Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The History Of Batman On Screen

We have now entered the month of July 2012. That means we are only a matter of days away from the release of The Dark Knight Rises [2012]. Undoubtedly one of the most ridiculously anticipated and hyped movies in history. So as I try my best to contain my nerdgasm to a minimum before that sacred date of July 19th (Malaysian release), lets take a ride inside Doc. Brown's DeLorean as we ignite the flux capacitor and get a quick history lesson of the Caped Crusader appearances on screen. These past couple of months I haven't been blogging as much, so I'll be posting a very long one today. Now buckle up and as my friend Heath Ledger would say:

PHASE 1: The Black & White Serials

According to a my pathetic attempt at research, Batman first appeared as a 15-part series of shorts shown at movie theatres in 1943. Apparently these shorts are called "serials". They don't have serials in my country so I had no idea. Some actor named Lewis Wilson played the part of Batman here. Another 15-part serial made its way in 1949, this time our hero was played by Robert Lowery. My knowledge of classic films at this point is very limited, so I still have no idea who these actors are.

PHASE 2: "Holy Catchphrase, Batman!" ~ Adam West & The Campy Era

Ah, now we've reached more familiar territory. This era which had the "legendary" duo of Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin was campy to the maximum. A movie was released in 1966 while a TV series ran from the same year up until 1968. I'm sure we can all associate the era with images of the dynamic duo walking climbing up walls using a wire (so obvious that the camera was tilted), fight sequences that had sound effects like "BLAM" and "KAPOW" fly at the screen, and fire-poles entering the Bat-Cave. Even the theme music was catchy. I for one, have found memories of a very sexy Julie Newmar playing Catwoman in the TV series (Catwoman was portrayed by Lee Meriwether in the movie version). You know how comic books always draw female characters with human-defying hour-glass figures? Well, in this case, Julie Newmar actually had such a figure (see photo below).

As mentioned, everything on display here was ridiculous, silly, and campy. But they did it so much to the extent that it was actually FUN to watch! Batman's utility belt for example would always have the right gadget at the right time to save him, the best being the Bat-Shark Repellent Spray used in the movie. Also must be mentioned is Robin's frequent catchphrases of: "Holy [insert dialogue], Batman!". See this hilarious compilation of Robin doing just that in the video below. The absolute best just has to be: "Holy contributing to the delinquency of minors, Batman!".

PHASE 3: Merchandising Gold & The Tim Burton Era

After a prolonged absence, our hero made a return to the big screen in 1989 after being helmed by director Tim Burton. News that Michael Keaton (whom at that time was more known for comedic roles) being cast as Batman was met with unease from from fans but he eventually won them over with a strong performance. However the star of the film was Jack Nicholson who played The Joker. For a long time, this movie was critically considered the best Batman film. It also became merchandising gold as the Batman symbol (photo above) was ubiquitous everywhere.

Tim Burton and Michael Keaton returned for a sequel movie, Batman Returns [1992] where memorable performances can be seen Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman (I listed her in my 15 Favourite Female Villains post) and Danny DeVito as The Penguin. These two movies were a far departure from the silly Adam West versions as Burton brought his dark and distinctive visual style. Comic book fans mostly were delighted by this Batman incarnation.

PHASE 4: Multiple Animated Batmans

To be honest, there are too many animated Batman TV shows and direct-to-video movies for me to keep track off. It even goes back to the year 1968 where both Adam West and Burt Ward voiced their characters for the animated version. There have been multiple other versions until this very day and most of them have been voiced by Kevin Conroy as Batman. He also lended his voice to two animated movies that got theatrical releases, Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm [1993] and Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker [2000]. Geek alert here, but in those two movies, The Joker was voiced by non other than Luke Skywalker Mark Hamill.

PHASE 5: Joel Schumacher & The Downfall Of Batman

Joel Schumacher took over the reigns from Tim Burton for the movie Batman Forever [1995] and Val Kilmer was cast as Batman. We were re-indtroduced to the character of Robin who was played by Chris O'Donnell. The role of villains was played by big stars in Jim Carrey and Tommey Lee Jones as The Riddler and Two Face. Nicole Kidman who at the time was widely known just as Miss Tom Cruise also had a role in the movie. Although this wasn't really a terrible movie, it was a step down from Tim Burton's versions and was a sign of things to come....

Schumacher roped in really big stars for his next film, Batman & Robin [1997] with George Clooney as Batman and Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the villain Mr. Freeze. Unfortunately this film was a total disaster and almost ruined the entire Batman franchise. People saying how terrible it is are not just going along with the popular opinion because it truly is that bad. The Adam West versions were silly but at least they were fun, the same cannot be said here. This seems like the Retro Superhero Movies I featured before, only those movie didn't have big budgets like this one. In a few weeks will get to see Tom Hardy play Bane in The Dark Knight Rises [2012], while I don't think I ever knew or want to check out who played the stupid looking Bane (photo above alongside Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy) in this movie. And yeah, I still can't get over those silly nipple Bat-suits.

