manic depressive state of mind as well as the comic book's
Gothic intentions." But the game was over for director
having trod the thin line between avant garde weirdness
and mainstream commercial success, Tim (Edward
Wood) Burton finally fell from Hollywood grace. "They
(Warner Bros.) are happy that I didn't do another Batman
movie," he admitted in a recent interview with Starlog
magazine. "I put them through a lot. I didn't mean to; I
felt a lot of pressure on the second one. A friend of mine had
just died, and I felt really bad; I was going through some
personal things. My primary concern was to make a good movie . .
." And he did.
very secretive about box office returns in general, it was clear
that Batman Returns didn't turn out to be as profitable as
the studio had hoped. Burton's involvement with Batman
by Joel Schumacher) was only in the form of advice, when it was
sought. The final word on Batman Forever has to be
Burton's: "It became a franchise thing for the studio, and
once that has hooked in, you've got to have meetings with
McDonald's six months before the movie's even started . . ."
Schumacher gave Warner Bros. what they wanted. Flat-out
spectacle, something that the kids could easily digest, obnoxious
flavour-of-the-month Jim Carrey, you name it. What this viewer
got was what I didn't want: a migraine attack.
without a doubt Batman Returns will remain the best movie
in the, er, series. There is little from what we have seen from
the upcoming Batman & Robin (also directed by Joel
Schumacher) to waylay this suspicion . . .
� May 1997 James O'Ehley/The
Sci-Fi Movie Page
- Greg Ursic