BATMAN turns 30 - The Classic Comic Book Film After Three Decades

Thirty Years ago today, on June 23rd 1989, a little movie came out called Batman, that would change the face of Hollywood forever.

Friday, June 23rd 1989 - Batman hits theaters. Directed by the young Tim Burton (Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice), and starring Michael Keaton as the titular hero and Jack Nicholson as his nemesis the Joker, the film would go on to earn  worldwide total of $411 million, making it the second biggest movie of the year after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Besides Superman 11 years earlier (and the decreasingly good sequels in the intervening years) no other superhero had hit the big sreen in a major motion picture, and Batman proved that it could be done, and done well!

Whatsmore, the film introduced the real Batman to audiences everywhere, many of whom were likely confused, thinking of Batman as the character from the campy 1960s television series. Here they saw the Dark Knight, as Keaton played Batman as a snarling, half-crazed vigilante who hung upside down to sleep at night when he wasn't pounding criminals in his jet black suit.

The film was greatly serviced by the direction of Burton, the iconic score by Danny Elfman,  and the production design by Anton Furst, who would win the Academy Award the following year. Furst's Gotham City was something out of an art-deco painting that immediately immersed the audience in a world that was half-modern half-period-piece, half-practical and half-fantasy. Then there's the matter of that car, the Batmobile that would forever define how people thought of Batman's ride. More than anything else, it is the imagery of the film that made it stand out and still haunts the minds of many.

Of course, those images were augmented by Elfman's stirring score, which quickly became synonomous with the character. Three years later it became the main theme for the animated series, and 28 years after the fact, when Elfman was hired to score Justice League, he made sure to bring it back, in effect stating "Forget everyone else. No matter that it's a different incarnation, this is THE Batman theme!"

Just as entertaining than the movie is the story behind it. Executive Producer Michael Uslan was the world's biggest Batman fan growing up. Horrified by the treatment of his hero on the television seris in the 1960s, the young boy made a vow, similar to the youthful Bruce Wayne's vow, to bring the real Batman to the screen.  Uslan endeavored to enter Hollywood largely just to make this film a reality. His unique strategy was to become a lawyer (a profession he had no desire for), and segue into the business from the legal side. He noticed he was the only person in his entire law school taking all the copyright classes, which ended up getting him the copyright job that he sought after school. In the years following, he finally became a successful Hollywood producer, bought the film rights to Batman and, ten years after that, finally got the big screen adaptation he always dreamed of.

Uslan's incredible story is told in the book The Boy Who Loved Batman.  For the record, no, I'm not getting paid to say this. It's just really an awesome book.

It took about another decade, but in the years of the new millenium, there has been no shortage of Hollywood superhero films. Uslan maintains that without Batman, these never would have ome to light.

The Dark Knight himself has been through several incarnations onscreen since. Uslan still maintains an executive producer credit on all of these, including The Lego Movie. Uslan has described each of these as adapting a separate and unique period in the comics: The 1989 film is similar to the Golden Age Bob Kane era, the Schumacher films reflect the crazy period when Batman and Robin were jumping on giant typewriters, and the Nolan films echo the Frank Miller era of gritty realism (these comments were made before Zack Snyder's version came to light). Next up is Matt Reeve's The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, hitting theaters June 25th 2021.

After 30 years, the influence of Batman, including the Dark Knight's continued presence on the silver screen, is still felt around the world.

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