Thursday, July 5, 2012

Batman: The Movie (1966 Review, 1st review of 9)


      This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, instead of doing a full list of films from a series at once I thought it would be fun to do individual reviews for every film in a series, just one at a time. One of my all time favorite superheroes ever is Batman, he’s the only DC comic book character that I find fascinating. Unlike Spider-man or the X-Men, Batman has a fun chain of different movie adaptations, all with their own unique style and that makes this series of films more fun to review. I’ve done Batman related posts in the past, but now I’m really going to dig it. I’m going to be giving 9 individual reviews on all 9 of the theatrical released Batman movies, ending with a new review for “The Dark Knight Rises”. I won’t look at the silent movies of the 20’s (“The Bat”, “The Bat Whispers” or “The Man Who Laughs”), I won’t go into the serials from the 30’s (“Batman” or “Batman and Robin”), I won’t be reviewing any of the direct to video films or TV movies like “Batman Under the Red Hood” or “Return to the Bat Cave” and finally I won’t get into any of the TV shows like the live action 60’s show or the 90’s animated TV show, they will be mentioned, just not reviewed.   

     So with all that said, let’s get this mini Batman marathon started with the very first theatrical Batman film in 1966, “Batman: The Movie”.

    The live action Batman TV show of the 60's was a huge hit, it had a total of 120 episodes over the cores of three seasons. It was successful enough to have a theatrical film adaption which could be interpreted as one of the worst or one of the greatest entries in the series. The movie hit theaters between the first and second seasons in 1966. A lot of people like to ignore this one because they think it ruins the awesome, gothic and believable tone that Batman has been known for. I definitely prefer the darker, more realistic Batman but this is a completely different style and should be looked at differently from the others. I’d be lying if I said this wasn't an entertaining film. It’s very self aware and it does an excellent job turning campy antics into an art form. You can tell everyone is having a blast with every over the top, tongue-in-cheek gag, and you really have to be in the right mind set to enjoy it.

    The movie begins with colorful, comic book style opening, with Batman and Robin running through alleyways, the villains are sneaking in and out of different colored locations and it perfectly sets the tone for a film that’s not meant to be taken seriously. The look of this film is enjoyably ridicules, Gotham City looks like a vacation spot in Florida, all the bat vehicles look like toys or rides that came from “Chuck E. Cheese” and the bat cave reminds me of “Jimmy Neutrons” basement. Throughout the whole movie, you constantly see bat themed objects ranging from Bat vehicles to Bat microphones, it almost reminds of “Spaceballs”, and all the Spaceball themed merchandise that would be seen throughout the film. We get all the classic vehicles including the Bat mobile, the Bat motorcycle, the bat boat and my favorite by far, the bat helicopter, it looks great, in that cheese kind of way. One thing I didn’t like was that they have to drive to an airport hanger (or something like that) to pick it up, common, shouldn’t it be in the bat cave with the rest of the vehicles.    

      The costumes are silly and they look like outfits you can find at a Halloween costume shop but to be fair it's the 1960's and it was fitting for the time. Batman is played by Adam West, he has a good voice but it’s not one of my favorite portrayals of Batman at all. I know a lot of people love this version of Batman and for perfectly understandable reasons because his performance fits with the tone of the film, however I just don’t think he’s as fun as all the other actors in this feature. He can be so dull at times and in some scene’s he looks like he’s about to fall asleep. The cast and most people on set claim that they would find Adam West sleeping in-between takes, doesn’t surprise me. Now to be fair, he must have used a lot of energy running around, doing all his physical actions. He also spends a lot of time in the bat suit, we hardly ever see him as Bruce Wane, which is fine, Bruce Wane isn’t all that fun anyway.  

    On the opposite side of that coin is Robin played by Burt Ward. He has little to do in the plot and is mostly just there as the side kick but it hardly matters because he’s one of the most entertaining supporting characters to be in a superhero movie. He has a lot of energy and 50% of his dialog was made up by Ward himself, and let me tell yah, there some of the most enjoyable, overacted lines I’ve ever heard. My favorite line is when Commissioner Gordon is reading one of the Riddler’s riddles, "What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?" to which Robin responds to by saying "A sparrow with a machine gun." That's the most absurd thing I've ever heard and I love how Robin makes it sound like such an obvious answer.       

