BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!

BOF INTERVIEW: MARK S. REINHART

VISIT THE BOF BATMAN BEGINS STORE!

Mark S. Reinhart is the author of "THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY," which examines in great detail and provides a critical analysis of the seven (prior to the upcoming BATMAN BEGINS) adventures of Batman, uh, on film. I recently had the chance to do a "Q&A" with Mr. Reinhart in which he talked about his book, the Burton/Schumacher BATMAN films, the internet "journalists," and BATMAN BEGINS.

Mark, thanks for answering a few questions for the BATMAN ON FILM audience. Tell us a little about yourself.

MR: I live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and three children. My first book "ABRAHAM LINCOLN ON SCREEN" was published in 1999. In addition to being a writer I am also a musician, and I work with several central-Ohio based bands. I also work part-time in the Media Services department of a central Ohio library. But my main job is being a stay at home dad!

So, how long have you been a Batman fan and what keeps you interested in The Dark Knight?

MR: Like so many Batman fans, I was first introduced to the character through the 1960ís ABC TV series "BATMAN" when I was a kid. Since that time, so many wonderful print and non-print versions of the character have been created that I just never lost interest in him. Think of all the great things the past 35 years or so have held for Batman the Adams/OíNeal comic stories, graphic novels like "THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS" and "THE KILLING JOKE," the 1989 BATMAN film, and all of the animated TV shows - how could a BATMAN fan NOT stay hooked?

Your history and background with The Batman sounds very familiar! Give us an overview of your book, "THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY."

MR: The book is a detailed examination of live-action BATMAN features that follows the characterís motion picture adventures, from his first appearances on the screen in 1940ís film serials, through the camp craze surrounding the 1966 television series, up to the Warner Bros. series of summer blockbusters that began with the 1989 BATMAN. Chapters on each of the seven feature-length BATMAN movies include extensive film and production credits, a production history, and a critical analysis of the movie relative to other BATMAN films and the original comic book character.

I must say that I enjoyed "THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY" immensely. What prompted you to write such a book?

MR: Because as strange as it may seem, out of all of the books written about BATMAN over the years, there has never been one that placed its sole focus on BATMAN live-action motion pictures. I thought a book that provided a substantial amount of information about all of the characterís live-action film adventures would be of interest to serious BATMAN fans. Also, I would be being less than honest if I didnít admit to you that I simply had a real desire to professionally publish a work about BATMAN. Obviously, DC Comics and Warner Brothers keep very tight reins on projects that involve the character - a person canít just walk into their front offices cold and say "Iíve got an idea for a Batman comic/movie/TV show, etc. Can I write it for you?" In doing this book, I got my chance to "work with the character," so to speak. The enjoyment Iíve found in writing this book is probably much the same way you have felt in creating BATMAN ON FILM. As fun as it is being a "Batman consumer," it is even more fun being a "Batman producer!" I should also mention that since this book was created independently of AOL Time Warner (the company that owns both DC Comics and Warner Brothers), my publisher was uncomfortable including photos in the book due to copyright concerns. I would have liked to include a still or two from each film, especially the 1940ís serials, but I understood McFarlandís position and agreed to see the book published as a text-only work. Besides, with the exception of the 1940ís serials, all BATMAN films are easily accessible on home video formats. Since all of us fans have SEEN these films (many of us repeatedly!) I figured that photos werenít really all that essential to appreciate the text of the book.

Is there a particular film that you are the most fond of? Which one do you think is the best? Perhaps rank the Burton/Schumacher films.

MR: By far my favorite BATMAN film to date is the 1989 BATMAN. In my opinion, it still stands as the best "serious" live-action depiction of the character. (However, I am hopeful that I will be changing that opinion when June 17 rolls around!) I rank the Burton/Schumacher films in this order:

1. BATMAN
2. BATMAN FOREVER
3. and 4. (tie) BATMAN RETURNS and BATMAN AND ROBIN (I dislike both RETURNS and B&R so much that I canít honestly say I like one more than the other.)

You were particularly critical of BATMAN RETURNS in your book (as I have been here at BOF). What's your major gripe(s) with the film?

