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Batman (1989 film)

Batman is a 1989 superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. Tim Burton directed the film, which stars Michael Keaton as Batman, as well as Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger and Robert Wuhl. The film is the first installment of Warner Brothers' Batman film series, in which Batman deals with the rise of a powerful villain known as "The Joker".

Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker acquired the Batman film rights from DC Comics in 1979, and hired Tom Mankiewicz to write. Producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber joined the production. Before Burton was hired as director, Steve Englehart and Julie Hickson contributed with story treatments. The role of Batman was considered for numerous A-list actors, while Nicholson accepted the role of the Joker under various strict circumstances that dictated a high salary, box office profits and his shooting schedule.

Filming took place at Pinewood Studios from October 1988 to January 1989, where production designer Anton Furst designed Gotham City with clashing architectural styles to make it the bleakest metropolis imaginable. The budget escalated from $30 million to $48 million, while the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike forced writer Sam Hamm to leave the set. Uncredited rewrites were commissioned by Warren Skaaren, Charles McKeown and Jonathan Gems, deleting the character Dick Grayson.

Batman was a critical and financial success, and is the second highest grossing film based on a DC comic book. The film received numerous nominations at the 62nd Academy Awards, 47th Golden Globe Awards and The Saturn Awards. The film inspired Batman: The Animated Series and a series of films. In 1992, producers Uslan and Melniker filed a breach of contract lawsuit as they did not earn any of the film's box office gross.

Plot

With a 200th anniversary parade approaching, Gotham City is in the grip of crime boss Carl Grissom. Despite the best efforts of newly-elected district attorney Harvey Dent and police commissioner James Gordon, the police department remains corrupted. Reporter Alexander Knox and photo-journalist Vicki Vale begin investigating the truth behind the rumors of a shadowy vigilante figure dressed as a bat, who has been terrifying criminals throughout the city.

Vale and Knox attend a benefit at the mansion of billionaire Bruce Wayne, who is taken by Vicki's charms. That same night, Grissom's second in command, Jack Napier, is sent to raid Axis Chemicals factory to remove evidence of his boss's involvement. When the police receive a tipoff and arrive to arrest him, Napier realizes he's been set-up by his boss, angered by his affair with Grissom's mistress. In the midst of the shoot-out, Batman arrives and takes out Napier's henchmen; he attempts to capture Napier himself, but inadvertently drops him into a vat of toxic waste. He survives, but his body is deformed by chemical scarring that leaves his face frozen in a permanent smile. He becomes "the Joker".

After killing Grissom, the Joker takes over his empire and holds the city at his mercy by chemically altering everyday hygiene products so that those using a certain combination of products die. Batman, who is revealed (to the audience) to be Bruce Wayne's alter ego, attempts to track down the Joker, who has become romantically interested in Vicki. It is alluded to that Napier, as a young criminal, killed Bruce's parents.

The Joker holds a parade through Gotham, luring its citizens on to its streets by dispensing money, intending to kill them with a lethal gas. Batman foils his plan, but the Joker kidnaps Vicki and takes her to the top of Gotham Cathedral. After a fight with Batman, the Joker falls to his death from the belfry. When police officers surround the Joker's body, they hear a sound of laughing. It turns out to be a laughing sound machine in his pocket. At the film's end, Commissioner Gordon unveils the Bat-Signal along with a note from Batman, promising to defend Gotham whenever crime strikes again.

Cast

Development

Michael Uslan

In the late 1970s, Batman's popularity was waning. CBS was interested in producing a Batman in Outer Space film. Michael Uslan, a former comic book writer and Benjamin Melniker purchased the film rights of Batman from DC Comics in April 1979. It was Uslan's wish "to make the definitive, dark, serious version of Batman, the way Bob Kane and Bill Finger had envisioned him in 1939. A creature of the night; stalking criminals in the shadows." Richard Maibaum was approached to write a script with Guy Hamilton to direct, but the two turned down the offer. Uslan was unsuccessful with pitching the project to various movie studios due to creative differences, and because the prevailing conception of the character was the campy 1960s TV series. Columbia Pictures and United Artists turned down the offer.

Uslan, already disappointed, wrote a script titled Return of the Batman to "give people in Hollywood some idea of just what the hell I was talking about! It really was about ten years before The Dark Knight Returns. It was that [dark] approach to it." In November 1979 Jon Peters and Peter Guber joined the project. Melniker and Uslan were promised 40% of Peters and Guber's box office profits, and felt it was best to pattern the film's development similar to Superman (1978). The project was publicly announced in late 1981 to be budgeted at $15 million with still no movie studio involved. Uslan and Melniker lost contact with Peters and Guber. Peters and Guber got Batman accepted at Warner Bros. without telling Uslan and Melniker.

Tom Mankiewicz completed a script titled The Batman in June 1983, focusing on Batman and Dick Grayson's origins with the Joker and Rupert Thorne as villains, and Silver St. Cloud as the romantic interest. Mankiewicz took high inspiration from Batman: Strange Apparitions (ISBN 1-56389-500-5), written by Steve Englehart. The Batman was then announced in late 1983 for a mid-1985 release date on a budget of $20 million. Uslan wanted an unknown actor for Batman, William Holden for James Gordon and David Niven as Alfred Pennyworth. A number of filmmakers were attached to Mankiewicz script, including Ivan Reitman and Joe Dante. Nine rewrites were performed by nine different writers. Most of them were based on the comic book Strange Apparitions. However it was Mankiewicz' script that was still being used to guide the project.

Tim Burton

After the success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Tim Burton was hired as director in 1986. Uslan claimed, "I only let Tim see the original year of the Bob Kane/Bill Finger run, up until the time that Robin was introduced. I showed him the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers and the Neal Adams/Denny O'Neil stories. My biggest fear was that somehow Tim would get hold of the campiest Batman comics and then where would we be?" Burton hired Julie Hickson to write a new 30-page story treatment, feeling Mankiewicz' script was campy, stating "they didn't acknowledge any of the freakish nature of it". The success of The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke prompted Warner Bros. to give the film a darker tone for the storyline. Although Burton was never a comic book fan, he was most impressed with The Killing Joke.

The studio then enlisted the aid of Steve Englehart to write a new story treatment in March 1986. Englehart offered to write an entirely new screenplay, but he was denied permission by the studio. Englehart claims, "Between the original comics and the treatments, about 70 percent of what ended up on screen originated with me. Englehart's first treatment included the same characters present in Mankiewicz' script, but had a different storyline. Warner Bros. was impressed, but Englehart had mixed emotions with his work. When writing the second treatment (finishing in May 1986), Englehart deleted the Penguin and Dick Grayson.

Burton approached Sam Hamm, a comic book fan to write the screenplay, and Hamm decided not to use an origin story, feeling that flashbacks would be more suitable and that "unlocking the mystery becomes part of the story". He reasoned, "You totally destroy your credibility if you show the literal process by which Bruce Wayne becomes Batman." Hamm replaced Silver St. Cloud with Vicki Vale and Rupert Thorne with his own creation, Carl Grissom. Englehart believed "the powers that be decided Silver and Thorne were no longer well-enough known, so the names were changed". Hamm completed his script in October 1986, which also featured a bitter rivalry between Bruce Wayne and Alexander Knox over Vicki Vale.

However Warner Bros. was less willing to move forward on development, despite their enthusiasm for Hamm's script, which Bob Kane greeted with positive feedback. Hamm's script then became largely bootlegged at various comic book stores across America. Batman was finally given the greenlight after the surprising success of Burton's Beetlejuice (1988). When comic book fans found out about Burton directing the film and Keaton starring in the lead role, controversy arose over the tone and direction the film was going in. Hamm claimed, "They hear Tim Burton's name and they think of Pee-wee's Big Adventure. They hear Keaton's name and they think of any number of Michael Keaton comedies." To combat negative reports on the film's production, Batman's co-creator Bob Kane was hired as creative consultant. He approved of the cast, production design and the script.

Casting

Mel Gibson, Dennis Quaid, Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck and Bill Murray were all considered for Batman. Gibson turned down the role stating: "I just didn’t want to put a spandex suit on. Tim Burton was pressured to cast an obvious action movie star, but wanted an unknown actor, similar to Richard Donner's decision when casting Christopher Reeve in Superman. Jon Peters favored Michael Keaton, arguing he had the right "edgy, tormented quality". Having directed Keaton in Beetlejuice, Burton agreed.

Keaton's casting caused a controversy amongst comic book fans, with 50,000 protest letters sent to Warner Bros. offices. Bob Kane, Sam Hamm and Michael Uslan also heavily questioned the casting, while Adam West felt himself to be a better choice. Burton acknowledged, "Obviously there was a negative response from the comic book people. I think they thought we were going to make it like the TV series, and make it campy, because they thought of Michael Keaton from Mr. Mom and Night Shift and stuff like that." Burton screened Keaton's 1988 film Clean and Sober for Uslan to convince him that Keaton was the right choice, and Uslan agreed that Keaton was \"a great serious actor.\" Uslan remained unconvinced, however, that Keaton was physically right for the role, but Burton convinced him that Batman did not need to be a large, muscle-bound man. Keaton studied Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns for inspiration.

Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, and James Woods were considered for the Joker. Jack Nicholson was Uslan's and Kane's choice since 1980. Peters approached Jack Nicholson as far back as 1986, during filming of The Witches of Eastwick. Nicholson had what was known as an "off-the-clock" agreement. His contract specified the number of hours he was entitled to have off each day, from the time he left the set to the time he reported back for filming. Nicholson demanded to have all of his scenes shot in a three week block, but the schedule lapsed into 106 days. Nicholson also demanded script rewrites and a $6 million salary, as well as a large percentage of the box office gross. The fee is reported to be as high as a $50 million. Sean Young was originally cast as Vicki Vale but became injured during filming. Burton suggested replacing Young with Michelle Pfeiffer but Keaton, who was in a relationship with Pfeiffer, believed it would be too awkward. Peters suggested Kim Basinger, with whom he was having an affair at the time. In addition Peters demanded rewrites for Basinger's screentime. Pfeiffer went on to play Catwoman in Batman Returns. As a fan of Michael Gough's work in various Hammer Film Productions, Burton cast Gough as Alfred Pennyworth.

Production

The filmmakers considered filming Batman entirely in Los Angeles, California, but media interest in the film made them change the location to England. It was shot entirely at Pinewood Studios from October 1988 to January 1989. 18 sound stages were used (almost the entirety of Pinewood's ninety-five-acre backlot). The original production budget escalated from $30 million to $48 million. Filming was highly secretive. The unit publicist was offered and refused £10,000 for the first pictures of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The police were later called in when two reels of footage (about 20 minutes' worth) were stolen. With various problems during filming, Burton called it "torture. The worst period of my life!"

Hamm was not allowed to perform on-set rewrites during the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. Warren Skaaren and Charles McKeown were brought for rewrites during filming. Jonathan Gems did a few weeks worth of rewriting as well. Hamm criticized the rewrite work and blamed the changes on what he called "monolithic studio mentality". Burton explained, "I don't understand why that became such a problem. We started out with a script that everyone liked, although we recognized it needed a little work." Throughout the problems and difficulty during filming, Burton credited Jack Nicholson as being highly supportive. Dick Grayson appeared in the shooting script but was deleted as the filmmakers felt he was irrelevant to the plot. Bob Kane supported this decision.

Originally in the climax, the Joker was to kill Vicki Vale, sending Batman into a vengeful fury. Jon Peters reworked the climax without telling Burton and commissioned production designer Anton Furst to create a model of the cathedral. This cost $100,000, when the film was already well over budget. Burton disliked the idea, having no clue how the scene would end: "Here were Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger walking up this cathedral, and halfway up Jack turns around and says, 'Why am I walking up all these stairs? Where am I going?' 'We'll talk about it when you get to the top!' I had to tell him that I didn't know."

Design

Burton was impressed with Anton Furst's designs in The Company of Wolves, and previously failed to hire Furst as production designer for Beetlejuice. Furst had been too committed on High Spirits, a choice he later regretted. Furst enjoyed working with Burton. "I don't think I've ever felt so naturally in tune with a director," he felt. "Conceptually, spiritually, visually, or artistically. There was never any problem because we never fought over anything. Texture, attitude and feelings are what [Burton] is a master at."

