BATMAN '89: A Look Back At The Film That Changed The Game

As Tim Burton's Batman gets ready to celebrate its 25th anniversary, writer Nick Green takes a look back at the controversy of his decision to sign Michael Keaton in the title role and the phenomenal impact the film had on the public and the genre in this article excerpt.

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By EdGross - 2/5/2014
by Nick Green

It’s early 1989. I’m a fifteen year old secondary school kid in high top trainers. My room is plastered with movie posters. I listen incessantly to Appetite for Destruction and Live After Death. I have no girlfriend, but I do have a full head of hair, a Commodore Amiga and great friends to play D&D and talk comics and films with. It’s all good.
Meanwhile, over at the legendary Pinewood Studios in London, the new big budget Batman is deep into production, and the press are falling over themselves to get shots and info on the hugely anticipated and intensely secret film. I’m flicking through my latest issue of Commodore User when something truly beautiful catches my eye.
There’s a photo of the new Batmobile: black as night, cool wings, mean, sleek, afterburner blazing. It looks like Satan’s hot rod. The title reads ‘What The Hell Is That?’

Batman 89 1

Alrighty, here’s a little history lesson for you younger readers out there - back in the 80’s there was no Internet; no online, 24/7, second world of information; nada. Film fans were completely dependent upon the press: the daily paper, entertainment magazines, the news. We learned things according to their timescales, having to devour whatever scraps the intrepid paparazzi could forage and chuck to us. If you were lucky, perhaps in the latest issue of Starlog you’d get a behind the scenes article, over which you’d pore and drool in anticipation of what the finished film would be like.

And that precious few pages of text, never changing, would have to tide you over for months, until that wonderful moment when the trailer came out.

It’s June 1989; a Thursday I think. I’m about to go to bed and I set my VCR to record my favourite show: Cinemattractions. Buried in the wee small hours by ITV (the third of Britain’s four channels) it showed trailers for upcoming and current movies in the USA. Steve March and his puffy hair and slick sweaters is a hero to me. I can’t wait to see what he has for me this week.
The next morning, like a fisherman checking his net, I hit play and discover I’ve caught a monster.
The Batman trailer has finally landed!
I stare at the TV unblinking as the Batwing screams over Gotham City and the rousing score kicks in...
Dark.
Exciting.
Batmobile looking all kinds of frigging flaming, roaring awesome.
Batman in sculpted body armour, totally black, save the yellow of his belt and insignia. I approve.
“Winged Freak terrorises. Wait til they get a load of me. Hahahahahahahaaaa!!”
Ho. Ly. Shit.
Between that and the documentary Batman: The Making of a Hero, I nearly wear out the tape.

Why was I so dementedly excited? Well, believe it or not, there was a time when Batman was, ahem, not cool. Yep, there was no ongoing Dark Knight saga and the only merchandise was from the comics or the campy 60’s show. Outside of their native medium, superheroes were (with the exception of the first three Superman films) the preserve of low rent features and TV shows, considered only for kids. So make no mistake, a big budget Batman film was a huge deal and an even bigger gamble for any studio, more so even than most characters because, although in the comics he’d returned to his dark roots at the tail end of the 60’s, the mainstream still associated him with the BAFF!, POW! antics of Adam West and co.

Would people go for it or immediately write it off as silly?

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The genesis of the Batman movie began in 1979.

The man who dedicated himself to the daunting task of dispelling the cartoony stink and bringing us a dark, true-to-his-roots Batman was comics expert and former DC Comics and United Artists exec Michael Uslan. Having obtained the rights, he began to shop the project around Hollywood. But for all his enthusiasm and effort, he couldn’t interest a single studio. Taking a wild shot, his partner Ben Melniker suggested young maverick producer Peter Guber.

Guber was thrilled. He embraced the project and instantly jumped on board. He soon sold it to Universal, who toyed with it for a while before eventually dropping it. Guber then pitched it to Warner Bros. and Warner, who owned DC and were keen to keep the character under their banner, snapped it up.

Victory, however, was still a long ways off.

