From Gotham to Gautham: Batman & Robin (1997)
So with Batman Forever being a huge box office hit, and the merchandising selling ridiculously well, it was a no-brainer for Warner Bros. to ask Joel Schumacher to return for a sequel. The thing was, they wanted one quickly. Schumacher went off to direct the adaptation of John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, but was still involved in the preproduction for the third Batman sequel. Akiva Goldsman would write the movie, and everyone would return; Pat Hingle as Gordon, Michael Gough as Alfred, Chris O’Donnell as Robin/Dick Grayson, and Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Except…Val Kilmer quit. Or was fired. Or wasn’t told about the movie and committed to the movie The Saint. Whatever happened, they needed a new Batman. Because Schumacher and Goldsman had decided to use the 1960s TV series as well as the absurd 1950s comic book stories as their inspiration, the director felt an actor who could be lighter in tone than Keaton or Kilmer would be better. Enter George Clooney. Clooney, whose star had risen considerably because of ER, jumped at the role. Working seven days a week for months between ER and Batman & Robin, he took on the dual roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne.
Sticking with Warner Bros.’s wishes to keep the franchise lighter and more family friendly, the fourth movie, Batman & Robin, would be fast-tracked to a 1997 release and star Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. It would also feature the first film version of the new comic book villain, Bane, who broke Batman’s back in 1993, played by Jeep Swenson.
In June 1997, my world was turned upside-down. Two months away from my twentieth birthday, I found out I was going to be a father. I was stunned. Sixteen years later, I can’t remember the exact order of events. I can’t remember if I’d told my parents by the time the movie opened on June 20th, or if I told them later. I remember going to my then-girlfriend’s then-stepfather’s family’s cottage on White Horse Beach in Plymouth the weekend we saw the movie (or at least fairly closely afterward) and worrying about the baby there, and her family didn’t know about it at that point. So I guess maybe mine didn’t either…? Anyway, it didn’t stop me from seeing Batman on the big screen.
I remember my feelings as the end credits began to roll almost as intensely as I remember my feelings upon hearing that this kid was gonna be a daddy. They weren’t the same feelings, but they were both intense.
George Clooney as Batman is a no-brainer. He gets a bad rap for this movie, and it’s understandable. When compared to Michael Keaton, and even Val Kilmer, Clooney’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is another creature altogether. Still, there’s a sadness in his puppy-dog eyes that can make me believe that he has suffered. The fact that he made the choice–or Schumacher (or Goldsman) made the choice–to make Bruce Wayne less brooding makes sense. I know that if a person loses his/her parents in childhood, at the age of 8 or 10, it’s likely to haunt them for the rest of their lives. I’m also sure some people will spend the rest of their lives brooding, and maybe even trying to make a difference in some way. But I’m also sure that a part of a healthy person’s life is healing and by his mid-30s, while still hurting deeply, maybe Bruce Wayne has come to terms with his parents’ death. And in relation to Batman Forever‘s storyline, it makes sense that Clooney is less brooding.
The imagination behind this movie, like Batman Forever (and Burton’s Batman movies) is something to behold. It’s a strange, alternate world that shouldn’t exist and is a marvel to the eye.
George Clooney as Batman is very flat. Clooney’s casting is brilliant, but he’s given nothing except a larger codpiece and more defined rubber ass cheeks. Here was a guy who played such depth on TV every week in the highest-rated drama of the time being used as a carbon copy of himself. While it’s fine that Bruce may have moved on from his parents’ murders, there’s very little real emotion for him to work with in this movie. The few moments he’s allowed to actually emote are overshadowed by the silliness of the disease that’s threatening to turn his life upside-down again. Aside from that, he’s mildly more interesting than Adam West was as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Oh, and it seems that every shot of every scene has the Clooney head-bob. I know that he does that, that it’s natural, but he’s like a bobble head toy in this movie, even when he’s in the mask.
Chris O’Donnell would be faintly better in this movie than in Batman Forever if it weren’t for his lame dialogue, I think. He had crappy dialogue during his first go-around as Dick Grayson/Robin, and this time it’s even worse. And while we’re on sidekicks, this movie introduces us to Barbara Wilson, who becomes Batgirl, played by Alicia Silverstone. Silverstone became the infatuation to many adolescent boys in the mid-1990s because of her starring role in several Aerosmith music videos (“Cryin'”, “Amazing,” and “Crazy”) but became a star in her breakout role in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. In that film, she was sassy, magnetic, and pitch perfect. In Batman & Robin she plays Alfred’s niece (as opposed to Commissioner Gordon’s daughter) in a range that can only be called mildly mentally challenged. She’s terrible. Her dialogue, her acting, her action scenes, everything is terrible.
Arnold Schwarzenegger can be charming, charismatic, funny, and just-plain entertaining. I mean, there was a time that people may have actually been willing to rewrite the Constitution to allow him to become President! In Batman & Robin, he almost pulls off charismatic. In many ways, he’s the best part of this movie, and may have been put in The Day section of this essay if it wasn’t for his makeup, dialogue, costumes, acting, and… It’s bad. He has glowing blue teeth in the costume. I had to add that. The concept of Mr. Freeze isn’t a bad one, and Batman: The Animated Series showed that it can be done well. A scientist who, in trying to save his wife’s life by freezing her until her mysterious disease can be cured, accidentally makes himself unable to live outside the coldest temperatures. The sadness of the idea of this brilliant man longing to save his wife but having to turn to crime is great, worthy of a Batman villain. But the writer and director are spending too much time putting in bad jokes, worse puns, and even worse one-liners to ever really give a shit about something so tiny as character. And with the jokes, quips, puns, and one-liners, Schwarzenegger is right at home. By 1997, his star had begun to fade. One could still expect a Schwarzenegger movie nearly once a year, but the reviews were becoming harsher, the action movie was changing, and people were just ready for something new. What they got in Batman & Robin was akin to a 1960s/1970s TV guest star playing to his typecast. Mr. Freeze adds nothing to the Batman film series, poses no real threat, and has muddled-thinking at best.
Poison Ivy, played by Uma Thurman, on the other hand, makes Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze look like Hamlet. Thurman, who’d rocked the boat playing Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, hams it up so much as Poison Ivy that I felt like I was watching a bad sitcom performance. Thurman can be an excellent actress, full of swagger or innocence, depending on the role. Yet in Batman & Robin she seems to be acting in a way she believes a comic book would be played. And maybe she’s right. I’m probably just another nerdboy upset by what happened to Batman and his mythos in this movie, but I can’t escape feeling that a better script, better dialogue, and better direction would’ve given us a so much better Poison Ivy.
The inclusion of Bane in this movie should’ve been a high point, but instead is a gross misstep in a movie filled with them. As an ardent Batman comic book reader in the early 1990s, I read first-hand Bane’s introduction and story-arc in 1993’s Knightfall. Bane was an intelligent man who wanted to exact revenge on Batman (I fail to remember why right now) and, unlike most of the villains Batman faces, decides he’s going to run Batman into the ground long before they meet face-to-face. By destroying Arkham Asylum and the prison many of Batman’s greatest foes are in, he releases them all and Batman spends months bringing them to justice. By the time he’s through, he’s exhausted, has hardly slept, and walks into the Batcave to find Bane waiting for him. Bane beats up Batman, ending the fight by snapping Batman over his knee, breaking his back. This was Batman’s editors answer to 1992’s “Death of Superman” storyline.
The Bane that appears in Batman & Robin is pumped full of the mysterious Venom that appears in the comic books, but other than that and the costume, he is a shadow. A large shadow. Played by Jeep Swenson, Bane is nothing but grunts and parrot-like responses. He’s essentially Poison Ivy’s henchman and is hardly a threat. While he may have superhuman strength, he has below-human intellect and could be outsmarted by a slow toddler. While the Bane of the comic books was an instant fan favorite, the Bane of Batman & Robin became how most people knew and stigmatized the character. And not only was the take on the character appalling (and demeaning) but the makeup was atrocious.
Look, the acting in general is horrible in the movie. Michael Gough, in his final turn as Alfred, is, again, great, but even he has to stretch. Of course, he and George Clooney are given the only emotional character-driven scene in the movie. Aside from that, it’s all bad. John Glover, who plays Dr. Woodrue, a mad scientist who is working with Poison Ivy’s alter-ego, Pamela Isley, but secretly using her research to create a super-soldier serum (the aforementioned Venom), said that before each take, Joel Schumacher would shout out, “Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon!” Which leads to the main problem of the entire movie.