MR: Whew, where to begin? In my opinion, the filmís Batman is so far removed from the traditional comic depiction of Batman that they hardly even resemble one another. RETURNSís Batman is a remorseless killer, pure and simple - and as far as Iím concerned, that depiction runs completely counter to what the Batman character has basically been about for decades. In the comics, Bruce Wayne became Batman to rise above the grief he felt upon losing his parents - he walked a fine line between justice and vengeance, but justice remained his primary motivation. In RETURNS, Batmanís motivation is exactly the opposite - he is every bit as much of a vengeful killer as the Penguin is. Also, so much of the filmís story simply makes no sense. Tim Burton seemed to construct the film by placing style over substance, and effect over logic, at every turn. In fact, RETURNS is so far removed from reality that at times it becomes almost impossible to follow. In my book, I had quite a bit of fun laying out all of the plot absurdities the film contained. Iíve got other gripes as well, but I guess it would be fair to say that these are my main ones.

I have been criticized by some Batman fans for being so harsh over the years on BATMAN RETURNS - although I do understand that it has a loyal following whom I respect. However, there is a segment of these fans that find it almost unbelievable that a "Batman fan" can dislike BATMAN RETURNS. My response is just because it is "dark," doesn't make it a "good" BATMAN film. What's your thought about that?

MR: Well, as I say in the book, obviously there is no "real" Batman, he is a fictional character -- so all of us have interpretations of him that are no more or less valid than anyone elseís [I agree totally--Jett]. But as for me personally, I have been a very close student of the characterís 60-plus year history -- and Batman as he is portrayed in BATMAN RETURNS is simply not the character as I understand and appreciate him.

Fans of BATMAN RETURNS will say "Batman killed in BATMAN (1989). And he had to know what would happen to Two-Face when he threw those coins his way in BATMAN FOREVER's climax (although it was suggested that he survived in BATMAN AND ROBIN). How do you respond to that?

MR: In the book, I took great pains to point out why I thought the character would have been more willing to kill in the 1989 BATMAN than he would have in BATMAN RETURNS. Rather than fumble around trying to rephrase thoughts that I have already taken the time to lay out in detail, please allow me to do a little cutting and pasting. What follows is a passage from the book dealing with this subject --

In fairness, it must be stated that the 1989 BATMAN also depicted Batman using lethal force on criminals, such as in the scenes where he destroys Axis Chemicals and he fires at the Joker from the Batwing. But these actions do not seem quite so out of character for Batman considering that the film takes place at the very beginning of the crimefighterís career - after all, in Kaneís first Batman stories of the late 1930ís, the character carried a gun and wasnít above using it from time to time. Also, Batmanís willingness to try to put an to end the Jokerís life in BATMAN makes sense because his hatred of the Joker is so personal, the Joker being the man who murdered his parents many years ago.

Whether one agrees with Batmanís use of lethal force in BATMAN or not, the fact remains that the comic book Batmanís resolve to see justice prevail over blind vengeance eventually led him to become completely opposed to killing. BATMAN RETURNS makes no attempt to honor this noble character trait. In the film, Batman is far enough down the road in his crimefighting career that he should be more of a hero than he was in BATMAN, not less. Instead, in BATMAN RETURNS we find him callously slaughtering human beings in ways that make him practically indistinguishable from the criminals he fights.

And in terms of Batman knowing that he would be sending Two-Face to his doom by throwing up that handful of coins, I don't really buy that point of view. I think that he threw the coins into the air to momentarily confuse Two-Face so that he could buy himself a second to try to disarm the criminal. (Remember, this trick was first used onscreen in the "BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES" episode "Two-Face Pt. 2") But from Batman's point of view, the trick ended up working TOO well when Two-face plunged off the girder after the coins.

I too think BATMAN FOREVER is a better "Batman" film than BATMAN RETURNS (I'm not saying it's great). The original script was better. What would have made it better film than what ultimately made it to the screen?

MR: Again, this was a subject I discussed at length in the book. All of the material in the script that dealt with Bruce struggling to move beyond the shadows of mindless violence and to find a way to stop blaming himself for his parent's murders was cut from the film. Had this material made it into the final version of BATMAN FOREVER, I think the film would have been a far more in-depth character study of Bruce Wayne/Batman than it turned out to be. Hopefully, a special edition of FOREVER restoring this material will someday be released, and the film will end up portraying Bruce/Batman in the more psychologically deep manner that its screenwriters originally intended.

