Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Batman (1989) ***

PG-13, 126 min.
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren, Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Tracey Walter

I don’t care what most people say, there’s still something valuable and interesting about Tim Burton’s “Batman”. No, it’s not as good as it once seemed, but there was something to what Burton did with the comic book superhero genre that works. There’s a reason that “Batman” finally made the comic book adaptation mold. It’s about production design, atmosphere and supporting characters, including a villain that not only overshadows the hero, but actually has more screen time.

Now, there are some problems presented here that would need to be solved before the “Batman” mold could be broken. The hero needed a great deal of work. While the production and costume design was good for the time, they would have to evolve for the superhero to continue to work. And, plot and motivations needed some major repairs, but the path toward success had been blazed.

The key to the film’s albeit limited success is the casting of Jack Nicholson in the role of The Joker. As a Batman fan, I never liked that they gave The Joker a name and previous life in crime. The Joker origin of the graphic novel “Batman: The Killing Joke” will always be the ultimate Joker origin to me. But, Nicholson brings the crazy for the role, which is what it requires. It doesn’t stack up against Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight”, but that’s for a later discussion. At the time, Nicholson’s Joker was the best one yet.

At the time of the film’s original release, I loved it. It was much better than merely good to me. In the first year of the film’s release I saw it no less than 13 times. I saw it five times in the theater. For a long time, it was a movie owned by me. I don’t mean on DVD or videocassette, although it was the first home video I ever purchased for myself. I mean it pumped through my blood. I knew every line, every pause, every breath. I realize now that it really isn’t good enough to deserve such devotion, but it’s still an enjoyable movie to me.

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