The filmmakers responsible for the movie didn’t get it. Akiva Goldsman’s script is terrible. Like Batman Forever, Batman & Robin begins with suiting-up (this time it’s Batman and Robin suiting up), complete with groin and ass shots. Then we go into the new Batcave where Batman and Robin stand dramatically as Robin’s motorcycle and the new Batmobile (which has only one seat and no roof!) comes from the floor. And then it’s one-liners and jokes. Welcome to Batman, kids! And it gets no better. Almost every scene in the movie has bad puns, one-liners, jokes, and dumb dialogue. Bruce and Alfred’s relationship is examined, as is the idea of what makes up family, which is all well and good, but it’s forced in the same way student writing has forced meaning because the kid knows the teacher is looking for X.
The production design is hit or miss. Above I mentioned that the world Schumacher and his team created is something to behold, and I meant it. Gotham City is loud and gaudy and crazed. The thing is, it’s a little too gaudy and crazed. I mentioned in my essay on Batman Forever that there’s way too much neon in the movie. The same can be said for this movie, as well as odd colored spotlights projecting on every surface. It’s like modern Tokyo on a steroid/acid mix. While that could be a thing of personal taste, what isn’t is the cheapness of some of the look. The ice that’s generated by Mr. Freeze wherever he goes looks like sculpted plastic. There are scenes when vehicles get hit by his freeze-ray and when a door opens, you can see the “ice” wobble in the motion, looking like cut velum on the doors. Uma Thurman’s costumes are pretty tame and lame, by most standards. Hell, the behind the scenes featurettes on the Blu-ray have a costume person actually saying that her costumes were incomplete by the time filming came. Even her demise at the end is lame, when a huge rubber plant eats her, á la Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, it doesn’t look nearly as good as the Frank Oz movie of less than 10 years before.
The look of Mr. Freeze’s henchmen is ridiculous. And the heroes change costumes for the final showdown again. This time, instead of it only being Batman in that bulkier suit he used at the end of Batman Forever, even Robin and Batgirl have new costumes made, with silver highlights. Because if you weren’t convinced that the toy makers had a say in the production design before this, they needed to make sure you knew.
Finally, the directing is off. Schumacher had a vision. He carried out that vision. In that, he was successful. He intended on making a silly comic book/cartoon in live-action and he succeeded. That said, the performances of his actors, and his designers, and his scriptwriter were all awful. And while I understand that he was being rushed by Warner Bros., and being held to a standard that would help sell toys as much as movie tickets, there has to be something somewhere in his head that makes him see just how bad the movie is. It’s not a sin to have made Batman & Robin campy in the way the TV series was, or silly like some of the strange stories out of the 1950s, but if you’re going to invoke the 1960s TV series, at least try to be as cutting edge, biting, and smart as they were in the beginning. Batman & Robin were none of these things. And while his apology on the Blu-ray/DVD interviews done in 2005 are now as legendary as the low quality of this movie, in a large part of the interviews, I saw the same things said over and over that I’ve heard other filmmakers say on other bad sequels (I’m looking at you now Jack Sholder and Rachel Talalay). In essence, “We didn’t know that the movie was going to be as big as it was. We didn’t know the fans wouldn’t like it so much. We were trying to make an entertaining movie, that’s all.” That last was true, I’m sure of it. And maybe even the first sentence might have a grain or two of truth. But if anyone working on Batman & Robin from the start thought that the fans of this PG-13-rated movie were going to love any of it, they had to be out of touch with reality.
Warner Bros. had been happy with what they’d seen during the filming of Batman & Robin enough to hire Joel Schumacher to direct a third Batman movie (fifth in the series) which would be called Batman Triumphant and would feature the Scarecrow, Harley Quinn as the Joker’s daughter, and the Joker, as a fear toxin-induced hallucination. Mark Protosevich had been hired to write the script. Word was the cast of Batman & Robin was signed to return and negotiations with Jack Nicholson had begun.
It wouldn’t come to be. In the end, Batman & Robin had a great opening weekend and then dropped immediately as word-of-mouth began to spread. Where fans can save a movie that has bad reviews (how many Transformers movies are there now?), nobody was saving this movie. Schumacher reportedly pitched an idea to do Batman: Year One, in a grittier way as presented in Frank Miller’s original comic, but Warner declined.
I remember walking out of the movie theater shell-shocked. We’d seen an early-afternoon matinee. My girlfriend said that it was pretty good. I felt like I’d been beaten. Worse than that. I can be over-apologetic to movie franchises if I love the overall series enough, anyone reading these essays have seen that. I hated this movie. I saw it one other time before rewatching it to write this. When it finally came on Cinemax, I watched it, convinced that it couldn’t have been as bad as I’d remembered. I was right. It was worse.
It’s a shame, really. I think George Clooney would’ve made a great Batman. I guess we’ll never know.
From Gotham to Gautham: Batman Forever (1995)
According to Tim Burton, after Batman Returns came out and was a hit, he was willing to go back to Gotham City again. While he may have hesitated going back for the first sequel, being allowed to really let his imagination go within the Batman’s universe must’ve been to his liking. So when he met with Warner Bros. executives, he launched right into his ideas for Batman III. Except, the execs weren’t reacting in a favorable way. Burton began to realize that it wasn’t just his ideas for a Batman sequel they weren’t in favor of, they weren’t really interested in having him return. So Burton bowed out of the movie. The execs, probably realizing that some of the fans of the first two movies might get upset, signed him on as a producer.
The general idea seems to be that Batman Returns was too dark for many people. Children going into the movie were frightened by the Penguin and parents were no doubt horrified by the sexual jokes and innuendo throughout. Warner Bros. wanted to make Batman more family-friendly. Somehow or another, they went to Joel Schumacher, director of such family fair as The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and Falling Down.
Michael Keaton had been asked to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and seemed willing to do so when Tim Burton would possibly direct, but then didn’t seem sure. Schumacher had seen Val Kilmer in the film Tombstone, where he played Doc Holliday, and thought he would make an interesting Bruce Wayne/Batman. Kilmer accepted the role.
The basic feeling, according to the extras on the Batman Anthology Blu-ray, was that Warner Bros. wanted to reinvent the franchise. Schumacher met with Burton several times at the beginning stages of the movie.
Batman Forever came out to more media hoopla than even the first movie. The merchandising of 1989’s Batman seemed almost an afterthought. By Batman Returns, mini-Penguins appeared in McDonald’s Happy Meals. For Batman Forever, everything was marketed.
By now, I was coming to the end of my high school career. Weeks after I graduated elementary school, Batman came out. Weeks after I graduated high school, Batman Forever came out. By now, I was older, hopefully a leeeetle wiser. I didn’t need Dad to take me, I could go myself. I was rather surprised by the movie as a whole (even though I’d read the novelization, written by the great Peter David. If you haven’t read his novel Sir Apropos of Nothing, go do so! Phenomenal work).
The bat costume in this one returns to the muscle sculpt, only more stylistic. And yes, there are nipples on the suit. My reaction then, and now, is: Who cares? Why not? Well, it’s silly. Yes, it is silly to put nipples on a rubber bat suit that will be worn by a grown man in his 30s so he can fight strange people in other silly costumes. Do you get it, yet? The whole thing is silly. Calm down. Drink your juice. Anyway, I like the look of the main bat suit in this movie. It’s sleeker, it looks pretty badass. It’s fine. And Robin’s costume isn’t bad either. Within the realm of this universe, it’s fine.
Jim Carrey as the Riddler kind of steals the show. His manic energy starts at Frank Gorshin’s level, and then goes atomic. Just as Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito got lost in their roles, nearly stealing their shows, Carrey’s Riddler does the same. That said, I’m going to withhold any more of my comments on Carrey’s performance for later.
The irony. Not within the script or story itself, but that the reason Warner Bros. went with Joel Schumacher is because of how dark in tone Batman Returns was, yet, Batman Forever has moments nearly as dark, if not darker. And it would’ve been even darker if they’d kept the actual characterization and personal journey that Bruce Wayne goes through in this movie. In Peter David’s novelization of the script by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler, and Akiva Goldsman, and apparently in earlier cuts of the movie, Bruce Wayne is suffering from nightmares of repressed memories. In a metaphysical/symbolic scene, Bruce eventually faces a giant bat from these nightmares and makes the decision to be Batman…forever. See? For some reason, most of the scenes were cut. Still, the movie is still pretty dark in both tone and actual darkness.
Michael Gough as Alfred still rocks. His care for Bruce is evident, and the way he works with the newly-orphaned Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) is realistic and entertaining.
The attempt to expand Bruce Wayne’s story. Apparently, Joel Schumacher had proposed doing an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. When Warner Bros. declined, insisting on doing a straight sequel, Schumacher had the screenwriters go back to the Waynes’s murder and expand on the story. While much of this material was cut from the final film, what remains has Bruce Wayne choosing to be Batman. The idea is that in the first two movies, and even through much of this one, he felt a need to continue. Now, facing his past and coming to terms with it means that it’s no longer an obsession so much as a job. In many ways, this is actually a good (albeit weird–who wants to dress up as a bat and fight deadly criminals?) thing for the character. It means that Wayne has come to terms with his parents’ deaths and can begin the process of healing. Whether remaining Batman forever will help in this healing is doubtful, but it’s a step to making Bruce Wayne a more fully realized character. And I’m all for that.
