Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Batman: The Movie - 35th Anniversary Special Edition (1966)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox

When Batman (West) and Robin (Ward) get a tip that Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny) is in danger aboard his yacht, they launch a rescue mission. But, the tip is a set-up by four of the most powerful villains ever, who seek to defeat the Dynamic Duo once and for all!

Armed with a dehydrator that can turn humans into dust, the fearsome foursome intends to take over the world! Can the Caped Crusaders use their high-flying heroism and groovy gadgetry to declaw Catwoman (Meriwether), ice the Penguin (Meredith), upstage the Joker (Romero), and stump the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) in time?

Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Stereo; English Monaural, French Monaural; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 32 chapters; rated PG; 105 min.; $19.98; street date 8/21/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary With Actors Burt Ward and Adam West; All-New Batman Featurette; Tour of the Batmobile; Still Galleries; Trailers.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Neal Hefti

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/C-/B

As I took in Batman: The Movie, I experienced a wide range of conflicting feelings. On one hand, I felt the righteous indignation of the serious Bat-fan. When I became a fan of superhero comics in 1981, Batman quickly became one of my two favorites along with Spiderman, and although I haven’t been a big advocate of the art form for more than a decade, I retain my positive feelings toward the Bat. These were abetted by my affection for some of the film adaptations; although I felt cool toward the last two flicks, I positively adored 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns.

These offered the second significant live-action representations of Batman. The first occurred during the Sixties when ABC showed a very popular and very campy TV program called Batman. Starring Adam West as the title character, this silly and purposefully over-the-top affair was a huge hit, and to most of the public prior to 1989, that was Batman; many people failed to realize how far this depiction varied from the way he was originally envisioned in the comics.

1989’s Batman helped restore some of the Bat’s dark luster, and it certainly did well with Bat-fans such as myself. We had grown to abhor the Sixties show, with its candy-colors, its tongue-in-cheek action and its self-mocking tone; that was a goofy comedy show that had nothing to do with the “real” Batman.

However, I find it hard to totally hate the Sixties iteration due to my early childhood memories of the show. Since I was born in 1967, Batman was off the air by the time I could really enjoy it, but the wonders of reruns meant that my friends and I were able to glory in all its Bat-splendor. And love it I did, as I became absolutely nuts about all things related to the program. I still recall the glee I felt when the 1966 motion picture expansion of the show would hit TV airwaves. This occurred infrequently, but it was an enormous treat; it blew up the normal boundaries of the program to even bigger proportions, and it actually featured all four of the series’ main villains. Imagine - the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Catwoman (Lee Meriweather), and the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) all together in one place!

Truly, it could get not better than that, at least not to my exceedingly-young self. Frankly, I hadn’t realized how deep these passions remained until I watched Batman: The Movie, the 1966 addition to the TV show. While these feelings couldn’t totally negate my dislike of the goofy manner in which the Bat was treated, they nonetheless led me to accept the film much more warmly than I’d anticipated.

It also helped that my adult self was able to pick up on humor that went totally over the head of Mini-me. To my younger version, I thought Batman was pure excitement and action, and that was that; any attempts at comedy had no effect on me. However, from the adult point of view, I now see the movie in the opposite light. None of the flick’s action sequences provided any thrills, for all of them were so ludicrous that I couldn’t begin to take them seriously. To my surprise, the series’ trademark “biff!” and “bam!” balloons didn’t appear until the climactic fight sequence, but all prior action remained insanely cartoony nonetheless. For example, take a scene in which Batman tried to dispose of a bomb on a pier. This piece went on for an amazingly long period of time, as everywhere Batman turned, he encountered a group he couldn’t endanger; from nuns to a Salvation Army band to a mother with a pram to baby ducks, Bats just couldn’t get a break!

As a kid, I’m sure that sequence seemed to be tense and exciting, but now it looked like nothing more than totally absurd mockery. That tone permeated Batman, as it offered parody of the most extreme order. All subtlety flew out the window, as no one involved even made any pretense of seriousness. This was as over-the-top and campy as a film could get; Batman offered an experience beyond cartoonishness.

