Worth A Look: 27.45%
Just Average: 13.73%
Pretty Crappy: 5.88%
1 review, 45 user ratings
by Scott Weinberg
Who among you hasn't repeated the immortal theme song: Da-na-na-na-na-na Da-na-na-na-na! BATMAN! If the nonstop puns and awful overbaked humor didn't win you over, the possibly it was those nifty "K-BIFF!" and "Slammo!" subtitles that appeared onscreen whenever Batman and Robin got to kicking some henchman butt! And let's not forget the immortal cliff-hangers!You just gotta love DVD! Without the introduction of this wonderful new home video format, movies like 1966's Batman: The Movie would be left to simply languish away on some dusty old VHS shelf. Maybe once or twice a year someone would pick the movie up and give it a look...before realizing that it's NOT the Tim Burton 1989 version and snorting derisively at the sheer cornball silliness they're holding in their hands.
"Holy Flying Rodent Posteriors! This DVD Kicks Bat-Ass!"
But you have to hand it to Fox this time. Marketing this DVD as a 35th Anniversary Special Edition is the work of one savvy DVD department. While many beloved movies earn a second life thanks to DVD, it's really inspiring when cult classics like this one get a new treatment. Simply put - If you're a TAD older than me, then you most likely recall the Batman TV series from your youth. And if you do remember this series, odds are that you remember it fondly. Because despite the series being a silly, corny, theatrical and overall goofball show, it was also a damn fine example of light-hearted and fun escapism.
"Will the cowled crusader and Boy Wonder escape from the titanium alloy cage dangling precariously over a vat of hydrobatic acid? Will Commissioner Gordon be able to escape from a sealed telephone booth slowly filling with his own deadly methane? Find out NEXT time! Same bat-time, same bat-channel, same bat-puns!"
Of course the show was a smash hit. The self-referential and lightly mocking tone was a hit with parents, while kids of all ages delighted to the escapades of the Dynamic Duo and a bevy of belligerent baddies. So after the first season wrapped, the next logical thing happened: Movie!
In a move that would never happen in today's modern movie world, the producers of the film decided to throw all four of the most popular villains into this movie. If this film were made today, we'd start out with just Batman alone, and he'd be all petulant and morose. Then, over the course of a series of rapidly-deteriorating sequels, we would be introduced to characters like Robin, The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman and The Penguin. Oh wait...that is what's happened!
But back in 1966, the filmmakers were interested in one thing only: striking while the iron was hot. Fortunately, the result is a nostalgic good time and a comic book film that (perish the thought!) actually looks like a comic book. In the annals of moviedom, rarely has a TV adaptation been this lovingly accurate to its pulpy source material. If you can find a sillier, stranger and more colorful superhero movie than this one, I'm simply not interested. This movie pushes the very boundaries of all that is nutty.
I'd hate to watch this movie with anyone unfamiliar with the old TV show. It would be distressing to watch their jaws drop open and the heads shake uncontrollably at the sheer, overpowering cheesiness of it all. But forewarned is forearmed, so Batman neophytes take heed: This version of Batman is about as far removed from the modern Batman as you could possibly imagine. Compare the Ernest P. Worrell movies to the works of Woody Allen and you have an idea of how different these Bat-movies are.
But wait! I mean that as a compliment! I'd rather have 2 hours of intentionally colorful campiness than ever watch the two most recent Batman sequels again. The main difference in the films is that the 1966 version knows that it's silly and wacky, while the more recent films are just plain old stupid. If you think silly and stupid are the same thing, your best bet is to avoid anything with the word Batman for the rest of your life.
The plot of this early version is a scattershot affair, a flimsy framework in which to hang the wild antics of the Dynamic Duo and their four most hated rivals. All the actors involved are reprising their roles from the television series (except for one), and it's this cast that makes Batman a royal hoot, as opposed to a royal headache.
As Batman and Robin, Adam West and Burt Ward deliver their lines in the same no-nonsense staccato that reminds one of the original Joe Friday...only in shiny tights. West has the skills to deliver a truly awful pun or sight gag with just the smallest touch of a smirk, and Ward is wholesome good fun as the easily excitable Robin. Robin's gag of adding "Holy!...." to every situation is utilized here about 11 times...too often.