In your opinion, why in the hell did Warner Bros. allow BATMAN AND ROBIN to be made?

MR: 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 (in my opinion a far better Batman movie than RETURNS was), 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 ROBINís terrible script, ridiculous costuming, garish sets, uninspired direction, etc. made the film the into appalling dump heap that it is. All of the filmís problems probably kind of snuck up on Warner Brothers much like all of BATMAN RETURNís problems did - in the case of both of these films, I think the studio believed their Batman franchise was in capable hands, so they didnít keep as close of an eye on the films as they should have while they were being made. Iím hopeful that Warner Brothers has finally learned its lesson, and from now on will trust the franchise to people who have a far better grasp on the character than Burton and Schumacher ever did - there seems to be every reason to believe this is the case, considering that the studio hired the likes of Nolan and Goyer to put together a film like BATMAN BEGINS.

After BATMAN AND ROBIN, Warner Bros. could have walked away from the BATMAN movie franchise. However, from 1997 to 2003 (when BATMAN BEGINS was greenlit), they actively worked on getting a new Bat-film on the big screen. Why did they do this (in your opinion)?

MR: Even with BATMAN AND ROBINís failure, I never found it surprising that Warner Brothers continued to work on developing a new BATMAN film. After all, AOL Time Warner owns the rights to the character - the fact that he was continually making so much money for them through comics, toys, clothing and TV cartoons would certainly have led them to the conclusion that their BATMAN film franchise could still be a very lucrative enterprise. The studio simply had to make films that were a whole lot better than BATMAN AND ROBIN was!

What's your take on BATMAN BEGINS, based on what you have seen, read, and heard about it?

MR: Oh, Iím just like you - I cannot wait for June 17 to get here! I think that at long last this might finally be the live-action film that delivers the characterization of Batman us fans have been waiting for. The 1989 BATMAN came close, but everything we are seeing and hearing about BATMAN BEGINS leads me to believe that it may well be the film to truly hit the bulls-eye. And Christian Bale looks like he is going to make a GREAT Batman. That said, however, I do have one small reservation about the film - I wish that Nolan and company had revamped the BEGINSís Batman costume back toward its more traditional comic appearance. I do not by any means hate the "black body armor" look of all of the Warner film Batman costumes - I just would have loved to have seen a live-action BATMAN film that was based on the characterís appearance in works like Millerís "BATMAN: YEAR ONE" or Dini and Rossís "BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME." I think in many ways, using such a costume would make a Batman film more realistic - since the character relies not on super powers but on his own human physical abilities, it would make sense that he would choose a lightweight costume that allowed him greater freedom of movement. I thought the independent short film BATMAN: DEAD END showed how well a Ross-inspired costume could work on the screen. But this reservation does not dampen my enthusiasm for BEGINS in the least, due to all of the great things we are seeing and hearing about the film.

Do you think Batman fans and the internet had any affect on what Warner Bros. did with the BATMAN movie frachise?

MR: Yes. I think that Warner Brothersís invitation to your site [BATMAN ON FILM] to visit the set of BEGINS is a direct indication of how much influence fans and the internet have had on the process of putting this new film together. Iíve said it before, but itís worth saying again - internet sites such as yours have had such a positive impact on Warner Brothers in terms of the direction they are now taking their BATMAN film series that all of us Batman fans owe you and your online colleagues a debt of gratitude.

What do you have in the works that you may want to tell us about?

Well, after Batman, I think Iím going back to Abraham Lincoln. Iíve talked to my publisher about doing a revised edition of "ABRAHAM LINCOLN ON SCREEN" to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Lincolnís birth, which is coming up in February 2009. And maybe somewhere down the road Iíll get to revise "THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY" to include BATMAN BEGINS and the sequels its success will inspire.

Mr. Reinhart, I must say that I'll be definately looking for that revised edition of THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY, as that would mean that BATMAN BEGINS is a huge smash! Thanks again Mark!

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