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Episode 1730 Talkback - Batman (1989) Retro Movie Review

Beginning a series of balcony discussions of geeky and geek-adjacent films released before CGS came into being, we take you deep into the dark and twisting alleyways of Tim Burton's Gotham for a long, hard look at the definitive superhero movie of the late '80s: Batman! The Geeks (including, from out of the shadows... MATT!) shine the Bat-signal on the controversial leading men, the pomo-noir visual/set design and directorial vision, the savvy screenplay, and the soundtrack that combined to ignite worldwide Batmania thirty years ago. (1:27:01)

Listen here.


  • i_am_scifii_am_scifi Posts: 637


  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,398
    I know I'm in the minority, but I’ve never cared for Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker. The only thing about the movie I disliked more was the stiffness of the Batsuit and the stiffness of Basinger’s acting. Loved Gotham City, loved the music score, loved Gough as Alfred, really liked Keaton as Bruce Wayne, and the rest was... fine, I guess. As far as theatrical releases, it's #4 on the Batman film list, and it barely makes the top ten on my Tim Burton film list. And that's mostly down to Nicholson. Enjoyed the episode anyway!
  • MattMatt Posts: 4,409
    edited April 2019

    You know there’s an issue to extend an episode time length when they pull me off the scrap heap! Haha. Enjoyed joining the crew for some retro movie talk. Is it too soon to suggest the next one be for Hero At Large?!

  • VertighostVertighost Posts: 327
    @Matt , I LOOOOVE Hero At Large! I second that vote! Although I don't know if many people are familiar with it.
  • Mark_EngblomMark_Engblom Posts: 343
    edited April 2019
    The Retro Movie Review is a fun new feature. I vaguely recall that CGS did a Superman: The Movie retro review episode many years back (and perhaps others I'm not aware of), but glad to see you've officially incorporated the retro review into your repertoire. Good to (kinda) hear Matt again...but please, buddy...speak up a little bit! You're a tough guy to hear.

    I think the most fascinating thing about this episode was hearing how people at different ages originally perceived the movie, from very young children all the way up to young adults. I myself was in my early 20's and vividly recall all the controversy surrounding Keaton's casting (my Bat-fan buddy was nearly apoplectic), the building hype, and the pop cultural earthquake in its wake.

    My own retro review, broken down into my five favorite and five least favorite aspects of Batman:

    Favorite stuff:

    1. Jack Nickolson's Joker - No performance before or since has so perfectly nailed my own personal ideal for the classic villain (though I suspect Joaquin Phoenix may change that). Seeing the Joker on screen for the first time was one of those rare "Holy Shit!" moments as a comic book fan when you see a character literally come to life before your eyes. It's happened only a handful of times for me, and this was definitely one of them. As the perfect hybrid of many eras' Jokers (spooky, wacky & psychotic), Nicholson did, indeed "work the suit" (which, according to an anecdote told by Keaton, was the tip ol' Jack gave him for his Batman role).

    2. Danny Elfman's score - Before I realized Elfman had a pretty small bag of tricks (so much of his soundtrack work sounds the same), his Batman score perfectly set the tone between old fashioned Saturday afternoon serial and the monolithic weight of a Universal Horror movie. From moody to bombastic, spooky to swashbuckling, Elfman covered all the bases in fine form.

    3. Gotham City - As much as I love Superman: The Movie, its scenes shot in late 70's New York always diminish some of the magic. Even when I watched the movie for the first time IN the late 70's, I didn't like the drab, tacky NYC stuff. Comic book movies should ideally transcend specific eras as much as possible, and that's exactly what Burton and production designer Anton Furst's Gotham did. Both of a time and timeless, its dark and decaying streets made it perfectly believable that a Bat-Man would haunt its rooftops.

    4. The Toys - I'm not sure which vehicle I loved the most: The Batmobile or the Batwing. On one hand, you've got the Art Deco-meets-H.R. Giger beast of a Batmobile that makes it clear Batman's mission is one of total urban warfare. On the other hand, the Batwing's deadly elegance elevated Batman's traditional comic book aircraft to an entirely new and instantly iconic level. Okay, I still can't (and won't) decide.

    5. The Tim Burton Factor - Although his ability to tell a coherent and satisfying story has always been touch and go, Burton's instincts for bizarre yet strangely beautiful visuals can't be disputed...and Batman is a textbook example of his iconoclastic sensibilities. Humor mixed with horror, spectacle intertwined with a surprising minimalism, all set against ghastly backdrops and a parade of weirdos.

    Least Favorite Stuff:

    1. Michael Keaton: Though I was never a frothing-at-the-mouth hater of the Keaton casting, I just never bought him as either Batman or Bruce Wayne. As Bruce, he's too small and quirky. As Batman, he's literally buried under rubber, latex facial enhancements (like the fake chin), the bee-stung lips, and the silly voice modifier. He wasn't so much a creature of the night as he was a car tire in human form.

    2. Kim Bassinger and Robert Wuhl: Bassinger had zero chemistry with almost anyone in her vicinity ....especially the scenery-chewing tyrannosaurus of Nicholson's Joker. Damsel in Distress....nothing more. Wuhl's flat-out goofy presence (his corny acting as well his boyish face) took me right out of the movie every time he appeared.

