Cert: 15 Runtime: 126 mins Director: Tim Burton Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams and Michael Gough
The pen, is truly mightier than the sword!
So then it’s Batman week at thatmovieguy.co.uk, so all this week I will be dedicating it to the Dark Knight. So we shall visit 1989 with Tim Burton’s imagination of Batman. So what was the tale of the original Batman film? Gotham City: dark, dangerous, ‘protected’ only by a mostly corrupt police department. Despite the best efforts of D.A. Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and police commissioner Jim Gordon (Pat Hingle), the city becomes increasingly unsafe…until a Dark Knight arises. We all know criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot…so his disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. He becomes a bat. Enter Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger), a prize-winning photo journalist who wants to uncover the secret of the mysterious “bat-man”. And enter Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), one-time enforcer for Boss Grissom, horribly disfigured after a firefight in a chemical factory…who, devoid of the last vestiges of sanity, seizes control of Gotham’s underworld as the psychotic, unpredictable Clown Prince of Crime…the Joker. Gotham’s only hope, it seems, lies in this dark, brooding vigilante. And just how does billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) fit into all of this?The true beauty behind Batman 1989 is Burton’s flavor. Letting a non-traditionalist visionary like Burton direct Batman was a big risk for Warner Bros considering all the expectations that inevitably would be riding on it.
Burton was allowed to reinvent the substance of everything Batman by twisting it into a dark, evil paradox. He didn’t just make a movie about Batman, he changed the public’s idea of what Batman should be forever. No other comic book movie can make a claim that touches that.Another beautiful element of this movie is its mix of Gothic fantasy and shoot ’em up action. Even though Burton was given most creative control, he knew he had to give this film all the explosive action that’s typical for a late 80’s high budget action thriller. So it comes across as Tim Burton in overdrive, in which he pushed his own limits of potential. Batman thrives from its late 80’s production. This is when action movie production was at an all time high, and before unnatural computer generated effects most new action films suffer from. So despite its over the top sequences, it still has a sense of truth about it. One action sequence I consider one of the coolest ever is when The Batmobile drives into the Joker’s chemical factory, henchmen start shooting at it with machine guns, it stops, drops some mines, then drives out while the entire complex is blowing up (awesome!) There is another aspect of this film that is excellent but often unnoticed compared to the strength and drive of the storytelling. That’s how this film completely manipulates the viewer’s sense of time. Burton is a master at this. It routinely changes from a dark, saddened 1940’s big city feel to a glossed over, gritty, material late 80’s. Burton transformed much of The Joker’s character to model a 1940’s gangster boss, which I think is a neat creative throwback and fitting addition. Many of the Joker’s men resemble Al Capone style cronies and carry classic weapons like Tommy Guns, .45 pistols, and revolvers.
Another great element of this film is its occasional sense of lighthearted fun, despite all the darkness. This is present during the Joker party scenes with Prince music (the one in the art gallery is the best). I love how The Joker was transformed into a more dynamic character. He’s insane, but also has an appreciation for art, and is a genius chemical expert. Nicholson’s performance as The Joker was superb and unmatchable by any standards. He made The Joker fun, evil, crazy, but also added a sense of gentlemen class to the character. His wicked Joker laugh is incredible to say the least. His creative one liners are also fun and unexpected, such as “there’s another rooster in the hen house” and “ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” Danny Elfman’s brilliant, gracefully haunting score is an undeniable driving force behind this movie. The intro with this score takes the viewer through dark tunnel-like grooves that eventually end up being the Batman symbol. This is a superb sequence and very innovative for the time, influencing many similar scenes in future films. Another thing we cannot forget is the Batmobile! It’s too bad there’s no academy award for vehicle design because that was deserved! It’s sleek, curvaceous, all black, menacing, and powered by a jet thruster. It looks like a fighter jet on wheels with tail fins.This is my best attempt to describe in words what makes this film great, although it’s impossible to note everything. Batman 1989 is a masterfully entertaining super film in every sense. Hopefully someday we will see something like it again in Hollywood.