Saturday, September 29, 2012

Forced Perspective Episode #23 - Batman Part 4.2: “The Nolan Renaissance”

The epic series of Batman movie podcasts continues with our discussion of the second film in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy The Dark Knight.  Join myself and Sportsguy515 as we analyze perhaps the greatest comic book movie of all time along with our own personal escapees from Arkham Asylum: Big D, Mr. Eddie, Hamza and Headcase.

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Batman Returns (1992)

Originally published at Superfriends Universe


Tim Burton

1992 • 126 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States

Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast: Michael Keaton, Michele Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken

Screenplay: Daniel Walters

Producers: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi

Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards

Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

Nominee: Best Makeup


Nominee: Best Make Up Artist

Nominee: Best Special Effects

The Essential Films

100 Greatest Movie Heroes – #5: Batman
 (also for Batman (1989), Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008)
100 Greatest Movie Villains – #82: Catwoman

25 Greatest Summer Blockbusters: #18

Top 25 Superhero Movies: #17

A kiss under the mistletoe. You know, mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.
But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.


Batman continues protect the people of Gotham in the second installment of the Burton/Batman franchise. This time Batman has to deal with a double threat. First, The Penguin, a hideous circus freak that has managed to gain the popularity needed to run for mayor of Gotham City. Adding to his troubles is the sexy but dangerous Catwoman, who is out for revenge on the man who tried to have her killed.


The direct sequel to the 1989 box office mega success, Batman Returns takes a decidedly darker turn. Most of the cast/characters return. Gone is Vicki Vale and Harvey Dent. Replacing Vale as the love interest is Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, also pulling double duty as one of the film’s two top-billed villains. The other heavy is Danny DeVito as The Penguin. The two baddies team up to destroy the Dark Knight.

What frustrates a lot of hardcore comic book fans about this film is the change to the backstories of the characters. Selina Kyle in the comics is a cat burglar. In this film, she is the bumbling secretary of the shady Max Shreck, a corrupt Gotham businessman. After stumbling onto something she shouldn’t have, Max shoves her out of window of a high rise office building. Selina is then resurrected and seemingly possessed by a swarm of alley cats and she is reborn as Catwoman. While this is indeed a drastic departure from the comics, it is nonetheless meaningless when compared to Pfeiffer’s fantastic performance. Her Catwoman is one of the best, and sexiest, portrayals of the character on screen. She oozes sexuality, sin and danger… everything that the character is supposed to represent.

The four-color version of The Penguin is that of a sophisticated mob boss dressed in tuxedoes. Batman Returns turned him into a much darker character. Abandoned at birth by his parents after he was born a deformed freak, he was raised in the Gotham sewers and grew up in the world as a sideshow freak. He has revenge on his mind to kill all of Gotham’s children, when he gets sidetracked into sabotaging Batman’s reputation and running for Mayor. DeVito hams it up as The Penguin, but he never goes to far. Instead of mimicking Jack Nicholson (unlike Tommy Lee Jones a few years later), he took the character in its own twisted direction.

Keaton is back as the Caped Crusader for what would prove to be his last run at the character. While many might disagree, I would argue that Keaton turns in a better performance here than he did in 1989. By this point he has the character’s mannerisms, voice, mood and psychological process down.
I’m a big fan of the film’s look. The entire film is blanketed in darkness, I don’t believe there is a single shot in the day time. I have to wonder about the decision to place this movie in a Christmastime setting. You have three incredibly dark characters (in both look and tone) set against the background of holiday cheer and freshly falling snow. It’s a fantastic contrast that goes unnoticed by many. Danny Elfman’s score adds to it, mixing the original Batman theme music with just a tinge of holiday sound. The (Oscar-nominated) make up is particularly well done, especially on DeVito’s Penguin who just has the look of someone who has been dwelling in the sewers for most of his life. Catwoman’s costume was a departure from both the comics and the TV show, but it works. A pleather one-piece that looks like it was stitched together by a madwoman.

