Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt Review

Thanks to Christopher Nolan, the Dark Knight has returned to his mythic roots in Batman Begins; casting a larger shadow over Joel Schumacher’s neon-nightmares. The influence for those disasters was obvious to anyone with a passing interest in the character - “that TV show from the 60’s”. It was, quite simply, the campest series ever to grace the airwaves. Garish colours. Cheesy music. Outrageous over-acting. And cheap and cheerful effects, that made 60’s Doctor Who seem efficient. Not to mention the latent gay subtext between Batman and his crime-fighting partner, Robin. Aficionados of Bob Kane’s classic strips were probably horrified, but there was no need to get shirty. The ABC show - which ran from 1966-68 - was clearly a spoof of the source material, and if you treated it as such (especially the spin-off film), it was a whole lot of fun.

The cult behind the show continues to thrive, and now that The Animated Series has finally arrived on disc, fans are clamouring for Adam West and Burt Ward to go digital. It will happen eventually, but before then, Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt should suffice. A TV movie from 2003, it proposes to tell the story behind the series, with Adam and Burt returning to play themselves. Interspersed with flashback footage (recreating the sets and costumes perfectly), Return to the Batcave is a surprisingly effective reunion, that offers plenty of laughs, and a serious dose of nostalgia. And yes, it’s still camper than Christmas...

As Return to the Batcave opens, we’re whisked away to the West Manor, as the man himself waxes lyrical with his butler (“no Mr. West, I’m not Alfred. He was a character on the TV show”). Soon after, we learn that he’s attending a charity event, and via a pole in his closet (don’t ask), he exits to the garage. To the West-mobile! Away! At the event, he meets up with portly “old chum” Burt Ward, and a sexy assistant unveils the original Batmobile in all its glory. But suddenly, the lights go out, and the Batmobile is stolen from under their noses! Lurching into action (they’re getting on a bit, after all), the Dynamic Duo proceed to hunt down the missing vehicle. Along the way, they reminisce about making “Batman” all those years ago...

That’s where “Young Adam” comes in (played with the right quota of smugness by Jack Brewster); a divorced dad who appreciates the female form a little too much. Luckily, he snags the part of Batman/Bruce Wayne in ABC’s new television series, and is flung together with the woefully inexperienced Burt (Jason Marsden). The latter was hired merely for his martial arts skills, with no previous screen credits. The result is a tumultuous three years, in which the actors become big-name stars, but have to suffer the baggage that comes with it. Naturally, the flashback footage is intertwined with the real Adam and Burt, as their quest for the Batmobile takes several twists and turns.

Although watching the pair ham it up once again is great (including a wonderful bar fight, with all the Bam!, Kapow! and Splatt! exclamations), the only portions of the film that gel are the flashbacks. These are filmed in the same silly way by director Paul A. Kaufman, whose handling of the material is always light and breezy. The peeks into the creation of the show are genuinely funny, especially the extracts concerning Burt. His first week on the job is filled with haphazard stunts, that leads him - on several occasions - to the doctor’s office. Then there’s the furore surrounding his nether regions; the bulk of his super-pants causing a stir with Catholic groups. But the troubles spread to the filming too, with West’ ego getting the better of him; talking slower to gain more screen time (it’s amazing that William Shatner got away with that trick too). Their efforts to deal with fan-hysteria is also covered, particularly the idea that Batman and Robin are gay - West’s response to such an implication is priceless.

Yet, when West and Ward are behind the wheel, Return to the Batcave still breathes with anarchic life. They still possess a great deal of energy in their old age; as does Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether, who make memorable appearances. Kaufman even acquired the talents of Lyle Waggoner, the voice-over man who kept us on edge every week. The icing on the cake is easily the “look”. The production design is spot-on, recreating the famous Batcave and other locations from the show with aplomb. It looks and feels like the original series, helping to inject the whole affair with a nostalgic gloss, that any reunion show should possess. Naturally, your interest in Batcave is restricted to your fondness for the source material, and in that respect, it’s not for everyone. That said, I had a great deal of fun viewing The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, and it’s sure to get a smile from the most jaded of viewer. Plus, the promise of seeing West dance the batsui is almost too good to miss. Right?

The Bat-Disc

Never seen in the UK (at least not on terrestrial television), Return to the Batcave arrives on DVD through Anchor Bay; those purveyors of everything cult, camp and downright silly. While it’s pretty much a no-frills affair, they still deserve credit for releasing the film at all, and with a great transfer to boot. For die-hard Adam and Burt fanatics, this is the only way to go!

The Bat-Look and Bat-Sound

Going into the film, I was expecting a very cheap-looking production, but this simply isn’t the case. The full-frame transfer (preserving the original broadcast ratio), is a joy to behold, mostly because it’s so colourful. Like the original TV series, the visuals are striking, with exuberant yellows and reds; stark blacks and earthly tones. The photography is brilliant - this wasn’t a low-budget picture, and the transfer merely helps to show-off the production design and garish costumes. The video is sharp and clear throughout. Aside from some aliasing here and there (which is minimal), it’s a reference-quality job by AB.

Holy audio-nirvana Batman! As is the norm for AB, we get a full arsenal of audio ass-kickery. There’s a choice of Stereo 2.0, optional 5.1, and for some reason, DTS too. While the surround tracks don’t do much to elevate a simple TV production, there are some viewers that will appreciate their presence. Yet, being a highly critical fellow, I chose the much more suitable 2.0 track. It’s a strong, clear mix, with some typically loopy sound effects. The music and dialogue is audible at all times, with no hiss or distortion to spoil the experience.

What’s in Batman’s utility belt?

Not a fat lot, unfortunately. All we get from Anchor Bay, is the original trailer, a clutch of biographies, and some film notes (in a spiffy comic book-esque booklet).

The Bat-Assessment

Fun, vapid, and mercilessly camp, Return to the Batcave is clearly only for those who appreciated Adam and Burt’s TV series. As a reunion special, it does everything it needs to, with some delightfully broad humour; recalling the history of ABC’s “Batman” in splendid fashion.

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