BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!
HISTORY OF THE BATMAN

“Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.
So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.
I must be a creature of the night.
Black. Terrible.
I shall become A BAT!”
--
Bruce Wayne, DETECTIVE COMICS #33 (November 1939)

"BATMAN 5"
Author: Jett

(EDITOR’S NOTE: While we aspire to be historically as accurate as possible, rumor is used at times when it is of historical significance. There also may be an element of the author’s opinion found at times in these articles.)

Before BATMAN AND ROBIN hit theaters in June of 1997, the fifth Batman film was already in the works. Written by Mark Protosovich, BATMAN TRIUMPHANT was rumored to feature The Scarecrow as the main villain and include The Joker as a gas-induced hallucination. Protosovich eventually confirmed the Scarecrow and Joker rumors and revealed that Harley Quinn was in the film as well – she would be the daughter (not “Alicia” from the first film as rumored) of the “Jack Napier Joke’r from BATMAN ’89.

TRIUMPHANT was to be directed by Joel Schumacher and allegedly planned a return to the darker Batman seen in various degrees in the first three films.

But thanks to BATMAN AND ROBIN, TRIUMPHANT was shelved practically before B&R finished its run in theaters. It must be noted that the TRIUMPHANT script has been locked away in a Warner Bros. vault securely for years, and has not made its way onto the internet – not even a script review exists. As a result, there is very little detail of what this film had to offer. The general consensus from those who have read the script (or parts of it) is that it was sort of a cross between BATMAN ’89 and BATMAN FOREVER. In addition, it was definitely to be set in the Burton/Schumacher continuity.

Even though TRUMPHANT was canned, Warner Brothers actively sought out and developed BATMAN projects over the next several years. The question however, was whether or not the studio would finally “get it” when it came to Batman. Obviously, BATMAN AND ROBIN was a huge wake-up call for the Warners -- but were they now gun shy? Would they ever pull the trigger on another BATMAN film, or would they euthanize the franchise once and for all? Let’s now take a look at the path to BATMAN BEGINS.

One of the first projects rumored was an adaptation of Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. It was reported that Clint Eastwood had been approached to play an aged Batman, which actually would have been pretty good casting if this film had panned out. No director was ever attached to the project (that I know of) nor did a script ever emerge online, so the validity of this whole thing can be questioned. Also at various times, Michael Keaton was rumored to be either “interested” or in the mix for a “DKR” Batman outing. As we obviously know, this project never happened.

One last thing in regards to a DKR film -- director Darren Aronofsky once said that he was interested in doing a film based on Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel. He went as far as saying that he wanted the aforementioned Clint Eastwood as the elder Bruce Wayne as wanted for film it in Tokyo!

Sometime in early 1998, director Joel Schumacher pitched his idea to the Warner Brothers brass for the next Batman film. Schumacher was rumored to have suggested a prequel based on BATMAN: YEAR ONE – the four part story arch by Frank Miller in BATMAN comic books from the mid 1980s. Now considered a classic, YEAR ONE told the story of Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham after a long, globe-trotting absence. Of course the first appearance of “The Batman” soon follows. At the same time, Jim Gordon arrives in Gotham from Chicago and soon finds himself as the only honest cop in town. Eventually, the vigilante and the detective forge a “friendship” based on a mutual goal: to rid Gotham of the crime that has overtaken it.

While Joel Schumacher can be given credit for bringing the prequel/”YEAR ONE” idea to Warners, he would not be the one to develop it. Instead, the studio turned to a younger, less experienced director and the author of the YEAR ONE comicbook: Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller.

It has been whispered that Aronofsky got the gig because the head of WB at that time – Lorenzo Di Bonaventura – had enjoyed the young director’s work in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Nonetheless, it was somewhat of an inspired choice at the time (c. 1998), and it looked as if this project would actually make it to the big screen. However, YEAR ONE languished in “development hell” for years – in fact, it was still in the mix – allegedly – as late as 2002.

Very little details of this project became public while Aronofsky and Miller were actively involved, and the info that did leak was very vague. YEAR ONE “…will have an urban, guerilla flavor [to it],” Aronofsky was quoted describing the film. The project was also said to have a very 70’s-ish, urban crime drama element to it – much like THE FRENCH CONNECTION. Actors rumored for the role of Batman included Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, Brenden Fraiser, and some young unknown actor named Christian Bale.

By 2002, it became clear that WB had no intention of greenlighting the Aronofsky/Miller YEAR ONE. Recently, a review of the script has made it online (see next paragraph), while the story of the project was depicted in the book TALES FROM DEVELOPMENT HELL. And one can see why the studio didn’t go with this film.

In YEAR ONE, as with the established Batman mythos, Bruce Wayne’s pare rents were murdered in front of him as a child. But Bruce – instead of going back to Wayne Manor to be raised by Alfred – wanders lost on the streets eventually to be taken in by “Big Al,“ owner of an auto mechanic shop across the street from a brothel in a seedy part of Gotham. There he grows up raised by “Little Al” (who serves as the “Alfred” character) watching the pimps, prostitutes, petty street criminals overtake his area of town. The young Wayne grows mad as hell – almost dementedly angry – and swears to do something about it. He eventually takes on the guise of a bat, and “The Bat-Man” as he is called, wages war on the criminal element of Gotham. While there are parts of the comic book YEAR ONE in this adaptation, quite a bit of it was changed.

