MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Batman: The Movie

The more time that passes, the more the 1966Batman The Movie begins to seem like a comical masterpiece, or perhaps a masterpiece in a category all of its own. Originally a summertime knock-off of the enormously successful winter replacement first season of the television series starring Adam Westand Burt Ward, the 105-minute feature concocted a serviceable narrative that had the four most popular villains from the series joining forces in an attempt to extort money from the world, only to have their plans continually thwarted by the heroes. What the movie does really well is distill the TV show’s campy humor-and dazzling production design-while sustaining a viable pace and the semblance of a plot with a beginning, middle, and end. Cesar Romero, who practically stole the series with his appearances as a guest villain, has curiously limited duties in the feature and is upstaged by his three companions,Burgess Meredith, who seems to be channeling FDR, Frank Gorshin, who appears to be ‘doing’Richard Widmark, and Lee Meriwether, who was filling in for Julie Newmar and did a fine job of it. West and Ward have their deadpan deliveries down pat and trust the writers to keep feeding them worthy material as they dangle themselves for the world to ridicule. As to the movie’s art direction, its bright, bright colors more than make up for its cheap-looking designs, and again, the humor of those designs is so engaging that the cheaper they look (the backdrop for the ‘ocean’ tank set is wrinkled!), the better they look.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has reissued Batman The Movie as a Special Edition, following an earlier Special Edition release. More importantly, Fox has issued a Blu-ray version with additional special features, a DTS audio track, and an improved picture transfer with total stability to the core in every basic, deep, rich hue.

The new DVD repeats the special features that appeared on the first DVD, including a good 17-minute retrospective featurette, a great 6-minute piece on the car, an excellent collection of production stills, three trailers and a light but still engaging commentary track by West and Ward. “These tights were not terribly comfortable. When we walked out the first day, you just kind of took a deep breath and thought, ‘What’s that crew going to think of me, this guy walking around in tights?’ But you know, it’s a funny thing. You walk out on the set and the lighting’s there, and they’re setting up, and they look at you, and suddenly these grown men are believing that you’re Batman and Robin. So I had a hunch, that first day, wearing the costume, when we made our first appearance on the stage, that maybe this thing was really going to work.”

The picture transfer also appears to be the same, delivering the film’s bright colors effectively, along with stray speckles and other occasional imperfections. The DVD’s stereo sound is generally centered. There is an alternate French track in mono and optional English and Spanish subtitles.

The Blu-ray picture transfer takes a touch off the colors to deliver slightly more realistic fleshtones and an image that is fully free of fleeting flaws, to use the show’s passion for alliteration. The sound is also much stronger. The DTS track does not have significant rear channel activity and the audio is centered, but the music can be pushed without distortion, and, in general, the sound delivery has more Bam! and Whack!. There is also an isolated musical score in DTS. The Blu-ray has an alternate French track in mono, four subtitling options including English, a half-hearted trivia subtitling track, and a subtitling option that presents a map of Los Angeles in the left bottom corner of the screen, which identifies the film’s location shoots as they appear on the screen. (Among its many quirks, the film’s ‘Gotham City’ is a hopelessly phony amalgam of Los Angeles locations and New York stock footage that somehow works as ideally as every other aspect of the film.)

In addition to the earlier special features, the BD also contains a very good 28-minute retrospective featurette that looks at the influence the show and the film had on an entire generation of comic book creators and filmmakers. They also point out that in Britain, which did not have color television until 1969, the movie was the first opportunity fans had to see the program in its true glory. There are also 28 minutes of additional featurettes about the cast, and another commentary track, by screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who, in retrospect, feels he should have stayed in television-which was still looked down upon at the time-instead of pursuing a career in motion pictures. He talks in detail about writing for the series and how the movie was put together. Like the West and Ward talk, it does not have extensive insight, but it is still a pleasurable excuse to revisit the film’s batty charms.

August 6, 2008

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon