Growing up, my love for Batman was epic. Despite an animated series and other films being out there, two were my primary focus: Tim Burton’s Batman and the Adam West / Burt Ward headlined Batman The Movie. Two very different ends of the spectrum, yet on more than one level I could enjoy both, even if one was dark and moody and the other light and campy. Even with The Dark Knight tearing up movie theaters and breaking records, there’s still a comfort one can get when coming back to the old Adam West series, even if it’s purely on a superficial “I grew up with it, so it’s OK” level.
Released at the height of the camp series popularity in the 60s, Batman The Movie brought together its stars, Adam West and Burt Ward, for a full-length picture that brought out four of the biggest villains that Batman (West) had ever faced: The Joker (Caesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether). With a diabolical plan to turn the world’s leaders into dust via a dehydrating machine, the fearsome foursome begin to hatch a plan to take out the Dynamic Duo and rule not only over Gotham, but the entire world.
There are so many elements of this film that make me laugh to this day and I’ve no idea if my younger self was laughing at it too or if I just watched it because it was Batman and was something my parents would let me watch (the animated Batman series was deemed “too violent”, as were the live-action movies, sans the Schumacher attempts and Burtons first). Regardless of the reason, the film holds a soft spot for me and I was surprised by just how much of this film I remembered, even though I hadn’t seen it since I bought the 2001 DVD release (has it been seven years already? I can still remember buying it!). I guess spending all that time in front of the TV when I was younger burned this film (and its dialogue) into my brain.
However ridiculous the premise and dialogue are in this film, it’s that reason alone that makes the film (and series) worth watching. I was rather surprised by the commentary included on this release, newly recorded by screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., that the series itself was written as a parody of other action and spy shows of the time. What Semple turned in was not what the network was expecting and he even goes on to talk about how much fans have hated him for turning their dark hero into something that is still made fun of today. Though Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have certainly begun to erase the thought of the Adam West and Joel Schumacher outings, knowing exactly what the Adam West show was supposed to be helps the “surprising” camp of it all go down smoother. I’m still not sure what the Schumacher films were doing though…that’s a whole other beast.
As a massive fan of Batman, I can understand the hate for the West series that some fans have. It really is a mockery of Batman and his supporting cast and rogues gallery, but it’s also easy to forget that as popular as the Adam West series was, it only lasted for three seasons (granted that was made up of 120 episodes total) and a movie. While it’s lived on in syndication, Semple, Jr. points out on his commentary track how “old” the series shtick can get and that he himself, who wrote the film, was getting bored with it by the time it ended. In essence you could say the Adam West series was a “fad” and one that is more fondly remembered simply for its silly and delightful nature, rather than any of its content. In retrospect the majority of the “memorable” moments of silly dialogue and outrageous situations all stem from Batman The Movie, rather than the series. Well, everything except the Batushi.
Oddly enough while watching this film again I realized how, aside from some hammy dialogue, the villains of the film really weren’t that far off base from their comic book counterparts. Joker was a bit goofier, but he still had that slightly mad edge about him and Riddler was just slightly more off his Riddlin than other portrayals, while Penguin and Catwoman both had their own airs about them that could be traced back to the comics. Obviously this is a much more overblown and campy version of the villains, but that doesn’t make their core elements any less true.
Whether you like it or not, the Adam West Batman series will live on forever in Batman’s history and, who knows. Decades from now when the more serious rendition of The Dark Knight has been around longer and the campy versions long having been dead, the Adam West series may be nothing more than a footnote and an “Oh yeah, you remember…” recollection that will randomly come up at conventions. Regardless of its historical fate, Batman The Movie is a silly and fun film to kick back and watch. I don’t know how often I’ll pop it in, especially after seeing The Dark Knight, but the thought of seeing so many great actors camp it up as the villains of the series is something that’ll be hard to pass up. Recommended.
There’s little doubt in my mind we would have ever seen a new version of Batman The Movie had Nolan’s films not taken off as they had, as the 2001 DVD release was honestly quite adequate for this film. Fox went back, however, and not only created some Blu-ray exclusive extras but also rounded up some comic book talent to discuss their thoughts on the film. The release, which also saw a new DVD edition, comes with an all-new black cover with red Bat-log, reminiscent of the logo used on the Batmobile. It’s odd, as this is the first release of this film I’ve seen that didn’t have the actors from the film displayed on the cover…perhaps they wanted to trick people into thinking this wasn’t the campy film from the 60s. The disc mimics the cover art, with inserts for Blu-ray player updates and an advertisement for Fox classics on Blu-ray. Menus are simple and easy to navigate, with very little flair compared to what I’m used to with other Blu-ray releases.