In a stunning display of "giving the audience what it wants", the filmmakers have brought in the great old actors from the TV series to play the villains. As is often the case in super-hero movies, the villains often get a lot more to do than the heroes...which makes sense because without super-villains to battle with, these two superheroes devolve into...two grown men wearing tights and living together in a cave.
Burgess Meredith is the obnoxious and waddling Penguin. Meredith was a truly gifted character actor, and he jumps right into this role with a gleefully goofy disposition. Compare this performance with the disturbing one offered by Danny DeVito in Batman Returns and tell me which one you enjoy more.
Cesar Romero is the pasty-faced joker, and if you don't think Jack Nicholson studied this guy a bit before he played the same role in 1989, you're smoking bat-joints. Whooping, cackling and constantly bellowing joyously, Romero makes the Joker seem light-hearted and dangerous at the same time. Let's face facts, people. Clowns are scary.
Frank Gorshin is the Riddler, and although he's given relatively short shrift in this one, his performance is also grand. Infusing his villain with a sense of lunatic urgency, Gorshin breathed life into my favorite of the Batman arch-enemies. Sure, Jim Carrey did a good job when he got the role 20-some years later, but sometimes less is indeed more.
Lee Meriwether is on board to play Catwoman and she's the only cast member not brought in from the original show. The actress who had played Catwoman up to this point was Julie Newmar, who was unavailable for the feature as she was off doing another movie. (Eartha Kitt would also play this role on the series in upcoming episodes.) Meriwether acquits herself quite well though, purring here and rowring there. The actress actually plays a dual role here. In addition to the ferocious female feline, Meriwether also plays the part of a Russian newspaper reporter...who is of course the villainous kitty in disguise.
The story has a lot to do with Polaris mines, invisible yachts, exploding sharks and a whole lot of manic chases, explosions and the aforementioned K-biffs and Ker-Splats. (The most entertaining sequences involve a deliriously persistent shark and Batman's ill-fated attempts in disposing of a giant bomb.) Not wanting to stray from the popular TV show formula, screenwriter Lorenzo Semple wisely chose to simply extend the 30-minute show into a 90-minute feature.
While it's all fine and good to make "darker and more gothic" translations of our comic book icons, the child in me just wants to see colorful heroes with silly weapons vying against wacky villains. This is the very essence of the old-school comic book, and while I certainly wouldn't want all comic adaptations to be this gleefully silly, this version of Batman does a picture-perfect job of capturing these heroes in their campy mid-60's heyday. I don't know if the kids of today will be able to appreciate it like their parents did...but that's OK. Some things are only intended for us...the grown-up children.
Fox, here's a nice pat on the back. Damn good job on bringing this silly cult fave into the digital age. The movie is presented in a gorgeous transfer, and the soundtrack is presented in a crisp Dolby Digital 2.0 (Mono) track. (Closed captions are also available.)
Also notable are the three (!) full pages of Special Features, and this is where the hardcore Bat-freaks will have a grand time. There are two very interesting featurettes: the cleverly titled "Batman Featurette", which is comprised of recent interview segments of Ward and West, and "The Batmobile Revealed", which has a fairly self-explanatory title. You'll also find two separate still photo galleries, a handful of theatrical trailers (including one in Spanish!), and a screen-specific audio commentary starring the Dynamic Duo themselves! You can watch the movie along with the two stars and listen in as they giggle at the effects and reminisce over how much fun they had making the movie!
While this movie is not one of my particular childhood favorites, I can imagine that it is just that for tons of movie freaks my age. To those bat-faithful, this is the DVD you've been waiting for. The movie has never looked better, the special features are a fan's dream and the sticker price is under 15 bucks!Rarely will you find a comic book tale so trippy, whacked-out and silly. The difference between this Batman and the modern ones...is that this one is laughable on purpose.
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originally posted: 10/09/01 21:04:01
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