Tim Burton’s Most Influential Sci-Fi Movie Is Finally Streaming On HBO Max

few directors have used their directorial debut as business cards as much as Tim Burton. Burton’s first film, The Great Pee-Wee Adventure, established exactly what the filmmaker wanted to create in his films: offbeat eccentrics trying to find their way in an offbeat world. He wanted to throw Americana into chaos, like in the possessed “Day-O” dance sequence from his second movie, beetle juice.

Not only were these movies stylish and unlike anything in mainstream cinema at the time (except John Waters), they were cheap and made money. pee-wee made Burton a household name, and in 1988, beetle juice earned $74.2 million (equivalent to $177.95 million in 2022) on a budget of $15 million. So it was no big shock that Hollywood knocked on their door for their third feature film, 1989 Batman.

Burton’s Batman was a phenomenal success, but that might seem odd to a fan of the character’s iterations and his world in the 21st century. There was still a need for authenticity in Batman — one character is named after Caped Crusader co-creator Bob Kane, and the movie features an original drawing of him — but Tim Burton seems more concerned with making a Tim Burton movie than a Batman movie.

Burton openly wasn’t invested in comics except for modern times the killer joke and Return of the Dark Knight. Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and Frank Miller have some stylistic influence, but Burton’s world is one of his own creations. He strongly rebuffed the 1960s TV show, in particular, seeing no value in the tongue-in-cheek homage to over-the-top characters.

Burton wanted to create his own world without worrying about how others conceived of the character. Speaking to his collaborator Danny Elfman, who composed the film’s wonderful score, in a Roma cinephilia interview, Burton says, “When I did Batman, you haven’t actually heard the word “franchise”. It wasn’t even in the language. While there was a media circus surrounding the choice of comedic actor Michael Keaton for the lead role, Burton told Elfman that filming at Pinewood Studios in England meant he could “really concentrate on the film and not not get involved in all the hype”.

Batman and the Joker in Tim Burton Batman.Warner Bros.

Burton’s film isn’t very interested in Batman or Bruce Wayne. Bruce is rich, kind, sexy, and dresses like a bat. He is fine. But Burton was incredibly interested in the urban dystopia of Gotham City, manifested in both gorgeous backdrops and the persona of the Joker or Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson). Batman invests a lot more time in figuring out the Joker — who he is, how he got so twisted, all the crimes he commits — than he does with the man tasked with stopping him.

Of course, it helps to have someone like Nicholson in the role. He’s magnetic on the screen, gleefully destroying paintings and hijacking the airwaves to jokefy a few unlucky models and newscasters. In one of the film’s finest moments, Gotham becomes terrified that Joker has poisoned the city’s cosmetic supply, forcing news anchors to deliver the news with terrible hair and boils on their faces. Makeup and masks are a big part of the film, with Joker having to apply touch-ups to his face in order to hide his chalk-white skin.

The film’s plot loosely revolves around photojournalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) trying to learn more about the mysterious Batman while Gotham Mayor (Lee Wallace) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) are determined to organize a festival for the city’s bicentenary, despite the increase in crime. Vale, who falls in love with Bruce and is desired by Joker, is able to carve out a place for herself as a respected journalist. The tooth, on the other hand, is terribly underused.

Burton’s vision of Gotham City is still awe-inspiring over 30 years later.Warner Bros.

Only one character has signature jackets, after all. Only one character has a literal Prince song about him in the movie. It’s the showcase for The Joker, a more psychotic iteration of the characters Burton had developed in his earlier films. When Vale opens a present from the villain containing a gas mask and an attached note saying “put this on now” in childish handwriting, the effect is a cross between spooky and captivating.

Keaton is a very good Batman, offering both a stoic and friendly nature. He is not permanently haunted by the death of his parents. But he and the entire cast are all playing in a world built around Burton.

Batman broke ground with its exploration of a darker side of the Caped Crusader, but over time its style would face its own backlash. The Burton look and feel would be replicated by the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, which had the unfortunate side effect of associating it with children’s shows. by Christophe Nolan batman begins began to move away from the glamor and beauty of Burton’s Gotham, focusing more on the character itself. Time will tell if the pendulum ever swings back.

Batman is now streaming on HBO Max.

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