4 reasons 1998’s Batman and Robin is really a Batman ‘66 Movie
A few years ago, I bought the Blu-ray box set of 1966’s Batman TV series. I was never a huge fan of the show, and like others of my generation, we looked down on it after the 1989 Batman was released. In the wake of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman 89 and the Batman: The Animated Series, Batman 66 seemed hokey and embarrassing.
Batman 89 did as much as it could to distance itself tonally from the Batman 66 show. Camp was thrown out. Color in costumes and sets for everyone but the Joker were muted, and the gadgets had real-world practicality to them (can you say bat shark repellent?). Batman 66 was beyond camp. Batman danced at parties and had milkshakes with Catwoman in broad daylight, and Joker uses a hotdog as a radio. To me, I felt the show runners were making a mindless cartoon and insulting the character.
So, you can imagine me sitting in my living room on a Friday night holding a new copy of the show and wondering if I had made a huge mistake by buying this box set. I watched the first two episodes (Hi Diddle Riddle and Smack in the Middle), and I thought about returning the show, but I thought I would give it one more chance and I left it on my shelf.
I returned to the show the next Friday and then the next Friday until my Friday night tradition was to watch two episodes of the set. What changed my mind? I realized it was a joke.
I googled more information about Batman 66 and learned about the direction William Dozier, the producer of the time, wanted to take the show. He wanted the color and fun to appeal to children and the over-the-top tone to appeal to adults; the entire series was a pop art comedy of the time. Where I thought the showrunners were disrespecting the character they were portraying him as he was written in the comics at the time but with an added dash of absurdity.
As I watched these episodes, it started to dawn on me that elements and storylines from the shows seeped into the Burton/Shumacher movies. Where Tim Burton took elements and plots from episode such as Penguin running for mayor in two fantastic episodes - Hizzonner the Penguin and Dizzoner the Penguin – Shumacher went full steam ahead into Batman ’66 territory.
Batman Forever straddled the line of the tone it used. Some scenes, especially with villains, seem like they are straight from Batman ’66 with their bright colors and over-the-top performances but scenes with Batman and Robin are taken as seriously as they can be.
Why did Shumacer go so Campy? Looks like it boils down to money. When you search for the Batman movie on Box Office Mojo and look at the worldwide totals, it’s clear that money was most likely the primary factor. Batman 89 made $400 million worldwide. When the darker Batman Return came out, it only generated $266 million, but when Shumacher took over and lightened the tone, the totals went to $366 million. If the audience wants it lighthearted WB was going to give them lighthearted. It only brought in $266 million worldwide.
My 4 Reasons
Let me say this upfront-Batman and Robin is still a bad movie, but it can be seen as a guilty pleasure movie now for those that enjoy the campiness of the original show. There’s enough campiness that happens in the Batcave before they leave for the mission to fill another article. Every scene is filled with something that is over the top and ridiculous. Sometimes its fun and sometimes its cringe-worthy. Schumacher's Batman, as the show’s Batman, is prepared for everything. Batman doesn’t know that he's going to fight an ice villain, but some reason has ice skates in his boots and then plays hockey with a diamond.
There are so many more scenarios:
- Escape rockets
- Air surfing from 33,000 feet
- Poison Ivy does a burlesque striptease from a giant purple gorilla suit
- Bat Credit cards to bid on Poison Ivy for a date
- Bane’s disguise is an overcoat and fedora over his mucha lucha mask
- Batman and Robin chase Freeze in their vehicles on the giant arm of a statue.
- Freeze ha henchmen with cold themed names like the show
There are too many more to mention. This movie is firmly tongue in cheek from the beginning.
The Batman 66 show was an expert at using color to highlight the villains and the absurd situation that the heroes are finding themselves. Scenes with “good guys” are usually shot at a normal angle with a traditional color palette (Batman and Robin excluded of course). When we see the villains, the camera angle is usually tilted at what’s called a Dutch tilt.
Batman and Robin lift that from the show, and there’s no better scene to highlight that than Poison Ivy’s creation. She’s absorbed into the earth amidst green flashing light and returns drenched in purple light and as she seduces and eventually kills the man that “murdered” her the camera angle shifts from a normal angle to an extreme angle.
There are more scenes with the other villains, but one of the truly most colorful and absurd in the movie is Bane and Ivy’s battle with the street gang painted in blacklight a throwback to the previous film Batman Forever.
The Villains are modeled from the show.
The style and tone of the villains are lifted directly from the show. By the time Batman and Robin released, we were watching Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy on the Batman The Animated Series show. On the animated show, Mr. Freeze was an extremely tragic character that exhibited no emotion. He was after all-frozen. Although the movie used his origin story from the show the Freeze from the movie was emotionally all over the map, but his style and tone were more in line with the way he was portrayed on the original show.
He has a German accent for starters since he was technically Dr. Schivel from the comics. On the show, Freeze was played by three men: Geroge Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach and all portrayed him as an ex-german scientist. To the original show's credit, it was there that he gained the name, Mr. Freeze. Before that, he was named Mr. Zero in the comics.
Movie Freeze is even more camp when we see him after he escapes Batman. While in his lair at an abandoned ice cream factory and dressed in a polar bear patterned blue robe with polar bear slippers he’s making his goons sing along with The Snow Miser song from the movie The Year without Santa Claus. (Also, they are holding frozen TV dinners.)
Ivy never appeared on the ‘66 show. There were plant-based villains, but they were usually men. The closest equivalent to Ivy in the show is Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, and you can see in Uma’s performance, that Newmar’s lethal playfulness is an inspiration and both borrow heavily from Mae’ Wests way of firing of double entendres.
Both villains in the movie used henchmen for their muscle like the show. Freeze had a group of guys with ice-themed names, and Ivy has Bane portrayed as a mindless hulking monster instead of the brilliant criminal mastermind that he is.
Fights Scenes are comedic Dances
Every movie or TV show fight is choreographed. Modern audiences are used to Batman swinging into action and brutally dispatching his enemies with flashy martial arts moves like I nThe Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman v Superman, or the animated show. The movie is a little more modern with its moves than the -66 version but is still as campy as a fight for the show. The show’s fights usually consisted of Batman and Robin taking on a group of goons all at once and getting in over their head. Sometimes the would randomly use a prop in the room to ineffectively bash a goon.
After watching the Batman ’66 series, I have learned to appreciate what Joel Shumacher was trying to accomplish with Batman and Robin. Shumacher was trying to take the most fun parts of the show; the camp, the color and the comedy and infuse them back into a melancholy franchise, but he overcorrected and went too far into absurdity that the original show even dialed back at moments.
Audiences of the time weren't used to the tone of the movie since it landed in the middle of a period was a darker Batman was seen as a cooler take on the character but I would argue now the movie could be watched and appreciated. Absurdity has crept back into DC properties of late. Batman ’66 has returned with two animated movies, and a comic series, Batman Brave and the Bold highlighted a campier take on the character and Teen Titans Go lives on making fun of every character in the DC universe. Even Fox’s Gotham series with its moody atmosphere borrows from the Burton/Shumacher movies and the show with its use of campy moments and humor in small doses. If you are a fan of the old show, you can watch Batman and Robin as an extension of the original show. It’s not a very good movie, but it is a fun movie.
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