The acting is bad. Joel Schumacher gets a bad rap from Batman fans. They’ll call him inept, and silly, and frivolous, and that kind of thing. He’s really a decent director. The Lost Boys should’ve been silly, but it’s an effective horror movie. His John Grisham adaptations, and movies like Falling Down all have characters you care about to some degree, with fairly good acting. But perhaps too much time was spent on costumes, effects, neon, lighting, nipples and bums, neon, Jim Carrey antics, and neon to pay attention to the actors’ performances. Val Kilmer, who can turn in great performances, is horrible as Bruce Wayne and only marginally better as Batman. He’s wooden, stiff, and his voice never emotes. Nicole Kidman, who has pretty good acting chops, gives a performance one expects from a high school production (I’ve actually seen better acting in high school performances, to be fair). Her character, Dr. Chase Meridian, is one of the worst psychiatrists I’ve ever seen, and throws herself at Batman almost immediately.
Some people weren’t thrilled with Robin’s introduction to the Batman movie world, but I was cool with it. Batman had Robin longer than he didn’t. But Chris O’Donnell is pretty bad in this movie. I think he does the best he can with the script, honestly, but the role isn’t great and he’s not great in it. It’s a shame, really. I would’ve loved for Dick Grayson/Robin to have worked.
I gave Jim Carrey some props before, and he does steal the show, but when he’s onscreen, it becomes a Jim Carrey movie. An early-1990s Jim Carrey movie. So we have Batman vs. Ace Venture: Pet Detective/The Mask. (Wait…I need a ticket to Hollywood…I smell a million-billion dollars!). He overacts the entire time he’s onscreen. The subtly of his performances in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon are nowhere to be seen here. And the worst…
It pains me to do this, but Tommy Lee Jones deserves his own paragraph here. His take on Harvey Dent/Two-Face, in this movie called Harvey Two-Face, is horrible. I blame the Akiva Goldsman and Joel Schumacher. Schumacher wanted Jones to play Harvey Two-Face immediately. Jones wasn’t so thrilled. In interviews given at the time, he even says it took him a while to warm up to the idea of playing this character and that it was his son’s enthusiasm for the character and movie that really got him to say yes. There’s no problem so far, because I think Jones would make a great Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Yet, it’s pretty apparent that Goldsman’s rewrite of the Batchlers’ script lightened the tone of the characters, and Schumacher wanted things to be more theatrical. The fact that Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Edward Nygma/the Riddler was allowed to get so out of hand, it almost meant that Tommy Lee Jones had to be large. And a big part of that is…
Your definition of a “comic book” is different than mine. Throughout the documentary features on the Batman Anthology Blu-ray set, Schumacher, Jones, and just about everyone else working behind the scenes keeps referring to Batman Forever as a comic book movie. This is fine. That’s exactly what Batman Forever is. The problem is that the readers of comic books of 1995 and the filmmakers who made Batman Forever based on the Batman comic books they grew up reading were coming from totally different places. Consider this: The two comic book stories that convinced Tim Burton to take on directing Batman were Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke (1988). Both were new stories that came out right around the time Warner Bros. offered the movie to him. His initial reaction to the offer, if I’m not mistaken, was No thanks. It was upon reading those two mid-1980s stories that Burton decided he might be able to make this movie, and signed on. Those are two of the darker stand-alone Batman tales from that time period, and, along with Miller’s Batman: Year One (1986), set the tone for Batman stories for the next thirty years.
In nearly every interview that is on the Batman Forever disc, from actors to director and everyone in between, we hear about their memories of Batman comic books growing up, and how they did everything they could to make the movie like one of those comic books. Schumacher, born three months after Batman’s debut in 1939, would remember him from the 1940s and 1950s, during Batman’s more zany days. Hell, he may have even been one of those kids at the movies watching the Batman serials. Even Chris O’Donnell mentions the TV show as a fond memory, saying in an interview on the disc that he didn’t really like Batman Returns because of how dark it was.
So Warner Bros. gives Schumacher the word to tone down the darkness, and he obliges by making a comic book movie in the style of comic books he grew up reading. The people working on the movie don’t care, because their memories of Batman comic books are from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Maybe some of the 1970s, though by that time, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, under the stewardship of Julius Schwartz, was bringing Batman back to his dark roots.
I hate to say it, but Schumacher was doing exactly what he was told to do, in the exact way he felt it should be done. So if the movie looks overproduced, it’s because he’s making a Schumacher comic book movie. And it does look overproduced in strange ways. One last thing, though, I don’t necessarily buy that Schumacher was unaware of what was currently going on in comic books at that time. He seems like he’d have his thumb on pop culture. I’m not sure why, but that’s how it seems to me. Also, if I have the story correct, he originally pitched doing an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which would’ve been more in line with his filmography. Warner Bros. was more interested in doing a third story in the already-existing universe, but lighter.
The film is hypocritical. After Two-Face–sorry–Harvey Two-Face–kills Dick Grayson’s entire family (for some reason, they give him a brother, because losing your parents isn’t enough), Bruce Wayne takes the young man in. Now, Chris O’Donnell looks too old to be taken in by Bruce Wayne. Dick Grayson was originally supposed to be around 12 when Wayne took him in back in 1940. O’Donnell looks like he’s in his early 20s. So there’s that bit of miscasting I failed to mention above. Anyway, once Dick finds out Bruce is Batman, he wants to join him as a partner. His main goal: to kill Harvey Two-Face. Bruce tells him that killing Harvey won’t do any good. That he’ll be empty inside and still grieving. Now, this is touching. We know that Batman has killed his parents’ murderer (the Joker, in the first movie) and didn’t stop being Batman. He’s still solemn, dark, and brooding. And now suffers from nightmares. He’s also killed the Penguin and a whole bunch of henchmen along the way. Who knows who he’s killed between movies? And now, he doesn’t want to kill anymore. All right, I’ll buy that. Yet, guess what happens at the end of the movie? Yeah. Harvey Two-Face Dent dies. Batman does something that eventually leads to Two-Face falling to a rather gruesome (off-camera) death. And Robin is obviously satisfied. And that is the message we’re delivering to little kids.
The CGI is horrible in the movie. I know it was toward the beginning of CGI work, but you had pretty good looking dinosaurs roaming around two years prior in Jurassic Park, and Forrest Gump running through CGI work the prior year, so your Gotham City computer landscapes, and vehicles, should probably look better than they do.
The story is really pretty bad, and I think it’s the deletion of Bruce Wayne’s dark psychological problem with nightmares. It was the glue that held the story together and by getting rid of it, you lose the emotional thrust of the movie. And in an attempt to lighten the mood, the movie resorts to bad one-liners. The movie opens (after a lame CGI credit sequence that feels more like amateur filmmaking than major Hollywood movie) in the Batcave. Batman quickly suits up (nipples!) and we find the new Batmobile coming up from the floor. Batman walks dramatically, theatrically to his mark, where he stands beside the Batmobile, a perfect stop for movie stills in magazines. Cut to: Alfred standing nearby, holding a tray of food. “Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?” Batman replies, “I’ll get drive-thru.” That’s our introduction to Batman in this movie. His first line. “I’ll get drive-thru.” It’s not like they’d planned on using footage for McDonald’s commercials. Oh…
The Batmobile is horrible! It looks like…well…a toy car! The glowing lights in the wheels? And what is it with all the strange lights, anyway? Neon and projected lights and lasers everywhere!
Batman has two costumes. This is in line with the comic books, to a degree. Especially in the 1940s and 1950s. There is a prototype costume that Bruce Wayne wears after the Riddler has destroyed the Batcave and his costumes. It’s a bigger costume that’s supposed to have some extra features, though there don’t seem to be many. It makes Batman look bigger, and Val Kilmer look silly. At least it allows him a second suit-up (butt cheeks!), just in time for the final act of the movie, when he’s about to go get the bad guys.
Overall, the movie fails not because of the nipples or ass crack on the bat suit, not because of the bad acting, not even because of Schumacher’s overproduced, overly-theatrical ways. The movie fails because the emotional core of the movie is gone. The concern is more for action figures and merchandising than on telling a good story. Even Dick Grayson’s story, which should make us care, has no real emotion to it. He’s angry and wants revenge. Who are the Grayson’s? Why should we care?
On June 16th, 1995, opening night, I saw the movie with a friend. The 10 PM showing. I remember liking it more back then than I do now. Who knows why? I certainly don’t. But I liked it enough to watch it a few times after it came out on video. Still, I didn’t watch nearly as much as the two Burton movies, so that’s probably telling.
Anyway, Batman Forever did quite well at the box office. It was a no-brainer for Warner Bros. There would be a fourth Batman, and Joel Schumacher would direct. The possibilities were endless. What could possibly go wrong?
From Gotham to Gautham: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
While Batman may not have graced the silver screen between the 1966 and 1989 films, his presence was certainly available on television. In 1968, Filmation put out The Batman/Superman Hour, which featured The Adventures of Batman, an animated series that captured the tone of the TV series, yet still felt like the comic books. Olan Soule provided the voice of Batman, and Casey Kasem provided the voice for Robin. The show lasted one season. Batman and Robin made their next animated appearance in the classic 2-part story on The New Scooby-Doo Movies in 1972. The following year, Hanna-Barbera debuted Super Friends, an animated version of the Justice League, which brought some of DC Comic’s most famous superheroes (and a few created just the show) to the small screen. It was the place to get your Batman and Superman fix for a generation, and lasted in some incarnation for more than a decade. Soule and Kasem provided the voices for the Dynamic Duo for these shows. Funnily enough, Filmation put out The New Adventures of Batman in 1977, starring the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward. Like its predecessor, this show lasted one season. Except for reruns of the 1966-1968 TV series and the Filmation cartoons, Super Friends, and it’s 1984-1986 Super Powers spin-off (which was really a tie-in for the superlative Kenner action figure line), Batman was getting no love. (I will ignore the 1979 TV specials Legends of the Superheroes, in which Adam West and Burt Ward reprise their roles, which were shot on videotape with a laugh track. I haven’t seen them…yet).
When Batman was released in 1989, and became a huge hit, not only was Warner Bros. eager for a sequel, but they thought that the time was right for new animated adventures. Enter Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski. Together, they began work on what would become a series that changed animated action television. Going for a stylized look that was at the same time simple and complicated, and taking the tone from the Tim Burton films, the complicated characters from the comic books, and the excellence in animation from the Fleischer Superman cartoons, Timm and Radomski got to put the closest thing to the Batman comic books the screen has ever seen.
Debuting in September 1992, three months after Batman Returns premiered, Batman: The Animated Series became one of the Fox Network’s big afternoon hits. The show was so popular that the decision was made to produce a direct-to-video movie. Written by Alan Burnett and Michael Reaves, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm went into production. Warner Bros. executives were so impressed with what they saw, they decided to release the movie in theaters. So in December 1993, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm came out.
By December 1993, I was well into my junior year of high school. While I looked very much forward to the third Batman movie, and was a fan of the animated TV series, I didn’t get to see the movie. I wanted to, it just didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, I didn’t get to see the movie until I needed to write this. So with 21 years between its theatrical release and my first viewing, let’s get to it.
There’s a reason why Kevin Conroy has been cast as Batman so often in animation and videogames. Like Bud Collyer did for Superman on the radio and in cartoons, Conroy managed to change his voice in a believable way to distinguish Bruce Wayne and Batman. His performance his excellent.
Mark Hamill as the Joker is as legendary as Conroy as Batman. When geeks fight over who has done the best performance of the Joker, Hamill’s name is often cited. Hamill, a long-time comic book fan, truly got into the Joker’s derangement and deadliness. While his lines are sometimes far from great, he performs the role with such relish that one cannot help but be moved.
The courage it took to make the main “villain” a completely new character with the surprise ending that the Phantasm (who was a cross between Darth Vader, the Grim Reaper, and a comic book character called The Reaper, featured in Batman: Year Two) is actually Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delaney). It also rewrites Bruce Wayne’s history a little, having him actually propose to Beaumont. Her sudden departure helps him fully decide to become Batman.
The animation is pretty good, as is the background art. The creators went for an Art Deco feel to Gotham City that captured the feel of Tim Burton’s Gotham City while being distinctly its own.
The music is great. It’s based on Danny Elfman’s score from the films and is appropriate for the series, as well as the movie.
In the hour-and-15-minutes the movie lasts, I found myself bored at times. The movie goes back-and-forth in time, from the present to the time just before Bruce Wayne decides to be Batman. We see him try to take on criminals wearing a regular mask and getting his ass kicked (something that has become common since Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One). We see him meet Andrea Beaumont, fall in love with her, propose, realize her father is in with the mob, and lose her throughout the movie’s many flashbacks, all done with the cheesy wavy transitions that I thought had stopped being used sometime in 1983. Maybe it’s because I was chasing after a 20-month-old (who was super-excited to see Baa-Bah! on TV), but if I was bored with it, I imagine the original target audience of children may be, too. Maybe not, just my guess.
I love animation but there seems to be something with a lot of these modern superhero animated shows/movies in the sound quality. The voices of the actors are clear and concise, but they’re too clear and concise. It doesn’t sound like the characters are in a world consisting of life. And when background sound effects are added, they also tend to fall flat. Maybe it’s just me.
The Phantasm is a little lame. For a movie called Mask of the Phantasm, I expected more Phantasm. I understand that there was supposed to be the mystery of who the Phantasm was, but when he shows up, he’s really bad at what he sets out to do, and he really is no match for Batman, the Joker, or just about any mobster he comes into contact with.
Overall, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is an enjoyable enough movie, which I’m sure fits right in with the TV series (I haven’t watched the show for a long time), but I seem to remember that the series was more interesting overall.
Still, the movie did well enough that Warner Bros. made two more animated movies, though both were strictly direct-to-video, so we’ll skip over them. It certainly was a good enough placeholder, as was the overall television series, until the next Batman movie came out.
From Gotham to Gautham: Batman Returns (1992)
With Batman‘s huge success, Warner Bros. obviously wanted another movie, and obviously wanted Tim Burton to direct it. However, Burton wasn’t sure he wanted to direct it, and had a story of his own he was passionate about. That movie, Edward Scissorhands, became the film that is probably most quintessentially Tim Burton. Release by 20th Century Fox in 1990, it was a modern fairy tale that utilized many of Burton’s already-known quirky styling and enhanced them. It was a hit.
Eventually, Burton went back to Warner Bros. and agreed to do the next Batman. The biggest thing he wanted, though, was the kind of control he’d had over Edward Scissorhands. As such, producers Jon Peter and Peter Gubers became executive producers while Burton and longtime collaborator Denise DiNovi became producers. A script by Batman writer Sam Hamm was rewritten by Daniel Waters (as well as a ghost-rewrite by Wesley Strick) and eventually passed muster. With Burton on board, Michael Keaton agreed to resume the roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman.
When Batman came out in 1989, I was fresh out of elementary school having just finished 6th grade (in these parts, 5th grade now constitutes the end of elementary school). Junior high school (7th-8th grade, as opposed to today’s middle school, 6th-8th) was pretty bad. Some of the worst years of my life. My freshman year of high school was only marginally better. I transferred schools after 2 months, not happy with the original high school I’d attended and opting for the area’s vocational-technical high school to do art. The two things I looked forward to for the 1991-1992 school year were Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Batman Returns. At least one of them delivered.
The cast is quite good. Keaton’s second go-around as Batman and Bruce Wayne is more interesting than the first. Maybe it’s the redesigned suit, which features a thinner mask/cowl than its predecessor and torso armor that looks more like armor than the 1989’s sculpted muscles. Maybe Keaton just grew more comfortable moving around as the character. Either way, his Bruce Wayne is more interesting, willing to smile and actually try to be a part of his world, while his Batman kicks a little more ass, and is even more like the Batman from the comic books from that time period.
Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman starts off a little rocky, my guess is mostly due to the script, but quickly becomes a scene stealer. Pfeiffer is confident, sexy, and smart and it comes through. As the movie progresses, her character is more and more interesting and her performance gets better and better, no easy feat considering movies shoot scenes out of order. She is a great foil to Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne/Batman. The scene at Max Shreck’s masquerade ball is easily their best together without the masks. In masks, all their scenes together are great.
Danny DeVito’s Penguin is ridiculously over-the-top and hilariously evil. It shouldn’t work. Upon rewatching the movie for this essay, I didn’t think it would work now that I’m an adult. But I couldn’t help but laugh at the double- and triple-entendres I missed as a 14-year-old high school kid. The movie is wildly inappropriate yet most kids wouldn’t know it because the humor is above them. I found myself quite mesmerized by the character this go-round.
Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck is the true villain of the piece. A corporate do-nasty, he has plans for Gotham City and uses the Penguin as a means for more control. When Batman foils the plan to get Penguin elected mayor of Gotham, Shreck disassociates himself with the deformed man, leaving the Penguin to fend for himself, which sets up the last act of the movie. Walken plays Shreck in a way that is subtle but scary. While DeVito is chewing the scenery and give a broad performance, Walken pulls it in and allows his eyes and increasingly wild white hair to do the work.
There’s better pacing this time around. Maybe because there are so many characters that the audience has to keep track of, maybe the filmmakers took a cue from some of the negative comments about Batman, but there’s more action in this movie, and more interesting things happening. It’s actually quite insane. The costumes and shenanigans of the Penguin’s Red Circus Gang are ridiculous, but create a world that one almost wishes existed. If these were the villains we had to deal with, life may be crazier, but maybe we’d be safer in the long run.
The movie is actually quite funny in places, and appropriately so. Unlike the campy satire of the 1966-1968 Batman, Batman Returns has the aforementioned risqué humor from the Penguin, as well as cute scenes, like the one involving Bruce, Alfred, and Selina. Bruce and Selina are on a date (that in itself is funny, since a heavy make-out session–that was about to go farther–had to be stopped since they both suffered from wounds they gave each other the night before in their alternate personas) when trouble happens. Bruce, scatterbrained as usual, tries to get Alfred to tell Selina a lie so he can run off and be Batman. The moment Bruce leaves, Selina comes in and does essentially the same thing.
Another great moment comes later on and also concerns Alfred. The Batmobile has been compromised and needs repairs. As Bruce Wayne is accessing a secret way into the Batcave, via an iron maiden, Alfred reminds him that they can’t just send the Batmobile to any old repair shop.
“Hey,” Bruce says. “Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave? I’m sitting there working and it’s like, ‘Oh. Hi, Vicki. How are you?'”
It’s a great moment acknowledging the outcry the fans made over Vickie Vale entering the Batcave and the interaction between Michael Keaton and Michael Gough helps show Bruce and Alfred’s relationship.
Which is why I’m going to give Michael Gough more accolades here. While Gough gave Batman some much-needed humanity, here he reinforces the humanity of others. Whether it’s the playful interplay between him and Keaton, or him and Pfeiffer, or it’s him alone discovering something or working some sort of Bat-equipment, Gough is phenomenal. He manages to make Alfred seem both put-upon and fatherly simultaneously.
Again, Tim Burton and his production designers, costumers, make-up artists, and prop people create a world unto itself. Gotham City in Batman Returns feels as though it belongs in the world set up in the first movie but takes it in different directions. The former amusement park where the Penguin has lived (and retreats to), Shreck’s Department Store and its offices, the rooftops of Gotham, and Gotham Square are all familiar and alien at the same time. Again, it’s hard to pin down the era in which the movie takes place, though it does feel more of its time (1992) than its predecessor, much of the costuming has a 1940s/1950s feel, except for Bruce Wayne, Batman, and eventually Selina Kyle/Catwoman.
Danny Elfman’s score was great in the first movie and is even better here. Maybe in the three years between movies he grew more as a composer? Maybe he’s more comfortable with the subject? Either way, his score in this movie builds from Batman’s theme and goes way, way beyond. And without Prince’s crappy music to force into the movie, the music really soars. (And before you leave angry comments about me calling Prince’s music crappy, let me say that I don’t think all of his music is crappy. I actually like a lot of it. But his music for Batman was just bad, man.)
No Harvey Dent. Apparently, he was in some of the earlier drafts of the movie but was eventually deleted because they had too many characters. Even Commissioner Gordon’s role was diminished in this movie. While Pat Hingle isn’t my favorite James Gordon, Gordon is such a huge part of the Batman mythos that hardly seeing him onscreen is a little disconcerting. I think Dent’s character growing through the movie, even if it was only a few short scenes, would’ve been pretty cool. Yeah, that’s more of me as a fan-geek than as a serious critic, but that’s how I see it. Besides, I’m hardly a serious critic.
The film is a little too…theatrical? Is that the right word? One of the things that Tim Burton is known for is his distinct style. There were glimpses of it in his first three movies (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Batman) but it really took shape in Edward Scissorhands. His movies are very stylized and have a specific look to them, from the use of the camera, the use of miniature sets, to the way characters enter and exit a scene. It’s all very theatrical, which isn’t a terrible thing, and is arguably one of the things that makes his movies (well, most of them) fun to watch. Here it’s a little silly sometimes. Two examples I remember from when I was 14 and noticed (and made me smile) now have to do with Michael Keaton.
In these early Batman movies (and many other action movies of the 1980s into the early-1990s), there is a scene when the hero suits up. Whether it’s John Rambo in Rambo: First Blood Part II, or Schwarzenegger in one of his movies, or Batman, there is a scene when the hero goes from being…well…the hero to the, um, hero. In this move, Bruce Wayne goes to the Batcave for the final act’s suit up. He goes into the new vault where all the Batman costumes are located (he must’ve renovated the cave since the first movie). There’s a drawbridge that leads right up to the first costume, which takes up the doorway. It’s quite apparent that you can’t go into the room with the costume where it is, yet Michael Keaton walks right up the small drawbridge and into the room–and obviously nose-to-nose against the first costume. I know what they were going for, and it would’ve been a great shot. Except that you can see at the last minute Keaton has to stop and stand awkwardly, trying not to dump that first costume.
The second moment comes closer to the end. Batman is in his new vehicle, called the Batskiboat, and rushing toward the Penguin’s lair in the abandoned amusement park. He has used a frequency changer (with the help of Alfred) to save Gotham from the Penguin’s penguins and has redirected them to the amusement park. The Penguin, quite angry, rides his motorized duck car to the surface and the Batskiboat follows, crashing from a tunnel and on top of the duck, crushing it. The lid of the Batskiboat slides open and Batman is obviously bent over, squished inside so he can stand up and get out of the vehicle. In other words, the life-size one they built for this scene was too small to fit Michael Keaton. I know I’m nitpicking, but I remember that it bothered me at 14. And that’s the thing with those small, stylistic things, as an adult I find them almost charming, but as a kid, they took me out of the story.
Gotham City feels smaller in this movie. Batman was shot in England, at the legendary Pinewood Studios, where a huge chunk of Gotham City was built. Pinewood Studios is also where portions of Superman and Superman II were shot on the famous 007 Stage. On the backlot, portions of New York City streets were recreated for the infamous fight between Superman and General Zod and his crew. In Batman, Gotham feels like a city. In Batman Returns, which was filmed at Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles, even though the sets were huge, it looks (and feels) like less of Gotham was built. And it’s pretty obvious that certain sets were re-used, albeit decorated differently (the exterior of Shreck’s Dept Store and the exterior of Gotham City Hall of Records). Even with the matte paintings of Gotham’s skylines, and chases on the rooftops, Gotham feels small.
Batman the murderer is on the loose. Seriously, Burton’s Batman is a killer in the same way that every action movie star of the 1980s-1990s are, and it’s disappointing. In an interview for one of the behind-the-scene documentaries on Warner Bros.’s superb Batman Anthology DVD/Blu-ray set, I believe it was Daniel Waters who said that while fans complained that Batman killed in these movies, they felt they needed to make him more modern, and in modern movies, the action heroes often kill indiscriminately. To which I say: Bullshit. Why the need to make Batman like every other action star of that time period? Batman purposely uses the Batmobile to set someone on fire, and purposely attaches a bomb to another criminal, blowing him to hell. (How many people will come to my website by searching Batman blowing? We’ll find out! Whee!). And for all intents and purposes, he kills the Penguin as well. Yet, he stands down in the Penguin’s lair, trying to convince Selina Kyle not to kill Max Shreck. He argues that they’re not like Shreck, which I read as, “We’re not killers like he is.” Except…he’s killed all those goons that worked with the Joker, the Joker, several of Penguin’s goons, and, at this point, possibly the Penguin…twice. The way I see it, if Selina Kyle/Catwoman kills Shreck, she’s doing something Batman most likely would’ve done anyway. The argument is, of course, he had no choice but to kill these people. Maybe, maybe not. But the thing that makes the comic book Batman so interesting is that he is unwilling to kill, and when he does, it messes him up.
The black gunk that comes from the Penguin’s mouth. It’s just weird. Blech.
Like Burton’s initial foray into Gotham City, Batman Returns is a tour-de-force of imaginative filmmaking. Nitpicking aside, not only do I enjoy the movie, but I like it even more than its predecessor. It’s faster paced, has more humor, and is just more fun. I saw it twice in the theaters when it came out (and still have the ticket stubs) and multiple times in the year or two that followed, once I got the videotape for Christmas.
Batman Returns was a financial hit, though the reviews were mixed. While Burton’s vision and unique storytelling prowess were often cited as plusses, they were also parts of the criticism that the movie, which was rated PG-13 (like its predecessor), was too dark and too scary. Still, it seemed inevitable that Warner Bros. would want a third adventure. And I knew, that summer in which I turned 15, that I couldn’t wait for a third movie!
A possible piece of trivia: I’ve kept movie stubs for every movie I’ve seen since June 1992. The first stub is for Batman Returns. So is the second stub, seen a month later.
