Seeking some undemanding entertainment the other night, I put on my DVD of 1966's Batman.
As bad as it is, it seems silly to attack this movie too strongly. It is, after all, a comedy. More than that, it's not even a movie. It was not meant to compete with, say, Torn Curtain. It's merely product, a brand extension, designed to increase the value of a television show.
The plot, such as it is, makes no sense and wanders all over the place. This shouldn't be a problem for a comedy (Horsefeathers has no plot whatsoever but is still pretty damn funny) but still it tests the patience of an intelligent viewer. The characterizations are loud, silly, grating, contradictory and unfaithful to the source material.
For those unaware of this unique cultural artifact, the plot goes like this: Catwoman, The Joker, The Penguin and The Riddler have conspired to kidnap Commodore Schmidlapp, who, in addition to running a distillery, is the the inventor of a gizmo that can instantly dehydrate people. The bad guys use the device to turn the
The tone veers from genial camp to bizarre, psychedelic comedy. Adam West, looking like the young Harrison Ford (or maybe Dennis Quaid) plays Batman with a keen edge of ironic seriousness. The villains suffer from the same problem as the heroes in Superfriends; they have no characters to play, only a clutch of symptoms. The Batman of Batman: The Movie is not one to brood in a cave between illegal bursts of vigilante activities; this Batman takes place entirely in broad daylight. Batman holds press conferences at police headquarters, trots down the street in crowded lunch-hour traffic and punches a shark while dangling from a ladder. Far from being the world's greatest detective, this Batman is an easily-fooled dolt who blunders from clue to clue, solving crimes almost by accident.
The climax of the movie, which involves Batman intoning a solemn prayer for peace and the future while holding a garden hose, is almost worth sitting through the rest of the movie.
This evening, my son Sam (5) found the DVD sitting out and asked to watch it. I warned him that it was not the Batman he's used to, that there would be no swell animation, that this Batman would not be grumpy and sullen, that he walks around in public in broad daylight, that the whole movie was kind of silly, but he was still game.
I remember when I was a kid taking Batman seriously, but that was a long time ago (I was exactly the same age as Sam is when it first came on TV). Sam has never shown interest in live-action versions of his favorite cartoon stars; the George Reeves Superman got a thumbs-down, and while he's curious about Superman Returns, he hasn't pushed to see it.
Tonight he was so caught up in Batman: The Movie that he needed company while watching it. Not to make sense of the plot (which is impossible anyway) but to verify the fact that it was actually happening. He was transported, stunned, horrified, confused (unsurprisingly), intrigued, and held in the grip of suffocating suspense.
While the tone of blithe camp escaped him (the dehydrated pirates were a source of genuine anxiety), he got the broader jokes, such as when Batman can't get rid of a large, round bomb on a crowded pier and pines "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!" or the Bat-copter crashing, fortuitously, atop a mountain of foam rubber. He asked if there were more Batman movies like this one. I said "Sam, there are, literally, dozens of Batman movies like this one," which delivered to his cerebral cortex a vision of heaven. (Why are those episodes not available on DVD? I assume a rights issue, as the characters are owned by WB and the series was produced by Fox.)
Sam disagrees with my assertion that the Joker does nothing ("No! He zaps those guys with the dehydrating gun!") but he does not approve of Cesar Romero at all. He totally bought the obviously-rubber exploding shark, and its cousin the non-exploding exploding octopus. He liked the penguin submarine and all the bat-machines. When asked what his favorite things in the movie were, he correctly answered "Catwoman and the Batmobile."
Mouths of babes.