Although the film was a big success critically and financially, the darker mood proved to be distasteful to some, which is why it is heavily theorized that Tim Burton was not chosen to direct the next installment. Regardless, this dark-themed comic book fantasy adventure is one of this blogger's favorite super hero movies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Batman (1989)

Tim Burton
1989 • 126 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Producers: Peter Gruber, Jon Peters
Cinematography: Roger Pratt

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration

American Film Institute
AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains: The Joker – #45 Villain
AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains: Batman – #46 Hero

The Essential Films
100 Greatest Movie Heroes: Batman – #5
100 Greatest Movie Villains: The Joker – #1 (Also for The Dark Knight)
25 Greatest Summer Blockbusters: #3
25 Greatest Superhero Movies: #10

Golden Globes
Nominated: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical) – Jack Nicholson

Where does he get those wonderful toys?


A dark and shadowy vigilante roams the rooftops of Gotham City, preying on the criminal scum that stalk its streets. He is the Batman… and he must stop the psychotic rampage of the villainous Joker before he poisons all of Gotham.


Originally divisive amongst hardcore comic book fans, this film has earned back its reputation and appreciation for it has grown over the years. Not that it wasn’t appreciated in its original release, after all it was one of the biggest movies of all time. It broke box office records as well as pioneered new territory in terms of viral marketing. The famous Bat symbol was seen every where for months before the film’s release… even before the trailer.

Tim Burton ended up being the perfect choice to direct this fantasy superhero film. As his pre- and post- Batman work has reflected, he is at home with dark, brooding characters in fantasy settings (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow). At the time, Burton had yet to direct a big budget blockbuster action film, but he pulled it off well. The film was full of action and memorable scenes and he still managed to put his signature Burton-esque touch to the film (before we all got sick of it.)

There was much controversy over the choice to cast Michael Keaton as the title hero. Keaton at the time was known mostly for comedies like Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice. Comic book fans were aghast at the casting decision, fearing it would turn into a retread of the 1960s Adam West television show. Instead, Keaton brought a great deal of dramatic weight to the role. As Batman, he disappeared behind the cowl. He was intimidating, he had a presence and was able to do the “voice” without slipping into the ludicrous (unfortunately like Christian Bale did later.) As Bruce Wayne he was even better… bringing a “tortured soul” quality to the role.

There is much debate as to who the best Joker is. Modern viewers will default to Heath Ledger. Hardcore comic book fans like Mark Hammill’s voice work in The Animated Series. And even some favor Caesar Romero’s campiness. Jack Nicholson remains many people’s favorite. It’s hard to argue. Nicholson managed to perfectly blend evil and camp into one character. He was completely over-the-top, but the role required him to be. He could be funny at times, but the character was never treated like a joke… he was always someone the audience took seriously. Is he the best Joker? Yes… for his movie, this performance was perfect. It wouldn’t have fit in the “Nolan-verse” or the Adam West show. Each Joker, whether it be Hammil, Romero or Ledger was perfect for his particular universe. Nicholson is no different.

The rest of the cast filled out the film nicely. Basinger, an 80s pop culture sex symbol, was perfect as the love interest. Attractive and a capable actress… exactly what the role required. Michael Gough’s portrayal of Alfred was much more submissive than the comic books or later incarnations of the character, but for a significant portion of this author’s childhood he WAS Alfred. Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent was fine, but had nothing to do. My only gripe is Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon. Gordon is a major force in the Batman universe, and in the Burton films he is reduced to a minor, bumbling side character.

The script is fine. It doesn’t break boundaries in terms of storytelling, but it sets up all the main characters perfectly and the action beats are well positioned. The story of The Joker poisoning Gotham City with his Joker toxin and Batman racing to stop him is standard comic book villain fare. Much controversy surrounded the decision to turn Jack Napier into Bruce Wayne’s parents’ killer. Comic book fans generally hate this plot development as it is not true to the source material, but for the story the film is trying to tell it works. After all, Batman accidentally drops Napier into a vat of chemicals turning him into The Joker, so the “I made you, you made me first” line has weight and significance later in the film.