As Guber commented, the road to the screen was “...a marathon; it was not a sprint.” What followed was almost a decade of rewrite after rewrite, change of tone, content, potential stars and directors. Batman went through more hands than a bar of soap in a coal mine bathroom.
But, you know, sometimes all the false starts and crawling toward reality works out for the best.

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Times changed. The 80’s were a pop decade. Comics had risen in popularity and characters, including Batman, had gotten harder-edged. Movies had become increasingly spectacular, explosions bigger, effects more and more impressive. MTV had given emerging directors three minute spots to show what they could do and cinematography was evolving at a startling rate.

Enter ex-Disney animator Tim Burton, who had just scored a huge hit with Beetlejuice. Warner Bros. felt his dark, quirky vision was a perfect match for Batman. His age was some concern though; he was only thirty and the studio executives were unsure he could handle a project of such giant scale (the largest ever made in Britain at the time). Fortunately, Tim had a big dog in his corner: Jack Nicholson. Cast perfectly as The Joker, Nicholson had tremendous faith in his director and threw a shroud of protection around him, lending his unwavering support and warding off the studio’s intrusive suits.

Smiling Jack loved the part. He even bought commemorative jackets for the entire crew. His casting, as with Marlon Brando in Superman, raised the respectability of the film and drew widespread attention. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he’d be phenomenal.

His nemesis, however, was another matter.

Tim Burton’s choice for the dual role of Batman/Bruce Wayne was Michael Keaton. Now, if you think the ongoing furore over Ben Affleck is something, you clearly weren’t around in ‘88. When word got out about Keaton’s casting, people were shocked. Many were genuinely outraged. Even Michael Uslan thought it was a joke.

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Keaton had received acclaim for his performance in the addiction drama Clean and Sober, but he was really known as a comedy actor. His most recent outing was as the manic ghoul Beetlejuice. In addition, he wasn’t a big guy by any means. But Burton stuck to his guns. He asserted that Michael had a little bit of “crazy” in his eyes. And his faith was ultimately proved right. Many now consider Keaton the best actor to ever don the cape and cowl.

I agree with Burton’s casting criteria. You want a guy who looks like he could suddenly snap and beat you to within an inch of your life. It’s also the reason I think Affleck won't hit the mark in the upcoming Batman/Superman film. He’s a decent actor; I just don’t find him intimidating.

Then again, maybe he’ll surprise us all and pull a Keaton.

Batman keaton

Summer 1989. It’s bloody hot. The pavement scorches my bare feet.
Things are hot at the box office too. There’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Trek V, Lethal Weapon 2, The Abyss. All big films. But one towers titanically over them all...
Batman.



The marketing of Batman was extremely aggressive and prolific, but it was amplified exponentially by a tidal wave of genuine anticipation. Once word got out that a big, dark Batman movie was coming, excitement started to build all over the world. And it wasn’t just the geeks who got behind it; it was like everyone had been waiting for The Dark Knight to rise up and cast off the cartoony image he’d been saddled with for the last twenty years. Considering these were the pre-Internet days, such a consolidated movement was quite remarkable.

Warner Bros. was extremely fortunate in that they were dealing with an established and much-loved pop-culture icon. Not only that, but he had a cool symbol, a symbol you could hang a marketing campaign and sell a shitload of merchandise on. There was no need for an elaborate poster or a catchy tagline; all they needed was a sweet gold and black bat insignia and, bingo, job done.

For the rest of this article, please on the image below.

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Pasto - 2/5/2014, 11:45 AM
Batman: "I [frick]ing MADE the game. Haters gonna hate!"
Nomis - 2/5/2014, 11:50 AM
SageMode - 2/5/2014, 11:51 AM
BATMAN 1989 aka the only live-action Batman film that was entertaining and actually awesome where it didn't take itself too seriously to the point of mild boredom.
grifdeadpoolteabag - 2/5/2014, 11:54 AM
It's still the gold standard.
GoILL - 2/5/2014, 11:54 AM
This is the movie that made me a Batman fan back when I first saw it in 1989.
Nomis - 2/5/2014, 11:55 AM
THE BEST LIVE ACTION JOKER EVER!!!

