Friday, June 1, 2012

Batman Movie Batdown Week 1 - Batman: The Movie

With "The Dark Knight Rises" on the way, I have found myself in an odd situation.  I'm legitimately excited for a movie coming out.  On the surface, this would not be that strange, being an intense paramour of the world of cinema, I am often excited for new releases, but this time, its a bit extreme.  Every day I wake up and I realize my life is considerably worse for not having "Batman 3".  I need this movie.  My soul is incomplete without it.  I haven't been this excited for a new movie since "Matrix 2" or "Star Wars: Episode I" and well... let's try to ignore how those came out.  Right now, I'm jumping in my chair, rocking back in forth like a cigarette addict who quit four hours ago, filled with a boyish glee.  "Batman 3" is going to be HUGE.

So out of the interests of preparing myself for what may be the most important single moment in the history of Western Civilization, I must now guide the world through Batman's storied movie past.  Altogether there have been been eight Batman movies*, stretching across nearly half a century in time.  These include the two Master Christopher Nolan movies, the four Burton/Schumacher movies, one "Batman: The Animated Series" movie, and this, a movie based on the old Sixties "Batman" TV Show.  The plan is that every Friday for the next eight weeks, I will review one of those eight movies, in chronological order.  This will lead directly up to "Batman 3"... which reminds me, I need to order my midnight release tickets for that baby.  Anyway, this is the first episode of what I'm naming the "Batman Movie Countdown Batdown".  Enjoy.

Over the years, Batman has given us six good movies, two or three of which I'd rank as some of the best movies ever made.  There are superheroes, there are superhero movies, and there is Batman.  He's is a cut above, quite simply.  Batman is by far my favorite superhero, and he's definitely been the one hero best served by the silver screen.  Poor Hulk has to wander between two crappy movies before he manages to get some success in "The Avengers", Batman scores touchdown after touchdown.  And don't think its just Christopher Nolan who can make a good Batman movie, there's something interesting to be found in pretty much all of these films.

So first on the order of business is the first movie released, "Batman: The Movie", starring Adam West.  This one is the one furthest from "The Dark Knight Rises" in both years and tone.  And its... one of the worst movies I've ever seen.  But in the most fascinating way.  I think I might actually have to recommend this one for viewing, not as direct entertainment, but as some kind of science exhibit on the perverse depths our species can sink to.  I have no idea what the Hell I just watched, I have trouble accepting this movie even exists.  I don't know what to do with "Batman: The Movie"!  Its too much.  Too much.

Trust me, you're not ready for this one.  I was not ready.  And either are you.

I've seen a lot of bad movies in my day.  "Plan 9 From Outer Space" was a breeze.  "Troll 2" sits proudly on my DVD shelf as one of my favorite comedies.  And I survived "Manos: the Hands of Fate" with no problem thanks to the good old boys down at "Mystery Science Theater 3000".  But never in my life have I seen anything like "Batman: The Movie".  I often can enjoy a movie for being So Bad Its Good, heck, there are some movies I've seen that I can enjoy that everybody else seems to hate, like "Showgirls" or "Josie and the Pussycats".  I watch Japanese 70s rip-offs of Star Wars for fun, along with Lou Ferrigno "Hercules" movies with casts dubbed over into English.  Heck, I even found things to like in "Battleship".  But this is too much, I can't do it.

The old "Batman" TV show is probably the most inexplicable piece of pop culture that I've ever encountered.  I made sure to see an episode of the TV show before watching the movie, but I still have no idea what I'm dealing with.  Adam West, in the interviews, claims this was a surrealist comedy, and I guess that's the only way you can look at this without declaring it the worst goddamn show ever to grace television.  On one level its an utterly terrible superhero story based on the ridiculous silly children's comic books of the day, on another level its a parody of those things, on another level its an outright comedy with an ironic sense of "wink wink, this show sucks", and on another level, its some kind of bizarre adventure.  This is definitely the weirdest show that ever became a pop culture sensation, today a show like "Batman" would end up on the deep stoner's landscape on Adult Swim, right next to "Tim and Eric's Worst Goddamn Show I've Ever Seen" or whatever its called.

