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)

"The Burton/Schumacher Series," Part 2
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.)

The second sequel to BATMAN -- 1995’s BATMAN FOREVER -- is as much a cause of debate among Bat-fans as RETURNS and seems to be a love it (or perhaps “like it”) or hate it Bat-film as well.

Joel Schumacher was hired by Warner Bros. after Tim Burton departed to develop the third BATMAN film for the studio. The mandate was to make the franchise more “mainstream friendly” and lighten the tone up a bit. The screenplay was written by Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler, and the couple was later joined by scribe Akiva Goldsman.

Another big change was that the lead role was recast. Michael Keaton decided not to continue playing The Dark Knight (Keaton was not a fan of the new approach being taken) and the role was filled by the younger Val Kilmer (TOMBSTONE, THE DOORS). Stability was provided by the return of Michael Gough as Alfred and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon.

Bruce Wayne would have a new love interest yet again, this time in police psychiatrist Dr. Chase Meridian. Rene Russo was originally cast in the role (when Keaton was still attached), but she was replaced by Nicole Kidman who seemed to be a better match age-wise for Kilmer.

FOREVER continued the multiple villains angle by having Batman square off against Two Face and The Riddler. Tommy Lee Jones was cast as Gotham’s former district attorney gone bad (This was a bit of recasting as well, since the part of Harvey Dent had been played by Billy Dee Williams in BATMAN), while Jim Carrey was picked to portray Edwad Nigman, aka The Riddler.

For the character of Robin, the third time was the charm as The Batman’s partner would finally make his way onscreen in this series. Chris O’Donnell was cast in the role and Robin would be an older version of the character. In fact, Batman and Robin in FOREVER would come across more as a team of brothers, rather than the father/son relationship as depicted in the comic books.

Not only was the third going to look much different from the previous two Bat-flicks, it was going to sound different as well -- music-wise that is. Elliot Goldenthal was brought in to do the music for the film. The Danny Elfman scored Batman theme used in the first two films was to be discarded altogether, and Goldenthal would provided brand new music for FOREVER.

FOREVER, like the previous two films, began filming in the fall of ‘94 and finished up in early ‘95. Like RETURNS, production for the third film took place at the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank.

BATMAN FOREVER opened nationwide on June 16, 1995. Reviews for the film were a mixed bag among critics. It scored “49% Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes, while their “Cream of the Crop” reviewers combined to score it “80% Fresh.” While Batman fans seemed to be split on FOREVER, mainstream audiences appeared to like it much better than RETURNS. Evidence of this can be found in the film’s box office, as FORVER took in a little more than $184 million ($21 million more than RETURNS and was considered a success by the studio.

According to Michael Uslan, FOREVER is the 40s and 50s Batman:

BATMAN FOREVER, no question about it was the Dick Sprang…Bill Finger-written stories of the 40s and 50s. Batman and Robin jumping across the keys of giant typewriters and having this amazing, grotesque rouges gallery of supervillains.”

While opinions of FOREVER are split, most on either side will agree that it is not a good film in general -- It’s a “popcorn movie.” On the other hand, one may argue that while RETURNS is a more creative and better film per se, it is a poor Batman movie. As I said in my review of BATMAN FOREVER:

“I’ll ask the same question of this film as I did of RETURNS - “Is FOREVER a good Batman film? My opinion is yes, it is. It is certainly not a great film in general, by no stretch of the imagination. It is not art – as one may argue its predecessor as being. But it is what it is: a good and successful “popcorn” Batman movie. It moved Batman away from the macabre weirdness of the bizarre RETURNS, and gave audiences a heroic, action-packed Batman that all could watch. While it is certainly not the ‘definitive’ Batman film, it may have offered a Batman that was closer to the comic books than any of the four Burton/Schumacher films.”

On the other hand, my esteemed colleague and friend Paul Wares had this to say:

“Of the previous series, BATMAN FOREVER was probably the biggest disappointment. Lot’s of people state that they find BATMAN AND ROBIN unbearable to watch, but for me FOREVER falls under that category just as much, if not more so…What a wasted opportunity! The film was shallow, bland, camp, soulless and even worse, irritating. Where was the complex psychology, the great performances from actors who can phone in great performances, where was the heart? I desperately tried to convince myself I liked it, but it was no use. In one deft move, Schumacher had killed the franchise for me.”

One last word about FOREVER that I think those on both sides of the argument will agree on...

