BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!



Wednesday, July 27, 2005

“Welcome back Batman!“ I’m sure that was the thought of many a Batman fan this summer worldwide.

The BATMAN movie series had lay dormant for eight years. Not since 1997’s BATMAN AND ROBIN had the character been seen in theaters around the world. Left for dead after that abomination of a film, fans of The Dark Knight have been waiting for years for his return to the big screen. Finally this summer - the “Summer of The Bat” - he returned triumphantly to theaters in the form of Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS.

Most Bat-fans absolutely loved the film. Across the board it seems, fans have given BEGINS a resounding “A.” Very few Batman fans were disappointed in Mr. Nolan’s effort. In fact, many - including this author - find this film to be the best and most faithful adaptation of the character yet on film. Critics loved it as well. On the ROTTEN TOMATOES website, the movie received an 83% “Fresh Tomato” rating among critics and 94% amongst fans. Roger Ebert, arguably one of the most famous and respected critics in the U.S., gave BATMAN BEGINS 4 stars - the highest of his rankings. Sure, there were some major critics who disliked it, but that was to be expected.

At the box office, the film is a success as well - despite criticism among some fans about the manner in which it was marketed. As of this writing, BATMAN BEGINS has amassed a total of $191.1 million domestic since it opened a little more than a month ago. It is a given that it is going to pass the $200 million mark. BEGINS has what is known as “legs.” The drop from one day or one week to the next has been minimal. I assume that Warner Bros. said “let’s not shove this film down people’s throats.” Which was a smart move - stay low-key with the ghost of BATMAN AND ROBIN haunting the franchise. They banked on the exceptional quality of the film to generate positive word of mouth and the “gamble” worked.

We all knew that Batman fans were going to show up to see it - multiple times. But would the “Average Joe” show up? Would they care? Almost unprecedented, a movie series was starting over - a “reboot” if you will - only eight years after the final installment of the last series. Frankly, this did concern me. So this past spring, I began asking various people - the non-Bat fan - what they thought about the new BATMAN movie.

“There’s a BATMAN film coming out,” asked Beth - a bartender at BUFFALO WILD WINGS in Houston, Texas - when I asked her what she thought about the new BATMAN film. This was probably a sentiment that many people had a few months ago. The “Average Joe” just did not follow BATMAN BEGINS like Batman fans did - something virtually incomprehensible to followers of The Caped Crusader.

I approached several other member’s of the BUFFALO WILD WINGS staff about BATMAN BEGINS and I got almost identical answers to my questions:

Tell me what you know about BATMAN BEGINS.
“Not much.”

There’s a new BATMAN film coming out in June. Interested?
“Yeah, I guess. It’s Batman, you know. You go see it.

This was the response I got from almost every “Average Joe” I talked to about the film - except for the BWW bartender Brian, who was well aware of the movie and the fact that Christian Bale was in the lead role.

Once I told people about it, it seemed as if their awareness of BEGINS increased exponentially. “After I talked to you,” said Steph - another BWW staff member - “I’m seeing the ads all the time. It looks really cool. They had just gotten too ‘goofy‘ for me.” Same thing from Trey - another BWW bartender - as well as damn near every non-Batman fan I talked with last spring. “None of them seemed ‘real’ to me. Too unrealitic” says Chris C. from Groves, Texas. “’Mr. Mom’ as ‘Batman?’ I just couldn’t see it back then.”

So, what did they think once they actually saw it?” Brian says “Muy Bueno! It was just what I wanted from a BAT MAN film and what I would expect. Awesome!” Both Beth and Steph “loved” BATMAN BEGINS and couldn’t wait to tell me just that. “I finally got why this ‘rich guy’ became Batman. I can’t wait for the sequel!”

“I liked it, a lot” said Chris C. from Groves. “I told everyone I work with to go see it. Damn good movie.” Trey had a rather humorous anecdote. “It ran longer than I thought, and my girlfriend had to go to work,” he told me. “I told her to take my keys and I’d find a way home - I was going to watch the ending! Best ‘super hero’ film I’ve ever seen.”

Everywhere I went during June and July, I gave people my card and asked them these same questions. Almost to a man and woman, they all told me they liked BATMAN BEGINS. “Bring on the sequel,” I was told in person and in emails. “I want to see The Joker!”

Overwhelmingly, the “Average Joe” informed me that “it was nothing like I expected.” And they meant that in a positive way. Make no mistake, there was indeed out there an element of “ANOTHER one?”

Of course the Bat-fans chimed in as well via email. They told me about the packed theaters found at various times of the day all over the U.S. and world. They informed me of the clapping at the end, and how people walked out talking about how much they liked it.

So what of the “lack” of promotion, as many fans complain about? “Yeah, it was real low-key,” Steph told me. “I was so sick of those FANTASTIC 4 ads. I told everyone how good BATMAN was and they went to see it.” Brian - who really liked F4 - had an interesting perspective. “It [BEGINS] was under-marketed,” he says. “But that was the right way to do it - especially after I saw it. I told everyone they had to see it.” As for F4, “I liked it, but it was way too ‘in your face’ - those f***ing NBA ads,” said Brian. “I can see how that would have turned people off.”

Now, I’m not bashing the “Fantastic Four” or the movie here. I saw it and thought “meh;” but, my kids liked it and I enjoyed watching it with them. On the other hand, they also like BATMAN AND ROBIN. Get the picture?

So despite the so-called lack of advertising, BATMAN BEGINS continued to bring people into the theater, and is an unabashed hit. And bank on the postitive word of mouth carrying over to the DVD sales and rentals this fall. Many people will see it for the first time on DVD, perhaps bringing even more people to the theater for the sequel.

There were no fast food tie-ins. You didn’t see Batman everywhere you went. There were toys and merchandise, but they were subtlety marketed. “Bat-mania” c. 1989? None to speak of. Yet this was still “The Summer of The Bat.”

Why you ask? Because for the first time on the big screen for everyone to see, The Batman was done right. He was treated with respect. The reasons why he became and IS The Batman was explained in a thorough and excellent manner. He was not put into a bizarre, alternate universe, nor was he found in an über-neon, Vegas-style Gotham. This Batman - for all intents and purposes - exists in our world.

And most important, he was the star of his own damn film. The Batman of BATMAN BEGINS played second fiddle to no one. And that’s the way it should always be.

No bat-nipples. No camp. No black-goo sprewing villains. No lack of respect. Just Batman.

As stated previously, BATMAN BEGINS was a huge gamble. Yet it was a gamble that will ultimately pay off huge dividends. Some dividends have already been paid - one hell of a BATMAN film was delivered to theaters. The series is now on solid ground and in the hands of a talented group of filmmakers. The future for the franchise is as bright as it has ever been, and we can all look forward to the celluloid adventures of The Dark Knight for years to come.

“Welcome back Batman!”

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

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