Did America even know what kind of show they had fallen in love with?  I think this was mostly a show for kids, who thought all these adventures were totally straight, while their parents enjoyed a blast from their days of reading Forties comic books.  Altogether, "Batman" was a weird wholesome oasis of good moral values and non-threatening battles of Clear Good vs. Silly Evil, which was quite a thing in the increasingly fractured culture of the Sixties.  Remember, that's the time that pretty much all of American culture had a meltdown, when it finally realized it wasn't quite as perfect as it had believed for three hundred years.  That's quite a shock to overcome.  And I guess we needed "Batman" at the time to guide us.

All I know is since my mother was three when this show aired, I have no idea what this thing is supposed to be.  It makes no sense to me.  I grew up on the Nineties Batman cartoon, so I'm genetically opposed to this show, which I struggle not to call "stupid".

However, as much we might immediately declare the campy lunacy of "Batman" to be the polar opposite of everything the silent nighttime hero of the Dark Knight is supposed to be, Adam West's legacy looms large over the world of not just "Batman", but all superheroes.  Probably more than any other thing, the old "Batman" TV show has defined comic books for the mass media:  ridiculous children's adventures with themed-bad guys and sound effects like "POW!"  Even now, after Tim Burton, after "Batman: The Animated Series", and after Christopher Nolan combined Batman with the War on Terror, there's still the campy legacy of this show.  Just watch "Batman: The Brave and the Bold", if you don't believe me.  This is the past we're just going to have to deal with if we're ever going to see the rest of the Batman saga.  And yeah, that confused and difficult past includes Robin, who forever is going to have a place as part of the Dynamic Duo, no matter what I or Frank Miller or anybody says.

Adam West's "Batman" is hard enough to get through when its only an hour long (most episodes were two-parters), but when its an hour and forty-five minutes long, its an ordeal and a half.  This movie is silly, obviously.  More than silly, its probably the most utterly ridiculous movie I've ever seen.  There is not just a simple avoidance of sense, this is a movie that refuses to make sense.  It goes out of its way not to make sense, to be completely insane from beginning to end.  Its not just that the villains are ridiculous, who seem more interested in sticking to their clownish obsession with a weird super villain theme, and its not that nothing about Batman and Robin's existence makes any sense, its an overall feeling of otherworldliness.  Like, to use a DC comics example, this is a bizarro universe, where Batman speaks openly with the press, drives a bubble car, and for some goddamn reason nobody can see through everybody's paper-thin disguises.  This defines campy.  In fact, I think they invented the idea of "campy" just to describe the "Batman" TV show.

So I think we all know about the Bat Shark Repellent.  What you don't know, is that this is pretty much the first scene of the movie.  And what you probably never imagined, is that this is only the beginning of a enough lunacy to fill seven Lewis Carrolls.  I told you, you're not ready.

The plot involves the supervillain team of Batman's four greatest villains:  Cesar Romero's Joker, Burgess Meredith's Penguin, Catwoman, and the Riddler.  Together they've designed a plan to conquer the world, but first they must get rid of Batman.  So first they tried the shark, that doesn't work.  Then they try... and this is going to be... interesting, to describe.  (Deep breath)  They try luring Batman to their secret lair by kidnapping Bruce Wayne with Catwoman disguised as a Russian journalist, which will lead Batman and Robin to the lair, and then they'll put them on a pink jack-in-the-box launching square that will shoot Batman and Robin out of a window and into the arms of an exploding octopus.

Did you get all that?  This is what I'm dealing with here.  This is the movie I just saw.  Is this the dumbest movie ever made or some kind of Andy Warhol experimental film?  And I've seen Andy Warhol's movies, they're not this weird.  Trust me, Andy Warhol makes WEIRD goddamn movies, this is beyond that.

The villains, at least, are all pretty fun.  Together they make for a nice silly group of jolly villains out for a good fun day of comic book evil.  Yeah, they want to conquer the world, but there really isn't much of an outright vindictive bone in any of their bodies.  I think they mainly dislike Batman because he ruins their needlessly complex themed crime sprees.  These aren't villains who ever hurt anybody, they just giggle together and hang out.  Usually their plans are too stupidly elaborate to ever work.  My favorite is Caear Romero, because you never would guess it here, but Romero was usually a mustachioed Latin Lover.  Here's he's jumping off the walls and giggling like a freak, its awesome.  But remember, under this white make-up, he still has the mustache that made him famous.   Burgess Meredith is pretty impressive too, because between the quacks you can hear that classic Mickey from "Rocky".