     Probably the most famous thing about this film is that it features the biggest collection of villains to appear in any Batman movie or any superhero movie for that matter. Their goal (of course) is to take over the world, it’s as cliché as it gets but it's done with so much charm and campy injoyment. It really is a lot of fun to have all these classic villains in the same film together and to have them interact off of each other with their own unique personalities. Leading this alliance of evil is The Penguin played by Burgess Meredith who simply steels the show with every scene he’s in. Whenever all the villains are together on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him and it’s funny that I say that because of all the Batman villains, The Penguin is my least favorite but Burgess Meredith is so much fun in the role that he upstages all the other villains. No one bites on a cigar while speaking with that awesome grouchy voice as well as him. 

      Of the 4 villains, the primary antagonist is Cat-woman, she can genuinely menacing at times while still keeping alive that fun, campy personality of the other villains. There's a nice little sub-plot with Cat-woman having a relationship with Bruce Wane, but it's only leverage and in the end it becomes her most powerful weapon. Cat-woman’s also the only one to have a cast change. Originally, she was played by Julie Newmar in the TV show but she was too busy at the time, so she was replaced with Lee Meriwether and I must confess, she is the sexiest actress to play Cat-woman, no one movies around in that skintight outfit while purring as well as her. On that note, her purring can get a little irritating at times, sounds more like a cyrine you'd hear on an ambulance.     

    Then there’s The Riddler played by Frank Gorshin and I have to be honest, he’s the most useless of the four and is just there because he’s one of the popular Batman enemy's. All these villains are enjoyably over the top but I think Gorshin is trying too hard to overact everyone around him. All the same, it is still fun seeing him with all the other classic villains and to be fare, his riddles are just as great as ever. It’s a real joy seeing Batman and Robin figure them out so quickly without even taking a moment to think.       

      Now at last, the most celebrated villain of all is The Joker played by Cesar Romero. Of course the Joker will go on to become the biggest, most recurring villain of all the Batman villains and one of the all time baddest bad guys in film and this is the guy who started it all. There’s nothing dark or menacing about this Joker, he’s just an over the top goofball but he is still a lot of fun to watch. According to Adam West, Romero was also starring in another show, where he needed his prized mustache. So he refused to shave it off and as a result, you can clearly see it under all his makeup, that’s hilarious. Now you’d think that Batman’s most famous foe, would get a big part in this film but he’s constantly upstaged by the other villains and he doesn’t even fight Batman, instead he’s stuck fighting Robin, what’s up with that?                 

       There really isn't much of a plot to discus because it's just a strait forward, comedy, adventure with Batman chasing after the villains. However, there's a lot of fun moments and scenes to discuss and that’s about all I can do in this review. Jack LaLanne has a cameo as a man on a roof top with some girls, it’s always fun noticing stuff like that. There’s also an amusing little scene when Batman is attacked by the stupidest looking rubber shark ever, I’ve seen blowup sharks that look more convincing. There’s another scene when Bruce Wayne is kidnapped by the villains who make their escape on giant, rocket powered umbrellas, now that’s just dumb. The best moment of all is when Batman is running around with a live bomb but he can’t find a safe place to get rid of it. That shouldn’t even be funny, but it is and it’s even funnier because the people walking by don’t even seem to notice. It's simply imposible for me to watch this scene with a strait face. 

     The movie resolves with a silly little climax featuring everyone getting into a big fight on the top of a submerging, it's actually very amusing and a rare case in which we see Batman fighting out in the day time. Another famous trade mark that came into play here are the comic book style words like “BAM” and “POW” that would show up whenever Batman hits someone. This is also the only time we see Batman fighting with a sword, no joke, he and the Penguin get into a final showdown with swords. 


     The ending is the worst part, it’s not triumphant, happy or sad, it's just really odd and leaves me feeling bitter sweet, plus the closing shot is just Batman and Robin climbing down a building as the credits roll over it. There was no sequel but in 2003 there was a TV made movie called “Return to the Bat-Cave” which reunited most of the cast. Overall, this is a movie that isn’t meant to be taken seriously, it’s where you geek out and let that young child hood state of mind run wild. It’s not high class entertainment but it is still a fun film to watch, that is if you’re in the right mood and if you can accept the campiness. I give “Batman: The Movie” 2 ½ stars.


                                 Stay tuned for part 2, Tim Burtons Batman is up next.

               P.S. What’s up with this closing credit that say’s “The Living End...?” I just don’t get it?


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