Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Holy hype, Batman!

The summer of 1989 was great. I had just graduated from high school and was headed off to college. I had my first real girlfriend. That didn’t work out so well, but I learned quite a few lessons about “love.” I had a good job, earned a (small) college scholarship, spent my last summer at home with friends and saw The Who in concert at the Pontiac Silverdome. It was something of a coming-of-age time for me. My mind, this week, has raced back to that summer because of all the Batman hype. That summer saw the release of Tim Burton’s Batman starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger, the original movie version about the “Dark Knight.”

Batman was everywhere that year. T-shirts, action figures, soundtracks (two of them, one by Prince, the other by Danny Elfman), posters, “happy meals” and other Batman stuff filled stores and fast food joints. One of my classmates – I won’t mention his name since I don’t know the statute of limitations on vandalism – painted the bat logo on yellow traffic signs all over town. Batmania hit us full force.

The movie was great. We hoped it would be better (read: darker, more serious) than the campy 60's TV show starring Adam West, and our wish was granted. That Batman film, I remember, was supposedly modeled after the “Dark Knight” storyline that had just been put out by DC Comics a few years earlier. While it was flawed in certain ways, the 1989 re-telling of the story had an edge that we had never seen with comic books-turned-tv-shows-or-movies. It only took two movies for Joel Schumacher to wash away the grittiness that Burton had given to Batman.

Enter Chris Nolan. With Batman Begins, the “Dark Knight” version of Batman was resurrected. The Dark Knight, its sequel, released last Friday, has shattered opening weekend box office records. The death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker, might have something to do with that. But, make no mistake, this movie got hype like no movie has since Batman in 1989 because it is a great film. There has, perhaps, never been a more mesmerizing on-screen villain than Ledger’s Joker. The story, the acting, the cinematography – everything about the film is really top-notch. Don’t take my word for it; see it for yourself.

This isn’t a movie review, though. This is about the hype and the excitement the movie has generated. Batman is everywhere! The old Batman videos are flying off video store shelves (pun intended.) Movie critics and fans alike are talking about the film, even suggesting it might (or should) win an Oscar. Can you imagine a movie based on a comic book getting serious recognition from the bores that vote on the Oscars? Well, it seems like, in the least, the Academy (don’t you love how the members refer to it as “the Academy” [said with nasally, snobby voice]?) is going to have to seriously consider awarding Heath Ledger an Oscar in one of the actor categories.

Internet message boards are flooded with discussions about the comic book and almost
universally positive movie reviews. Kids are begging their parents to take them to see the movie. Parents are getting babysitters so they can catch it a second time within the first week. Batmania has grabbed hold of the country. Everyone seems to have been bitten.

I have always preferred Spider-man to Batman, although Batman was a close second. Spiderman 3, though, certainly didn’t live up to the hype it generated. Part of me is bummed that my childhood hero let a guy in a black cape dethrone him. But, hey, if the best comic book movie ever made happens to be about “the bat,” so be it.

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