    3. The Fight Scenes: For a character known as a crime fighter, there was precious little in the way of actual fighting. I've always preferred a physically ruthless and tactically brilliant Batman over one that's just flipping switches on a dashboard...but Hollywood can never seem to get enough of the switch-flipper...which all started here, unfortunately. Granted, it's tough staging convincing fights with a guy who can't even turn his head, but more definitely could've (and should've) been done.

    4. Wayne Manor Idiocy: I can't decide which scene was more annoying: The revelation that Bruce Wayne sleeps upside-down like an actual bat, or Alfred bringing a virtual stranger into the Batcave and blowing Bruce's secret for....reasons I can't fathom. Whatever the case, Wayne Manor is a weird (not in a good way) place.

    5. The Bat Ass-Kicking - During the climactic battle in the cathedral's belfry, Batman gets his ass handed to him by...the Joker? No. A whole gang of weapon-wielding killers? NO! Just a random guy we've never seen before swinging a chain! Ultimately, the guy gets tossed to his death like the rest of the gang, but until then, his humiliating gutter-stomp of Batman is one of my least favorite moments in Batman movie history.

    Thanks again, guys.
  • i_am_scifii_am_scifi Posts: 637
    edited April 2019

    And lo, by pure coincidence, a release in theaters is upon us in May!

  • DARDAR Posts: 1,123
    Great episode gentlemen.

    I was 15 that summer. It was the first and only film that I’ve seen every day in its opening weekend. And probably saw it twice after. (Side note Back to the Future is my overall theatrical record).

    But I just remembered being wowed by the whole thing.

    It’s probably by third favorite of the all the Batman films.

    Couple of side notes

    1. There was talk about why Returns made less money. Looking at the box office most sequels back then weren’t as successful as their originals, SW-ESB, Raiders-Temple, Ghostbusters-II. Not sure why.

    2. I agree wholeheartedly that the Schumacher films are bad. But there was a box set released about 10 years ago where he basically came out and apologized for Batman and Robin.

  • MattMatt Posts: 4,409

    I remember that box set & his apology. When I upgraded my collection to blu-Ray, I stuck with just the Burton ones.

    Raimi’s Spider-man still holds the theatric record for me; 10 times during its theatric run. Still a great movie.

  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 6,398
    DAR said:

    Looking at the box office most sequels back then weren’t as successful as their originals, SW-ESB, Raiders-Temple, Ghostbusters-II. Not sure why.

    I think it's because numbered film sequels throughout the ’80s were by and large garbage. There were exceptions, of course, but people had learned to mistrust any movie with a “II” in its title.
  • BryanBryan Posts: 132
    Fun episode. I also loved this movie as a kid, but before this my only Batman exposure was Adam West. I was 11 at the time. Having read much more Batman since then and seeing (IMO) superior film takes on the character from Nolan, I have a tough time calling it a great Batman movie. I enjoy it, no doubt, but it doesn’t hold up on rewatch as well for me as it seems to for you guys.

    Anyone interested in a slightly more critical viewing should check out Kevin Smith & Marc Bernardin’s “commentary tracks” they did on the Fatman on Batman podcast a few years ago. They clearly have a soft spot for this flick and what it meant to Batman fans at the time, but they pull no punches about the issues it has. Maybe don’t listen if this is your favorite Batman movie of all time.
  • matchkitJOHNmatchkitJOHN Posts: 1,030
    Loved this episode. Looking forward to more Batman and other retro reviews.
  • luckymustardluckymustard Posts: 927
    In the theater, I watched Batman two days ago, Saturday, and will be seeing Batman Returns tonight. I teared up at the end on Saturday.
    I just started listening to this episode. Maybe you say at the end, but will there be a Batman Returns episode?
  • MattMatt Posts: 4,409
    edited May 2019

    Spoiler alert for the end; none slated at this point. We did mention Batman Returns several times in the recording, though.

  • hauberkhauberk Posts: 1,402
    Been listening a bit out of order on episodes recently and just got to this one. Love the idea of the retro reviews! A few thoughts:

    @i_am_scifi : You commented about the difference in box office between Batman and Batman Returns. I can only speak about personal experience. I was in college for both. I'm pretty sure that I saw Batman at least 4 times in the theater and still bought the movie when it came out on VHS. Returns I saw once - I'm pretty sure that I haven't even sat down to watch it on TV since. For me, it had no repeat draw to watch it again beyond the cityscapes. While I'm only one person, the same was true for most of my group of friends. Collectively, one viewing and a sigh of dissatisfaction which resulted in a loss of 1/2-3/4 of the box office from my circle of friends.

    @Adam_Murdough: Thanks for bringing up the sets and cityscapes. The city design for both movies was done by Anton Furst, who won an Academy Award for his work on Batman. Furst's work was also seen in the Destroyer three-issue arc that started in Batman 474 and went through Legends of the Dark Knight 27 and Detective Comics 641. Furst, unfortunately committed suicide in November of 1991 and so did not live to see his work published in those issues.
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