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

OPINION

"BATMAN AND ME"
Thursday, March 3, 2005
Author:
Jett

I had nothing to do with BATMAN BEGINS. I didn’t write the screenplay, nor am I the director. I didn’t produce, write the score, or hold a boom. I didn’t go anywhere near the set (BOF attended, more on that later) – though I was invited. But for some reason, I have this huge emotional attachment to this film. I desperately want it to succeed this summer for a variety of reasons.

I want it to be a success because I want to see Batman on film for a long time – I’m not interested in a one and done – I’d love to see a series with the longevity of Bond. I want it to succeed because I want all non-Batman fans to see how deep and great this character actually is. I also want BEGINS to be good for all of you – the Batman fans. No matter how you feel about the previous four films, none of them got it right. There has yet to be the “definitive” Batman film, and perhaps that is changed come June 2005.

Yes, I realize that he comes from comic books, but Batman is still one of the great characters of American fiction. He has endured for almost seventy years in various incarnations. I’m not going to argue with Christian Bale for calling Batman “American mythology,” because he is damn right. Now, with BATMAN BEGINS fast approaching, I’ve found myself looking back and reminiscing about my long “relationship” with The Caped Crusader. This is the story of Batman and me.

My very first memories of Batman come from the late 1960’s. Even at a very young age, this was the character I gravitated towards. I speculate it is because he was on TV. Born in 1965, I was around when the BATMAN TV show was at its peak of popularity. I don’t remember sitting and watching first-run episodes, but I know that I did. The show was in syndication not long after it finished its run in 1969, and I clearly remember watching it every afternoon after school by the time I was four and five years old. I loved the show and still do to this day. I even received a homemade Batman costume based on the Adam West Bat-suit when I was four years old. I have to laugh at myself when I think about how serious I took that show as a kid!

In fact, I can remember like it was yesterday when my Mom took me to a Beaumont, TX department store - a Woolco I believe - to see Burt Ward in person as Robin. Geez, that must have been around 1969, yet I remember it like it was just a few years ago. I even wore that costume you see that four year old kid wearing up there to the left. Yep that's me, c. 1969.

By the very early 70’s, I was reading the comics. I can recall riding my bicycle down to the neighborhood convenience store and buying BATMAN, DETECTIVE, and BRAVE AND THE BOLD comic books, which of course, all featured Batman. I remember thinking how different Batman was in these comics than he was on the TV show. He was, well, much darker – although I don’t believe I thought of it that way back then. In the comics, The Batman was only around at night, as opposed to running around in the middle of the day on TV. There was also no Robin in these comic books – Batman worked alone. Perhaps this is why I’ve always preferred a “Robin-less” Batman, as this was how he was portrayed in the comic books I cut my teeth on.

One Batman comic book that stands out in my memory was this big, oversized book with several stories within. There was a story from the 1940’s that included The Joker. There was a contemporary Adams/O’Neal Batman story that featured one of the very first – if not the first – appearance of Ra’s Al Ghul. What I remember the most was the inside back cover featured live-action shots of Batman from the 1940’s serials and the 60’s TV show. I recall being quite fascinated with these pictures for some reason – particularly the ones of the 1940’s Batman that I’d never seen. Perhaps this was the beginning of my interest of seeing Batman on film.

Come to think of it, I’ve always been engrossed with films that bring fictional characters to life, whether it be novels or comic books – especially the latter. Along with the 60’s BATMAN series, I loved the reruns of the old George Reeves Superman series. I watched the SPIDER-MAN TV show that appeared on CBS around 1977. I was a huge fan of THE INCREDIBLE HULK with Bill Bixby on CBS. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE with Christopher Reeve is still one of my all-time favorite films. And more recently, I’m a fan of SMALLVILLE and I really dug both SPIDER-MAN films. I must admit – now that I think about it – that this interest is definitely a reason that my Batman site has focused on the live-action depictions of the character. Even so, I loved the animated depictions of Batman that you found in the 70's - I was a huge fan of SUPERFRIENDS and even enjoyed Batman's "guest role" on SCOOBY DOO!

Throughout the 1970’s, I continued to collect and read Batman comic books. But by 1980, something happened to me that took me away from my childhood passion – high school.

