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“I’m Batman”

As the development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campness embodied by the Batman television series of the 60s. According to producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film began, and everyone from Columbia to Universal turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

Although Warner Bros. chose Tim Burton to direct Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points leading up to Batman, Joe Dante and Ivan Reitman were both considered for the gig.

Though he was part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in. Burton said –

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,”

“They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

The casting process for Batman was a long one and a number of major stars were considered for the title role including Mel Gibson, Bill Murray, Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan.

Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up like a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit.

Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He wasn’t the only actor considered either. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams.

After Nicholson was cast, Williams was so offended that he refused to play the role of the Riddler in Batman Forever or even do a Warner Bros. production until the studio apologised.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practising horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured.

With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

“Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?”

In the film, The Joker (Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City.

It’s a twist that some comic book fans dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Supposedly, Nicholson had it in his contract that he wouldn’t be on set for makeup any earlier than 9 am. Keaton revealed that while filming in London, Nicholson made the makeup artist’s job particularly easy and immediately fell asleep in the chair.

Hamm also emphasises that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final showdown between Batman and The Joker in Gotham City’s clock tower.

According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom Of The Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Wuhl said –

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower”

The restrictions of the costume flexibility inspired how Keaton performed as Batman. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I’ve got to get around that, because we’ve got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, ‘You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I’m feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, ‘Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.’ I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that’s really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

“You Weigh A Little More Than One-Hundred And Eight!”

Batman features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before he was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

The Batmobile was built on the chassis of a Chevrolet Impala. It was 20 ft long, had an 8 ft wheelbase and weighed 1 and 1/2 tons.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

In order to combat negative rumours about the production, a theatrical trailer was hastily assembled to be distributed to theaters. To test its effectiveness, Warner Bros. executives showed it at a theater in Westwood, California to an unsuspecting audience. The ninety-second trailer received a standing ovation. Later, it would become a popular bootleg at comic book conventions, and theater owners would report patrons paying full price for movie tickets just to have an opportunity to see the trailer, and leaving before the feature began.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film.

The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

The original script included Robin. The original script included Robin and his parents during the parade scene with the Joker shooting the trapeze artists. The scene was never filmed, but an animated storyboard sequence of the scene was shot with Mark Hamill providing the voice of the Joker.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately dropped after appearing in this early draft of the script, at one point, producers considered casting Eddie Murphy for the role.

Burton filmed Bruce Wayne going into a “bat trance” that never made the final cut. Keaton expressed to Burton that he felt there should be some sort of visual transition from Bruce Wayne to Batman. The scene was left on the cutting room floor, but Keaton said he felt it helped him to better understand the character.

Considering studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros. history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989, and that’s not even including the toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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