Friday in Gautham: Final Thoughts
We survived this time. We went through twelve movies that had fairly bad reviews when they came out but captured the interest of many in the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s. The character of Jason Voorhees is a part of American culture in the same way Karloff’s Frankenstein’s monster was in his day (and even now). Sure, he lacked the attitude and flash of Freddy Krueger, or the bizarreness of Pinhead, and he certainly wasn’t a cute as Chucky, but Jason held his own.
Looking back, I question whether it was a good idea to go down this road at all. Over twelve essays, I’ve hardly had anything nice to say about these movies. Fans of the series probably checked out a long time ago. What I want you to know is that when I decided, over a year ago now, to go watch these movies and write these essays, I did so in the hopes that they would surprise me. I wanted to see in Jason what his fans saw. I wanted to be able to say that, yeah, I got it.
But I don’t. I get why these movies made money, that’s not in doubt. But I don’t get how these movies are still revered. With the exception of the sixth movie, they’re not all that much fun, or clever. Jason is hardly ever scary. And you never really care about any of the victims.
Yet, their fame persists. I feel like I’ve been too critical–too grumpy, maybe–over these movies that were never designed to be good movies. Where I can make a rather funny argument that the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies are arguably the most important movies of the 1980s because of the socio-political commentaries (someday I may even tell you about that. It’s tongue-in-cheek but I think I have some actual good arguments), I have trouble finding any socio-political worth to the Friday the 13th movies. Except, maybe….
Jason represents Reagan era politics. Jason Voorhees is the conservative machine bent on killing the liberal 1960s and 1970s. The young people who die are lovemaking, pot-smoking kids (hippies) in the earliest movies and MTV kids in the later movies. Jason is a throwback to the conservative ideal that the good ol’ days were better. Once these kids started to experiment with free love and mind-altering substances, their morals and convictions went out the window. And even though Jason always dies at the end, it’s always by the girl (or the girl and guy) who is the cleanest cut of the group, the ones who will probably grow up to vote for the Conservative.
I totally pulled that out of my ass, but it reads well so I’m going to keep it.
Anyway, my favorite of these movies is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. I think I’d actually own this and watch it again. That and Freddy vs. Jason, which I do own. But you know why. My favorite Jason is a toss-up between the Jasons in those two movies (C.J. Graham and Ken Kirzinger). Though I liked the Jason in the remake (Derek Mears), as well.
With the recent sale of the series back to Paramount, and their plans on doing another reboot, it’ll be interesting to see if they try to make an actual scary movie (if they even can) or just do more of the same. I guess we’ll see.
For now, though, we made it away from Crystal Lake (and New York, and Space) with most of our limbs intact. Thanks for making this journey with me.
Friday in Gautham Part X: Jason X (2002)
In 1991, New Line Cinema decided to kill Freddy Krueger with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Around this time, they acquired the rights to Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th and wanted to bring the two monsters together. However, when they asked Wes Craven if he wanted to be involved, he said no, but said he had an idea for a possible seventh installment. New Line jumped at the chance to have Craven back to helm a Nightmare film. Friday the 13th co-creator Sean S. Cunningham thought it would be a good idea to do with Jason what had been done with Freddy and officially kill him off, while also hinting at the long-desired team-up movie. New Line agreed and 1993 saw the release of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. You know this because I wrote about it in the last essay.
Jason Goes to Hell did all right at the box office but not as well as they’d hoped. New Line was eager to see what Wes Craven’s return to the dreamscape would do to revitalize interest in Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately, when Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was released in October 1994, it failed to live up to expectations. Interest in making the long-awaited team-up were put on the back-burner. At least until a different Wes Craven film, Scream, was a huge hit. Suddenly, New Line wanted a Freddy vs. Jason movie and even promised one for 1998. There was a major problem with that promise: They didn’t have a script.
Time passed and script after script was written, director after director was attached, and it kept falling apart. It seems that every year between 1994 and 2003, Robert Englund would tell an interviewer that they had a new script and there should be a movie within the following year. And each year would pass and nothing would happen.
Sean S. Cunningham didn’t like this. He was afraid that people would forget about Jason Voorhees. So he went to New Line head Michael De Luca and asked about a tenth Jason movie. Writer Todd Farmer pitched the idea that Jason goes to space and De Luca, he who co-penned the cinematic masterpiece Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, greenlit it.
Jason. In. Space.
Though the film was supposed to be released in 2000 or 2001, it was eventually released in April 2002. I didn’t see it then. Seeing now for this essay was one too many times.
David Cronenberg appears in cameo role. Until Jason (once again, Kane Hodder) kills him. It’s always a surprise to see a director that is considered very good make a cameo in a less-than-stellar movie, and here it’s downright shocking. To think that the man who directed one of the best horror films of the 1980s, The Fly, would appear in this horror (I use the term loosely) movie is shocking. But it’s fun for the What the FUCK?! factor.
The escape ship explosion was another nice touch. The set-up is typical horror movie stuff. A girl who is freaking out locks her friends out of their safehaven, in this case, the spaceship that will allow them to escape. Despite them banging on the door (or whathaveyou), she decides to leave the main spaceship without them. Typically, this is where Jason would suddenly appear to kill her. In this case, her own stupidity does her in and it actually surprised me. So did the spaceship’s crash into another safehaven, a space station, earlier in the movie.
The special effects are surprisingly good. I’ll give them credit. For a movie with a fairly small budget, the effects mostly came off.
Jason looks funny in this movie. His head isn’t malformed enough and he had a strange buzz-cut thing going on. His hockey mask is different. His clothes are different. And that’s before the Uber-Jason at the end. Uber-Jason is one of the worst monsters I’ve ever seen. The costume looks like something from a bad SyFy Channel movie. I understand that Jason has looked different in each movie, and there’s certainly a Who Gives a Shit? attitude about that, but this Jason just didn’t do it for me. I think there was too much of Kane Hodder present.
The acting is some of the worst in the series. But I can only blame them so much, because–
The story is ridiculous and full of clichés. I’ve read or heard somewhere that the movie was better before the studio watered down the script. Who knows? The very idea of putting Jason in space is stupid. At best it can only be a low-rent version of Alien. Add to that the most obvious one-liners and scripted dialogue, and we’re talking a disaster of a movie.
The Saturday After
Look, these have been some of the most negative essays I’ve written, and I know fans of the series are used to that sort of thing from non-fans. I almost feel bad about these essays, but I have to call it like I see it. Whether they made money or not, these movies just keep getting worse. The box office for Jason X was also lackluster.
But that was okay, because in 2002, news broke that horror nerds had been hearing for a looonnng time. And this time, it looked like it might actually happen….
Friday in Gautham Part IX: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
With the lackluster performance of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989, and with the urging of series co-creator Sean S. Cunningham, Paramount Pictures sold the franchise to New Line Cinema, whom they’d attempted to “rent” the Freddy Krueger character and situations from a few years prior. This would prove a major coup for New Line because now they could finally set up the Battle of the Ages: Freddy Krueger versus Jason Voorhees. The sale in the early 1990s came at just the right time because 1989 wasn’t a good year for Freddy, either. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, released a year after the highest-grossing Nightmare, earned the lowest amount for the franchise at that time. Hoping to cash in one last time, New Line released the final Nightmare movie, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, in 1991, and it made a good amount of money. The purchase of the Jason Voorhees character and Friday the 13th meant they now had the two most popular monsters of the 1980s and could finally put them together.
Robert Shaye knew Sean S. Cunningham would be on board since he’d been trying to get the Jason/Freddy project off the ground for years, but decided to ask Wes Craven if he had any ideas. As it turned out, Craven did have ideas…only not for a monster mash-up. Excited by any Craven involvement in a new Nightmare film, New Line Cinema went ahead with his idea for a seventh movie. This gave Cunningham and the studio the chance to do what the eighth Friday the 13th movie couldn’t do: Put an “end” to Jason and set up the eventual Freddy/Jason movie.
With a screenplay by Dean Lorey and Jay Huguley, from a story by Huguley and director Adam Marcus, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was released on August 13th, 1993. I remember watching it when it came on Cinemax about a year later, when I was either a junior or senior in high school. I was interested in watching it in and of itself but the real reason I wanted to see it was because, by that point, Fangoria had reported the surprise ending….
The acting is slightly better in this movie than in the previous Friday movies. The script gives the actors a little more to work with. That said, the stand-out performance for me was Erin Gray’s. Now, it could just be the nerdboy in me talking, except that I never saw her in Buck Rogers (because I never saw the show, not because I couldn’t see her, that’s weird of you to think), I only knew her from Silver Spoons. But she brings real pathos to her role. John D. LeMay as Steve Freeman is also pretty good. He also starred in Friday the 13th: The Television Series, only he played a different character.
