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BATMAN 25 Years Later: I Don’t Know If It’s Art, But I Like It!

Just when you got over dealing with the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters, Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, this week marked the 25th of Tim Burton’s Batman.

While it might take me a little longer to conjure up memories from 1984, I solidly remember the moviegoing vibe during the summer of 1989.  

Batman was a true blockbuster event, and the next serious step in bringing comic book heroes to the big screen that, up to that point, had been solidly tarnished by Superman IV and Supergirl.

So the Batmania lasted almost as long as the film did in theaters. Prince’s Batdance, released weeks before the movie, gave a funky fair-warning not to expect the BAM! POW! THUNK! of the 60s television series.

Anton Furst’s amazing teaser bat-symbol was the new norm, though basic yellow/black t-shirt was the merchandise of choice.

And a music-less teaser trailer, rushed into theaters to ease fans’ disappointment with the casting of Michael Keaton, played for months before we saw the finished film.

Of course, the film broke the opening weekend box office record (which was itself broke only a week before by Ghostbusters 2), and fans flew to see the bat with the wonderful toys, despite mixed reviews attacking the “darker tone” of its direction. I personally remember being very surprised by some of the choices Tim Burton made, mainly since our anticipation for what to expect was so all over the place.

Overall, I loved the film though, and probably saw it more times than most folks, as I was a projectionist for a 12 screen cinema during its run.

We had plenty of sold out showings of Batman during that first month of its release, but it was the second weekend I’ll never forget. That was the summer I first learned how to “interlock” a print.

Though our theatre had Batman on 2 screens, one print in 35mm and one in 70mm, there were times where we had to cancel showings of lesser popular titles (sorry Great Balls of Fire!) to make room for additional auditoriums housing the Batmania.

Interlocking basically involved a series of stands and rollers that would literally take the 35mm print from one projector down to another projector nearly 50 feet away. Audiences in the secondary or third auditorium that the print passed through would see the film slightly after the previous auditorium’s audience. Then, the film would pretty much end around the same time, letting out a mass of people staggered only slightly by the time-delay.

So, keep in mind, this is one print being shown through more than one projector.

 On the back-end, in the projection booth, the nerve-racking, celluloid spaghetti factory that was “interlocking” always gave me the hives. Adding more tension to the timing, it was during the second weekend of Batman we had a massive lightning storm that caused a city-wide power outage, canceling all shows.

25 years later, while Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has firmly established itself as the definitive take, I’m going to have to go with Batman (1989) as my desert island pick.

This is not coming 100% from the lens of nostalgia. A few years ago, I had a chance to see a 35mm print at the Museum of Modern Art, and I sat there with a big Joker grin on my face at how well it held up. It looked even better than the remastered 20th anniversary release and the subsequent Blu-rays.

This isn’t due to the production design, which is still fantastic, or the overall tone set by Danny Elfman’s score, which paved the way for so many others. It’s mainly for the Samm Hamm and Warren Skaaren screenplay, which is completely bonkers. While there were plenty of unproduced Batman screenplays on the road to this one, 1989’s Batman is chock full of one-liners and hysterically memorable quips.

Add to that the gonzo improv from Nicholson, and the choppy, yet serviceable typical Tim Burton pacing, and it makes for one gothic, campy classic.

In 1989, it never mattered really how good the movie was. Under the smiley-gas greatness of Batmania, it worked. 25 years later, I’m still standing by this definitive bat.


Siskel and Ebert review

Prince, Batdance

Batman Diet Coke commercial & VHS intro…

Michael Keaton promoting and spoiling the film on Late Night With David Letterman

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