HBarnill - 2/5/2014, 11:55 AM
I'm a fan of Burton, and while I admire the legacy that this film brought, I never really cared for it. It was pretty weak as a film on its own.
SpiderFraud - 2/5/2014, 11:56 AM
Great article.

I personally love TDK but Batman 89 will always hold a place in my heart. I smell a lot of negativity and comparing coming in these comments...so I'm out.
JoeMomma29 - 2/5/2014, 11:57 AM
This movie alone made me a Batman fan and changed my perception forever, all I associated with Batman was Adam West's character.

And yeah this movie was a game changer......even the haters have to admit that.
Tevii - 2/5/2014, 11:58 AM
Great movie!. Love this one Second only to Batman Begins... if that
IAmLegend - 2/5/2014, 11:58 AM
Incredible article! Brought me back to how I felt when this movie came out. I will say that I was young enough to not care who wore the cape and cowl. Just the fact that we had an updated Batman feature film was enough to make my head explode.

cipher - 2/5/2014, 12:01 PM
cipher - 2/5/2014, 12:01 PM
That's one of the many things I loved about Keaton's performance.. the eyes. The bastard was definitely unbalanced, to say the least, and he had a way of conveying that with just his eyes.
Firgosaurus - 2/5/2014, 12:02 PM
I found this film to not be the archetype for the modern comic book blockbuster. The films that followed didn't exactly have the same formula. Apart from the Blade series, that didn't make the audience feel stupid. The industry pretty much stayed to what they knew after Batman 89's release. Campy, cheesy, visual romps.

The Dark Knight series was a story archetype. The Avengers story is an ensemble archetype (so far).

Nice to read from you again Ed.
GoILL - 2/5/2014, 12:04 PM
titties-in-mah-face-29
Nomis - 2/5/2014, 12:05 PM







GoILL - 2/5/2014, 12:08 PM
@yossarian

Don't forget the T-Rex



yonny616 - 2/5/2014, 12:09 PM
I won't lie, I use to think these were awesome Batman movies. I then grew up to find out they're half way Batman films, the rest is typical Tim Burton.
HBarnill - 2/5/2014, 12:10 PM
Keaton's body was a bit average, but that didn't matter. Ability over appearance.
cipher - 2/5/2014, 12:11 PM
yoss- Yep. I think it would've been awesome to have Jason Todd's panties in a glass case, too.
SuperCat - 2/5/2014, 12:12 PM


cipher - 2/5/2014, 12:14 PM
I bet Bats' never washed 'em, either. I bet he just stripped the poor sod, and stuck 'em in a case.

Y'know, 'cause smells bring back memories, an' all that rubbish.
DrunkenNukem - 2/5/2014, 12:15 PM
"Summer 1989. It’s bloody hot. The pavement scorches my bare feet.
Things are hot at the box office too. There’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Trek V, Lethal Weapon 2, The Abyss. All big films. But one towers titanically over them all...
Batman."

In 2016...BATMAN AND SUPERMAN

Lol...and last week people telling that Bryan Singer changed the game with his good X-men films...

Here here its the game changer film...here it is....

Star trek, Indiana Jones, Lethal Weapon ...couldnt beat Batman...
DrunkenNukem - 2/5/2014, 12:15 PM
@EdGross....fantastic editorial
MrDonut - 2/5/2014, 12:15 PM
I loved this film but prefer Barman Begins, not only Nolan's best Bat-film but it felt more like the modern Batman from the comics, albeit a little darker and less gothic and independent whilst Burton's was a much darker and gothic stylized impression of the character.
cipher - 2/5/2014, 12:18 PM
Spidey10 - 2/5/2014, 12:19 PM
Perfect Movie
wookiefit76 - 2/5/2014, 12:20 PM
I remember whatching a doc on the movie. Keaton finally got the part with the argument being made as: It doesn't matter who Batman is, it's Bruce that Keaton is playing.
EdGross - 2/5/2014, 12:20 PM
Thanks, DukeNukem, but all credit has to go to writer Nick Green. He wrote the piece for my Voices From Krypton site and I thought it was so well done it was worth sharing a portion of it.
Nomis - 2/5/2014, 12:26 PM
While Chris Nolan BATMAN Films are much Better movies and more accurate to Batman comic book source material this Batman movie did wipe the stain of the campiness that had been associate with Batman to the Non-comic book reading public since his show ended in the late '60s.

