The striking gold and black logo heralded a change. Long remembered through Adam West’s self-aware romp across sixties television, this was going to be very different. It was time for the mainstream to experience something unlike the familiar ‘boom’ and ‘kapow’. Batman ’89 was a phenomenon.
Through the lens of Tim Burton, with stunning design work by Anton Furst and costume design by Bob Ringwood, Gotham was an exaggerated and nightmarish version of America, with two outlandish characters at it’s centre.
Burton never seemed too interested in going deep into the characters; there aren’t the deep backstories and origins we’re provided with nowadays. He frames the battle of two madmen, who happened to have made one-another, and let’s it play out amidst a bevy of Prince songs. It’s not a thoughtful tale, instead it’s a whirlwind of light and dark, and it’s extremely entertaining.
There was only one problem with it… I was four at the time! Not being able to see it in the cinema did nothing to stop Batman ’89 becoming a seminal film for me. In fact I still have my duvet cover (thanks Mum). From the Batmobile, to Danny Elfman’s soundtrack, to Keaton’s turtle neck and light denim combo, it had it all.
It’s easy to find lots of people who feel the same about the film, but I’m luckier than most. Having a twin who has experienced the film through the same lens gives me a unique experience. We shared the same VHS, toys and quotes, so we completely understand each other and our relationship with the film. To experience it on the big screen for it’s 30th anniversary with him was immensely special.
The viewing itself was striking, mainly as it felt like we were watching it for the first time. The sound in particular was brilliant, consistently surprising me. Did the guns sound deeper? Did the Batmobile sound different? I’m not sure, but fortunately nothing has been done to change ‘the nastiest sounding punch ever’. It all felt so heightened, like ‘Batman ’89 plus’.
There are so many cool moments that it would be crazy to try and list them. But as you’re practically forcing me to mention some… the Flugelheim Museum and Descent into Mystery are particular high points. Prince blares out, the Joker cracks wise to Vicki Vale, and Batman makes a grand entrance. Then a quick weight check and a fist fight later (check his wallet!), and the Batmobile screams through the countryside. In these scenes everything comes together to make something truly special. Glancing over to see my brother I could see my brother tapping his fingers to the score in the same way I was. This is now one of my absolute favourite cinema experiences.
This isn’t a review of the film, so we’re going to ignore that if you want to, issues are easy to find. They don’t matter! Batman ’89 is more than the sum of it’s parts, with Keaton himself the perfect example. He’s not that tall, and very slight, and his hair was odd. But put his whisper and eyes in that suit, and damn it, he becomes quite something. His is still one of the best portrayals of the bat, even if others are more comic accurate.
I left the cinema so happy. I’d finally seen one of my favourite films on the big screen, with the one person I’d always wanted to share it with. Batman ’89 was the first comic book movie we ever saw, and we love it as much now as we did thirty years ago.