As I already noted, I dislike this depiction as a representation of Batman. I still feel very fondly toward that character, and I don’t agree with the way he’s shown here. However, if you can get past the fact this is supposed to be “Batman”, the program becomes much more enjoyable. Even I was able to put aside my ire long enough to revel in the simple fun of the movie. It so wholly embraces its idiocy that I found it tough to resist.

If you go into Batman: The Movie with any expectation to see a representation of the characters that remains true to the original comic books, you’ll leave with bitter resentment. However, if you can forget that this is supposed to be the same Batman born from psychological trauma and just take it for the goofy fun that it is, you might find it to be an enjoyable piece of work.

It’s hard to hate a film in which we see Batman hang from a helicopter ladder as a shark so rubber that it makes the lead in Jaws look perfect attacks his feet. I don’t know if Batman will provide any pleasure to those who didn’t see it as kids, but for someone who maintains surprisingly strong memories of that show, I was able to delight in the absurd looniness of the flick. The pace dragged at times and it couldn’t always maintain the brightness of its tone, but as a whole, Batman featured enough wild stupidity to become entertaining.

The DVD:

Batman: The Movie appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not without a few concerns, as a whole I found the picture of Batman to offer a consistently fine experience, especially when I considered the age of the material.

Sharpness usually seemed to be nicely crisp and detailed. A few wider shots became mildly soft and fuzzy, but these occurred infrequently. As a whole, the image appeared distinct and well-defined at most times. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no concerns, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement.

For a 35-year-old movie, Batman provided a surprisingly clean and fresh print. Some speckles and grit cropped up during the movie, and grain could be seen at times. The latter appeared mainly during effects shots, particularly those that used rear projection techniques. However, I felt these concerns remained minor throughout the movie, and they never significantly interfered with the image.

Colors looked wonderfully vibrant and lively. As one might expect of this sort of glib comic book adaptation, Batman featured a very bright and varied palette, and the DVD showed off these hues to marvelous effect. Mainly the different costumes offered the best tones. From the red, green and gold tints of Robin’s costume to the purples and reds of the Joker’s apparel to the lovely lavender hat worn by the Penguin, the colors always looked tight and appealing.

Black levels also seemed to be solid, as they consistently appeared deep and rich. Shadow detail was appropriately dense but not overly thick, as low-light situations remained clear. For example, the nightclub sequence offered clear definition within a dim location. Ultimately, the picture of Batman was a real winner.

Unfortunately, I felt less positive feelings about the Dolby Stereo soundtrack of Batman. This newly-created mix came from the original monaural stems, not that one will usually be able to detect a difference. Since the mono track also appears on the DVD, I was able to switch between them and make comparisons. For the vast majority of the film, the two sounded virtually identical; I heard absolutely nothing other than single-channel audio during most of the stereo track. During the movie’s climactic battle sequence, some mild stereo imaging occurred. This happened at approximately the 90-minute mark, and it mainly spread out the score to a minor degree, though some effects also showed a little ambient use on the sides. However, don’t get too excited about this; most of the flick stayed monaural, and the increased activity toward the end added very little to the action.

Frankly, the lack of expansiveness didn’t really bother me. I’m not sure why the DVD’s creators bothered to make a new track when it barely differed from the original, but I won’t fault a disc because it includes the audio heard during its theatrical release. I did have some problems related to the execution of that sound, however.

For the most part, audio quality seemed to be decent. As a whole, this was a thin track but it functioned within the parameters of acceptability for its age. Dialogue was a bit brittle but the lines sounded intelligible and distinct, and they showed no signs of edginess. Effects were similarly drab and flat, but they provided decently accurate and realistic sounds. Music showed the same sort of limited dimensionality, and the entire piece lacked much dynamic range, but the score still was reasonably clear and listenable. Some low-end elements occurred, but the bass sounded somewhat boomy and indistinct; the extra depth added little to the experience.

All of the above comments should have resulted in a slightly higher grade than the “C-“ I awarded Batman, especially since we do hear a little stereo imaging toward the end. However, one distinct flaw occurred through much of the film. A very obnoxious hum cropped up on a very frequent basis. The intensity of this noise varied, but it remained a virtually constant companion, and it really got on my nerves. Frankly, I almost gave the soundtrack a “D+” due solely to this annoyance. However, I felt that this was too low for what was otherwise a decent mix, so I stuck with the “C-“.

This special edition release of Batman includes a nice mix of extras. Most significant is the first, an audio commentary from actors Adam West and Burt Ward. Both men were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Although it provided some fun moments, I must admit that I found this piece to be disappointing as a whole.

This was a spotty commentary, as many empty gaps appeared. When the pair did speak, West dominated the proceedings, which probably was a good thing. Ward seemed to stick mainly with small remarks that appeared to have been honed over years of Batman discussions; I got the feeling that his material was mostly well-rehearsed, so his statements lacked a great deal of spark or spontaneity.

West appeared to be more natural, and he added some interesting notes about the series and the movie. However, both men spent much of the commentary simply making bland comments about the film. They often went with a mildly-mocking tone, and they also related a fair amount of praise toward others involved in it. Ultimately, I thought the commentary was generally listenable, but it wasn’t as compelling and revealing as it should have been.

Next we find a new featurette with the creative title of Batman Featurette. Actually, this 16-minute and 45-second piece is little more than more interview footage of West and Ward. We hear from them alongside some nice production stills and footage from the film. The two provide a slew of fun and informative notes. Their topics range from their overall experiences on the show to movie-specific details to general anecdotes, and both consistently seem engaging and entertaining. This featurette succeeded because it offered much of the information found in the commentary but it lacked the latter piece’s lulls. By the way, it was surprising to see how good both men look. Ward needs to lose some weight, but it’s hard to believe he’s 55 years old, and even more difficult to accept that West is over 70!

Another featurette focuses on one of the show’s most popular elements. The Batmobile Revealed offers a five minute and 45 second look at the car. Essentially we get an interview with Batmobile designer George Barris; he stands before the vehicle and tells us about how he created it. He also provides a little info about the machine, and he includes some anecdotes that surround its activity. By the way, he touts the Batmobile as the world’s most famous car, but the James Bond folks claim that title for his Aston-Martin DB7 - who’s right?

Two collections of photos appear: From the Vaults Of Adam West and Behind the Scenes Still Gallery. The former includes 68 images, while the latter adds 27 frames. Overall, these two provide a nice look at the production. We find a solid mix of production shots, publicity stills and candid photos, and I thought they were more enjoyable than most.

Lastly, we find a few advertisements. In addition to a “Crosstrailer” for the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes and its boxed set, we get three trailers for Batman itself. These include American theatrical and teaser promos plus a Spanish piece. The teaser lasts 95 seconds while the other two run about three minutes, five seconds. Really, the full trailers are little more than the teaser with additional movie scenes; the teaser is easily the most useful of the bunch, which occurs for a few reasons. For one, although the trailers are non-anamorphic, the teaser features 16X9 enhancement. It also looks much better than either of the full trailers. They present very flawed visuals, while the teaser offers a surprisingly positive image. It’s also a tremendous amount of fun, as it consists totally of footage shot especially for the ad.

Before I got Batman: The Movie, I fully expected to loathe it. However, I was able to put my preference for the serious side of the character on hold long enough to allow me to enjoy this wildly comic and campy exploration of the genre. It was so insanely silly that I simply couldn’t resist it. The DVD offers a very fine picture and some entertaining extras, but the sound isn’t up to par. Nonetheless, with a list price of only $19.98, Batman is a terrific deal, and anyone with an interest in the program should give it a look.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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