The final cut of the film was not the movie originally intended. Not by the screenwriters and perhaps, just perhaps, not even by Joel Schumacher himself. At least a half hour of FOREVER was cut from the final film, leaving out a very important part of the movie -- The complete “Red Diary” storyline. Thus, we never found out why Bruce was to be "Batman forever." FOREVER could have offered the most in depth character analysis of Bruce Wayne of the "Burton/Schumacher" films. Sadly, all of this was cut (allegedly at the request of Warner Bros.) to make the film more “family friendly.” Even the opening of the film was rearranged for this same reason, removing Two Face’s “The Bat Must Die” escape from Arkham. To reiterate what Mr. Wares said, “What a waste.”

INTERESTING FOREVER NOTES

* Kilmer caught Schumacher’s eye when he watched TOMBSTONE. When Warner Bros. asked him if he had thought of anyone to take the role if Michael Keaton stepped down, he told them Val Kilmer.

* Kilmer was in an real bat cave (doing research for a script) when he was contacted about the role of Batman. He accepted without reading the script.

* Even though he was reluctant to do a second BATMAN, Tim Burton wanted to direct the third. He left when it became clear that Warner Bros. intended to make a change. He did do preliminary work on BATMAN 3 -- even meeting with the Batchlers -- until a new director was brought aboard.

* Robin Williams was seriously considered for the role of The Riddler. Rumor has it that he refuses because he was used as “bait” to get Jack Nicholson to accept the role of The Joker.

* Over a half hour of the film was cut that would have made the film darker and the plot more fluid. You would have found out what the title “Batman Forever” was all about.

* Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face is shown flipping a coin until he gets the desired outcome. The comic book character accepts the first result of his coin toss always.

* Bruce mentions the city of “Metropolis” to Dick, and Dick tells Bruce he may be called “Nightwing” -- references to the DC Comic universe.

* Both the Batman and Robin costumes had nipples.

* FOREVER was the first Bat-film in which Batman wore two different costumes.

* "Dr. Burton" in the film is in honor of Tim Burton.

* Robin's "Holey rusted metal Batman!" line was a nod to the 60s TV show.

* Elizabeth Sanders, who plays Gossip Gerty, is the widow of Bob Kane, the man who created the Batman character.

* The line "Or do I need skin tight vinyl and a whip", by Dr. Meridian to The Batman is a nod and reference to Catwoman in the previous film.

* Actors Kimberly Scott (Bruce's assistant) and Michael Paul Chan (a worker at Wayne Enterprises) came back for BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997), but in different roles, playing scientists at the Gotham Observatory. Joel Schumacher frequently uses them in his movies.

* It's rumored that Christian Bale was considered for the role of Robin. Bale went on to play The Batman in BATMAN BEGINS.

BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997)

The next film in the series went into preproduction almost immediately after FOREVER‘s theater run. Batman films traditionally were spaced out three years apart, but the turnaround would be much quicker this next time. BATMAN AND ROBIN would land in theaters just two years after FOREVER.

Joel Schumacher, like Tim Burton before him, would get the chance to direct a follow-up to his first BATMAN film. And also like Burton, Schumacher was criticized for going a overboard with his Bat-sequel.

It was announced in early 1996 that Arnold Schwarzenegger would portray Mr. Freeze in the film as B&R‘s “main villain.” Like RETURNS and FOREVER, the fourth film of this series would feature multiple villains as well. Joining Freeze would be Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Bane, a new, but popular character from the comics.

As for the heroes, Chris O’Donnell would return as Robin and Batgirl would be added to the mix with Alicia Silverstone nabbing the role. When it came to Batman, another actor would yet again don the cape and cowl. Val Kilmer was either fired by Joel Schumacher or quit -- depending on which side of the story you hear. Nonetheless, Kilmer was out and George Clooney was in. Clooney had recently rose to superstardom while appearing on the hit TV show ER, and on first look, seemed to be the most appropriate actor for the role to date from a looks standpoint. Clooney resembled the comic book Bruce Wayne more than his two predecessors.

Akiva Goldsman, who was a co-writer on FOREVER, wrote the script for B&R solo. Elliot Goldenthal returned to score the film with virtually the same music that was featured in FOREVER. In fact, almost all of the behind the camera talent from FOREVER -- such as production designer Barbara Ling and F/X supervisor Johan Dykstra -- returned.

Filming began in Burbank in the fall of 1996 and finished in early 1997. It looked to be another sure-fire hit for the BATMAN movie franchise.

Things began to go bad in the spring of ‘97 when the first trailers for the film ran in theaters. Where the first preview of BATMAN helped generate a positive buzz for that film in early ‘89, the exact opposite happened with B&R. The preview showed a head-bobbing Clooney saying “Hi Freeze, I’m Batman” in a rather goofy manner when first encountering Freeze. When Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl is presented, Clooney’s Batman tells her “Batgirl? That’s not very PC.” The whole thing just seemed “off.”