I half expected the transfer for this film to be as astonishing as Patton was, but instead I was given an only slightly better transfer compared to the DVD release. Ok so that may not be true; the film does look good in its freshly encoded AVC 1.85:1 transfer and while I was never able to count the number of make-up covered mustache hairs on Caeser Romero’s face before, the low-budget nature of the film really comes through with this transfers. There’s a lot of grain in the picture and the colors, as abundant as they are, don’t quite pop as much as I assumed they would. It’s not a horrible transfer by any means; it really lets you see how bad the cardboard backdrops look, but it’s not what I expected when I looked at Fox’s previous Blu-ray releases of older films.
In the audio department we get a fantastic array of sound work. DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio is included for the film (as are English and French Mono tracks) and it’s absolutely fantastic. Plenty of surround work, not to mention some decent LFE output via way of the bat-vehicles in the film. Also included is an isolated score track, also in DTS-HD MA, which is a nice bonus. Though after about a half an hour I got bored of hearing just the music—I watch the film mainly for its dialogue, so as much fun as the 60s music is, it won’t hold your attention for the full hour and forty-five minutes.
Moving onto the extras we get every one of the 2001 DVD releases extras repeated here, so no worries about upgrading to this edition, which has many more extras focusing on the film. Returning from the original release is the Batman Featurette (16:45, re-encoded with the AVC codec for some reason) which has Adam West and Burt Ward recounting their time on the film and “Batmobile Revealed with George Barris” (5:46) which has bat mobile builder Barris talking about his work on the car. The “From the Vaults of Adam West” and “Behind the Scenes Still Gallery” make a return as well, as do the three different trailers for the film (Teaser, Theatrical and Spanish Theatrical). The Adam West and Burt Ward commentary makes a re-appearance as well and is such a fun and delightful track to listen to.
For the new material presented on the disc we get it all in fancy 1080p. “The Batman Legacy” (28:29) discusses the history of Batman and we get interviews with many faces of comic book talent and anyone familiar with the extras done on Warner Home Video releases for Batman will recognize a similar talking head style—in fact, you could probably interchange these featurettes with the others and aside from the strict usage of Fox owned Batman The Movie footage, there isn’t too much difference. “Caped Crusader: A Heroes Tribute” (12:29) talks about the two lead roles in the film and “Gotham City’s Most Wanted” (15:51) discusses the villains of the film. We get to hear from Lee Meriwether, who is unfortunately the only living member of the “fearsome foursome” of Batman The Movie.
A new commentary track provided by screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. is included as well and as I mentioned in the review above, he’s quite the informative buggar, although his instance on talking about how “delicious” the dialogue is got kind of annoying. I did have to chuckle at his insistence on being quiet so he could “watch the film”—he often spoke back up a few seconds later, but there were a few moments where he really went for stretches without saying anything. A fun commentary, if only for Lorenzo’s stories and his perspective on the series itself; he does tend to come off a bit egotistical when he touts that he created the Adam West series and how much fans hate him, but he’s old, so I’ll just write it off as something cute that old people do.
Some Blu-ray exclusive extras include the “The Batmobile Interactive Tour” and “Batman on Location: Mapping the Movie.” The “On Location” featurette is a really intrusive map that plays during the film, where you can see where pieces of the film is shot and directions on how to get to it. I think they just used Google Maps and filled this data in, as its layout looks exactly the same. “Holy Trivia Track, Batman!” is another Blu-ray bonus and is your standard trivia track fare and is less intrusive than that On Location extra which just takes up 25% of the screen for the entire film (seriously, you can’t minimize it when it’s not being used?).
Finally we have a plethora of still galleries (From the Vaults of Adam West, Interactive Pressbook, Posters, Production Stills, Behind the Scenes, Premiere) to choose from, all containing their fair share of interesting images. I still think they should include these galleries as JPEGs or something so you can view them in higher-quality. It’s not quite so bad on Blu-ray releases now, but a digital version for viewing on your PC would be more beneficial as clicking through a myriad of images with a remote kind of sucks after awhile.
Overall this is a rather surprising release, not only because it actually got a Blu-ray release but also because Fox actually put some effort into it. While it carries the same “Special Edition” moniker as the previous 2001 DVD release (although that was dubbed “Holy Special Edition Batman!”, so I guess it’s slightly different), this is definitely the superior of the two, but whether you upgrade really depends on how much you love the film. If you’re like me the new extras are worth checking out, especially the Lorenzo commentary, as uneven as it is. Highly Recommended.
Batman The Movie: Special Edition is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.