I remember this movie foundly as someone who has been reading the Batman comic since 1971 and use to try and explain to others that the Adam West Batman was nothing like the comic book version!

Saw it 10 times at the theatre in the summer of 89. :D

However, while this movie did a lot of good to restore batman as the 'Dark and Brooding Character' all his true fans knew he was, this movie was not without it's (obvious) flaws.

Some things that was very wrong with the movie...

The Joker killing Bruce Wayne Parents!

Bruce Wayne as a balding, neurotic, self absorb loner.

Joeker having MORE screen time than Batman!

Not having enough info about Bruce Wayne.

Batman Killing.

Alfred bringing Vicki Vale to the Batcave (to their credit they address this in the sequel).

The Joker being named Jack Napier.

Joker being able to bring down the Batwing in a single shot (although i love that scene with his extended gun)

And although it's not mention in the article, their was a sequence in which TIM BURTON wanted to bring ROBIN in this movie and Producers Peter Guber and Micahel Ulsan put a stop to that!

Still, with all the problems this movie had, it save Batman from being a campy, one-liner pop art fad that was a joke in most people eyes to being closer to how he was portrayed in the comics.
monkeyballs - 2/5/2014, 12:27 PM
Still the best Batman movie by far. It is so revered that Gusto made a porn parody of called Batfun '69 starring himself in the leading role




And an All-Stud cast featuring:

Nomis as Batwing




Cipher as Superman/Clark Kent




JoeMama as Robin, the Boy Wonder




Pasties as Bizarro




Black & Yellow as Lex Luthor




Featuring Yoss as Lois Lane




And Cherry Bomb as Wonder Woman

Ineedrevelation - 2/5/2014, 12:29 PM
This will always be the best Batman to exist.

Period.
EvilSuperman - 2/5/2014, 12:29 PM
Batman and Batman Returns my favorite Batman movies, a shame Keaton didn't get to make a trilogy as the character.

And still love Jack's Joker, Danny's Penguin, and Michelle's Catwoman. Might have to watch those two movies this weekend.

Great article!
Pasto - 2/5/2014, 12:29 PM
Wonder Woman is one hot momma.
Pasto - 2/5/2014, 12:29 PM
Bizarro smash!
Nomis - 2/5/2014, 12:30 PM
@ monkeyballs _LLLLOOOOLLLLL!!!!!

Good thing I was working out that week before putting that thong on. ;)
Spidey10 - 2/5/2014, 12:31 PM
@Nomis

Bruce isn't the most social guy...I thought he got that part right...Alfred give Knox a grant...love that line lol

The joker killing Bruces parents I give you but to say Nolan had a more accurate description is wrong too because the first 1/3 of Batman Begins is completely wrong...in the comics Bruce didn't meet the league till well after he was Batman in fact he trained himself initially...they changed his origins same like in this movie...the Jack Napier angle again I go back to the Joker killing Bruces parents thing again and the long gun thing I mean just got love that sorry lol interesting thing about the Robin angle tho is the person who was supposed to play Robin was none other than Marlon Wayans...no lie...in fact when he got cut in the first movie he was contracted to be in Batman Returns but they couldn't figure out how to work him in the movie with Catwoman and Penguin...he was supposed to be in the third movie but Burton didn't return and then Chris O Donnell got the role...TRUE STORY
jimdotbeep - 2/5/2014, 12:31 PM
The 89' Batman movie sucked It's may have been a lot better than the shitty 60's batman but it was still campy.
Enphlieuwince - 2/5/2014, 12:32 PM
A classic CBM without question.
EvilSuperman - 2/5/2014, 12:32 PM
And the reason I enjoy Keaton's portrayal is because he just had to be Batman. He was so unhinged that he wasn't "alive" unless he could go out and wear the costume
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