Friday, March 14, 2008

Batman Films

Movie name: Batman
Year of release: 1989
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Robert Wuhl, Tracey Walter, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
When Tim Burton made "Batman" back in 1989 there was an uproar in the casting of Michael Keaton (then mostly known for his work in comedies, amongst them the wonderful "Beetlejuice" from Tim Burton) as Batman. The success of the movie proved everyone wrong, since the film marked the year of 1989 like no other and brought back the concept of adapting comic books to the big screen. Though this film isn't a fully fledged vision of Tim Burton's universe, Batman here is a dark, brooding soul, in a grey, gothic and nightmarish city (Gotham City designed to great aplomb by award winner Anton Furst, who passed away shortly afterwards). The film counterbalances Keaton's dark tones of the Batman character with Jack Nicholson's over the top performance as The Joker. The offset of the main characters ends up being Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale, whose character appears as a screaming histrionic woman during the entire film. Other than that, the film is a solid adaptation of the spirit of Bob Kane's character.

Movie name: Batman Returns
Year of release: 1992
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Vincent Schiavelli
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Following the massive hit that was "Batman", Tim Burton returned to the director's chair for the sequel, this time creating his own vision of the character, within his own universe of offbeat characters in a universe that doesn't comprehend them. Since the first film opened, Tim Burton had directed "Edward Scissorhands" which was a further exploration of his universe. "Batman Returns" is in a way a continuation, since the Batman character, and his foes, the Penguin and Catwoman, are themselves creatures that don't fit within the natural normalcy of society (just the same way his heroes usually don't). The film turned out to be generally described as "darker", having less satisfactory results in the box office, though it was generally regarded as a better achievement than the first. I have to agree - the actors did a terrific job, in particular Michelle Pfeiffer as the delicious Catwoman and Christopher Walken as the greasy tycoon Max Shreck. This was again a dark fable, where sometimes the monsters didn't have to be physically different to show their villainous side and where heroes wore masks that hid their own ghosts. A very good film, always worth checking out.

Movie name: Batman Forever
Year of release: 1995
Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnel, Drew Barrymore, Pat Hingle, Michael Gough, Debi Mazar, Rene Auberjonois, Joe Grifasi
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 1

Synopsis:
Tim Burton skipped the direction of the following installments of the franchise, and the direction ended up on the lap of Joel Schumacher. Schumacher is sometimes an interesting director, but he is mostly a very mediocre filmmaker, whose idea of direction is always to turn up the volume on everything and just hope things make sense. In the end most of the times things just end up not really working. He had just given Warner a good hit with the John Grisham adaptation "The Client" back in 1994, when he was chosen as the director of the new Batman film. His vision of the Batman character was almost entirely derived from the TV series of the 60's - campy, plastic, kitsch and with almost no relation to the previous films (there was also an over saturation of color, something that the previous films didn't have). The brooding, dark Batman character was abandoned, replaced by a vaguely homo-erotic one (including nipples on the batsuit). After watching "Batman Forever", the previous two films by Tim Burton feel as documentaries - everything in this film feels cheaply executed, though clearly there was a huge budget at the disposal of the filmmaker. The acting is very unbalanced, with Val Kilmer trying to stay true to the spirit of the character, but Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey both overacting to an extent that it becomes impossible to look or hear them after 5 seconds. Nicole Kidman's role is just window dressing (that year saw her finally showing her talent in Gus Van Sant's "To Die For") and Chris O'Donnell is as good as being invisible. The film feels like a big waste of talent, something that the following film would cement and almost put an end to the character.

Movie name: Batman and Robin
Year of release: 1997
Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elle Macpherson, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, John Glover, Viviva A. Fox
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 0

Synopsis:
This is the film that almost single handedly destroyed the character of Batman on the screen. Schumacher opted to cast George Clooney, at the time more well known for his role on the tv show "ER" and for his turns in "One Fine Day" and "From Dusk Till Dawn", after having a fall out with Val Kilmer. George Clooney in his current interviews always stresses how embarrassed he is with this film - and justifiably so. The problem doesn't rely on the awful screenplay, but on the vision and execution of the film. Compared to this film, some of the episodes of the TV show of the 60's actually had depth and entertainment value. The acting of the film is campy and dreadful, starting with Schwarzenegger and culminating with the beautiful Uma Thurman (bad career move for her). We also have time for terrible performances by Chris O'Donnell (pretty much hamming it up as he did in Batman Forever) and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Again, everything in this film is loud, yet the loudness can't hide the clunky, cheap and staged feel of the film. It is hard to believe that with that many resources this was the best work the filmmaker could achieve (and he went on to direct "8 mm", another mediocre film). The only reason why this film gets 1 is mostly because Stephen Goldblatt the cinematographer is always incredible (check Mike Nichols' "Angels in America") and Eliot Goldenthal is a wonderful composer.

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