Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams, Pat Hingle, Robert Wuhl, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126
Date: 06/19/1989

Batman (1989)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Big Joke

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At age 28, boy genius Tim Burton revived the comic book genre with this summer blockbuster. Stepping away from the campy 1960s "Batman" television series, and heavily inspired by Frank Miller's brilliant 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, Burton brings back film noir elements to the new Batman, elevating it to a dark, demented opera. The groundbreaking production design by Anton Furst alone is enough to tingle the optic nerve.

In an odd, clever casting coup, Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne/Batman with a depth of intensity, narrowing his razor eyes to magnify years of pain and rage. Unfortunately, Batman is relegated to the bottom third of the script, whereas Jack Nicholson's Joker takes over the top two thirds (Nicholson even gets top billing). And the clunky dialogue and silly plot (by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren) about poisoned personal hygiene products often test the astonishing visuals. But there's still enough here to prove Burton's mastery and make it a memorable late-80s curiosity.

Kim Basinger plays Bruce/Batman's love interest Vicki Vale with a kind of deer-in-the-headlights beauty. Billy Dee Williams co-stars as District Attorney Harvey Dent; in the comic books he would eventually become the villain Two-Face (played in the third film by Tommy Lee Jones). Pat Hingle plays the crusty Commissioner Gordon, comedian Robert Wuhl plays a reporter and Jack Palance hams it up as a doomed gangster. Danny Elfman provides the excellent score, and pop star Prince throws in a couple of ridiculous songs.

Note: The film's poster, depicting the center portion of the "bat" symbol while pushing the edges outside the frame, caused a minor squabble when it was realized that many people did not understand it. Many could not see the image in the poster and did not know what it was supposed to be advertising.

In 2005, to coincide with the DVD release of Batman Begins, Warner Home Video re-released the previous four Batman films in double-disc DVD Special Editions, and in a box set. The main Batman disc comes with a dazzlingly remastered picture and sound and a new fairly honest Tim Burton commentary track. The bonus disc comes with a bunch of featurettes, both on the making of the movie and on the comic books (Kevin Smith is an interviewee). Creator Bob Kane, who was alive in 1989, appears in a tiny featurette visiting the set. Otherwise there are storyboards, character profiles and three Prince music videos.

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