PHASE 6: A Touch From The God Of Film

First of all, if you read my 100 Film Facts About Me post, you'd know that I think that Christopher Nolan is the God Of Film. He is the director of Batman Begins [2005], The Dark Knight [2008], and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises [2012]. Two dialogues from the movie Batman Begins [2005] perfectly describe this Phase 6. The first one was muttered by Alfred (played by Michael Caine): "Why do we fall, Sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up". The second one was a philosophy by Ra's Al Ghul (played by Liam Neeson): "Everytime a civilization reaches the peak of its decadence, we return to restore the balance". Schumacher's Batman was the peak of decadence for the franchise. So in stepped Christopher Nolan to restore the balance and show those before him that they were just mere mortals. Man can try, but man cannot compete with the creations from The God Of Film!

Photo edit from Fan Pop
Nolan not only created great Superhero movies but great movies full-stop. Christian Bale actually auditioned for the role of Robin in Joel Schumacher's films but lost out the role. Thank God that happened because why be Robin in dreadful movies when you can be a great Batman in awesome movies? Then of course is that legendary performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight [2008]. In fact I first wrote this blog eleven months ago because I wanted to list that movie at the pinnacle of my Favourite Superhero Movies list.

PHASE 7: The Future & Previous Links

It is said that DC Comics will be making a Justice League movie in the near future and will be rebooting/remaking Batman since Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale will not be returning. I'm not sure I would want another Batman movie so soon after the awesomeness of Nolan's versions. Just make Batman appear directly in the Justice League movie like The Hulk did in The Avengers [2012].

Anyway here are a couple of Batman related posts that I featured before:
# Infographic: Evolution Of The Bat-Suit
# Actual Batmobile Replica For Sale
# This parody video below, where if the screenplay of The Dark Knight [2008] was re-imagined using the 60s Adam West style. It is pretty accurate to both movies, I'd say.


  1. I'm familiar with phases 3, 5, and of course 6, so it's a great piece you've written. Really informative! And you must already know, I'm certainly a fan of Nolan films. I'm curious about a Justice League movie, but I'm really sorry that Bale is not going to retrieve the part of Batman.

    1. The plan to go forward with a Justice League movie has probably grown stronger with the success of The Avengers. Its basically guaranteed money. It will be weird having a different Batman so soon.

  2. Awesome article! I love Burton's Batmans and animated series - I saw all the episodes with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, my favorite characters. I can only hope one day they will be featured in awesome movie.

    1. That was era was Burton at his finest. We all know he can make great films, just that he's lost form lately. I would love to see Harley Quinn in a movie. The was early rumours for The Dark Knight Rises that she would be in it, although that has been proven untrue.

  3. I'm really excited about the Justice League because I love the animated series... Batman is my favorite character because even though without super powers, he alone can take out the entire Justice League superheroes including Superman with his wits and careful preparation...

    Yeah, I too feel bad about the Batman reboot... Hey, it will be really hard to compete with Nolan's... I wonder who would be brave enough to take the challenge...

    1. Batman is not only my favourite Justice League character but also my favourite DC superhero (I'm more of a Marvel fan). It will be interesting to see who takes over the director's chair. Thanks for stopping by...

    2. I like Zack Snyder, but he's already making The Man of Steel

    3. Zack Snyder is kinda hit and miss to me. Let's see how he does with The Man Of Steel.

  4. love Burton's era...Catwoman..meow! and I'm still contemplating which was a better Joker, nicolson or ledger

    batman forever got nicole looking woff!
    as for batman and robin..ya that was painful..sayang cause ada Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy

    aku dulu kat sekolah ada kawan yg suka buat scene tiup Poison Ivy dlm Batman Robin...just saying...hehe

    1. Jack Nicholson was good but come on, Heath Ledger FTW!!!

      kawan time skola yg buat cam Poison Ivy tuh hot x?

  5. Hi Asrap, I came across your blog while searching for the Here We Go gif you used above. Did you create that one yourself? I'd like get get your permission to use it. I want to start a fitness blog about getting in shape for Selina Kyle costume from TDKR film for Halloween. I'd like to use this gif at the end of my first entry. I will happily give you credit as well.

    Thank you in advance for your response.

    1. Sorry Ann, I didn't make that one. I don't remember where I got it. I feel bad though, I'll try to search for it and contact you if I find. Good luck with your blog.

  6. i really like the old black and white batman movie serials.

    1. I've actually only seen one episode, and that was on the internet.


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