I know I write this often in these essays, but I feel like I’m often grasping at straws, so my apologies for repeating myself, but the fact that the screenwriters tried to move into a totally different direction with Jason (Kane Hodder) and the series needs to be applauded. They truly leave the idea of Jason terrorizing teenagers/young adults behind and take the movie into a new direction. Jason is now a known enemy to the United States and a task force has been employed to destroy him. Playing with horror as a genre, they reference the Evil Dead films and give a reason for Jason’s supernatural ability, as well as a way to destroy him. They also give him a larger family that changes the way he can be viewed.
If you’re into these movies for the gore, then you’re in luck. Whatever shenanigans that kept gore out of the eighth movie seems to have gone away for this one. It’s ridiculously gory. So if you’re into that, that would be a plus.
Freddy! Yeah, you must’ve known I was going there. At the end Jason is dragged into hell by monsters. There’s a close-up of his hockey mask. He’s dead. And then Freddy’s gloved arm shoots up, grabs the mask, and drags it into hell, with Freddy’s signature laugh. Of course, the arm looks strangely muscular (Kane Hodder provided the arm) and the blades of the glove bend when they hit the dirt, but it’s Freddy.
While the overall acting is slightly better in this movie, there are still some horrible performances. For me, the most surprising of these bad performances was given by Steven Williams as he played bounty hunter Creighton Duke. Williams has had a long, good career. I first knew him as the boss on Fox’s hit 21 Jump Street, which starred A Nightmare on Elm Street alum Johnny Depp. Williams was also a nerd favorite on The X Files as Mr. X. He’s a pretty good actor who is terrible in this movie. Maybe it’s not the right role for him. I don’t know, but it’s bad.
The story is real bad. That’s the problem with the Friday the 13th movies (or the Jason movies, as I guess they should be called for the next few essays), even if it’s the best written one, chances are likely that the movie is still shitty. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is no exception. It begins with Jason stalking a young woman who turns out to be part of that federal task force I mentioned earlier and ends with him being dragged to hell by some of the silliest monsters I’ve ever seen (though less silly than the Dream Demons from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, I’ll give Jason the point for that). And then a young family walks into the sunrise. What? Yeah, you read that correctly. There’s a baby in this movie, and family issues, and a love story, and stereotypical foul-mouthed fat ladies, and more plot holes than I have time to list. And, the biggest problem by far is–
Where’s Jason?! New Line Cinema acquires their biggest horror competitor. They want to do a Freddy vs. Jason movie. They’ve already killed off Freddy (and it won’t be an issue that he returns for Wes Craven’s new Nightmare movie, which will be released the following year). And here we go with killing off Jason and…we’re going to keep Jason out of most of the movie.
Jason appears at the beginning, as I mentioned, until the U.S. government blows him up. Then his remains spout some creature that then goes around possessing people. We’re told by the bounty hunter that Jason the person has long been dead, but the evil entity in him takes his evil essence and finds new hosts for him. The idea is that Jason has been different people all the time. Forget the fact that almost every Friday the 13th movie showed him return from the prior movie’s resting place. The only other time we see Jason until the very end when he finally returns (plot hole alert), is in the mirror whenever his hosts stand in front of one. Instead of seeing Jason kill, which is all his fans pay to see anyway, we’re given a variety of characters committing Jason-style violent deaths.
Which only highlights what I’ve been saying throughout these movies: the true reason for the horror of a horror movie isn’t even being attempted, not even for laughs. The movies have devolved into a slaughterfest meant to do nothing but make powerless adolescents laugh at gruesome, horrible deaths. The fact that this is the ninth movie of this is a horrific happening unto itself.
Oh, and let’s talk about Jason himself in this movie. He looks stupid. His head has somehow inflated to twice the normal size, he’s regrown hair, and he’s not even close to wearing what he wore in the last few movies. If this is because he’s in a new body, how did the head come to look like a watermelon-sized meatball? He’s lame.
The Saturday After
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is a new day for Jason. New Line was able to make it more supernatural than the character (and story) had been but ultimately failed to do anything interesting with the movie. It’s essentially a 90-minute prologue to Freddy vs. Jason, which they hoped to make after the new Wes Craven Nightmare was released. As a teenager, I thought the movie was okay. As an adult, I’m shocked by how bad it is compared to my memory of it.
The movie did okay and it certainly promised fans what they’d been hoping for for nearly a decade. With all the pieces in place, what could possibly go wrong?
A Nightmare in Gautham: An Epilogue
I look at A Nightmare on Elm Street and its follow-ups as a huge piece of my childhood. You know my feelings on the movies, I spent enough time and energy on them, but I felt compelled to say a few more words on the Nightmare series before moving on.
New Line Cinema had a chance to create a horror film franchise that could actually maintain its scariness, in much the same way Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson would later do with Scream. They had a great villain and a great premise, all they needed was to understand what the nine-year-old in me, and those who have followed me this far along (and all the children in all the adults who are fans of series like this): You can’t do it for the money. Yes, you should be paid for it but the pay should be the frosting when it comes to art. Wes Craven made A Nightmare on Elm Street (and, I suspect, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) out of the compulsion/obsession to tell the story, and the love of storytelling and filmmaking, not out of the desire to get rich and famous. By focusing on telling a really good story, by hiring people who understood the possibilities of the horror story (someone like Frank Darabont, for example), the Nightmare movies could have been scary as hell and still would have made New Line Cinema money.
Still, Freddy Krueger haunts me. At least once a year since I saw the first movie I have a bad Freddy Krueger nightmare. Love it or hate it, these movies turned me onto horror, which led me to Stephen King, which led me to reading and writing, which led me to…you. The imagination was there and Star Wars and superheroes and action figures helped cultivate it, but Wes Craven’s child is what led me to the realization that I could do something with all these fears and anxieties I have. Sure, it was Stephen King’s prose and storytelling that turned me to the typewriter (and, eventually, the computer), but….
And I’m not the only one. A group of fans made a great documentary in 2010 called Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. It’s a huge documentary on the entire series, weighing in at about 4 hours, with lots of bonus stuff on disc 2. I highly recommend it. Anothe documentary I recommend is Heather Langenkamp’s own documentary I Am Nancy, in which she looks at fandom, the power of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, as well as the importance of the character she originated, Nancy Thompson. There’s a lot of heart in this documentary and it brought tears to my eyes, especially when a young woman in a wheelchair explains to Langenkamp how the character of Nancy has inspired her to keep going. Another highlight is an excellent interview with Wes Craven about the symbolism of Freddy and Nancy.
I feel like the guest who stays at the party too long, the person at the hair place who will not drop the topic even though it was over before it began. I hope that’s not the case. I also hope that if you’ve read this far, you’ve been entertained and perhaps have felt the desire to re-watch those movies. For those who give a damn about such things, here’s my Nightmare ranking list:
9. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, dir. Rachel Talalay)
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, dir. Jack Sholder)
7. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003, dir. Ronny Yu)
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, dir. Samuel Bayer)
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989, dir. Stephen Hopkins)
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, dir. Renny Harlin)
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, dir. Chuck Russell)
2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, dir. Wes Craven)
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, dir. Wes Craven)
And, as my Dad used to say, happy dreams.
A Nightmare in Gautham 6: FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991)
There were no new Nightmares for the two years I was in junior high school, which is probably all right, junior high was a bad enough nightmare. Still, the horror didn’t stop. A week before I began the eighth grade, the night before my thirteenth birthday, I saw a profile of Stephen King on ABC’s Primetime Live. It made me more curious about him than ever so the next day I bought his novel The Shining. By chapter 3, I decided I wanted to be a writer. It was 1990.
I don’t remember when I first learned of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991, but feel like it was in a movie poster. Either way, learning about a new Nightmare to open on September 13th (it was a Friday), just weeks after I began high school, was pretty cool. So there I was in the theater during the opening weekend, with my 3D glasses waiting for the right moment and….
Would it be hyperbolic to say that I knew it would be a turd before the movie’s title had even shown up? At the start of both Dream Warriors and The Dream Master, the writers/directors put quotes from Edgar Allan Poe and The Bible respectively. The Dream Child skipped this but director Rachel Talalay (who concocted this story and co-wrote the screenplay) and co-screenwriter Michael DeLuca (who had written episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares—A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series) put in a quote by Frederich Nietzsche.
Okay, says fourteen-year-old Billy. That’s a good quote. Then comes another quote:
And we’re off. I knew this would be garbage. At fourteen-friggin’-years-old I knew this movie would suck, but I hoped I was wrong. I could end the essay right here because there’s really no reason to go further. But I will, because I’m compulsive (and perhaps too self-indulgent) and because you’ve stuck with me to find out which Nightmare I deemed THE WORST NIGHTMARE EVER.