Like the comic book, Jim Gordon is portrayed as the one good cop in the corrupt GPD. But he is written as a depressed individual with suicidal thoughts. Also like the comic book story, D.A. Harvey Dent is believed to be the vigilante known as “The Bat-Man.” Selina Kyle is in the mix as well, written much as the character appears in Miller’s YEAR ONE .

In the end, Bruce is found to be the heir of the Wayne estate and accepts his destiny – as the billionaire Bruce Wayne we know from the comics, and also as The Bat-Man.

Although many Bat-fans would love a hard-core, R-rated, Batman film, one must understand why Warner Brothers did not go with the Aronofsky/Miller YEAR ONE project. One, the thing was just too small scale for a BATMAN film. Frankly, you want BATMAN to be a blockbuster and an “event.” Also, there would be no way to market merchandise and toys around such a violent, R-rated film. Finally, YEAR ONE just strayed too far from the core Batman mythos and Warner Brothers must have realized that – perhaps that was the bottom line with YEAR ONE. An R-rated, smaller-scale, BATMAN film may not have appealed to the general movie audience - and with the Bat-franchise at risk, it was not a chance worth taking.

In 2002, a new BATMAN film was nearly produced -- and a new SUPERMAN film as well.

Together.

BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN - written by Andrew Kevin Walker and to be directed by Wolfgang Petersen – evidently was given the greenlight by Warners, and then quickly went into turnaournd. In other words, it was canned. The project got as far as casting with word that Jude Law had been chosen to portray Superman and Colin Farrell nabbing the role of The Dark Knight. Director Wolfgang Petersen made all sorts of comments on the project that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online.

Actually, there was talk of a BATMAN/SUPERMAN team-up film for a while. Rumors in 1999 had it that Richard Donner (director of SUPREMAN: THE MOVIE) was the first to bring the idea of such film to Warner Bros. Scuttlebut had Daniel Day-Lewis and Mel Gipson was Kent and Wayne. Nothing panned out of course, but obviously the idea for such a film lingered.

It seems that when debating the course the Superman and Batman movie franchises would take, two opposing factions arose at Warner Bros. One side favored the BvS film, while the other wanted to reboot both with origin stories.

The latter group won out.

Thusly we got BATMAN BEGINS in 2005 - which was an origin film and a reboot as well. And of course we‘re getting SUPERMAN RETURNS in 2006 - a quasi-sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN films.

When asked, many of the Warner higher-ups say that they are still interested in doing BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN in the future. But whether this film actually makes it to the big screen is another animal all together. This might not have been a bad film, but the timing was off. The screenplay – set in the continuity of the previous Bat and Supes films – starts out with a Batman who seems to have shaken all the demons in his life -- in fact Bruce Wayne has given up the mantle of the Bat. On the other hand, we find a Clark Kent/Superman down on his luck and in despair. However, a tragedy in Wayne’s life forces him to become The Batman yet again and embark on a “suicide mission” of revenge against an old and believed dead arch nemesis -- The Joker.. This destructive path that The Batman takes leads to a huge confrontation and battle against The Man of Steel. The two heroes eventually discover that they have been being manipulated by the man who is really behind all of this madness -- Lex Luthor. Predictably, they join forces to take down this classic Superman villain who is the true culprit.

In late 1999 or early 2000, Warner Bros. hired Paul Dini and company – the group behind the popular animated Batman series‘ of the 1990s -- to work on a Bat-film project. They were asked not to develop a film based on the “classic” Batman, but an adaptation of their BATMAN BEYOND animated television series.

The film would be much like the TV show – an aged Bruce Wayne takes on a young protégé named Terry McGinnis as the new Batman. While a script has never became public, the project had a director attached in Boaz Yakin (REMEMBER THE TITANS). Possible casting as the geriatric Bruce Wayne included Clint Eastwood and even Micheal Keaton! But that is about as far as it got. Obviously, Warner Brothers passed on this futuristic take on the Batman mythos and the specific details of what Dini and company had in store are still unknown.

Sometime during their MATRIX run, Warner Brothers allegedly asked the Wachowski Brothers to develop a BATMAN project. BOF was told that they declined.

Josh Whedon of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER made an official pitch to the studio to helm a Bat-film around the latter part of 2002. Whedon came up with an origin story that he says he liked very much, but met with complete silence when presented to the Warner Bros. brass. Says Whedon, "I came up with an idea that I really loved, which was an origin story. After I finished pitching it, they looked at me like I was a video fishbowl."

Then, a young British director entered the picture. A guy who had helmed the critically acclaimed cult classic MEMENTO, as well as the more mainstream thriller INSOMNIA.

His name: Christopher Nolan.

NEXT: BATMAN BEGINS

"Jett" is the editor-in-chief of BATMAN ON FILM and BATMAN IN COMICS.

RESOURCES

1. Reinhart, Mark S. THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY.
2. "Darren Aronofsky," WIKIPEDIA.COM, accessed on January 1st thru 30th, 2006.
3. Ramey, William E. BATMAN ON FILM (website).
4. INTERNET MOVIE DATABASE, accessed on January 27th - 30th, 2006.
6. "Special Features" on the BATMAN BEGINS DVD
7. "BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN," WIKIPEDIA.COM, accessed on January 1st thru 30th, 2006.
8. "BATMAN TRIUMPHANT," WIKIPEDIA.COM, accessed on January 1st thru 30th, 2006.
9. "BATMAN 5: WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT CAME TO BE," by Bill Ramey, BATMAN ON FILM.

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