Another important thing for you to know about this movie:  Adam West is actually the greatest actor ever to live.  Yeah, he never got much of a chance to show it, because between "Batman" and being the psychotic mayor of Quohog, Rhode Island, Adam West mostly starved and appeared in a porno or two.  But watch this movie, and you'll understand.  Adam West's Bruce Wayne gives the most ridiculous speeches, he says the most inexplicable shit, and yet somehow he never manages to wink at the camera once.  The villains have it easy, when they say their lines since they can smile.  He's playing this all straight, dead serious.  The dialog in this movie is beyond bizarre, and it isn't just Robin's occasion yells of "holy polaris, Batman!"  Here's one example:  "Penguin, Joker, Riddler... and Catwoman, too! The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate!"  I had to rewind the DVD about six times after Commissioner Gordon said that line, because I simply could not believe what I had heard.  Then there's Adam West's rendition of "Disposing of pre-atomic submarines to persons who don't even leave their full addresses... Good day, Admiral!"  It was too much.  I'm only one man, how can I be expected to carry a load like this??

You know, a lot of people consider "Batman & Robin" to be the most ridiculously stupid Batman movie ever to be made.  They are completely wrong.  "Batman & Robin" is nothing compared to this.  This is at a whole other level.

Okay, let me finally tell you the supervillain's plan.  I've been dancing around it, because, again, you're not ready for it.  The villains kidnap this guy, Commodore Schmidlapp (yes, Schmidlapp), who has invented an instant-gin-making machine.  But the villains converted it into a gun that sucks out all the moisture of the human body**.  You may have never seen a human body without moisture, its quite a thing.  According to "Batman: The Movie", when you lose all your moisture, you turn into a small pile of conveniently colorful dust.  Because that's how it works.  This might sound like a quick and medieval death, but no, you'd be surprised again.  The Penguin first uses his gun to zap down five of his henchmen into dust.  He then surrenders himself to Batman and Robin, who take him back to the Batcave.  The Penguin then sneaks over to the Bat Waterfountain, and waters his henchmen, which turns them fully human again.  However, when Batman and Robin fight them, they immediately pop out of existence.  It turns out, that because the Bat Cave is powered by nuclear power, they use heavy water, and that screwed up the molecules of the henchmen, so when Batman punched them, they turned into ANTIMATTER, which caused them to simply disappear forever and go to another dimension.  YEAH!  OBVIOUSLY, RIGHT?  BECAUSE THAT'S HOW SCIENCE WORKS.

NONE OF THAT MAKES ANY SENSE!  THIS IS THE MOST RIDICULOUS MOVIE I'VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!


(deep breath)  (deep breath)  (deep breath)

I think I'm okay now.

Wait, no, I'm not.  I'll never be okay again.  My skull melted away and my brains were eaten by pigeons.  But finish this post I will... somehow.

So anyway, that's not the last use of the de-moisturizer.  The villains then sneak into the United World Headquarters (the UN has too much self-respect for this movie), and turn all the world leaders (of which there are about six) into dust. So they're going to hold all these world leaders up for ransom for a billion dollars each, including the Nigerian leader.  That would have been quite a feat since in 1966 I really doubt Nigeria had even half as much as a billion dollars to spare.  So Batman and Robin attack the Penguin's submarine... which has flippers... corner the villains, do lots of "POWS!" and save the day.

Altogether, I have no idea what to make of this movie.  Its so constantly bizarre, I don't know if I'm supposed to laugh or cry.  I spent roughly a half hour of this movie in a comatose fugue state, with my face stuck in a contorted grimace of half smile, half horror.  Like, there are so many utterly insane scenes in this movie.  Robin and Alfred watch while Batman almost screws Catwoman, and Robin is either stunned by this shocking display of sexuality, or intensely jealous and filled with sexual frustration.  Why does the shark explode when Batman hits it with the Bat Shark Repellent?  I am watching "Jaws: the Revenge" again?  I kinda wish I were, because that movie made sense in comparison.  There's a long scene where Batman runs around the entire Santa Monica pier, trying to find a place to throw away a cartoon black spherical bomb.  That actually was kinda funny.  But then again, this is BATMAN!

