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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tim Burton's Batman: Revisited

The last I watched Tim Burton's Batman, I must have been a teenager, which I had loved. Why had I loved it, and does it stand up?

  • Milieu

It felt like no other superhero movie I'd seen previously. The milieu was a mix of high and low sets, of gritty alleys and industrial plants making various toxins, juxtaposed against upper-class spacious halls. But they are sets, almost theatrical albeit detailed, making it both real and unreal. For example, consider a two-story, one-room museum, which doubles as a restaurant (not to mention huge industrial vents and rivets). This may be an homage to Adam West era of Batman.

The sets and costumes are 30s--the 30s fonts splashed across buildings and news reports (Axis Chemicals, perhaps a reference to WWII Axis countries)--mixed with then contemporary 80s but with detailed gritty-comic-book style. Viewers are displaced, thrown for a loop, uneasy--or at least transported to a land that never was.

  • Characters and theme

Batman as a character is more mysterious, less showy than other screen representations. Economical, he only throws a punch when required. He appears, disappears, and appears as needed. His appearances surprise, thrill, and even frighten a little as he stalks unsuspecting prey. His personality and taste, while high, are eclectic and reclusive yet, again, with a not quite real, comic-book flair.

The Joker begins as a gangster of ambition whose attempted murder, pushes him over the edge. He survives a fall into a toxic vat and a botched surgery leaving with a grin we are not immediately privy to. Hidden in the dark. Even his discolored skin is a game Tim Burton plays with us. When his flesh takes on old hue, he wipes his brow to reveal the stark, clown-white beneath. With nothing to lose, the Joker takes over the town's mob industry. His modus operandi is gruesome mixed with Danny Elfman's music and the Joker's light-hearted bullets fired or electrocutions. There's nothing funny about the way he smears his former boss's blood across the newspaper disgusted with news of Batman. His reactions to Batman include a flying boxing glove and party favors, tempered with memorable dialogue.

Due to her importance, Vicky Vale should have had a little more background than photographer and an interest in bats. For that matter, Batman and Joker weigh heavily in the character department, but what they do have meshes quite well. Both birthed the other's superhero-ness.

  • Cinematographic technology, action, and imagery:

The film's flaws are due in part to its age: Technological CGI would have amped up aspects of the film, but the director would not have used subtler means to capture this version of Batman. On occasion, they do resort to animated shadows.

The action sequences were unremarkable, except for its curious mix of the grotesque and comic. although the Joker's demise--his canned mechanical laughter sticks to the roof of your brain like peanut butter.

  • Dialogue:

"This town needs an enema."

"Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? I always ask that of all my prey." 
Bruce Wayne: Let me tell you about this guy I know, Jack. Mean kid. Bad seed. Hurt people. 
Joker: I like him already.

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