Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Watcher Retrospective - Batman vs. The Dark Knight

Much like in the pages of Grant Morrison’s latest epic ‘Batman Incorporated’, the Dark Knight is going global - filling comic shops shelves throughout the world with no less than six regular titles not to mention numerous spin-offs and a show stealing turn in DC’s summer event, ‘Flashpoint’. With an eagerly anticipated third chapter in Christopher Nolan’s blockbusting film trilogy coming soon, Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation has never been hotter. Like a gazillion others, I helped fill the multiplex (twice) for ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008) and look forward to next year’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ with eager anticipation... or do I?

During a post-Christmas Batman drought, I found myself enthralled by another Caped Crusader. I admit, the sight of ‘Batman: The Movie (Special Edition)’ (1966) starring the original Dynamic Duo of Adam West and Burt Ward, had me stupidly excited. Had I gone mad? Despite being an avid viewer in my youth, the ‘Batman’ TV series (1966) was at best the subject of mockery and at worst, a complete Bat-astrophe, the cause of many Frank Miller/Tim Burton worshipping fanboys’ collective exasperation.

Consider the character’s dark origins. A man witnesses his parents’ murder at the age of ten and embarks on an obsessive quest to inflict justice on the criminal underworld, dressed as a bat, with only a teenage acrobat and an English butler for help. Okay, it could sound pretty silly. But still, ABC’s Sixties interpretation was sillier. A camp, colourful romp, laced with innuendo and two grown men in satin shorts who really should have known better, fighting crime with an array of ridiculous gadgets (Shark Repellent Bat-Spray anyone?) and all the athletic ability of Morecombe & Wise. Holy Travesty Batman! What were they thinking?

A true product of the Sixties, the series has an eye catching look, sharing the same primary colour palette as many genre shows of the day, the overall style somewhere between ‘Star Trek’ (1966) and ‘The Avengers’ (1961). The costumes, gadgets and set were all equally as colourful as the performances, which included a rogues’ gallery that seemed determined to out-silly each other on a weekly basis, while still staying true to the original characters.

The editing, while oft-derided as silly, is also part of the fun. As Batman and Robin lay into the villains the screen fills with pop arty sound effects such as ‘Biff!!’, ‘Zonk!’, ‘Kapow!!’ in true comic book style. The spinning scene cuts are a cool touch too, and the cliff hangers - "same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!" clearly influenced the work of current Bat-writer Grant Morrison. ‘Batman’ was colourful, harmless, family fun, but there were plenty of winks to the adults, the knowing humour predating Austin Powers by thirty years.

If nothing else, it also boasts a ridiculously catchy theme tune, which once heard, buries itself deep in your subconscious to the point where you can’t even hold a conversation without a constant "Nana nana nana nana BATMAN!" running through your head. I have to admit I was slightly miffed that the movie, produced after the first season, didn’t feature this intro, or several of the key stylistic touches mentioned above.

But we still have the iconic central duo of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin. As the movie commentary and documentaries reveal, the two had plenty of fun during filming. West taps into the potential silliness of the character, while still owning Christian Bale in the suave, sophisticated stakes. His delivery as Bruce Wayne/Batman plays like a mash up of William Shatner and Sean Connery on acid, and Ward plays it admirably straight, with an earnest fist shake and a patented ‘Holy Batman!’ for every occasion.

I do love Christopher Nolan’s bold, sweeping take on the Batman Saga. The themes of terrorism, organised crime and urban decay definitely reflect the times we live in. But Christian Bale, tense and dynamic as you may be, why so serious? You’re freakin’ Batman, not Vito Corleone! So please dude, forgive me if the next time I need a hero to brighten these dark days, I go with West - the original and best.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe knows that some days you just can't get rid of a bomb

1 comment:

  1. I miss Robin. I've always loved Nolan's movies. I cant wait for the new batman movie, the dark Knight rises coming out in theaters next week. I'm looking forward to seeing it.