Blog Archives

New York Comic Con 2014

My seventh consecutive NY Comic Con experience…

The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?
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w/ Director John Schnepp and producer Holly Payne.

Bob’s Burgers
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w/ H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Merman, Kristen Schaal, & John Roberts.

Comic Book Men
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w/ Kevin Smith and the employees of the Secret Stash.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
NY TMNT
w/ Seth Green, Rob Paulsen, & Greg Cipes.

Birdman w/ Michael Keaton & Edward Norton
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Nerdist Chris Hardwick was the moderator of the panel.

Star Trek 50
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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the filming of the original Star Trek pilot.
On the panel was the beautiful Chase Masterson from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

American Dad! cast autographing
NY USA
Rachel MacFarlane, Wendy Schaal, Dee Bradley Baker, Mike Barker, & Scott Grimes.

*Bummed because 60 years of Godzilla filled up and I missed the Archer Q&A again!!!

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Batman: The Tim Burton Years

Batman '89

“Batman” (1989)
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier / The Joker,
Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale,
Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

Seeing Tim Burton’s “Batman” in the summer of 1989 while on vacation in Orlando, Florida is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. To this day, I don’t think that enough is said about just how clever the opening of this film is. A family, a boy and his parents, leave a theater and take a shortcut down an alley where they are accosted by two muggers. You immediately think “origin story,” but The Dark Knight is revealed to be watching this from a rooftop above. Nice.

Some say that this film does not stand the test of time. I will agree that the visuals have not aged well. This representation of Gotham City was created my mat paintings and miniatures, which were never meant to be viewed on an HD DVD or Blu-ray. The look of this film is reminiscent of a 1940s gangster movie. Pinstripe suits and tommy-guns. This was appropriate as Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 and I think this film holds up better than “Dick Tracy,” which was released in 1990 and had a similar blend of Depression Era comic strips and gangster flicks.

Tim Burton was criticized at the time for his decision to cast Michael Keaton, whom he had directed in “Beetlejuice,” as Bruce Wayne. Though not a physically imposing actor, Michael Keaton embodied the poignant and infuriated orphan aspects of Bruce Wayne’s psychosis, the manifestation of which is Gotham City’s embittered Dark Knight. Burton and Keaton choose to omit the playboy façade and presented Bruce Wayne as a recluse. I guess the only real drawback to such an approach was that it would not take too much deductive reasoning to realize that Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne WAS Batman if you were one of the few to share his company. Keaton, to the best of my knowledge, was also the originator of the “bat-voice.” Adam West, who I had the honor of seeing live with Burt Ward at New York Comic Con 2012, never differentiated between Bruce and Batman in his dialogue. Kevin Conroy, who I saw live at New York Comic Con in 2011 and 2012, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale have all taken cues from Michael Keaton. George Clooney harkened back to Adam West, but without much success.

Batman remains is the shadows for much of this film. Meanwhile, Jack the Joker chews up the scenery. I’m not sure if I’m calling him “Jack” because the character was named Jack Napier or if it’s because Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime seems like his true personality with the volume turned all the way up. In the comics, there is no definitive origin story for The Joker. A few had attempted to garner sympathy for the character while another established his past as the Red Hood, a less successful criminal persona. Screenwriter Sam Hamm simplified matters by having Jack Napier as second-in-command of the Gotham City mafia. His transformation into The Joker was more cosmetic since he already had this very anti-social personality. Having Joker as a Mafioso also justifies having an unlimited supply of henchmen (or soldiers). Something that is not easily explained with other comic book villains. 1-800-HENCHMEN? After Heath Ledger’s amazing turn as The Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” audiences now consider Jack Nicholson quaint by comparison. That’s not really fair since the tone of the films were completely different. Jack Nicholson was a mob boss Joker while Heath Ledger was a domestic terrorist Joker. That is two distinctly different interpretations of the same comic book character.

Comic book aficionados take umbrage with the final two scenes of the second act, which were not written by Sam Hamm. I too have problems with these scenes, but for different reasons. My grievances have little to do with any contradictions to the source material. First, a flashback reveals a young Jack Napier was the murderer of Bruce’s parents. A big departure from the comics, but since this film was my introduction to the Batman mythos, I accepted it at face value. My real issue is that the flashback comes out of nowhere. It wasn’t set up at all. Earlier, Bruce is skimming through Jack Napier’s wrap sheet and a mugshot of the young Napier is visible for just a moment. Extend that scene for a few more moments, have Bruce examine the photo, then inform Alfred that this Napier fella seems familiar. Something simple like that would have sufficed. Is it at all possible that Bruce was hallucinating that The Joker murdered his parents? Is he making himself believe that he heard the killer ask, “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon light?,” after hearing Joker speaks those words in Vicki Vale’s apartment? I’ve been told not to read too much into my theory as Tim Burton probably didn’t have anything that complex in mind.