For those expecting the same level of storytelling you get from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy… look elsewhere. The Tim Burton Batman films are not about storytelling. They are about spectacle. Nolan’s films try for realism. Burton’s films don’t. In fact, they emphasize the fantasy aspects of the character. The costume is dynamic and dramatic. The Batmobile is sleek and intimidating, but probably not very practical. Gotham City’s set design is very art deco and gothic (appropriate). Burton succeeds in bringing a comic book to life.

And before we end, let’s not forget about the music. Danny Elfman’s Batman score is just as iconic as John Williams’ Superman score. The opening title march blaring over the opening credits as we “fly through” the Bat symbol almost tells you how the movie is going to play out. Batman is one of the most perfectly scored films of all time.

In the end, are you going to get the gritty realism of Nolan’s trilogy? No. Is the film completely faithful to the comics? No. But that doesn’t matter… as a film and as an entry in the Batman mythology, this is essential viewing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dracula (1931)

Tod Browning
1931 • 75 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • Universal

Cast:  Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye
Screenplay:  Garrett Fort based on the book by Bram Stoker
Producers: Tod Browning, Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Cinematography:  Karl Freudn

Awards & Honors

American Film Institute
100 Years... 100 Thrills: #85
100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains: #33 Villain
100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: #83 - "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make."

The Essential Films
100 Essential Horror Movies: #45
100 Greatest Movie Villains: #46

National Film Preservation Board
Entered in the National Film Registry in 2000

There are far worse things awaiting man than death.


Renfield is on his way to Transylvania to lease a property in London to a mysterious Count Dracula.  After the Count reveals himself to be a vampire, he makes Renfield his slave, driving him to insanity.  Dracula arrives in London, meeting Dr. Seward and his daughter, of whom he quickly becomes enamored.  After Mina's friend Lucy dies from mysterious circumstances, Dr. Van Helsing is called in to investigate.


The silent masterpiece Nosferatu had been made without the permission of the then-deceased Bram Stoker's permission, and even though names were changed (Count Dracula became Count Orlok), the Stoker estate won a lawsuit that ordered all prints of the film destroyed.  Universal producer Carl Laemmle Jr saw enormous financial potential in the film, and quickly secured the adaption rights from the Stoker estate.  After some financial setbacks, the original plans to make an epic production in the tradition of the silent classic The Phantom of the Opera, the production needed to be trimmed down in scale.  Laemmle's original choice for Dracula, Lon Chaney, had succumbed to throat cancer and was not available. Bela Lugosi was ultimately cast in the role, having played the character to much success on stage... it would prove to be the most remembered portrayal of the character.

Bela Lugosi's most often remembered role would be that of Count Dracula.  Even though he only played the character twice on film (in the 1931 release as well as the hilarious Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), his portrayal remained so iconic that it is the most often remembered, imitated and parodied performance of the character of all time.  Many have played the role since, and with the exceptions of Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman, none have done the role as justice as Lugosi did.  His mixture of European aristocrat and lurking monster is captivating.  To many, this is the definitive Dracula performance.  Unfortunately for Lugosi, this role would typecast him for the rest of his career.  This was dramatized, in part, in the 1994 film Ed Wood.

Full-length horror films were not common in 1931, so this was a bit out of the ordinary for both studios and audiences alike. Executives were nervous about the box office potential on a film with a heavy reliance on the supernatural.  After it's premiere, newspapers reported that some audience members fainted at the site of the images on screen.  Publicity jackpot.  The studio wisely used this to sell the film in advertisements and it because big financial success.   Because of the success of Dracula, Universal plunged headfirst into the horror waters and produced a series of successful monster movies:  Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941) as well as a string of sequels: Dracula's Daughter (1936), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Dracula (1945) and Dracula made appearances in House of Frankenstein (1944) and the afore-mentioned Abbot and Costello crossover.  To this day, fans of horror everywhere celebrate the "Universal Monsters."  

Dracula's legacy, much like the vampire himself, will forever. The film is a classic of the pre-code Hollywood era and an icon of its genre.

Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: New trailer

Check out the new Trailer below: