BATMAN '89 - Summer Days with The Dark Knight
“Batman ‘89” is a movie I love as it’s a film that will always represent the “summer” for me
The summer of 1989 will always stick with me. I was 7 1/2 years old, more or less, and I’d be entering the 2nd grade that fall. That academic distinction was far from my mind, though, during the months of June, July, and August. I was too busy being occupied with the carefree warm days and nights the summer afforded. Games of hide and seek, kick-ball, or wiffle ball filled the nightly calendar. I counted down the days to the 4th of July, which was the biggest celebration my neighborhood held each year. Something else, though, had my attention during the summer of ‘89. It was something that hadn’t really hit me before but has stayed with me ever since. The summer of ‘89 was the summer I discovered “Batman”, specifically Tim Burton’s version of “Batman”. It was also the time I discovered what a summer movie was and should be. For the sake of this discussion, the film will be referred to as “Batman ‘89”.
I’m writing this “Movies I Love” entry as “Batman ‘89” celebrates its 30th anniversary. For those who do not remember the landscape 30 years ago, let me give you a crash course. You could not escape the hype for “Batman ‘89” even if you tried. The marketing was ubiquitous that summer. Promotional tie-ins, network specials, and everything else under the sun were used to hype this movie. There is no wonder it is the first summer film that really did hook me via the marketing campaign.
My first memory that “Batman ‘89” was approaching came on the last day of school. We were all in an assembly in the gym, and everyone was wearing “free dress”. I went to a private Catholic elementary school so that is what we called days where we didn’t have to wear a uniform. I remember scanning the gym and noticing someone wearing a shirt with the “Batman ‘89” logo on it. That intrigued me. I kind of knew what “Batman”, in a general sense, was, but this was the first time I remember seeing somewhere wearing merchandise to hype the upcoming film.
As the summer began, though, the floodgates opened. The hype for the film hooked my 7 year old brain, and I fell into things hard. I was all about “Batman” and learning as much as I could about what this movie could be. This is where I also discovered the “Batman ‘66” television series and instantly fell in love with it. A local TV station showed reruns of the series every afternoon at, like, 4:30 or 5:00 P.M. It was perfect timing. I remember so many afternoons of rushing inside, eating Spaghetti-O’s, and seeing what villain Adam West and Burt Ward would be fighting that particular episode. I knew “Batman ‘89” would be featuring The Joker as the villain so I was always happy when an episode featured Caesar Romero’s take on the character. I’d be bummed if it was someone like Egghead or Louie the Lilac.
I say all this to mention that, while I know I saw “Batman ‘89” in the theater, I don’t have really any strong memories of doing so. My love for the movie comes from the hype before, the hype during, and the hype after it was released. That whole summer and into the fall was devoted to “Batman”. I had a toy Batmobile complete with Batman and Joker action figures. When I had an operation in the fall of 1989, one of the gifts my family gave me during my recovery was a graphic novel featuring nothing but Joker stories. I even had a graphic novel of “A Death in the Family”, again, because it featured The Joker… even though it was The Joker brutally killing a version of Robin. I also remember the day in November we got the movie when it was released on VHS. It was a stormy night, but the entire family watched it together.
As you can probably tell by now, “Batman ‘89” left me with a lifelong love of The Joker. I don’t know what it says about a 7 year old being drawn to a murderous lunatic, but, man, I was drawn and readily admit it. “Batman ‘89” was probably the first film to tell me that it’s okay to like the villain, especially when he was as cool and as interesting as Jack Nicholson’s version of the character. Even at a young age, I could tell Jack had an absolute blast in this role.
I didn’t quite realize Batman, as a character, was supposed to be dark and brooding so, naturally, I gravitated towards the colorful clown with the killer one-liners. That’s nothing against Michael Keaton, but he wasn’t dropping bits like “Never touch another man’s rhubarb”. I’d love to know how many times I said the “wonderful toys” bit that summer. The character got to do all the fun and cool stuff in the film. The sequence in the art museum is still my favorite of the entire movie. This version of “The Joker” is also why green and purple are still my two favorite colors. That’s how much this film influenced me.
I know I haven’t really scratched the surface on the actual film and plot of “Batman ‘89”, but, again, this didn’t really matter to me as a kid. I knew Michael Keaton was the guy from “Mr. Mom” so it didn’t really bother me that he was Batman. I didn’t know who Tim Burton was or the fact that Jon Peters had his hands all over the production.
Looking back at it now, it doesn’t really matter to me that film might be flawed or take crazy liberties with characters. I scoff at all the nerds who still hold this again the film. The fact that the film is set in modern times with modern technology, but everyone looks like their living in the Great Depression? Hell… that becomes charming after you’ve watched the movie as much as I have. Even Robert Wuhl’s character grows on you after repeated viewings.
I might have heard the name “Prince” in a musical sense back in ‘89, but it didn’t register to me that he did the entire soundtrack. I’m listening to it now, and a lot of these songs are still bangers. “Party Man” and “Trust” remain my favorite of the bunch. There are also some other gems on the soundtrack, but those two stand out.
Is “Batman ‘89” a perfect film? Of course not. Is it a film I absolutely love and adore? Of course it is. It is a film that will always represent the summer on a personal level and one much bigger. For good or bad, it gave others a road map regarding the promotion of a summer blockbuster. It also gave me so many wonderful memories from childhood that remain with me to this day. Sometimes the anticipation and the after-effects of a movie are more important than the actual viewing of the movie for the first time. This is why “Batman ‘89” is a movie that I love.