Schumacher’s Batman: Nipp(l)ed In The Bud

 

 

Cast your mind back to 1997, and the technicolour gaudy glory that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman And Robin. Despite almost dragging the series back to the camp theatrics of the Adam West / Burt Ward T.V show (nipples on costumes? Close-up pvc clad butts – really?), Warner Bros. were so confident with Schumacher’s handling of the material, they were prepared (until the final numbers came in) to offer him the next gig.

Batman Triumphant, scripted by Mark Protosovich, was to feature The Scarecrow as main villain, and introduce Harley Quinn, reimagined as either The Joker’s daughter, or lover, out for revenge against Batman for his death. Jack Nicholson would reprise his iconic role, but as a fear induced hallocinogin. “The Joker is coming, and it’s no laughing matter,” he teased journalists at a press conference for As Good As It Gets.  Madonna campaigned for the role of Harley Quinn, even dressing like the character at a red carpet event.

At the time, John Travolta, Howard Stern and Jeff Goldblum were bandied about as a possible Scarecrow. Schumacher later told indiewire.com in October 2011, “I was supposed to do a fifth one. I was talking to Nic Cage about playing The Scarecrow. I had begged for The Dark Knight (Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns), but they wanted a family friendly, toyetic thing.”  Let’s imagine Nic Cage as The Scarecrow. At the time, he was fresh from Oscar success with Leaving Las Vegas, and had delivered in the action stakes with Face / Off and The Rock. But would he have delivered a nutso performance, or a nuanced one? Watch this clip, and imagine The Scarecrow with his fear toxin turned back on himself:

Regarding Batman And Robin, Schumacher stated he “made the wrong choice. I did my job. it was more family friendly and it sold a lot of toys, and it supported the Warner Bros stores. But I did disappoint a lot of fans.” That sounds like a bit of revisionism from Schumacher, after the success of Christopher Nolan’s re-invention. Prior to this in 1999. he told lifewhile.com, “I’d like to do a young, scaled down, de-constructed Batman in a way. I think I owe the real hardcore dark Batman fans a movie.”

Needless to say, Schumacher wasn’t entrusted with Batman 5. Despite later falling on his batarang and claiming he killed the franchise, George Clooney still appeared to have the backing of the studio. This despite rumours that Kurt Russell was circling the part, in line for the keys to Wayne Manor. In 1997, Clooney told E! News “If there is another, I’d do it. I have a contract to do it. It’d be interesting to get another crack at it, to make it different or better.” That wouldn’t be hard, it couldn’t be any worse, could it? Of Batman And Robin, he said “I got the sense that it fell short, so I need to go back and look at it, see what I could have done better.” I assume once he looked at it again, he shuddered, and vowed never to go near it again with a Bat-pole.

Schumacher’s other avowed inspiration, Miller’s Batman: Year One, tracked Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham and commencement of his crime-fighting alt-career, and Jim Gordon’s introduction to the city. Gordon is a clean cop, punished with a transfer to a corrupt Gotham. Eventually, after Gordon reluctantly hunts the Dark Knight, the two will team up to tackle the rot endemic at the heart of the system. Warner Bros. approached up and coming director Darren Aronofsky to reboot the franchise. “I told them I’d cast Clint Eastwood as the Dark Knight, and shoot it in Tokyo, doubling for Gotham City,” he smirked. “That got their attention.”

 

Aronofsky’s approach was bold. “I pitched the complete opposite (to the previous campiness), which was totally bring it back to the streets raw, trying to set it in a kind of real reality – no stages, no sets, shooting it all in inner cities across America, creating a very real feeling. My pitch was Death Wish or The French Connection meets Batman.” Warner Bros commissioned a script from him and Frank Miller, that created the Batman mythology anew. After his parents murder, the boy Bruce is taken in by “Big Al”, who runs an auto repair shop. Bruce broods on the goings on in the brothel across the street – bent cops and hoodlums pass through Selina Kyle’s door (soon to be Catwoman), while elsewhere clean detective Jim Gordon also stews at the corruption endemic in the city.

