Today marks the 30th anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman. To celebrate, a group of Biff Bam Pop!’s writers have gathered together to share their memories of the movie and the fateful day of its release.
June 23rd, 1989.
So many of had had that day marked down in our calendars. Well, in the calendars in our minds, if you were of a certain age. That was the release day for Tim Burton’s live-action Batman film. I was 12 years old that summer, and all I could think about was Batman. Merchandise was everywhere you looked. All those wonderful toys. Posters. Prince’s soundtrack. Making-of books. The Novelization. Oh, and comics books too, including the great prestige format book written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Jerry Ordway. Who here remembers how the novelization and comic adaptation gave us an alternate ending?? I sure do.
I lined up at Bayview Village here in Toronto, Ontario. My friends and I got there at around 4:30 pm for a 7:30 pm screening. I can still remember how excited everyone in line was. And by the time we got in and sat down and watched Batman, well, it had all been worth it. It was an event film.
I saw it in theatres two more times. I bought the VHS tape. I bought the DVD. I might buy the Blu-ray or 4K, even though, looking back, I think its sequel, Batman Returns, is the stronger film.
Amazingly, some 30 years later, I remember it all as if it were yesterday.
Jeffery X Martin
The theatre I saw Batman in doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s the Civic Center in Sevierville, Tennessee now. I’ve been there for Pagan Pride conventions. The auditoriums are gone. Walls knocked down, screens ripped down, offices and meeting rooms taking their place. There’s no RoadBlasters game calling my name from the wall in the lobby. You can’t even buy a pack of Twizzlers there anymore.
On opening night, Batman was in the big house, the auditorium with the most amount of seating. Sevierville wasn’t a big town and it seemed like the entire population was there that night. After all the marketing, including tie-ins with fast food restaurants and toy commercials, Batman was the must-see movie of that summer.
Sure, there had been superhero movies before. We had already believed a man could fly. Now, we were ready to see a guy fight. Jack Nicholson as the Joker? That was perfect casting, especially after establishing himself as Hollywood’s lead wacko in The Shining. But Michael Keaton as Batman? Mr. Mom? I wasn’t sure how that was going to work.
As the lights went down and the opening strains of Danny Elfman’s theme came up, I got chills. This audience was in for something special. The gothic aesthetic Tim Burton infused into the film was stunning to me. All those spires, gargoyles, and dark alleys made me wish I hadn’t sold my Bauhaus cassettes.
The animation wasn’t great. Batman turning on the roof in the opening sequence. The Smilex gas escaping into the city. Both of those were obviously cartoonish, and I noticed. It was also painfully clear that the whole thing was filmed at Pinewood Studios. The film felt stagebound and repressively British. That was odd for such an American character.
But those tiny quibbles weren’t enough to stop me from being awed. Keaton was a tremendous Bruce Wayne, one step away from the edge of madness. Nicholson was already a loonball. Those two together onscreen was a classic matchup. Crazy met crazier, and there was no way for it to end but tragically.
Arguably, there have been better films about the Batman. Certainly, there have been worse. But Burton’s mark had been indelibly left on the character of Batman, and the world of cinematic capes would never be the same.
What was it going to be like? Was it going to be corny like the Adam West version? Would it be more serious like The Dark Knight Returns? Oh no, the Beetlejuice guy is directing it. I guess it’s going to be a comedy then. Oh, Michael Keaton is going to be Batman? Ok, I still want to see it…
My friends, I was a stressed out twelve-year-old nerd. As far back as my memory goes, I had a Batman figure in my hand. I loved the Adam West version and the various cartoon entities. I bought Detective Comics every month and read and re-read The Dark Knight Returns obsessively. I was a fan. All I wanted was the best version of my favourite character and I really didn’t expect anyone to get the Bat right.
When the trailers finally started running on TV and all the merch tie ins with fast food and MTV, I started feeling a lot better. On June 23rd, we were shopping in Oak Ridge and got lunch out, which was unusual for us, then we drove over to Oliver Springs. When we pulled into the parking lot of the movie theatre I had butterflies in my stomach. Our parents were taking us to see Batman. We almost never went to the movies, at least not as a whole family. This was nuts. The place was mobbed and I was stressing out that the movie would sell out and we’d miss it, but we got in!
The last time I could remember being so thoroughly engrossed in a movie was when I got to see Empire Strikes Back. Keaton and Jack Nicholson delivered as Batman and Joker respectively. Burton created a Gotham I could believe in. The tone was a happy medium between DKR and the 60’s TV show. And there were moments that were downright disturbing. You couldn’t tell me this movie wasn’t perfect, it was.
I look back at the film now the same way I see the 60s version. It’s silly and fun. Burton directed his ass off and it’s probably his best movie, next to his sequel, Batman Returns. I see a lot of missed opportunities and I wish there had been more reverence for the comic, but Burton didn’t grow up on the comics and we could have gotten a lot worse (of course we could have gotten a lot better too. Sam Raimi tried to get the Batman gig before losing out to Burton, but that gave us Darkman, so ok.)