9/06/2011

If it hadn't been for Batman and Robin we would never have gotten The Dark Knight. Here are six reasons why.

The movie Batman and Robin (1997) is horrible. We named it #4 of the worst comic book movies ever and most people agree. But, considering the film has all the ingredients of success, analyzing the failures of the movie helped teach the industry what to watch for. In that sense it's a good thing the movie was made.
After Batman Returns there was a string of mediocre to horrible superhero films. Films like The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom were weak. Films like Steel (1997) and Spawn (1997) were vilified.

What if a blockbuster film like Batman & Robin had succeeded? What if the industry hadn't had a huge failure to force them to reassess their tactics?

1. Don't Assume People Will See the Movie Based on the Name
In 1995, Batman Forever opened and was a huge success, making $52.78 million in its opening weekend and $336.53 million overall. After this, Warner Bros. commissioned a sequel with a release date of 24 months to open in June 1997. The average film takes about 18 months from script to screen, and Schumacher praised this decision as a way of keeping the film under budget and on track.

No other franchise besides James Bond had this much of a high expectation to it. High hopes lead to high disappointment.

2. Don't Use A Movie To Sell Toys
The studio brought in toy companies, like Kenner, to be involved with pre-production, including the design of concept art and character illustrations. This led to some of the more bizarre choices of costume and vehicle design. What are the odds that Batman would design a full arsenal of costumes and weapons for himself, and Robin, in case he ever fought a villain that could spontaneously generate ice and snow? It makes perfect sense to a toy company since the more types of Batman toys they sell, the more money they make.

But, giving free reign to a toy company to design a film was a disaster. The film companies never did that again even when they made the G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie years later.

The decision to turn the franchise into a 110 minute commercial for toys appears to have come from the top down. It could have worked with other superheroes like Green Arrow or Wonder Woman, but Batman's whole motivation is that he has a tortured soul. Without that, the character just looks like what he is: a weirdo in a mask.

As the script was being written, Joel Schumacher had the goal of lightening up the character which led to the casting...

3. Don't Do Stunt-Casting
The casting of the new film began in earnest. It wasn't based on acting ability.

Apparently, during the filming of Batman Forever, the temperamental Val Kilmer, who played Batman / Bruce Wayne, clashed with the director.

According to Val Kilmer, he wasn't available for the sequel because of a scheduling conflict with The Saint. According to Joel Schumacher he was "childish and impossible" and they "kind of fired him." Either way, after drawing a cowl on a poster on George Clooney from Dusk Till Dawn he felt he had his new Batman.

Clooney was at the height of his career at this point, starring in the hit television show E.R. and was named People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." Schumacher wanted an actor that could play up the comedic elements of the script and Clooney is the best in the business at subtle comedy.

The role of Batman takes more than comedic timing though. The actor wears a 30 pound rubber suit that covers his entire body and face while trying to do a voice that his close friends wouldn't recognize. Adam West, Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer recognized that and chose to play the comedy with a deadpan. That's why the famous "chicks dig the car" line worked in Batman Forever and fell flat in Batman and Robin.

Chris O'Donnell reprised his role as Robin / Richard "Dick" Grayson. Uma Thurman (Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy) stepped into the role as Joel's first choice. She looked forward to the Mae West quality the role offered.

Several prominent actors, like Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins, were considered for the role of Mr. Freeze / Dr. Victor Fries. Joel wanted an actor that looked like he was "chiseled out of a glacier" so he went with a former bodybuilder. This is odd considering he wore a full battle suit through most of the movie. So, the role of the main villain went to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had previously sworn off playing villains after The Terminator.

This was a good and bad choice, because Arnold is famous for being menacing and infamous for his comedic talents.

The oddest piece of casting was the role of Bane / Antonio Diego by WWE wrestler Robert "Jeep" Swenson. In the comics, Bane is an equal to Batman in intellect, but superior in physical strength. In the movie, Bane just follows Poison Ivy around grunting and lifting 500lb Bat-signals. His strength came from a steroid called Venom which, like Mark McGuire, required constant injection or he deflated into a 90lb weakling.

The casting was ridiculous, but was designed to bring maximum name value to the film. Stunt-casting in films was common at the time though. How else would you explain casting basketball star Shaquille O'Neil as a superhero?

They learned their lessons though. Batman Begins cast a virtual unknown, Christian Bale, as Bruce Wayne\Batman and most superhero films now cast actors based on acting skill instead of name value.

4. Make Sure the Costumes Are Good
While the costumes in Batman Forever were horrid, with erect nipples and comically over-sized codpieces, the designers decided to up the ante for the sequel in several ways. The Batman and Robin suits now boasted ginormous 3D logos and slightly lighter colors.

Designing the new Batgirl costume, they decided to bolt two round globes on the chest that some might mistake for breasts if not for the inhuman positioning of the pointed nipples. Alicia Silverstone was ridiculed for being fat. Frankly, only a teenage boy could have squeezed into this monstrosity and not looked absurd.

The scariest thing about the risqué costume is that old Uncle Alfred designed it for her, making you wonder what he thought when he looked at his nubile young niece.

Poison Ivy could have been very sexy and vampish, but instead they put her in bizarre hair and make-up that covered up anything that could have been attractive about her.

Bane looked ridiculous in a leather dog collar and mask with green veins painted on his pasty skin.

The costume designers felt completely free to design whatever they wanted regardless of how faithful it was to the comics.

Later superhero films like Spider-Man went to great pains to replicate the costume from the comics and the costumes looked great. In fact, usually a press release of the costume is the main way superhero movies generate buzz for the film.

Now, the studios recognize how important it is.

5. Don't Treat It Like A Cartoon
During filming, the actors began to feel something was wrong.

Chris O'Donnell said "I felt like I was making a kid's toy commercial." Reportedly, Joel Schumacher would sit on a crane with a megaphone and yell before each take, "Remember everyone, this is a cartoon." John Glover, who played Pamela Isley's attempted killer, Dr. Jason Woodrue, said, "It was hard to act because that kind of set the tone for the film."

Well, the writer Akiva Goldsmith said it best, "What got lost in Batman & Robin is the emotions aren't real. The worst thing to do with a serious comic book is to make it a cartoon."

Films at the time, like The Shadow were played for campy fun. Television directors like Kenneth Johnson were given superhero films like Steel and expected to crank out a high quality film.

After the debacle of Batman & Robin later films brought in directors that wanted to take the film seriously. Directors like Chistopher Nolan, Kenneth Branagh and Sam Raimi all wanted to the film to be as realistic as possible and focus on the inherent drama of a hero.

6. Don't Start Working On the Sequel Before the Movie Comes Out
Two weeks after wrapping up filming Batman and Robin, Warner Bros. Chairmen Robert A. Daly and Terry Semel saw the dailies and excitedly commissioned a fifth sequel to be titled Batman Triumphant with rumored villains Egghead, Mad Hatter, King Tut and\or Scarecrow. You know. All the big villains of the comics.

This time, while Schumacher agreed to return as director, Mark Protosevich took over writing the script.

Schumacher was so confident of his success that, when asked about his rumored 10 million paycheck, he said, "I'm overpaid, overstimulated, over hyped and overage, but I have the distinction of being the only person in our business who'll admit it."

This is a mistake movie companies still make, but like with Raimi's Spider-Man 4 they're willing to pull the plug on a sequel if it looks like it's going to fall flat.

The Final Result
The film suffered massive criticism and left a trail of failure in it's wake. Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered a massive drop in popularity after this film, not having another success until 2005 with The 6th Day.

George Clooney jokingly apologized for ruining the franchise, but went on to quirky roles that revitalized his career. Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone, while poised to be the new heartthrobs, haven't had a major role since.

What everyone in charge failed to realize is that no film can coast on the strength of popularity. Without a good script, believable acting, competent direction and decent production values no one is going to enjoy a film. Batman Forever had none of this, but it was entertaining enough that the audiences couldn't forgive it a second time.

Thankfully, the huge bomb of Batman and Robin with its bad casting, bad costumes, cartoony direction and the mentality of just cranking out one bad film after another died a slow death and led the way to the great superhero films like The Dark Knight, X-Men and Iron Man.

Thank you Joel Schumacher.

What do you think? Why Was Batman and Robin the best movie to teach the studios a lesson?


Image Sources
http://www.oocities.org
http://www.batmantriumphant.com

Update: Spelling and grammar changes

Don't get sold out! Buy advance tickets to The Dark Knight Rises.

97 comments:

Michael Offutt said...

I can't believe you analyzed this movie to such an extent. The typing you did on it is worth more than the movie.

Mary Pax said...

Iron Man was great. Had lots of appeal. Great analysis of the film. Too bad for Chris O'Connell and Alicia.

Reid Kemper said...

"The best comic book movie ever!" LOL

Maurice Mitchell said...

Michael, I tend to over analyze everything. This movie just led to a surprising conclusion. :)

Maurice Mitchell said...

Mary, I do feel bad for Alicia. She had talent. Chris, I can live without. That cod piece still scares small children.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Reid, you know it! B-E-S-T!

Anonymous said...