Furst and the art department deliberately mixed clashing architectural styles to make Gotham City the ugliest and bleakest metropolis imaginable. No computer-generated imagery was used for the sets, and instead the filmmakers depended on matte paintings and actual tall buildings. Derek Meddings served as the visual effects supervisor. The work of Andreas Feininger was an influence on the film's design. Furst's construction cost of the Gotham City setpiece was $5.5 million, while Knebworth House doubled for Wayne Manor. Keith Short sculpted the newly-created 1989 Batmobile, and added two Browning machine guns. On designing the Batmobile, Furst explained, "We looked at jet aircraft components, we looked at war machines, we looked at all sorts of things. In the end, we went into pure expressionism, taking the Salt Flat Racers of the 30s and the Stingray macho machines of the 50s." The car was built upon a Chevrolet Impala when previous development with a Jaguar and Ford Mustang failed. British Aerospace gave the art department advice for designing the Batmobile.

Costume designer Bob Ringwood (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Troy) turned down the chance to work on Licence to Kill in favor of Batman. On Keaton's casting, Ringwood explained "I imagined it was going to be a big six-foot-four hunk with a dimpled chin. Michael Keaton is many things, but one thing he is not is a six-foot-four hunk. Because he is average height and a small-built guy, it was a surprise and a bit scary for me. I wasn’t sure how to interpret it. The whole essence of the Batman character in the comics is this huge guy — like all the superheroes. So the problem was to make somebody who was average-sized and ordinary looking into this bigger-than-life creature." Burton commented, "Michael is a bit claustrophobic, which made it worse for him. The costume put him in a dark, Batman-like mood though, so he was able to use it to his advantage." Comic book fans originally had negative feedback against the Batsuit. Burton opted not to use tights, spandex or underpants as seen in the Batman comic book, feeling it wasn't intimidating. Burton's idea was to use an all-black suit, and was met with positive feedback by Kane. Jon Peters had an idea for possibly enthusing a Nike promotion. Prosthetic makeup designer Nick Dudman (Harry Potter film series, Legend) used acrylic paint for Nicholson's chalk-white face. Part of Nicholson's contract was approval over who was to design his makeup.

Music

Burton hired Danny Elfman, his collaborator on Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, to compose the film score. For inspiration Elfman was given Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Elfman was worried, as he never had worked on a project this large in budget and scale, but he eventually found it enjoyable composing themes for the Joker. Jon Peters and Peter Guber originally had in mind for Prince writing themes for the Joker and Michael Jackson writing the romance theme. Elfman would then combine the style of the Prince and Jackson's songs together for the entire film score.

Burton protested the ideas, citing "my movies aren't like Top Gun". Elfman enlisted the help of Oingo Boingo lead guitarist Steve Bartek and Shirley Walker to help arrange the compositions for the orchestra. Elfman later was displeased with the audio mixing of his film score. "Batman was done in England by technicians who didn't care, and the non-caring showed," Elfman stated. "They took three-channel stereo and just split it left and right, so at its most powerful moments it was never more than two-thirds there. I'm not putting down England because they've done gorgeous dubs there, but this particular crew elected not to. Batman was one of the first films to spawn two soundtracks. One of them featured songs written by Prince while the other showcased Elfman's film score. Both soundtracks were successful. Compilations of Elfman's opening credits were used in the title sequence for Batman: The Animated Series, also composed by Walker.

Reception

Release

Anton Furst designed the poster, which he called "evocative but ubiquitous. Only featuring the Bat-Symbol." Earlier designs "had the word 'Batman' spelled in RoboCop or Conan the Barbarian-type". Jon Peters unified all the film's tie-ins, even turning down $6 million from General Motors to build the Batmobile because the car company would not relinquish creative control.

During production, Peters read in the The Wall Street Journal that comic book fans were unsatisfied with the casting of Michael Keaton. In response, Peters rushed out the first trailer that played in thousands of theaters during Christmas. The trailer was simply a surreal assemblage of scenes without music. It created enormous anticipation for the film.

In months predating Batman's release in June 1989, a popular culture phenomenon rose known as "Batmania". Tim Burton was personally "annoyed by it". Over $750 million worth of merchandise was sold. Cult filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith remembered, "That summer was huge. You couldn't turn around without seeing the Bat-Symbol somewhere. People were cutting it into their heads. It was the summer of the bat and if you were a Batman fan it was pretty hot. A novelization was written by Craig Shaw Gardner.