You see, I was an athlete – part of a crowd in which it was “un-cool” to read comics. It was not nearly as mainstream back then as it is today. Batman wasn’t considered “cool” as the character is today. So for several years, I was a closet Batman fan. I didn’t buy comic books any longer, but I would still read them off the rack at the mall or supermarket when I found them. And I would watch a bit of the old TV show if I found it while channel surfing. I may have been a jock on the outside, but I was still a Batman geek on the inside. However, in 1989, I would come out of the closet – for good.

While on one of my secret comic book reading visits at a local mall, I discovered that a new live-action Batman film was in the works. This took place around mid-1988 and I was still in college. Skimming through a comic book related magazine, I read that Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton were cast as The Joker and Batman respectively in BATMAN - due summer 1989. As I detailed in my BATMAN ’89 retrospective, the first thing that crossed my mind was “Michael Keaton as Batman? WTF?!” I recall distinctively thinking that this must be a remake of the 60’s TV show – it HAD to be if Keaton was going to play Batman. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked Keaton. I had been a fan of his since NIGHTSHIFT and had seen most of his films. But I just couldn’t envision him as The Dark Knight. I liked the TV show and all, but I felt disappointed that they weren’t going to do a “serious” Batman film. I sort of shrugged my shoulders, filed this info away, and went about my daily business.

My perception of this film changed in early 1989 when I finally saw a picture of Keaton in costume. Again, as I write about in detail in the retrospective, I was like, “Wow! That’s Keaton?!” My anticipation for this film began to build as summer 1989 approached. But I was also able to allow my inner Batman geek to emerge because it was now “cool” to dig Batman! Bat-mania was in full swing during the spring of 1989 and everyone was a Batman fan by now!

The film BATMAN made me a rededicated Batman fan. It got me back into the comic book shops and actually buying them – not just reading them off the rack. I have been a public Bat-fan every since.

The 1990’s were pretty good time for Batman fans. There were three sequels to the 1989 BATMAN between 1992 and 1997. I’m not going to rehash my take on each of these three films (see the BAT-MOVIES SECTION), but they at least kept the character in the public eye. The 90’s also brought about two animated series to television – both of extremely high quality. In fact, many view these as the best adaptation of the comic book yet.

As for me, I continued being an active Batman fan - I read the comics, watched the animated show, and viewed the movies. I even went as Batman – ala BATMAN FOREVER - to two Halloween parties in ’95 and ’96. I had kids – which now total three – to whom I passed on my Batman obsession.

In 1997 something happened that would change my relationship with Batman forever – although I didn’t know it at the time. The debacle that is BATMAN AND ROBIN hit theaters in June of that year. While I found fault with all of the previous Batman films, this one was like a kick in the groin – Batman was now being made fun of on the big screen. The movie killed the already planned 4th sequel - BATMAN TRIUMPHANT - and the movie franchise would now lie dormant for the next eight years.

The thing that bothered me most about the “death” of the Batman franchise was that I believed that a film that really depicted the “true” Batman had yet to be made – the definitive Batman film, if you will. And now this crap that appeared on screen in 1997 would be the last glimpse of Batman on film for who knows how long. Was there anything anyone could do about it?

In June of 1998 – a year after BATMAN AND ROBIN was in theaters – I started a very small website that I called “JettD60’s BATMAN 5 Page.” At that time, there were actually several “Batman 5” sites to be found on the Net. I don’t believe that I actually thought I could “out do” those sites, I simply wanted to help generate a buzz for a new Batman film. And that to me was what having such as site was all about. Frankly, I thought that Batman movies were done. But I thought maybe, just maybe if we could keep the talk of a Batman film alive, perhaps we would see Batman on film again.

Over the last seven years that I’ve run BATMAN ON FILM - which is what I renamed the site in 2000 – I reported on every Batman movie rumor imaginable. Hell, you know ‘em all as many of y’all have been with me from the beginning. I became discouraged many times as well and thought about shutting the site down (I even did that briefly). But as the other sites began to fade away, BOF became the last man standing. I began to feel this huge responsibility to continue on – people were relying on BOF to say “Hey, we do WANT another Batman film, and we want it done right!”

Maybe they listened to us.

