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Image: Warner Bros.

Film

What Makes Tim Burton’s Batman Great

Justice is always Darkest before the Dawn.

Revisiting Tim Burton’s Batman

For me, film has always been a strong source of inspiration. As long as I can remember, I have been truly captivated by the motion picture. One of my earliest memories would have to be seeing the first Batman in theaters a quarter of a century ago. In 1989, “Batmania” was sweeping the nation and I was perfectly content playing with my Toy Biz and Kenner action figures. The character of Batman had been around 50 years before I was even born and I’m sure other children before me have been amazed by The Caped Crusader’s various adventures. Tim Burton’s epic would have to be my first experience seeing The Dark Knight in action and it was monumental one at that.

If you aren’t familiar with 1989’s smash hit, then please let me enlighten you. Batman is a big-budget blockbuster that singlehandedly injected new life into the classic superhero as well as the action film genre in general. Young quirky director Tim Burton was hired to helm the action spectacular with comedic actor Michael Keaton in the titular role, an unorthodox choice for the masked hero but it actually worked. Film legend Jack Nicholson was cast as the film’s villain The Joker and his performance was cartoonish, fun and downright brilliant.

The story of the film is a simple origin tale that evolves into an intense saga of good versus evil. The Joker is insane and basically wants to kill all of the residents of Gotham City with poisonous gas. Batman intervenes and blonde damsel in distress Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) is caught in the middle of this war.

Batman 1989 Joker
Image: Warner Bros.

Only one will claim the night.

The film has explosive action sequences and some dazzling visual effects. On top of this is composer Danny Elfman’s magnificent score, which beautifully enhances the on screen visuals (not bad for a self-taught musician.) All of these elements mesh wonderfully to create a film experience that is really quite special. Tim Burton’s gothic world was even extended to Batman Returns, a 1992 sequel which further brought delight to kids and adults alike.

What makes Batman truly great is the simplicity of it all. Children can digest the whole hero fighting for truth and justice. It is an inspirational formula that can affect anyone profoundly, especially kids. With Tim Burton’s films being a huge success, a Batman animated series was also created and this brought even more joy to young ones every day after school and on Saturday mornings. The animated series coupled with action figure scenarios soon became the childhood norm and provided some of my strongest memories as a youth.

Now more than 80 years old, the character of Batman is now stronger than ever and had Tim Burton’s Batman never been released or if something was tweaked, say Burton wasn’t at the helm or Kevin Costner was cast as The Dark Knight instead of Keaton, then I’m sure my childhood would have been very different. Sure, it isn’t a perfect film and it’s a little clunky here and there but it really is a fun little piece of cinema that sets out and accomplishes its very basic of goals: to entertain. Batman brought the character out of hibernation and left a significant mark on my life and I’m almost positive I’m not the only person who’s been affected by it.

– Randall Unger

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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Randall J. Unger (Randy) is a film critic and interviewer who reviews movies of all kinds. He interviews actors, filmmakers, composers, dancers, and even special effects makeup artists for his film review show / podcast 'Unger the Radar'. Some of the talent he has interviewed includes Jude Law, Liam Neeson, James Franco, Marisa Tomei, Elijah Wood, Kevin Pollak, Robert Rodriguez, and Kal Penn. He is a regular fixture at screenings, comic cons, and other special events. He is based in New York City. Twitter: @randall_unger

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