Bruce then snaps out of his daze and discovers that Alfred has shown Vicki into the bat-cave. Many consider this to be an ultimate betrayal. No girls allowed in the bat-cave. I always found it curious that a pre-teen male acrobat wearing skintight booty shorts is permitted into the bat-cave, but not the vivacious Kim Basinger. My only issue with the scene is that Vicki and Bruce appear head over heels in love after only one date. A flaw common in many films.

Composer Danny Elfman’s score for this film is iconic. His opening title march rivals John William’s theme for “Superman: The Movie.” The Prince songs are a bit more polarizing. The general consensus is that his musical contributions date the movie. For the record, there are only three songs of his played in their entirety. A few seconds of “Bat-Dance” are heard in the background of the establishing shot of Gotham. Prince is not prominently featured until The Joker ransacks the art museum and again when the parade is in full swing. Tim Burton does acknowledge that Prince’s sound captured the essence of The Joker. A romantic ballad by Prince plays during the closing credits, but only after Danny Elfman’s march finishes. A variation of Danny Elfman’s work would be used as the theme to “Batman: The Animated Series.” Tim Burton’s “Batman” is not unlike other childhood favorites such as “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters.” A true product of the 1980s, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Batman Returns

“Batman Returns” (1992)
Directed by Tim Burton,
Starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne / Batman,
Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin,
Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle / Catwoman,
Christopher Walken as Max Shreck,
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon,
& Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth

I remember playing with “Batman Returns” toys which came with McDonald’s Happy Meals. At the time, I was unaware that this film was considered wildly inappropriate for someone my age. It didn’t dawn on me for years how bleak this movie actually is. Tim Burton, talented as he is, insured that Warner Brothers would never permit him to direct another Batman film. I mean, the opening sequence shows parents attempting to drown their baby at Christmas. Wow, that is dark.

Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, was not depicted as a crime boss with a nightclub, rather he was a vilely deranged circus freak, who had been discarded by his wealthy parents (Yes, that is Pee Wee Herman in a cameo as Oswald’s father). There were also liberties taken with Selina Kyle, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Instead of being a master thief, she was a mousy secretary, murdered by her boss and resurrected by alley cats. Her following nervous breakdown alone is worth the price of admission. I thought incorporating the supernatural was a nice touch, but comic book aficionados have condemned Tim Burton for tampering with these iconic characters.

The Penguin runs for office just as Burgess Meredith had done on the 1960s TV series, but Burgess Meredith was never as distasteful as Danny DeVito was in this movie. Tim Burton has an inclination of using stitches as a visual cue, but never as effectively as he did with Michelle Pfeiffer’s skintight leather Catwoman costume. I recall she described herself as “yummy.” A true femme fatale.

Christopher Walken portrayed Max Shreck, a character not in the comics, but who was the driving force of the story. I think most people know that he was named after the star of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” an unauthorized silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Max Shreck is Bruce Wayne’s rival in the boardroom, the man pulling the strings of The Penguin’s mayoral campaign, and he inadvertently creates Catwoman by pushing her out of a window. Apparently, Max Shreck took the place of Harvey Dent in the screenplay. Billy Dee Williams portrayed Gotham City‘s D.A. in the previous film and Tommy Lee Jones assumed the role of Two-Face in “Batman Forever,” but this film neglected to bridge the gap and show Harvey’s descent into villainy.

Robin, the boy wonder, was penciled in to appear this time around, but alas, he didn’t make the cut. The film was so cramped even without Robin that Michael Keaton, who receives top billing and plays the title character, had no more screentime than the other main characters. Batman and Catwoman did share a memorable “kiss.” I’m pretty sure that Michaels Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer were nominated for an MTV Movie Award for “Best Kiss,” but I can’t recall if they won and I refuse to look it up. This was the last time that Michael Keaton appeared as The Dark Knight. His departure was probably a combination of Tim Burton taking a backseat to Joel Schumacher on the next film and frustration over continuingly playing second fiddle to the villains.

I sometimes refer to “Batman Returns” as “The Nightmare Before Gotham” because the story takes place during the festive Christmas season. There is a macabre mood to this film without question, but there’s been too much griping about Batman taking lives in both Tim Burton movies. There was a body count, but it wasn’t cold blooded murder. I say it qualifies as abstract murder. The killing of a faceless enemy in the heat of battle. It’s not like Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne went all Frank Castle and was patrolling Gotham, wasting the bad guys with automatic weapons. The army of penguins were the most trigger happy characters in this movie, yet they were still compassionate enough to serve as the pallbearers for Oswald. Such a downbeat climax. Catwoman disappeared and it was hinted that she would return in a future sequel, but that never materialized. A Catwoman spin-off with Halle Berry was release in 2004 and it was atrociously bad.

Tim Burton’s unique style might not be everyone’s taste and some will argue that it just didn’t mesh with the Batman mythos, especially in this second outing, but he is an artist and unlike his immediate successor, cared more about the craft than monetary gain.