Caped Crusader Cinema: Batman (1966)

When I put Caped Crusader Cinema on hiatus last summer, I honestly didn't think it would take me close to a year to reignite the fire. Mostly I am doing this for my friend Scott, who always asks me about more Batman posts every time the subject of blogging comes up. I figured if I finally obliged him, maybe he would forgive me for dedicating an entire post to can openers. Ah, who am I kidding—he still harasses me about taking him to see Batman & Robin and that was 12 years ago. Anyway, if you want a refresher here are links to all my previous Batman movie posts:

Batman (1989) 7.01.08
Batman Returns (1992) 7.11.08
Batman Forever (1995) 7.20.08
Batman & Robin (1997) 7.29.08
Batman Begins (2005) 8.12.08
The Dark Knight (2008) 8.22.08

In Bat-rospect

Around the time that Tim Burton's Batman was debuting in theaters, episodes of the '60s TV show were making a well-timed reappearance in syndication. As I explained in my inaugural installment of Caped Crusader Cinema, I didn't actually see the Burton movie until it hit home video, so the TV show really served as my introduction to the character.

Most evenings after school my brother Rob and I would help fire up the wood burning stove in the basement, lay on the floor with some pillows, and tune in to the same bat-channel at the same bat-time. We would instantly perk up whenever the words "Frank Gorshin as The Riddler" appeared during the opening credits. Cesar Romero's not-so-secretly mustached Joker and Vincent Price's eggs-quisite Egghead were also personal favorites. Much like professional wrestling (another post for another time), we joked that the show was silly and lame, but that didn't stop us from watching it.

Batman: The Movie (which was originally made between the first and second seasons of the TV show) also aired around the same time. We made an attempt to record it, but the blank tape we used didn't have enough space left, so we only got the first 45 minutes. Fortunately, we were able to capture the entirety of the infamous shark repellent scene which went on to become a beloved family joke.

Critical Bat-nalysis

A few years had passed when I once again popped in my tape containing the first half of Batman: The Movie. A little older and a shade wiser, something in my brain clicked as I read the following acknowledgment during the opening credits:
We wish to express our gratitude to the enemies of crime and crusaders against crime throughout the world for their inspirational example.

To them, and to lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre, to funlovers everywhere — this picture is respectfully dedicated.

If we have overlooked any sizable group of lovers, we apologize.
It finally struck me that the absurdity on display was completely and utterly intentional. This was a whole new world of humor for me. No longer was "camp" just something you did with the boy scouts. To borrow a cliché from church speakers everywhere, Webster's Dictionary defines camp as "something so outrageously artificial, exaggerated, inappropriate, or out-of-date as to be considered amusing, often fusing elements of high and popular culture." Yup, that pretty much sums up Batman in the '60s.

There are a handful of scenes from Batman: The Movie that everyone seems to remember. There's the aforementioned run-in with an exploding shark at sea ("See? C for Catwoman!"), countered with an impressive array of bat oceanic repellents. There's the Dynamic Duo's last minute salvation from an oncoming torpedo thanks to the nobility of the almost-human porpoise. There's the incident at the docks when street musicians, nuns, young lovers, and baby ducklings all conspire to teach Batman that "some days you just can't get rid of a bomb." And last but not least, there's the plummeting batcopter's fortuitous landing at a Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention, causing even Batman to cringe at the odds. These gags represent the film at its most razor sharp, gleefully skewering the conventions of comic books and superheroes.

But a modest collection of memorable moments does not a great movie make. I'd say there is enough good material here to make up what would have been the ultimate two-part episode, but as a 105 minute movie it feels stretched a bit thin. Truthfully, there is little to distinguish Batman: The Movie from its companion TV show, other than a slightly bigger budget and the four most popular villains teaming up.

Speaking of the so-called "United Underworld," I've always wondered what these supervillains hope to accomplish when they say they want to "take over the world." What sorts of policies are they planning to instigate? I'm willing to listen. Maybe force everyone to use flying umbrellas as transportation? Or further encourage the sale of pre-atomic war surplus submarines to those who don't leave their full address? How about reassigning all polaris missiles to the important task of skywriting riddles? Wait, I've got it—they want to institute corporal punishment that involves launching the guilty into the unforgiving arms of exploding sea creatures. Yeah, that must be it.

There is certainly a time and place for campiness, but it is typically best taken in small doses. This isn't a film you want to watch regularly (unless your name is Calvin and you are two years old). In the end, there is simply no substitute for the dark, brooding version of the Caped Crusader. The '60s TV show and movie did untold damage to Batman's reputation, eventually taking over 20 years to be fixed... only to get screwed up again by bat nipples... then righted once more. Seriously, when is Christopher Nolan going to officially sign on for his third bat film?

Grade: C+


ScottBoomer said...

Now it's complete. Well until they make another movie.
I always enjoy your reviews and found this one rather entertianing. I thought you were very kind to this cheesey movie. Perhaps it does have a special place in your heart right next to nipples on the bat suit.
For the record I will probably never forgive you for taking Spencer and I to "Batman & Robin", there was 2 hours of my life I'll never get back. You should feel greatfull I still talk to you after what you did to me. Sorry, sorry that was uncalled for. Just like you taking me to that movie. I better stop now.

Dave said...

True, you will never get those 2 hours back. But think of all the time you have wasted since then harassing me about it when you could have been doing something productive. Like making a lightsaber out of a big stick, construction paper, and electrical tape. Or a poster board shrine to the '96 women's gymnastics team. Wait, nevermind, you've already done those things.

Krissy said...

I can't really handle this movie. When we watched it in preparation for this post, I found myself getting antsy and wandering around the house. I think the villains are extremely annoying (except maybe Penguin's quack-laugh) and the heroes aren't much better. Adam West reminds me too much of Roger Moore, which disgusts me in every way.

The movie does have a few funny parts, but not enough to make the thing watchable on a regular basis.

Ben said...

Slow clap...

Ben said...

By the way, Dave, did you notice on your live traffic feed that Portland Oregon arrived at your blog? Even on business trips I find time to read your stuff.

Hali said...

It's true Calvin loves this movie, gratefully he has let up on not watching it over and over again, but ocassionally it does surface again and which point the house gets very clean. Although the bat nipples are great, for me I love Robin's crushed velvet sweater in the opening scene, it's no man romper but very nice looking...pip pip