After that wonderful quote, the title comes falling down one letter at a time like boulders, a title that I hated when I first learned of it: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. It pretty much says everything right there. Why see it? Then a really horrible map that appears to be shot from a computer screen pops up, revealing that Springwood, the town that Freddy has haunted since 1984, is in…Ohio? But what about Tina’s reference to weird things happening before earthquakes in the first movie? And the palm trees that pop up in shots throughout the series? O-fuckin’-hio?
Then the shit really hit the fan, and with it in 3D, oh, what a mess was made.
I left the theater numb. (Well, I always leave a movie theater numb. I actually refuse to talk about a movie for a while after I see it and never speak of the movie while still in the theater…unless it’s so good or so bad that I cannot help myself). I left the theater with a hatred for Rachel Talalay and Michael DeLuca and Robert Shaye and New Line Cinema for ruining The Greatest Monster Of All Time.
So, let’s get our gloves on and dissect this muthafuggah, shall we?
Yaphet Kotto. He acts in this movie. He is one of two people who do. Like Dr. Neil Gordon (and one could argue Nancy was also an adult in Dream Warriors), he is an adult that believes in Freddy and is willing to help dispose of him. Unlike Dr. Neil Gordon, he didn’t have good writers like Frank Darabont to give him much to do. His talent is wasted.
Lezlie Deane plays Tracy. She’s also pretty good in this movie. Her portrayal of the damaged girl with anger management issues is pretty right on and she’s worth watching.
The running time is 96 minutes. I used this same joke on Freddy’s Revenge. Deal with it.
Speaking of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, this movie makes the second of the series look like Citizen Kane. This is a dream for that movie.
The clips that run through the closing credits. They remind viewers that Freddy Krueger had some good moments before this movie.
The story/script. The story was by Rachel Talalay and the screenplay by her and Michael DeLuca. Talalay had been working on the Nightmare movies since the first movie when she was an assistant of some kind. She worked her way up to producer and somehow convinced New Line to let her take control of this movie. In interviews on the 1999 DVD set, Talalay shows the same sort of stupid arrogance that Jack Sholder shows in his interview regarding Freddy’s Revenge. They blame this factor and that factor on why their movies sucked, and Talalay points that this was wrong and that was wrong with the predecessors and that her budget wasn’t good and the 3D gimmick was forced on her by New Line and….
Neither of the directors of the two failures of the series seems to want to shoulder the responsibility. Neither wants to cop to the fact that they are horrible storytellers, yet both have proven it with the movies they’ve done after Freddy’s Dead. Go to the IMDb and look. I’ll wait.
Back? Okay. The story gives us another revelation about Freddy: he was married and had a child! And it appeared that he lived in Nancy’s house at the time. And this house, which we’ve been following since 1984 (which seemed to have changed locations in 1988 when Kristen and her friends went to visit it), suddenly sprung a water tower behind it. Anyway, there’s a boy (Shon Greenblatt) who leaves Springwood and ends up in some city where the authorities place him in a home for troubled kids. In the hopes of fixing his amnesia, Dr. Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane) brings him back to Springwood, which we find has no children because Freddy got them all (although I think Roseanne Barr/Arnold/Barr and Tom Arnold ate them all), and…. Oh, it doesn’t matter. The story is a mess. And the math is off. Even when folks have tried to bring the timeline together in the expanded universe, it’s off and doesn’t make sense.
“I wanted this movie to have a more gritty and urban feel and a distinct visual style to it. What I tried to bring to The Final Nightmare was a real story,” Rachel Talalay said in an article from Fangoria (thanks, again, to The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion for this quote). If it was “a more urban and gritty feel” she was after, she failed. First off, the idea of A Nightmare on Elm Street was, I would think, the horrifying acts of suburban parents and how it comes back to haunt their children. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Freddy kills suburban children, gets arrested, gets out of jail free. Suburban parents burn Freddy. Ten years later, Freddy comes back for the suburban kids–several of them coming from broken homes (most likely having something to do with roasting someone)–through nightmares. As far as her “distinct visual style,” Talalay’s direction is sloppy. There are hardly any transitions, neither in the story nor between clips. The camera seems to move when it should be still and is still when it should move. I think she wanted the 3D feel throughout the movie, even though it’s only at the end where the 3D comes in.
The acting is horrendous. It has, arguably, one of the best casts in the series when you look at it on paper. Lisa Zane had a name at this point in some independent movies and some B-movies, Brecken Meyer–who wasn’t known but was headed for an okay career, and the aforementioned Kotto. Yet, except for the two actors listed above in the Dreams section of this essay, none of the actors pulls it off. Shon Greenblatt, who plays John Doe, is the first person we’re introduced to and he’s terrible. He gets angry for no reason and overacts. His lines are given as naturally as pus being expelled from a pimple, with nastier results. And his character is stupid, and I use the term stupid, I don’t mean that I don’t like the character so he’s stupid, but that John Doe had the mental capacity of a sack of oats. I mentioned above that the math doesn’t make sense. John Doe is supposed to be a teenager and he believes that he’s Freddy’s child, but even a fourteen-year-old who was horrible at math (me) knew that he was too damn young to be Freddy’s child. Freddy was already toast by the time he was born. Meyer plays the spoiled pot-head with about as much skill as a rock. Luckily for him, Clueless and The Craft were coming up. Ricky Dean Logan as Carlos is okay, but isn’t great. He’s a deaf Hispanic kid who uses his disability to annoy those around him by removing his hearing aid to shut out their voices. And finally, Lisa Zane sleepwalks through the movie. Maybe she signed on before reading the script? I don’t know, but what a waste.
Robert Englund as Freddy. Freddy is a comedian in this movie, except he’s not funny. The acting is overdone, most of Freddy’s lines are shouted, the lines are just terrible, and silly pantomimes are used too often. Don’t get me started on the makeup, which is the worst makeup of the series. Freddy Krueger is the star but this movie is crap and he’s crap in it. The best parts in the movie with Freddy, funny enough, are when Englund is out of makeup, and he’s almost good in then.
Now don’t think I’m a hater. (Yes, I wrote that). Robert Englund is a classically trained actor and his portrayal of Fred Krueger in the original Nightmare elevated the character to great heights. But as I said in my last essay, the character, and his portrayal of the character, is too diluted. And even if it’s the editor’s/director’s fault for choosing the humorous takes over the scary ones, Englund holds some responsibility–there’s only so much you can blame on the editor. The very first time we see Freddy in this movie is when John Doe’s house is in the air and Freddy comes by with a black cape, pointed witch hat, and riding a broom. He shouts, “I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little soul, too!” I would think at that point, he must have had at least a leetle veto power.
The cameos. Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold. Johnny Depp poking fun at the “This is your brain on drugs” PSAs that used to run and were already old when these culturally hip people put the movie together. Alice Cooper as Freddy’s adoptive father. Each one of these cameos cheapens the movie. They worked in The Muppet Movie but not in Freddy’s Dead.
The dream demons. These are horribly-done puppets/CG characters that float around and promise Freddy immortality and power in the dream world, answering the question: How did Freddy get his power? To me, he was scarier without us knowing. That’s the magic of the horror story: answers aren’t needed. The makers of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare disagreed and they give answers. As is so often the case, the answers are lame.
The 3D effects. Now, folks, I like some of the recent results of the new 3D craze. I think that digital 3D can be great and is fun for some movies (though I did feel it detracted from Avatar, which needed all the help it could get). Freddy’s Dead‘s 3D was almost twenty years before digital 3D and it was bad. It made a bad movie even worse.
The clips running through the end credits. Yeah, they were great to see on the big screen, but they only pointed out how horrible this movie was.
The Morning After
I put off watching this movie on DVD and actually skipped it last summer when I did my Nightmare-a-thon, but decided I should watch it when this kakameme idea came to post these little write-ups. Maybe, I thought (hoped), like Freddy’s Revenge, Freddy’s Dead would have some charm. Nope. It didn’t. At least the makers of the second one had the excuse that they didn’t realize how big Freddy and A Nightmare on Elm Street would become.
The movie makes me sad. With a little bit of thought, with a little bit of understanding, with a little bit of caring, even this movie could have redeemed the issues with the prior two movies. Instead, it felt like a big ol’ Fuck you to the fans. It was as though New Line Cinema, aka “The House That Freddy Built”, were laughing at the people who’d made them the company they had become, a company that would be bought by Time-Warner a few years later and would go on to make The Lord of the Rings.
The movie still feels that way. Of course, as an adult, I know that nothing lasts forever. There can only be a finite number of stories before you have to rethink something. The comic books have been doing that for seventy-five years with Superman, Batman, etc. Still, a television series like Lost proves that quality storytelling can be done in far more time than it takes to watch the entire Nightmare movies, if the story is told by people who care about the story they’re telling, and the audience who is receiving it.