I'm totally lost here.  This is beyond me.  I'm not worthy of this movie.  I can't decide if this is some weird example of Sixties kitsch that's harmless in its own silliness or actively one of the worst movies I've ever seen.  I need a beer.  I need ten beers.  I need one hundred beers.  Maybe if I had another hundred years to consider this movie, if I dedicated my entire life to studying the minutia of this film's artistic statement, I could come up with some kind of conclusion about it.  But until then, I'm just a blogger, who found a really fucking weird movie.

What is Batman?  Who is he supposed to be?  Well, I guess that depends on who you are, where you were when you first saw him, and what you expect out of your superheroes.  But I can say this:  he sure isn't this.  This... this is some other Batman.  A weird alternate universe Batman of campish nightmares.  Let us move on, to next week, when I'll be reviewing "Batman", the 1989 movie.

Also, I'm going on vacation, so there actually will be an entire week until the next post.  Sorry about that.

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* I'm deliberately limiting this Planet Blue special down to just the eight Batman movies that received a full theatrical release.  Because if I were going to talk about every single Batman movie, I would have had to start this countdown Batdown in April.  I ignored all the Forties serials, I ignored the Scooby-Doo movie, and I ignored every straight-to-VHS/DVD movie.  That unfortunately means I had to cut out some decent films like "Sub-Zero", "World's Finest", and "Return of the Joker"... maybe I'll hit those after "Batman 3" comes out.  This also means I can ignore all the DC Universe Animated Movies, of which DC makes another every six weeks, I think.  And I can skip "The Batman Meets Dracula" - the less said of that the better.  And finally, as for "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman", I reviewed that particular gem no less than three years ago, back before this blog had pictures, no less!  That review is so old I think Planet Blue was still going by its old name, "Tales From the Q?".

If anybody demands a review of any of these products, I might help you out.

** Which, by the way, is horrifyingly similar to the villain's plan in "Batman Begins".   I never thought anything about those two movies would be similar, except that they starred a guy named "Batman".

8 comments:

  1. I actually like Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It's goofy, yes, but it's also kind of awesome. I saw a clip from one episode where Batman and Abraham Lincoln team up to fight a Steampunk Cyborg John Wilkes Booth.

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  2. OH MY GLOB I REMEBER THIS MOVIE! I must have been 5 or 6 when I saw this on TV. Luckily mt idea of Batman was cemented with "Batman: The Animated Series". Can't wait for the other movies, this is going to be hilarious.

    @Nicholas: Your right the brave and bold is good. I think when people see the cartoony art style they don't take it seroiusly (like with the mentioned Abraham Lincoln episode), but once you get into it it can be dark and sereal. And they treated guest characters with enough respect not to screw up their characters you just have to like the show.

    And before anyone asks no I was not born in the sixities. They were showing it on TV and I happened to have a blank video tape and recorded it on VCR. I was going through a Batman/Spiderman phase.

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  3. I remember occasionally watching the 90's cartoon as a kid, but I don't think I've ever really had much of a concrete idea of what Batman as a series was supposed to be like until recently: Dark and gritty, but still able to have some fun and laughs.

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  4. The Brave and the Bold sucks. Not even Neil Patrick Harris could save that abomination.

    A lot of people don't know that the Batman comic books were actually quite dark before the Adam West television series started production. The show was more of an adaptation displacement, artistic licencse thing. The comics were made to be corny and goofy after the show got popular, which is how it remained until the mid-80's when comics like The Dark Knight Returns reintroduced the edgier, more mature version of Batman, which was further strengthened with Burton's Batman film and Batman the Animated Series.

    And now, a little off-topic: Blue, are you planning on seeing Snow White & the Huntsman? Despite what a few of the trailers would lead you to believe, it is not a Twilight-esque romance, but actually one of the best traditional fantasy films that's been released in a long while. It might even give The Hobbit a run for it's money as best fantasy film of the year.

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  5. 10/10

    Laughed the whole read. You can catch the actual show on The Hub at late nights. It's pretty good compared to what I just read.

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  6. @Current Thought: It's funny because my current version of IE use fucking Bing. Bing sucks ass.

    Also, what are your thoughts on E3 this year?

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    1. Those thoughts are coming soon-ish, I'm waiting for E3 to end.

      The most interesting surprise was how Ellen Page is now in every video game ever.

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  7. The 60s Batman movie was a comedy, plain and simple. It was written that way and it was acted that way. "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!" is one of the most hilarious movie scenes of all time.

    Adam West is a genius at deadpanning silly material. For further proof, go search Youtube for the "Lookwell" pilot.

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