In 2003 it was announced that a new Batman film was in the works and that director Christopher Nolan would helm this project. While I was a bit leery of this actually coming to fruition – hey, I had become a bit cynical about a new Bat-film – something just seemed different about this project. The whispers and buzz about it was quite different than it had been previously. Like when we had heard about the Aronofsky YEAR ONE, the Dini BATMAN BEYOND, the Petersen BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN, or any of the rumored Bat-projects over the years.

It sounded like this one was going to get done.

It was like BOOM! David Goyer was announced to write the screenplay, sets were being built in the UK, and then Bale was cast as The Batman! Bale – a guy who was by far the fan favorite for the role! After all those years, a new Batman movie was actually going to get made. And quite possibly, the one we have been campaigning for all these years – the definitive Batman film.

In July of 2004 I was at the gym getting in a workout when my cell phone rang. I noticed the area code on the caller ID was “212,” which is New York. “Who in the hell would be calling me from NYC?” I thought to myself. I answered with the voice on the other end saying “Hi. Are you the guy that runs Batman on film?” “Yes,” I responding while I thought “WTF?” “Good. This is Warner Brothers and we are arranging a BATMAN BEGINS set visit in London and we would like for you to attend.” I was dumbfounded. Me? A guy who started this website on a little ‘ol WebTV – this basically one-man operation – is getting invited to the set of the new Batman film.

Unbelievable.

Of course I accepted although I would ultimately have to send a proxy (My friend and UK Bat-fan Paul J. Wares, who did a hell of a job on the BOF SET REPORTS). It was a huge honor to be invited by Warner Brothers, no doubt. But it was an honor that I accepted on behalf of all Batman fans. As author Mark S. Reinhart (THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY) pointed out, the fact that WB thought enough to invite BATMAN ON FILM, validates all Batman fans.

That to me, is what BATMAN BEGINS is all about – validation. I’m not naďve enough to believe that the Warner Brothers brass sat down and said, “Let’s make a Batman movie just for the fans! To hell with making money!” And I’m under no delusion that BATMAN BEGINS was made because BOF wanted a new Bat-film. However, there is no doubt that the desires of Batman fans – what they wanted in a Batman film – were taken into account this time. Because – in my humble opinion – what the fans want will make for a good Batman film. You stay close to the source material, don’t stray far from the Bat-mythos, and treat “him” with respect. Do that, you’ve got a good film most every time.

As I said, even though I didn’t physically make BATMAN BEGINS, I do have a vested interest in the film. I have followed this project every step of the way since 1998. I voiced my own personal opinion of what the next Bat-film should aspire to be. I’ve allowed others to do as well through op-ed pieces, commentary, and the message forum. I lobbied for not only a new Batman film, but a good one as well. This is what BATMAN ON FILM has been – and is – all about.

Like I mentioned earlier, the pending arrival of BATMAN BEGINS has got me thinking back on my life as a Batman fan. I’ve talked about me introduction to the Caped Crusader via the old TV show. I’ve reminisced of my introduction to the comic books as a young child. I recalled on the days when I hid the fact that I was a Batman geek, and the revival of my adulation of the character when BATMAN hit theaters in 1989. I also recounted the birth of BATMAN ON FILM and the reason that I continue with it.

So what’s next? For one thing, I’ll always be a Batman fan because he's just a great and interesting character, and I look forward to seeing how he evolves in his various forms in the future.

There is just something very appealing about this regular guy - who is a billionaire of course - that wears a kick-ass black costume and beats the hell out of criminals at night. One that doesn’t have any super powers. One that uses detection, skill, deception, and psychology to be the supreme crime fighter that is The Batman. He’s just really cool – and I believe that is why he is attractive to people of all ages. This is why I dug him when I was four, and I still do now at (almost) fourty. And I've passed my Bat-tourch on to another generation as all my kids - particularly my two boys - are huge fans as well.

And what about BATMAN ON FILM? Well, I have a huge emotional attachment to it as well. Even though I've thought about it many times over the years, I'll never quit the website - this is my way of being a "Batman producer." I mean, I'm never going to write or draw a Batman comic book, and I doubt I'm taking over for Chris Nolan when his Bat-director days are over. BOF is my Bat-thing and I love doing it. As long as you keep reading I'll keep BOF going - we have to make sure that there is nothing like BATMAN AND ROBIN ever again in the future, right?

"Jett" is the creator and editor-in-chief of BATMAN ON FILM and ON-FILM.NET.

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