Into The Light: A Look Back at Batman Forever

 

In Batman Returns Gotham had become a tiny sound stage full of extras from A Nightmare Before Christmas. It had also not performed as well as Warner Bros. had (rightly) expected it would. It was time to take Batman back into the mainstream. They wanted a third movie and most of all they wanted more light. Burton was shifted to producing duties and Joel Schumacher was brought in to take over directing duties.  This was Batman Forever.

Schumacher originally intended to the next instalment of Batman to be an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, however the studio insisted they wanted a sequel and not a prequel. The work began with Schumacher bringing in his own design team with the remit being to bring Gotham out of the darkness. Make it grander, bigger and more over the top. Fill it with neon , Japanese symbols and multi coloured spotlights. Essentially turn it into Liberace’s idea of a utopian paradise.

The first stumbling block was Batman himself. Michael Keaton took one look at the script and the general concept and turned it down. He was offered $15 million dollars to play Batman/Bruce Wayne again, but Keaton was smart and saw the train coming. Schumacher had seen Val Kilmer in Tombstone and liked what he saw. You can understand why, Kilmer dominated every scene in which he appeared. Given that the cast is littered with eye catching performers, that is no small feat. His portrayal of Doc Holliday is one of the most memorable acting turns of the last twenty years. Kilmer accepted the Batman role without seeing a script. Rene Russo was originally attached to play the love interest (Dr. Chase Meridian), but was dropped once Kilmer was cast. It was felt that Kilmer should have a younger woman to play against, therefore Nicole Kidman was cast.

The villains of the piece were set to be The Riddler and Two-Face. Billy Dee Williams had played Harvey Dent in the original Batman and had signed with the agreement that he would play Two-Face when the time came. The filmmakers had other ideas and paid Dee-Williams a full fee for not appearing in the film. Instead they cast Tommy Lee Jones (which almost rhymes with Dee-Williams) to play the coin-flipping baddie. Schumacher wanted Jones from day one as he had enjoyed working with him on The Client. Robin Williams was interested in playing The Riddler, though Jim Carrey was so hot at the time and was immediately cast.

Schumacher was keen to sail under his own steam, so out went Danny Elfman’s incredible original score, and in came Elliot Goldenthal. Goldenthal was told by Schumacher to ignore Elfman’s score and come up with something new altogether. The end result isn’t bad, but lacks the grandiose punch and brooding menace of its predecessor. Though it cannot be argued that in terms of tone, it fits perfectly with the visuals. The Batmobile was also changed from the sleek, stealth-looking formula one car to a giant children’s toy with glowing bits and wobbly bat wings.

Filming was apparently a difficult affair. This was around the time that Val Kilmer was beginning to earn a reputation for being “difficult”. Schumacher described Kilmer as, “childish and impossible”. Tommy Lee Jones also acted up on set, apparently threatened by Jim Carrey and his energetic performances. This obviously explains why Jones spends the whole film turned up to eleven and acting like a drunk madam in pantomime who is on fire and is being put out by a drunk fireman with a bottle of scotch. Schumacher later said, “Jim Carrey was a gentleman, and Tommy Lee was threatened by him. I’m tired of defending overpaid, over privileged actors. I pray I don’t work with them again.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement (though he did work with Carrey again on the film Number 23)

As if the film didnt have enough going on already, Chris O’Donnell was cast as Robin. The film giving us the best explanation as to why he’s called Robin you are likely to hear. When asked why he will be called Robin, Robin says that his (now dead) family gave him the name when he was a trapeze artist.  Apparently he “flew through the air like a robin”. Which isn’t exactly the first animal that springs to mind when you think of things flying through the air. He could very possibly have been called, “Frisbee” or “Saucer”.

The finished film is not exactly a masterpiece. The tone has shifted to high camp and at times it makes the 60s TV series seem like The Wire. Val Kilmer is fifty percent brilliant. As Batman he is menacing and carries the right amount of serious tone that the part requires. As Bruce Wayne however, Kilmer seems an odd fit. The script doesn’t help mind you. There is also the fact that this film is really not about Batman. There are parallels to be drawn between this film and Superman 3. Jim Carrey (as Richard Pryor did before him in Superman 3) is given the time and space to take over the film and use each of his scenes to essentially “do his stuff”. By the climax of the film you are left wondering who the film is about, Batman or the villains- which is something you can level at all of the Batman films in the franchise. Batman will always come up short. There is also the fact that he is now competing with (a quite annoying) Robin for screen time. The less said about the nipples on the batsuit and the gratuitous shots of Batman’s ass the better.

Warner Bros. were happy with the final product. It also had the biggest opening weekend of all time at that point. Warner also went with another merchandising push and an album filled with music “inspired by the film”. The U2 song “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”  was the first hit and Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” soon followed.

So impressed were Warner Bros. at the financial success of Batman Forever that they immediately commissioned a sequel and fast tracked production for a 1997 release. That didnt give anyone much time. The next film had better be good. Sadly it wasn’t. Next time we’ll explore what happened there.

Originally posted 2012-08-23 15:32:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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