BATMAN ON FILM, 'The Dark Knight Fansite!' Est. 1998.

INTERVIEW

AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL USLAN - Part 3
DATE: November 13, 2005
Author: "Jett"


Michael Uslan

© Copyright 2005 William E. Ramey. All rights reserved.

In June of 1989, Michael Uslan’s goal of producing a dark and serious Batman film was realized in the form of the Tim Burton directed BATMAN. As we know, the success spawned three direct - sort of - Bat-sequels over the next eight years: BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN FOREVER (1995), and the infamous BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997).

When the dust settled after BATMAN AND ROBIN‘s premiere in 1997, it looked to be the end of the BATMAN movie franchise.

Years passed. BATMAN TRIUMPHANT, BATMAN BEYOND, YEAR ONE, and other potential Bat-films came and went.

Then came along a man named Christopher Nolan...

BATMAN RETURNS
JETT SAYS: How did you feel about BATMAN RETURNS? Personally, I didn’t like it - it just wasn’t “Batman” to me. Among fans, it is quite divisive - they either love it or hate it.

MU: The second BATMAN film was - in my estimation - the Batman of the 1990s. Almost souless, very dark, almost vampiric.

I LOVED the Catwoman material. Loved it. Great, just great.

I remember reading an earlier draft from the one that was shot, and then when the movie came out wondering, “Doesn’t anyone wonder WHY Christopher Walken is in this film? Who is this guy and what’s he doing here?” Well, in an earlier draft it is explained that he - Max Schreck - was The Penguin’s normal brother. I was surprised that that wasn’t in there. There were some really interesting things in that movie. The best part for me was Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.

JETT SAYS: What about BATMAN FOREVER?

MU: BATMAN FOREVER, no question about it was the Dick Sprang, Batman and Robin, 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.

BATMAN FOREVER

JETT: How disappointed were you in BATMAN AND ROBIN?

MU: [Laughs, HARD]. Let me think. [long pause] That character has been interpreted so utterly different over the years. In tone. In terms of story content. In terms of the look and the style [of Batman] - totally different.

BATMAN AND ROBIN

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.

One of the lessons that’s finally been learned by Hollywood - and I think it’s been learned. I won’t swear to it, but I hope it has - There’s no point in doing a “comic book movie,” if you are going to ignore decades of history and mythology and create something out of a whole new cloth just for the sake of creating something out of whole new cloth. I think if you continue to treat the characters with respect and integrity - and I’m not saying you can’t change things. Like Tim [Burton] said, it is a different medium. I would say the same thing applied to CONSTANTINE - English accent and blonde hair - as would to Batman’s square jaw and Michael Keaton. But what you don’t do is ignore the history and mythology. Because if you do, you are insulting every fan that ever existed.

JETT: Did the fans play any role in influencing what ultimately became BATMAN BEGINS?

MU: Absolutely. Because ultimately, they have a vote at the box office. And that’s critically important. Ben [Melniker] said to me at the time of BATMAN AND ROBIN- when I was ready to jump off, uh [laughs], never mind. He said, “Good news and bad news. It [the BATMAN movie franchise] got bit on the butt. But maybe because of that, you’ll get the BATMAN movie you’ve been clamoring for all these years. It got bit on the butt, but not hard enough to kill it.”

JETT: That’s funny because I’ve said many times on BOF that [laughs] BATMAN AND ROBIN is BATMAN BEGINS‘ “Daddy.”

MU: [Summerizing the "Burton/Schumacher" films] For as long as I can remember, people come up to me and say, “Who is going to play Batman in the next movie?” And my answer to them it that they are asking me the wrong question, because [who is going to play Batman] is irrelevant. And they’ll say, “What do you mean?” The real question is “Who is going to play Bruce Wayne?”

If you go over all the movies, the Batman stuff is similar. It’s that “Voice.” [ laughs] It’s his fighting moves - which are largely the same. There have now been four actors whose interpretations of Bruce Wayne couldn’t have been more different. And that’s why who is going to play Bruce Wayne is the critical question.

In BATMAN, we had a driven, intense - almost psychotic Bruce Wayne [in Michael Keaton]. When Val Kilmer came along, we had an aloof, mysterious, dark Bruce Wayne. I can only compare it to when I saw Frank Langella on Broadway as Dracula in the 70s. His performance as Dracula romanticized the role, and Val’s performance reminded me a bit of that. [Kilmer was] a completely different Bruce Wayne [than Keaton]. George Clooney was warm and fuzzy - the boy next door.

And now you have Christian Bale. Christian on every account, is the ultimate interpretation of Bruce Wayne. I don’t care what generation you grew up in. I don’t care if you are talking about Bruce Wayne or Batman. I don’t care if you are talking about the young emerging Bruce or - as we move along with these next movies - the evolution into an urban legend. This guy [Christian Bale] has everything.