Well written piece,Maur. You've made what is essentially the most despicable superhero flick since "The Phantom" and made it...much less so.

Yshoo45 said...

Chris O'Donnel is doing fine. Big family man, who earns a steady paycheck on NCIS: LA, which is still a ratings hit

dcw9 said...

haha this was awesome. At first I disagreed about Bale being unknown but you were right, after I thought about it, the only thing I had remembered seeing him in before Begins was American Psycho. Lol but I really enjoyed the article, made a lot of sense.
It mentions Directors trying to keep things somewhat realistic or grounded as much as they could (Nolan, Branagh, Raimi) but I think Raimi's Spider Man was the least. I enjoyed Raimi's Spider Man films as a kid, but going back and trying to watch them now, they're actually quite cheesy and have aged kind of bad, and I still don't like Tobey as Peter, just as I didn't when I was younger and first watching them. The scene in the second one when Doc Ock (loved Molina for this though) kidnaps Mary Jane from the cafe, and it cuts from all the people running back to Peter and Mj, then back and forth while everything shakes like it's a godzilla movie, and the dialogue, it's all super cheesy to me. I mean it's just how Raimi is, and I love it in his Drag Me to Hell, Evil Dead type of films, just didn't like it for Spider Man.  Just my opinion though 

Greystoke said...

Now do an article on why The Dark Knight was the worst thing to happen to comic book movies.

Start with every producer in Hollywood saying, "TDK was grim and gritty and made a billion dollars. All superhero movies must be grim and gritty!"  Even the ones that should be light-hearted or adventurous or just plain zany.

monkeymigraine said...

We've gotten some feedback with people saying Christian Bale wasn't an unknown. If you go back to this point in his career, remember his biggest lead role was "American Psycho," which got him a lot of attention, but wasn't a hit. Scifi fans knew him best in the lead for "Equilibrium," an independent film that was also not a blockbuster. Other names floating around for the role were Ashton Kutcher, Justin Timberlake, Billy Crudup, and Jake Gyllannhall, actors who had more heat behind them. Also remember everyone who had played Batman up until that point were megastars like Val Kilmer and George Cooney. So I agree he wasn't unknown, but was a relative unknown. We'll add "relative" to keep it honest. Thanks for the input!

dcw9 said...

haha oh I meant that I agreed with you, after I had thought about it yeah he wasn't know. lol but great article nonetheless :)

Dfb13 said...

Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.

Johnny_calzone said...

Chris O'Donnell was the lead in two films after this.  Not good ones, but still.  The Bachelor and Vertical Limit.  I would argue that it wasn't Batman that ruined his movie career.

Tylerdurden389 said...

I don't blame Shumaker nor George Clooney. I blame the parents who complained about McDonalds doing a Happy Meal tie-in for Batman Returns. The parents didn't like their kids playing with toys based on a dark gothic movie. McDonalds caved, then WB caved, firing Tim Burton (who I'm sure would've done a third one, along with Keaton).

Garrett York said...

Excellent. Solid reasoning, and frankly, I'm inclined to agree with your thesis. Schumacher and Goldsman ruined the film more than any other participant (Clooney was an excellent Bruce Wayne, but a terrible Batman). Goldsman may be one of the worst writers in Hollywood still collecting a paycheck. But in the spirit of what this movie produced; the liberation of the comic book film (I would have included Watchmen in your list), it was worth it. Well done.

The_Killah29 said...

So... Shumaker should be thanked for showing how NOT to do a super hero move?

Maurice Mitchell said...

LOL. Good quote

Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah, Chris kind of did that on his own. B&R probably didn't help though.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Hmmm. Good idea Greystoke.

arthong said...

Equilibrium was freakin awesome. If it only came out a little before "The Matrix", I think it would've gotten a lot more awe for the Martial Arts.

Stephanie Queen said...

I'm a big fan of the original Batman TV series and movie from the 60's. It was unapologetically cartoonish and clever at the same time. Enjoyed by adults and kids at the same time, but for different reasons. Loved it!

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Batman & Robin is the worst Comic Book Mover ever. Just another to be made a example from perhaps is all. Supergirl, Superman 3 & 4, The Phantom, Captain America(1990), Steel, Elektra, are amongst id put below or on same line as Batman & Robin.

