Tuesday, January 5, 2010

#401: Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer & Christopher Walken

Batman has got his handful in the second film of the franchise. Selina Kyle, the executive assistant to the corrupt businessman Max Shreck, discovers confidential files in the office. Shreck attempts to kill her, but instead transforms her into the sexy and dangerous Catwoman. At the same time, a mysterious disfigured man is discovered to be living in the sewers of Gotham City among a flock of penguins. This man, only known as The Penguin, threatens to expose Shreck of his crimes unless he assists in transforming the deranged man into a local hero.

Today, the Batman films are more gritty and nearly realistic gangs. In comparison, the Penguin has two gangs: one looks like a celebration of Día de los Muertos, while the other is a flock of penguins. If a flock of birds were to be used in any action movie today, the audience would not know what to make of it. This film isn’t even twenty years old, and that’s how much the industry has changed. What makes it heartbreaking is that this film
has stood remarkably to the test of time, but audiences have moved on anyway.

The visuals on this movie are classic Burton. The dark colors of Batman, Catwoman and The Penguin juxtaposed with the bright colors of the Día de los Muertos gang, his duck vehicle and Shreck’s smiley cat logo is shocking. This blends perfectly with Danny Elfman’s genius score. The music of this film is one of Elfman’s finest, and it is not surprising in the least that he has provided scores not only to Tim Burton’s films, but also to many superhero films (the Spiderman, Hulk, Hellboy, Terminator and Men in Black franchises).

Of all the performances in the film, two stood out quite clearly: Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito. Pfeiffer’s transformation scene from lonely secretary to leather-clad sex vixen is disturbing – and awesome. Meanwhile, DeVito has never fit a character so flawlessly. Aside from his hideous makeup, his character is just so filthy that you have to hate him. When the two have scenes together, it is clear why they were chosen to be the villains together: they are perfectly opposite. While one attracts everyone, the other repulses; what other animals could better be represented to be opposites than a cat and a bird?

I have to also note that this film brings together pieces of Burton’s repertoire, more so than any of his other films. Actors who appear in this film as well as others by Burton include Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice), Danny DeVito (Big Fish), Christopher Walken (Sleepy Hollow) and Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). Another familiar appearance is the Penguin’s duck vehicle (which is very similar to a toy duck being built in The Nightmare Before Christmas). The Día de los Muertos gang is also very similar to a dream sequence from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

Burton’s most remarkable ability in his films is to be able to turn a story into something representative of a dream – a technique that has been lost since this film was released, lost both by the industry as well as by Burton himself. I will be a happy man the day Burton returns to his former glory.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Christopher Walken's character is named Maximillian Shreck. In addition to the fact that "schreck" is the German word meaning "terror," the actor Max Schreck played the first-ever vampire depicted on film in the silent-era classic Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922).
  • Sean Young very much wanted the role of The Catwoman. During preproduction she arrived at the studio in a Catwoman costume to confront the makers of the movie. She used other people scouting the studio grounds, using walkie-talkies to communicate, to track down the producers. Tim Burton hid behind his desk so as to avoid seeing her. Young had been cast as Vicki Vale in Batman (1989) but was replaced after she broke her collarbone during filming.
  • The first film made in Dolby Digital.
  • The crew had a hard time getting the shot where the monkey delivers the letter from Batman to the Penguin. Evidently, Danny DeVito's make-up terrified the animal.

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