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HE STOLE MY BALLOONS

31 May 2008

Since I'm in a Batman kind of mood with the upcoming release of The Dark Knight, I decided to indulge in my open fanboyism of the caped crusader and watch the first Burton Batman movie again on DVD.

First things first. I've always loved Batman. From my earliest youth where I saw Adam West running around in tights carrying bombs over docks and climbing on buildings with windows from which people would pop up to say hello. That stuff rocked. Then I graduated to the Burton movies, and the wonderfully stylish and gritty Warner Bros cartoon series, and the late-nineties Joel Silver neonfests (with the Batnipples and the Batvisa), and eventually the Christopher Nolan series begun with Batman Begins. I never really read the comics a lot, for whatever reason. And I despise the new Batman cartoon which is made by the same guys who did Jacky Chan Adventures and completely misses the point. So, that's my history with Batman. Love it.

And I always loved the first movie, with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. I remember well the first time I saw it. I must've been ten or something and had only ever seen spandex Adam West and Cesar Romero's clown villain with white paint over his lucky actor's moustache (let that sink in for a while). I was at my grandmother's house with the whole family, it was late in the evening and I was watching tv quietly while the parents talked in the living room. And I zapped into the climactic cathedral scene of the movie. You can imagine how flabbergasted I was. Here was a Batman in dark black leather who threw people into ringing church bells! And no cartoony ~POW~ and 'ZAP' flashed on-screen when a hit was made! What was this grim and terrifying version of my hero? And whence came this delightfully gothic music? I sat with open mouth and watched as Joker got beaten up and finally nearly escaped on a helicopter rope ladder. But the tide turned against him and it was as if the cathedral rose up to smite him to the cold Gotham street below. Decidedly dead.

That scene formed the basis of everything I thought was epic, thrilling and grand to this very day.

And yet, when I watched the movie this week, I noticed with dread it was aging before my very eyes. The last time I saw it was some four years ago. It had been untouchable still, then. Now, it became obvious this was a film of almost twenty years old. A painful realisation, since in my mind it stood for a modern Batman of the darkest possible tone and expression. Yet, when looking at it today, it's almost as clumsy and comical as the Adam West version was. Sure, certain scenes haven't lost their impact. The destruction of the Axis chemical plant, the birth of the Joker, the who-do-you-trust parade and the bell tower climax; they're all still as masterful as they were then. But what's in between is often appalling. Vicky Vale and her endless screaming, the stunted romance plot, the willy-nilly narrative, Joker's horrible quips and one-liners... it's as musty and stale as day-old bread.

In conclusion, it's about time for a new Batman movie with everyone's favourite criminal jester. After twenty years, let's see what a modern day Batman can truly do with his most ancient nemesis. I'll be waiting with baited breath, silently hoping it'll have as great an impact on me as that one single movie had all those years ago.

Roderick.