Release year: 1989
Director: Tim Burton
Screenwriter: Bob Kane (characters), Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Best Art Direction. 1 Golden Globe nomination: Best Actor Comedy/Musical (Jack Nicholson).
The Dark Knight of Gotham City, Batman (Michael Keaton), fights the crime in a city controlled by Crime boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). But during a run-in with Grissom right-hand man Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), he accidentally helps create his first arch enemy: The Joker.
Tim Burton’s take on the Batman character was the first installment in Warner Bros’s Batman franchise and only the third feature film directed by the now acclaimed director. Fresh on the success of Beetlejuice (1988), Burton created a visually gloomy Gotham city for Batman to roam in, to such a degree that the movie almost becomes a triumph of production design over story. The look was more mature than in previously Batman adaption, much to the pleasure of adult fans of the comic, that were excited to see one of DC’s finest looking as cool as he does here. Bringing life to the antihero is Keaton (Birdman, 2014) giving a dramatic performance of the closed up Wayne opposite the boundless lunacy of The Joker. Nicholson’s (Chinatown, 1974) portrayal of the freakish villain has become one of the actor’s most famous roles and even though he plays it over-the-top, and with a sheer delight making it evident how much he enjoys himself, it works considering the lunatic he plays. With his large personality helping create a colourful bad guy, Nicholson threatens to steal just about every scene he is in, but somehow the more quiet Keaton manages to hold his own. The movie also sports great supports of the veteran Palance (Young Guns, 1988), a charming Wuhl (Good Morning Vietnam, 1987) and Williams (Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes, 1980) while Gough (Sleepy Hollow, 1999) makes Alfred just the way you feel he should be. The only trouble is the casting of Basinger (L.A. Confidential, 1997), an otherwise fine actress, she fails to convince as a damsel in distress, with her loud and shrill screams annoys and disturbs more than bringing anything to the story. With the strong performances from Keaton and Nicholson, this most of all becomes a tale of the rising of these two, freaks in each their way, and a battle between them, making everything else in the movie matter less. This is still a fine take on The Dark Knight and Keaton remains one of the best Batman.
Michael Keaton, who called himself a “logic freak”, was concerned that Batman’s secret identity would in reality be fairly easy to uncover, and discussed ideas with Tim Burton to better disguise the character, including the use of contact lenses. Ultimately, Keaton decided to perform Batman’s voice at a lower register than when he was portraying Bruce Wayne. This technique became a staple of future Batman films, Christian Bale’s performance as The Dark Knight an excellent example.
Picture copyrights: Warner Home Video