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The Front Row View: Batman

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man.

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If you were breathing during the summer of 1989, you might have fond or not-so-fond memories of Batmania. Theaters, TV, radio, billboards, merchandising (the Internet hadn’t yet reared it’s Batshadow)—you couldn’t get away from it. A pleasant surprise that the resulting movie turned out to be well worth the hype. Tim Burton’s 1989 spectacle Batman still remains a splendid comic book noir (and it looks great on Blu-ray). Everyone knew before they even walked into the theater that Jack Nicholson was born to play the Joker, but Michael Keaton silenced the naysayers with his low-key and thoughtful performance. Bruce Wayne’s romance with Vicki Vale is a tad on the dull side, but it’s redeemed somewhat by Kim Basinger’s appealing presence. Robert Wuhl, Michael Gough and, all-too-briefly, Jack Palance offer memorable support. What carries much of it, though, is Burton’s inspired direction. The cinematography, art direction and editing all combine to make the Dark Knight’s Gotham City come alive with blocks of corroded buildings shooting up into filthy skies. Everything is decayed and cankered. Burton’s production team keeps it from looking too depressing through a glorious palette of blacks, whites and purples (there are wonderful deep pockets of shadow throughout). It’s all held together by Danny Elfman’s dynamic score. The hype machine ensured that Batman would make a ton of money, but Burton and Co. decided to push their passions to make it an artistic triumph as well. Be sure to check out Burton’s underrated 1992 sequel, Batman Returns, but avoid like the Batplague Joel Schumacher’s 1995 Batman Forever and 1997 Batman and Robin. I’m less of a fan than most of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (except for Heath Ledger’s Joker and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, I felt that the series drained the fun out of it), but at least it restored dignity to the character.

-Jim

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