Perhaps the biggest damage done to the film other than the film itself was the first screening reports that showed up online. The internet had not been an issue with the three previous films, but it certainly had an effect on B&R. All reports that one could read online hammered the film.

And these reports held true when the film was released on June 20, 1997. BATMAN AND ROBIN was so campy, so goofy, so bad, and so “non-Batman,” that Batman fans were flat out in shock. The film didn’t fare any better among critics either, as B&R‘s overall score on the Rotten Tomatoes website is “13% Rotten” and “25% Rotten” among their “Cream of the Crop.”

Despite a fairly decent opening weekend, the box office numbers sunk like a rock. BATMAN AND ROBIN ended up making around $107 million domestically and combined with the overseas box office, it pulled in around $237 million. Based on that, it could be called a success, but everyone -- fans and the studio alike -- knew that wasn’t the case.

Executive Producer Michael Uslan, in a 2005 interview with BOF, was asked how disappointed he was with B&R:

“The 1960s Batman - ‘Pow, Zap, and Wham.’ Fortunately or unfortunately - fortunately for those who only know the 60s TV show - and unfortunately for you and me - BATMAN AND ROBIN was the Batman of the mid-60s.

Let me speak generally here...sometimes you get to the point - in my estimation - you’re not making movies, you’re making two hour infomercials for toys. And that’s sad. Because, if a filmmaker is allowed to just go out and make a great film, I believe you will sell toys anyway.”

The question that many ask regarding B&R is "How did this movie get the greenlight?!" I asked author Mark S. Reinhart his thoughts on that in my interview with him:

"I think that on paper, BATMAN AND ROBIN looked like it should have been a hit. You had huge actors like Clooney and Schwarzenegger signed on, you had most of the same creative team that put together BATMAN FOREVER, and you had decent characters such as Freeze, Ivy, Bane and Batgirl that had never appeared on the big screen before. Of course, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details - the combination of BATMAN AND ROBIN’s terrible script, ridiculous costuming, garish sets, uninspired direction, etc. made the film the into appalling dump heap that it is."

BATMAN AND ROBIN was long considered the death nail of the BATMAN film franchise.

Or was it?

The Batman would return to the big screen. It would take eight long years, but The Batman would return.

And oh, what a long and winding voyage it would be to get there.

INTERESTING B&R NOTES

* The Batman costume weighed 14.5 lbs -- the lightest of the first four films.

* The Batgirl costume weighed 12 lbs.

* The Robin costume weighed 14 lbs.

* Costumes were made of a new foam rubber material that made them lighter -- and tear very easily.

* The disease "MacGregor Syndrome" was named after producer Peter MacGregor Scott.

* When Batman pulls out his credit card, the expiration date reads "FOREVER."

* Director Joel Schumacher drew the Batman cowl over Clooney's face in an advertisement for From Dusk Till Dawn and it heled

* The Mr. Freeze costume wasn't as light as the Bat-costumes -- it weighed 75 lbs.

* Julia Roberts, Sharon Stone, and Demi Moore were all rumored for the part of Poison Ivy.

* It's rumored that Sylvester Stallone was considered for the role of Freeze. Patrick Stewart was a fan favorite.

* Pat Hingle and Michael Gough were the only two actors to appear in all four of the Burton/Schumacher Bat-films.

* Two future U.S. state governors appeared together in this film -- Schwarzenegger (California) and Jesse Ventura (Minnesota).

* BATMAN AND ROBIN is the only Bat-film to date that made this author ("Jett") walk out of the theater before it ended.

NEXT: The Long and Winding Road to
BATMAN BEGINS ("BATMAN 5")

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

RESOURCES

1. Daniels, Les. BATMAN: THE COMPLETE HISTORY.
2. Reinhart, Mark S. THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY.
3. Jimenez, Phil THE DC COMICS ENCYCLOPEDIA.
4. "BATMAN FOREVER (1995)," WIKIPEDIA.COM, accessed on January 1st thru 30th, 2006.
5. Ramey, William E. BATMAN ON FILM (website).
6. INTERNET MOVIE DATABASE, accessed on January 27th - 30th, 2006.
7. ROTTENTOMATOES.COM, accessed on January 1st - 30th, 2006.
8. Interview with Michael Uslan by William E. Ramey, BATMAN ON FILM.
9. "Shadows of The Bat" on the THE BATMAN ANTHOLOGY
10. "BATMAN AND ROBIN," WIKIPEDIA.COM, accessed January 1st through 30th, 2006.
11. Ramey, William E., "BATMAN FOREVER RETROSPECTIVE," BATMAN ON FILM.
12. Wares, Paul J., "BATMAN FOREVER RETROSPECTIVE," BATMAN ON FILM.

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