May 30, 2015

Review: Batman: The Movie (1966)


Up until the release of Batman: The Movie, there had only been three instances of DC's Batman being adapted for the big/small screen. There were two serials produced during the 1940's and one season of a TV series simply called Batman with Adam West and and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin respectively which began its three season run in 1966. Originally supposed to be the pilot episode for that same TV series, Batman: The Movie was released between season one and season two of the show instead. It honestly didn't do that well at the box office, but along with the TV series it's become camp legend.

Although I've never seen it, the TV series was extremely popular during its time. In fact, it was one of the only TV series to be broadcasted twice a week. Stars of the show which included West, Ward as well as Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin all came on board for the movie. The only exception here was Julie Newmar who played Catwoman. Lee Meriwether took her place for the movie, although Newmar came back for season two. Unfortunately, the popularity of the show wasn't sustainable as ratings dropped considerably by season three. Batman lives on in reruns even to this day though.

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At a Glance


Genre: adventure, comedy, family
Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson
Produced by: William Dozier, Charles B. Fitzsimons
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Music by: Nelson Riddle
Running time: 105 minutes
Production company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, William Dozier Productions, Greenlawn Productions
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox Film Company, Centfox, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1,377,800
Box office: $3,000,000 (United States)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Madge Blake, Reginald Denny, Milton Frome, Gil Perkins, Dick Crockett, George Sawaya

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Synopsis


Batman (Adam West) and sidekick Robin the Boy Wonder (Burt Ward) are called back to the Wayne mansion for an emergency. Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny) who's bringing a certain invention by ship to Gotham City is apparently in danger. Aboard the "batcopter," Batman and Robin spot the ship and make their descent. The ship suddenly disappears however and Batman is attacked by a shark. Narrowly escaping, it's clear that the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) are all in on this plot.


Review


If you approach Batman: The Movie with even a little bit of seriousness, prepare for a bad time because that's not what this movie is about at all. Anyone would agree that the old serials from the 40's were campy, but trust me when I say that B:TM takes the cake. It takes the cheese cake if you will with a barrage of non-stop camp. The dialogue is ridiculous, the action is ridiculous and the situations are completely ridiculous. That's just how it is.

How else are you supposed to take a scene where Batman has a shark trying to bite his leg off while he's hanging off a ladder? Batman punches away at it until he's finally able to get that shark-repellent Batspray from Robin. The shark in question is no random wild shark either. It's actually an exploding, mind-controlled shark that was sent out by the Penguin! Imagine that. This scene just perfectly sums up what Batman: The Movie is all about and it's just a blast.

Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. has pretty much taken the concept of camp and turned it into an art form here. With some elements slightly reminiscent of the Batman serials of the 40's, there's so much ridiculousness going on that it's almost too much to handle. Every object that Batman and Robin use is a "bat-something" and puns are spread thickly throughout. Still, there are some pretty clever jokes that don't rely on campiness at all from time to time.

Adam West as Batman is a huge success from the angle that B:TM is going for. He's totally in on the joke, but that could actually be said for the rest of the cast as well. West is surprisingly adept at turning on the charm when he's Bruce Wayne though, even as he quotes silly-sounding poetry during a certain romance scene. While the villains all chew through their scenes with alarming efficiency, West plays things a bit more straight as does Burt Ward. They know what's up though as they deliver their dialogue with an invisible wink every time they open their mouths.

Action is predictably silly and wildly choreographed to boot. Batman and Robin usually end up fighting the four main villains or their henchmen which strangely are all pirates? Did they still have pirates hanging around Gotham in the 1960's? I guess so, but there it is. There's even a fight scene that includes the use of text like "pow!" and "wham" as if it were straight from the pages of a comic book that's a pretty big highlight.


No one could confuse Batman: The Movie with a cinematic masterpiece and it's as far away as you can get from the straight-faced Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy. If you looked up "campy" in a dictionary, it's very possible that you'd find a still of B:TM. Whether or not Batman: The Movie is funny is still a matter of opinion though. Camp isn't for everyone and there are probably many Batman fans out there who don't like how the character is treated. To me, there's no doubt that B:TM represents one of the finest examples of quality camp out there.

Rating

7/10

Related Reviews:

Batman (1943)
Batman and Robin (1949) 
Batman (1989) 
Batman Returns (1992)