June 23, 1989.
If you’re any sort of geek, that date may very continue to resonate with you in a very large way. I know it does for me. That day, me and a few of my friends, just a few days removed from Grade Seven, arrived at Bayview Village in Toronto, Ontario at 4:00 pm. You see, before the days of Apps and advance tickets, you had to line-up up outside a movie theatre to make sure you’d get tickets to a new, blockbuster movie. And that summer, no movie was going to be bigger than Tim Burton’s Batman.
The hype machine had been going full throttle for months. People were excited to hear that Jack Nicholson was going to play The Joker – does anyone do maniacal any better? The fact that Michel Keaton had been cast as Batman was more problematic for many. Known at the time as a comedic actor, it would take his stellar performance in 1988’s Clean and Sober to alleviate the concerns of many. To the best of my memory, nobody had any issues with Tim Burton stepping in the director’s chair. To my young self, he was a great choice, having already wowed me with Beetlejuice.
Walking into the theatre that day, my eyes were blown seeing Gotham City come to grimy life (courtesy of production design by the great Anton Furst). Burton and Furst has captured the aesthetic Frank Miller had established in his two late 80s Batman extravaganza’s, Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, both of which were cited as hugely influential on the film, along with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. On screen, Nicholson more than delivered, as he transformed from the crafty hit man Jack Napier into the completely unhinged Joker. Meanwhile, Michael Keaton introduced and perfected the dark, brooding superhero with his take on both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
It wasn’t until I grew older that I started noticing the flaws in the film – the annoying use of Prince songs, forced in by film studio Warner Brothers. I never warmed to Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon; I felt as though he just came across as too much of a buffoon. Kim Basinger was fine as Vicky Vale, Bruce Wayne’s would-be girlfriend, but the fact that Michael Gough’s Alfred simply lets her into the Bat Cave?? I’m still not over that. The same with the Joker’s line, “I was a kid when I killed your parents”, said to Batman, though Joker doesn’t know who is under the cowl. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
While 25 years later, the original Batman isn’t even my go to Batmovie of choice from that original franchise (1992’s Batman Returns is far superior to me in almost every respect), on that day though, June 23, 1989, I didn’t notice any of those perceived issues. I only noticed the movie magic.
Oh, to be young again.