While most people blame Joel Schumacher, i blame Warner Bros. for their part in the first place just as much or more. First, when Batman Returns came out they felt they had to to have tie-in toys in McDonalds happy Meals, especially when Kenner already makes figures from each of the films. Then after Batman Returns been said to be too dark & critized by parents, thats when Warner Bros. wanted to take the franchise into a Family-Friendly direction beginning with Batman Forever. That's one of the reasons Burton only stayed on as Producer instead of director & Michael Keaton didn't wanna reprise the role because he didn't like where the franchise was heading after meeting with Schumacher. Of-course after Batman & Robin's negativity amongst critics & fans, Warner Bros. decide to let the franchise be dark again with Nolan's film Batman Begins & The Dark Knight. In my opinion, Batman & Robin had a bad script, really bad lines of dialogue for all the actors, In my personal opinion, 3 villains who i thought wouldn't fit together in a film.

So is Joel Schumacher partly to blame? yes. Was Warner Bros. partly to blame aswell? yes. Did the film have bad script & lines? Oh yeah. But Some films are overhyped aswell. Keep that in mind.

frank_dulce80 said...

 It's an odd idea, isn't it? Even failure is good if you learn from it, and they did learn.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Frank, you hit the nail on the head. "Why do we fall?"
Subject: [geektwins] Re: Six Reasons Why 'Batman and Robin' Was The Best Comic Book Movie Ever [Rant] ~ The Geek Twins

Tony Laplume, Scouring Monk said...

What bothers me about this continued perception is that it implies that the film was not what it set out to be, that Schumacher failed at what he wanted to do. He succeeded. The villains were always over-the-top in the original Batman franchise. Jack Nicholson was accused of overacting; Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken were big fat hams. By the time Schumacher had the franchise, the template had been set. The only thing he changed was removing the Gothic overtones by dragging it into what was at that time a modern look. If these had been anything but Batman films, they would probably have been precursors at worst to bad TV movies like Dean Cain started making after leaving the Superman cape behind...


At that point, there was no relevance to making superhero movies the way superhero comics were being made. Fans deplored the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman because to that point he was a comic actor. He instead went deadly serious. Val Kilmer assumed the role with a barely noticeable sneer. George Clooney was actually the best actor in the worst possible showcase. He fit in with certain elements, the way Alfred finally had his moment, when Mr. Freeze paused to look at his wife in suspended animation, but most of the story centered on the absurdity that can be very tempting to assume superhero stories must be.


In evidence, look no further than how Sam Raimi took Spider-Man as a series of fish-out-of-water moments, where every single character was out of place (which is exactly what we get in The Avengers, which everyone is loving right now, just like they did for two out of three swings through New York), or how Robert Downey, Jr. smirked his way into being a star again at the expense of Iron Man actually being taken seriously. Marvel films have perfected the art of what Joe Schumacher apparently introduced as the worst possible sin in superhero filmmaking: making it okay to gawk at superheroes in awkward situations. Sure, they make it look convincingly epic, but it doesn't mean they're making it okay to take the characters seriously.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Tony, these are nice points. Did it do what it set out to do? Yes. Was it what the public wanted? Apparently not.
It's true that the movies were getting more and more over the top and that's what they had to work with.
To me, the best movies make the characters convincing. That's true of superheros and romantic comedies.

Tony Laplume, Scouring Monk said...

The thing is, the characters were convincing in Batman and Robin. That was the whole point. They were more convincing in that one than the previous three. It just so happened that they were also in day-glo. No, I don't think it's the greatest movie ever. But it's also not the worst movie ever. (It's also not to par with The Avengers, in case you're beginning to think I'm crazy.)

chris varty said...

I know a guy called chris varty he is horny for batman

alex and alexandra Wooden toys said...

The Batman is the best comic book I had read ever. I like to read a conic book a lot. Well, the one reason that I know why these comic become more famous is because the story was very nice and the images,pics in the comic are so wonderful and attractive.

TellItLikeItIs said...

The 6th Day came out in 2000, a short three years after Batman & Robin... Just sayin', Arnold didn't wait THAT long for a decent film.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Tellitlikeitis, Arnold definitely bounced back faster than the other players.

Willie Weese said...

Nice review and good points, but it's a simple opinion and mine? The Dark Knight doesn't compare to Batman and Robin because the cast aren't meant to play the roles they do. Such as Anne Hathaway with Catwoman, she is a Disney actress and should've stayed there. One of the best Batman movies of all time has been Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman is amazing and I love how Tim's insanity plays through the film.

robin forever said...

I loved this movie.

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Nightwing720 said...

In my opinion, Robin looks like Nightwing

pakaalito said...

Yes, but there are seven reasons why it was not. It sucked, it sucked, it sucked, it sucked, it sucked, it sucked, and... wait for it... it sucked.

halken said...

Tony, I just watched Batman & Robin and you are absolutely spot on. I can't stand most comic book movies because of the overly-obsessive drive to deconstruct comic book characters into a naturalistic world.

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