And under the direction of Chris Nolan, I just don’t believe it can get any better.

(Right - Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in BATMAN BEGINS.)


One of the evidences of the genius of Chris Nolan is the presentation of “super villains” in an understated way, instead of over the top. So what does that mean? It means that what he accomplished is - a guy like The Scarecrow. He is threatening. I mean REALLY threatening. And plausible. Not only that, but by making the villains understated, for the first time since the first movie - maybe for the first time ever - Chris made Batman the most interesting character in the movie. And that’s breakthrough. That’s critical, and that’s breakthrough.

BATMAN BEGINS is the best Batman movie. BATMAN and BATMAN BEGINS are the two movies I consider the bookends of my career. It's [BATMAN BEGINS] actually the movie I wanted to make after the first one [BATMAN]. After I saw it [BATMAN BEGINS] for the first time I turned to my wife and said I could retire now! [laughs] It was certaily worth the wait. Between BATMAN in 1989 and BATMAN BEGINS, I've reached all my career goals.

JETT: Were you shocked - if I can use that term - that the general movie audience seemed to be surprised at just how good BATMAN BEGINS actually was?

MU: You got to put credit where credit is due. And the credit goes on the arms, shoulders, and legs of Chris Nolan. This guy is a genius.

I think we had two geniuses on the first film - Tim Burton and [the late] Anton Furst, my dear, dear friend who is no longer with us. But what Chris has accomplished is that he has elevated the comic book movie to a new, higher, platform. It is at the highest place it has ever been.


Chris Nolan

Why? Well,what has shocked people [about BATMAN BEGINS] and what brought people to the theater that would never go to see a “comic book movie,” is that it is simply a great film. It’s got a wonderful character arc. It is a character driven, plot intensive movie. It’s a great story. It has important themes. It is plausible. It’s resonates. Not just the directing, but the acting performances are superb. A cast like this has never been assembled for a comic book film before. In so many ways this raises the bar.

JETT: What did you think about the marketing for BEGINS? I thought it was fantastic - to go with the low-key approach and let the movie sell itself.

MU: Sure. Yeah I agree totally. I think it was marketed extremely well. This is a movie that a lot of people are going to see for the first time on DVD - and they already are. Have you seen the sales figures? They are astronomical. And that’s important because one thing that BATMAN BEGINS had to do was win back an audience who had been disappointed years ago by that “last thing.” I think there were some people who said, “I’m not going.” And then word of mouth, the incredible reviews, [brought people into theaters]. And now on DVD. All of this plus [a TV run] in the future. You had the theatrical run, the IMAX run - where it set IMAX records - all of this combined, by the time of the next one, the audience is just going to grow huge. Even bigger [than BATMAN BEGINS].


JETT: I agree totally. I've been beating that drum on BOF - that the sequel is going to be HUGE!

Besides the obvious people like Nolan and Goyer, who should be given credit for BEGINS?

MU: [Credit should go] not to just Chris [Nolan] and David Goyer, but also to the most recent management at Warner Bros. - Alan Horn and Jeff Robinov. Paul Levitz at DC Comics - nobody knows how hard he’s worked behind the scenes in the best interests of Batman and other DC properties. This has not been a one person effort.

I think it is just tremendous that Warners “got it.” And Paul [Levitiz] pushed it. And that this came to pass. And finally we - and I say “we” meaning I’m speaking with my comic book fan hat on now - got the [Batman] movie we all wanted. I as producer got the movie I wanted since after the first film [BATMAN (1989)]. And everybody is happy with the results artistically and financially. And that’s a great, great thing.

JETT: Can BATMAN be like the Bond series in terms of longevity from now on? I mean, I see a lot of similarities in Bond and Batman in that regard - I think that the BATMAN series is one that can last as long as Bond has.

MU: Well there is one big difference. Bond never had the incredible depth of villains - those great colorful villains. And that will sustain. Just look at the great stories, the great characters that have came out over the years. And if you look at just the “A-List” of Batman villains, and even the “B+” list - and even what may come in the future - this will sustain the BATMAN series for years and years to come.


"Take this guy...Has a taste for the theatrical like you. Leaves a calling card."

Now with this reboot, we’ve seen Ra’s Al Ghul. We’ve seen The Scarecrow. But we’ve yet to see The Joker or Two-Face or Man-Bat or Catwoman or The Penguin or - Bill, it just goes on and on and on. So yeah, it can. As long as these [BATMAN films] are made with great character driven, plot intensive stories. Because that’s what defines Batman. And it will be an on-going success. There are still 65-plus years of Batman stories to be told.

NEXT: Mr. Uslan talks about why "Kid Friendly" super hero films shouldn't be ignored, the future of comic book movies, and what he is currently working on for all of us to enjoy.

GO TO PART 4

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