Monday, 28 July 2008

Waiting for Batman (Again)

by Charles Pooter

I'm booked in to see The Dark Knight at the IMAX in Waterloo next Monday. It was almost entirely booked up until then. The trouble is it's getting increasingly difficult to avoid spoilers. I had to dive for the remote control the other night to prevent one of the droning heads on Newsnight Review ruining it.

This is all depressingly familiar for me. In June 1989 I was almost 11 years old and I was the biggest Batman fan in England. By this time I had graduated from the gateway drug of the Adam West Batman TV series through the mid-strength narcotics contained in Detective Comics right onto the really hard stuff like Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum. To my schoolmates, Batman was a camp Saturday morning diversion, a diversion they were starting to appreciate as adults should: for its absurdity rather than for its dramatic content. Only I knew how wrong they were. How this vision of the caped crusader was a distortion, nay, a perversion. I knew the truth of Batman's dark origins and I knew that I would shortly be proved right by a man named Tim Burton and by his new film and by the Batmania that was slowly sweeping across the planet.

And I was eventually to be proved right. Tim Burton's film did start to change the predominant view of Batman. Bob Kane and Bill Finger's original vision was restored and Adam West's portrayal is now an amusing footnote in the history of the character. But in 1989, a cruel twist of fate was to mean I was not to see Tim Burton's triumphant restoration of a darker Batman until much later. It was in 1989 that the British censors decided to start experimenting with the film classification system. Throughout the 1980s it had become increasingly apparent that there were large numbers of films being released that were aimed at teenagers, but which were too violent for the PG certificate. The solution was the new 12 certificate and the release of a dark, violent superhero film was the perfect opportunity for the censors to trial their new rating.

It was now August 1989 and no matter how much I begged, threatened, nagged or moaned, my parents refused to let me go with my older friends to see the 12-rated film. Batman was everywhere: the bat-symbol covered bus stops and advertising hoardings, every tabloid ran Batman promotions for a month and I had bought T-shirts, toy batmobiles and various editions of the comic-book adaption of the movie. But I still hadn't actually seen it. Most of my friends had seen it, their parents having no qualms about flaunting the rating system, or the children themselves being brave enough to sneak into the cinema. Now they all knew the truth, as I saw it, about the coolness of the character. But this was little consolation for me. I had to wait until much, much later until the UK VHS release. When this release finally happened I was over 12, but the 12 certificate did not yet exist for video releases and so the movie went out as a 15 certificate. Even my parents knew that to withhold the film at this point would be child abuse. I think I was the first person into HMV that morning and the bus journey home with the video cassette in my hands was longest of my young life.

The wait was worth it of course. I watched Batman so many times that I still remember almost all the dialogue to the that flawed, but still aesthetically impressive, film. And now I know patience. I can easily do this week-long wait to see Christopher Nolan's new film. After all, I waited a lot longer to see the Tim Burton film to which it owes so much.

...and Danny Elfman's theme is still the best ever Batman music.


Bibliolatrist said...

Agreed that Elfman has contributed the best Batman theme, hands down.

As for TDK: quite simply, it blew me away. There are no words to describe the awesomeness that is this movie.

Congrats on going to see it on IMAX -- it'll be well worth the wait.

Charles Pooter said...

Only six more days!