Batman (1966) Review

Holy Campfest Batman! You know the medium of DVD has reached fruition, especially when cult gems such as the movie adaptation of the jokey Batman series of the mid-sixties receives a special edition release!


Bob Kane's excellent 1939 DC comic book creation clearly required dazzling special effects in order to properly translate the Batman character to the screen. ABC channel desperately needed a comic book hero series to halt their sliding ratings, and when producer William Dozier decided to adapt Kane's comics in a television series format, he instinctively knew that he was never going to raise the necessary budgets for a faithful treatment of the Batman legend. Instead, and in an inspired move, Dozier created a series that went for serious camp laughter as opposed to serious thrill and excitement. This way, the young audience members would be unaware of the jokey tongue-in-cheek humour and would buy into the super hero aspect, and adults could laugh and sneer at the 'junk' status of the show. To further cement the show's cult status, the producers cast very famous film and television actors in the roles of the super villains: The Penguin - Burgess Meredith, The Joker - Cesar Romero, The Riddler - Frank Gorshin, The Catwoman - Julie Newmar, The Bookworm - Roddy McDowall, Egghead - Vincent Price, King Tut - Victor Buono, Mr. Freeze - George Sanders, False-Face - Malachi Throne. To play the dynamic duo Batman and Robin, Adam West and Burt Ward were cast respectively, and their names are now world famous (if just for the fact that they claimed to have slept with ten thousand women whilst making the show! Whether this is true or not remains to be seen)


Colourful and tremendous fun, the show aired in 1966 and helped save ABC channel. It was axed in 1968, not because of faltering ratings, but because the show gradually became too costly to produce. The Batman series then entered syndication, where it has been enjoying a healthy dose of repeats across the world ever since. What usually happens in shows such as these, is a movie version is produced and then released in cinemas. If that film fares well in terms of box office takings, a spin-off television series is then commissioned. However, this was done in reverse for Batman, as the series was aired first and garnered its own fan base, and then the movie version was shown the following summer.


What of the movie itself? Well, to give fans reward for taking the trip to the cinema. The film contains not one, not two, but four super villains (Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman)! Julie Newmar was unavailable to portray Catwoman due to her filming duties on Mackenna's Gold, and was replaced quite convincingly by Lee Meriwether, but apart from Newmar every other cast member retained their roles. More gadgets have also been thrown in; yes, there's the Batmobile, but there are also the Batcycle, Batboat and Batcopter! Essentially, the movie version is a grander and longer episode of the series, and to be honest that's all it takes to render it great!


Plot-wise, the story tells of the four super-villains banding together in order to terrorise the world. Armed with a powerful dehydrating gun that can turn humans into dust, the 'fearsome foursome' aim to use the weapon against the nine delegates of the Security Council at the United Nations building in New York City, and it's up to the Dynamic Duo to stop them!


Biff! Pow! Kazam! The jokey direction by Leslie Martinson is tremendously effective in bringing the television series' essence to the big screen. Martinson employs many modest touches to give the film its own character. Notice the way the camera frames the villains at a 'crooked' angle, or just look at that classic scene in which Batman is having terrible trouble throwing away a lit bomb, and the immortal line he utters in protest! Or, how about the scene in which the pair runs through New York City being watched by bemused city-goers! The best scene however, is the hilarious ending involving separating the dust particles of the nine UN delegates. Cast and production wise, the film is first rate, and you'd be hard pushed to fault the film alongside the limitations it sets itself against. The cinematography by Howard Schwartz gives the film a delightful illuminous colouring that suits it tremendously, and the production design is comic book in its approach but never tacky.


Quite simply, the film is a blast from beginning to end in the best sense of tosh/entertainment. If you hate the series, and some devotees of the noir Bob Kane comics certainly do, then there is nothing at all for you to see here. If however, you hold the series in a small and warm place in your heart, you'll want to watch the film over and over.



Picture
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the transfer is stunning, possessing tremendously vivid primary colours and has been remastered to remove nearly all traces of dirt and grain. This is certainly the best the film has ever looked.

Sound
Presented in simulated two-channel stereo or original one-track mono, the two mixes are virtually the same other than for a few audio effects and the music score that are given the two-channel treatment. The audio tracks are full of clarity and any sign of hiss is undetectable.




Menu: The menu for Batman is quite simply one of the greatest menus to grace a DVD. Featuring music and quotes from the film, and morphing from a comic strip into the live action movie, the menu is perfect in setting the tone for the audience. Even better, the transitions between menu pages are given the same whirling Batsymbol treatment that the series had in between scenes!

Packaging: The DVD packaging isn't as psychedelic and groovy as it could have been, with a boring cover artwork housed in an amaray casing, with a one page chapter insert contained inside.



Extras

Commentary By Adam West & Burt Ward: In what must surely be a golden treat for fans, Adam West & Burt Ward, AKA Batman & Robin, AKA Bruce Wayne & Dick Grayson, casually sit down and talk for the film's duration on their memories of both the movie and the series. They both fit together like a matching pair of socks, and are great fun to listen to. They have a natural chemistry that doesn't seem to have left them since the series ended, and although they rarely provide any new insights into the production their mere inclusion on the DVD is a joyful treat.

Batman Featurette: An enjoyable seventeen minute featurette documenting the production of the film and containing interviews from Adam West and Burt Ward. It’s a pity that most of the cast and crew are now dead, as their absence is noticed.

The Batmobile Revealed - Featurette: Presented by designer of the original Batmobile, George Barris, the six minute featurette is very pleasant to watch, as Barris spends the duration talking to camera about his memories of the car and what it took to build it. Barris also mentions the fact that there were about five batmobiles in existent during the show's run, each having different roles in assisting the production. What makes the featurette so watchable is that Barris has a good and natural screen presence, despite his lack of presenting experience.

From The Vaults Of Adam West: A collection of over forty photos from Adam West's personal vaults showing the production crew at work and featuring many shots of West & Ward clowning around. Most of the photos are black and white.

Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery: A smaller selection of colour photos that are a mixture of promotional shots and during production stills.

Theatrical Trailer, Spanish Trailer & Teaser: Three different promotional trailers for the film, edited slightly differently, and featuring Batman and Robin talking to camera and advertising the film. The Spanish trailer is in the English language but features Spanish subtitles. The original theatrical trailer is in worse condition compared to the other two, and is in desperate need of remastering. Annoyingly, the trailers rather patronisingly S-P-E-L-L out the plot to the audience.

Planet Of The Apes Cross Trailer: A promotional Fox trailer advertising the Planet Of The Apes Box Set.




Conclusion
Yes, the Batman franchise was reinvented by Tim Burton and then subsequently ruined by Joel Schumacher, but the sixties version seems in hindsight to be much more timeless in its camp and colourful style. The DVD is excellent, with fabulous picture and sound quality and entertaining extras, and the film is one hundred and five minutes of family fun.

Robin: Holy Special Edition Batman! We should rush out and buy it!

Batman: Good Thinking Robin!

Film
7 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
9 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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