When Bruce takes up his fight against crime, it’s more Kick-Ass than Batman – he improvises a costume with a cape and hockey mask. Eventually, utilising the tools in his work place, he creates a more elaborate costume and weapons, and upgrades a black Lincoln Continental as his Bat-mobile (shades of The Green Hornet). Bruce finally assumes the mantle of heir to the Wayne fortune, assuming the role of playboy by day, while teaming up unofficially with Gordon to fight crime by night.

 

The original comic and script share Bruce’s noir narration. This is part inspired by Taxi Driver – one comic panel almost exactly matches the poster, Bruce walking undercover down a seedy street full of porno theatre signs. They both have Gordon heroically rescue a toddler  from a hostage situation, and have Selina Kyle transform from hooker to cat burglar. Aronofsky perhaps naively hoped that in the same way “DC comics put out different types of Batman titles for different ages, there might be a way of doing [the movies] at different levels. So I was pitching to make an R- rated fan-based Batman – a hardcore version that we’d do for not much money… maybe release it after you release the PG one, and say “That’s for kids, and this one’s for adults.””

This was never going to realistically fly. Another reboot mooted in 1998, pitched Batman and Superman together. Batman Vs Superman, scripted by Andrew Kevin Walker and polished by Akiva Goldsman, would have the heroes team up, then clash. Bruce has married and put aside the Bat-cowl after Robin dies (very Freudian!).  Supes / Clark Kent, meanwhile, has issues with Lois Lane.  When he saves the Joker from a beating before the Joker murders Bruce’s wife, Bruce blames him and takes up the Batman persona again, exacting vengeance by proxy against the underworld, before actually clashing with Superman. He and the big blue boy scout clash over his methods, before reuniting.

Despite misgivings, Warner Bros prepared Batman Vs Superman for 2004, to be helmed  by Wolfgang Petersen. He talked it up as a “clash of the titans. Superman is clear, bright, all that is noble and good, and Batman represents the dark, obsessive and vengeful side. They are two sides of the same coin and that is material for great drama.” All kinds of actors names were thrown into the hat for the parts – Jude Law and Josh Hartnett for Superman, Colin Farrell and (prophetically) Christian Bale for Batman. However, Warner Bros quickly cooled on the idea, excited by a separate stand alone script treatment for Superman from J.J. Abrams. Studio president Alan Horn asked executives to read both scripts and decide which was better. Ultimately though, he had final say. “I said I wanted to do Superman, ” he told the New York Times. “At the end of the day, it’s my job to decide what movies we make.” The Superman film eventually morphed into Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns.

The hope was still to have Superman and Batman team up a few films later, although it went on the back burner when its greatest champion resigned. It is however, a plan D.C /  Warner Brothers are hoping to recreate with the Justice League of America film, aping the success of Marvel Studios The Avengers. All sorts of Batman ideas were now considered. Comic writer Grant Morrison, creator of Arkham Asylum, pitched Batman: Year Zero, in which a pre-Batman Bruce roams the globe, Kung -Fu’s Grasshopper style, acquiring the skills to become The Dark Knight. Primary villain was Ra’s Al Ghul…

In 2003, Christopher Nolan was entrusted with the franchise. His approach for his series touched upon several elements from the gritty, post-gaudy Schumacher treatments, but tempered the adult themes with an envelope pushing 12a approach (Scarecrow’s fear gas, Joker’s magic trick, anyone?) – plenty of toys for the kids, and complexity for the grown ups. This would be the first definitive origin story for the character. He turned to Batman fan David S. Goyer to script the film. Although busy, Goyer outlined a few ideas for free, until, swayed by Nolan’s enthusiasm and insistence, he found the time to do a first draft. “All I can say is that I’ve grown up with Batman, ” Nolan declared. ” I’ve been fascinated by him and I’m excited to contribute to the lore surrounding the character. He is the most credible and realistic of the superheroes, and has the most complex human psychology.”

Batman Begins is not so much a title, more a statement of intent – when Nolan’s Batman hit screens, it was as if the character was born again. With The Dark Knight Rises, the legend ends. With Batman Begins, the legend definitively began anew.

 

 

Originally posted 2012-06-07 13:38:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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