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Batman - The Movie (1966) (Special Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 21 August 2001

Batman The Movie: Special Edition (1966)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG
starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin
release year: 1966
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: English Stereo, English Mono, French Mono
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Before we get started, it’s probably a good idea to clarify exactly which "Batman: The Movie" is under discussion, because – "Holy plethora!", as Robin might say – there sure are a lot of them out there. For the record, this isn’t the Tim Burton version starring Michael Keaton, nor is it any of the recent animated renditions. This is instead the tie-in version to the 1960s TV series, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his sidekick, the Boy Wonder.

Anybody with vague childhood memories of the old "Batman" show can be excused for groaning and eye-rolling – because if you’ve only ever seen this as a kid, either in first run or on Nickelodeon repeats, there’s something crucial you’ll have missed the first time around. Most people remember that "Batman" was funny because it was completely absurd. What’s not obvious is that the silliness – the straight-faced earnestness with dialogue that could have come straight from Monty Python (who were, in fact, doing the same thing in smaller doses on the other side of the Atlantic during the same time period), the impossibly fake-looking props and sets, the punches that never connected –is perfectly deliberate. If "Batman" seems ridiculous, that’s exactly what its makers had in mind. Strange as it sounds (what the heck, the "Batman" folks risked sounding a lot stranger), on viewing with an adult’s mindset, "Batman" turns out to be hilarious on purpose.

"Batman: The Movie" has the distinction of being one of the few films based on a TV show made while the series was still in production (the only other live-action example that comes to mind is "The X-Files"). As West and Ward explain in the audio commentary, the "Batman" movie was originally intended to precede the series altogether, but wound up being shot during their first hiatus as a tool for selling the TV edition overseas. The feature version differs from the TV edition not only in length but in splurging on four guest villains simultaneously. The premise of Lorenzo Semple, Jr.’s script is that the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) and the Joker (Cesar Romero) have teamed up in a bid to take over the world, armed with a penguin-shaped submarine (watch for the little paddling flippers in back), a crew of pirates and a completely hare-brained scheme. The quartet are in mortal fear of having their plans foiled by Batman and Robin. Luckily for the baddies, Batman is oblivious to the fact that Miss Kitka, the Russian journalist he’s sweet on in his secret identity as Bruce Wayne, is really Catwoman minus her mask. Of course, Catwoman and her cohorts can’t figure out who Batman is, even though she spends a lot of time with Bruce. Director Leslie H. Martinson achieves precisely the right tone with the screwy goings-on, letting the guest actors munch on the scenery without ever letting any one gag overstay its welcome. ("Saturday Night Live" could sorely use someone like this.)

The sound on the DVD is two-channel stereo that for the most part has been mastered extremely well, although once in awhile there’s a volume drop (a noticeable example comes in Chapter 24). The film also features music and arrangements by famed band master Nelson Riddle, who contributes some authentically snazzy jazz in Chapter 6. Chapter 13 features a slightly quaint but vintage-sounding rendition of Jacques Brel’s "Plaisir de Amour" by a female vocalist that is supposedly being sung by an onscreen chanteuse but seems instead to be sourced on an old LP. Fans of this style of French balladry may wish to check out this section. Overall, the sound quality is very respectable for a restoration job on a 35-year-old movie and the print is handsome, with nice bright colors on the vivid clothing. The back projection on numerous effects shots looks washed-out, but probably no more so than it did in the original theatrical release. The optical folks have done their homework – there are virtually no matte lines to be seen.

West and Ward deliver an amiable commentary track that is present in both speakers. The mix on this is a bit ambivalent – volume is way down when either of the actors is talking, but the soundtrack doesn’t rise substantially in the relatively long stretches when the two men both pause to collect their thoughts. The "Batman" featurette consists of onscreen interviews with West (who looks surprisingly similar to his younger self) and Ward (who has changed more noticeably), interspersed with clips from the film. For automobile fans, there’s also a featurette all about the Batmobile with the car’s designer and builder Bob Barris, plus stills from both the film and from West’s private collection.

The humor of "Batman" is full of straight-faced sight gags (these would include the performances of the good guys) like a dented shark that attacks Batman in midair, clings to his leg for long minutes and doesn’t even leave a run in the big guy’s tights. The dialogue has surreal flourishes that probably would make the likes of Eric Idle and Michael McKean smile. When the Riddler skywrites, "What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?", our heroes mull over this important clue. "A sparrow with a machine gun!" Robin deduces. This is, of course, the right answer. This is "Spinal Tap" for the superhero genre, "Monty Python and the Holy Batmobile." It is, in short, a total hoot. "Batman: The Movie" was ahead of its time but that’s the beauty of DVD – you can watch it now and finally get the joke.

more details
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentary Track with Actors Adam West and Burt Ward; New Featurette; Batmobile Featurette with Batmobile Designer/Builder Bob Barris; Two Stills Galleries; Theatrical Trailer and Teaser; Chapter Search; English Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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