Reaction

Batman opened on June 23, 1989, grossing $40.49 million in 2,194 theaters during its opening weekend. The film would eventually gross $251.2 million in North America and $160.15 million in foreign countries, totaling $411.35 million. Batman was the first film to earn $100 million in its first ten days of release. Batman was the highest grossing film based on a DC comic book series, until 2008's The Dark Knight, and 42nd highest ever in North American ranks. Although Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade made the most money worldwide in 1989, Batman was able to beat The Last Crusade in North America, and made a further $150 million in home video sales.

Based on 49 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 69% of reviewers enjoyed the film, with the consensus of "an eerie, haunting spectacle, Batman succeeds as entertainment, but as an addition to the character's legacy, it rings disappointingly hollow". The film was more balanced with seven critics in Rotten Tomatoes's "Top Critics" poll, receiving a 57% approval rating. By comparison Metacritic collected an average score of 66, based on 17 reviews. Batman was criticized in some quarters for being "too dark". Many critics also felt Burton was more interested in the Joker rather than Batman in terms of characterization and screentime. Comic book fans reacted negatively over the Joker murdering Thomas and Martha Wayne. In the comic books, Joe Chill is responsible. The songs written by Prince were criticized for being "too out of place". While Burton has stated he had no problem with the Prince songs, he was less enthusiastic with their use in the film. On the final cut of Batman, Burton remarked "there's parts I liked, but it was a little boring at times".

Kim Newman of Monthly Film Bulletin believed, "Burton and screenwriters see Batman and the Joker as dramatic antitheses, and the film deals with their intertwined origins and fates to an even greater extent than any of the comic-strip stories that have played variations on their oft-told tales. James Berardinelli felt "there are a lot of things wrong with Batman, but it still makes for decent entertainment in the fine tradition of the typical low-intelligence summer movie. The best thing that can be said about Batman is that it led to Batman Returns, which was a far superior effort. Hal Hinson of the The Washington Post was enthusiastic over Burton's direction of the film, stating "There haven't been many movies like this. In some ways, it's a masterpiece of pulp, the work of a true artist. Variety felt "Jack Nicholson stole every scene" but still greeted Batman with positive feedback. Roger Ebert was highly impressed with the production design, but claimed "Batman is a triumph of design over story, style over substance, a great-looking movie with a plot you can't care much about. His reviewing partner, Gene Siskel, however, praised the film, in particular the performances, direction and art design, and how these elements combined 'draw you into a psychological world'. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader called the film "watchable enough".

Legacy

Anton Furst and set decorator Peter Young won Best Art Direction at the 62nd Academy Awards. Nicholson was nominated for Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) at the 47th Golden Globe Awards. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated Batman in six categories (Production Design, Visual Effects, Costume Design, Makeup, Sound and Actor in a Supporting Role for Nicholson), but it won none of the categories. Nicholson, Basinger, the make-up department and costume designer Bob Ringwood all received nominations at the Saturn Awards. The film was nominated for Best Fantasy Film. Batman was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

DC Comics allowed screenwriter Sam Hamm to write his own comic book miniseries. Hamm's stories were collected in the graphic novel Batman: Blind Justice (ISBN 978-1563890475). Denys Cowan and Dick Giordano illustrated the artwork. Blind Justice tells the story of Bruce Wayne trying to solve a series of murders connected to Wayne Enterprises. It also marks the first appearance of Henri Ducard, who was later used in the rebooted Batman Begins.

The success of Batman prompted Warner Bros. Animation to create Batman: The Animated Series. Series co-creator Bruce Timm stated the television show's Art Deco design was inspired from the film. Timm commented, "our show would never have gotten made if it hadn't been for that first Batman movie. Batman also helped establish the original Batman film series, which ended after Batman & Robin. The series was rebooted with Batman Begins.

Producers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker filed a breach of contract lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on March 26, 1992. Uslan and Melniker claimed to be "the victims of a sinister campaign of fraud and coercion that has cheated them out of continuing involvement in the production of Batman and its sequels. We were denied proper credits, and deprived of any financial rewards for our indispensable creative contribution to the success of Batman." A superior court judge threw out the case while Uslan and Melniker consoled themselves with their executive producing fees of $300,000 apiece. Total revenues of Batman have topped $2 billion, with Uslan claiming to have "not seen a penny more than that since our net profit participation has proved worthless." Warner Bros. offered the pair a out-of-court pay-off, a sum described by Uslan and Melniker's attorney as "two popcorns and two Cokes".

References

Further reading

External links

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