Rating: The Good – 78.4 Genre: Fantasy Duration: 92 mins Director: Tim Burton Stars: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis
Tim Burton’s imaginative and authentically quirky tale of a young married couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who after dying in a car crash become trapped for an eternity as ghosts in their own home. When a somewhat unwholesome family (led by the always excellent Catherine O’Hara) move into the dead couple’s house, the two ghosts hire a professional exterminator of the living called Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to get rid of them. Burton’s magical eye helped create one of the most distinctive looking films of the 1980′s and as a work of pure fantasy, it is arguably his most well-rounded work. Initially, the movie depicts two very incompatible worlds (mirroring the confusion of the young couple): the near-incomprehensible world of the afterlife set against the more familiar and comfortably framed world of the living. The real feat of genius, however, lies in how he subtly transforms the latter into the former as the film progresses only to rapidly invert that process at the end. If Burton is making magic happen behind the camera well then he is matched every inch of the way by what Keaton is doing in front of it. Keaton is simple astounding as the “ghost with the most” as his timing, delivery, and improvisation collide to form a whirlwind of comedy-horror and one of cinema’s most memorable characters. “You’re working with a professional here!”. You better believe it!
Rating: The Good – 85.2 Genre: Fantasy Duration: 126 mins Director: Tim Burton Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson go toe to toe on the streets of Gotham as Batman and the Joker respectively in Tim Burton’s ingenious re-imagining of the famous comic book. Christopher Nolan and his films may be surfing on a wave of popularity at the moment but Burton’s original (and indeed his follow-up Batman Returns) is a far superior film to Batman Begins and even The Dark Knight. Coming from the mind of Burton, Batman’s darkness seems somehow more authentic than Nolan’s, yet it also remains more faithful to the comic book idea which Nolan was clearly moving away from. Burton’s vision of Gotham City and its colourful inhabitants are sumptuously brought to life through visionary set design, some of best dialogue in the business (seriously!), and terrific performances from all concerned. Nicholson’s Joker has one immortal line after another to chew on while Keaton’s hugely under-appreciated Batman is the most layered and intriguing portrayal of the Caped Crusader to date. Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Michael Gough, Billy Dee Williams, and Pat Hingle all offer strong support but this is Keaton vs Nicholson all the way. The action set-pieces are all masterfully directed with the museum-escape sequence in particular standing out. Danny Elfman’s score quickly became the template for all subsequent superhero movies and the film as a whole changed the genre forever. Fantastic!
It’s too bad that Christopher Nolan’s much hyped Batman films have given a whole new generation of kids the wrong impression on what to expect from a Batman film. Nolan attempted to bring Batman into the real world by asking the question: what if there really were superheroes? This is laudable, though not original, and there’s no doubt that Nolan does it well (Okay, in The Dark Knight he did it well). But in the final analysis, the very idea of a Batman is cartoonish, unrealistic, and from the point of view of the real world – just plain silly. As such, the idea of Batman is best explored in a comic book film. That is, a film where the world and its inhabitants are caricatured. That’s crucial because a caricature would never dream about questioning the validity of a man who dresses up as a bat because in his exaggerated world, where the laws of logic only tenuously apply, Batman makes perfect sense. A more realistic character, however, would laugh himself silly if a man dressed up as a bat took it upon himself to start fighting criminals. Burton understood this but he also understood the yearning for Batman (the most serious of superheroes) to be a little more gritty and real than the rest of the bright-tight wearing lot. And in attempting to be true to both ideals, he gave us the two most spellbinding superhero films ever.
Batman is a tour-de-force of production design, direction, acting, and in particular screenwriting. Batman Returns doesn’t have the masterfully lyrical dialogue of its predecessor but it does have a more mature and sombre screenplay. Its main characters (Batman, Catwoman, Penguin, and Max Shreck) are fascinatingly realised and brilliantly performed and Danny Elfman’s score is a darker and more seductive version of his seminal 1989 score. Where Batman Returns exceeds the quality of that first film is in Burton’s sublimely executed vision. Batman Returns is quite simply one of the most visually stunning films ever made, a film which is immersed in the expressionism genre where set-design, darkness, and shadow take on a life of their own. However, Burton goes one step further by marrying this expressionism with the comic-book genre in as honest and as uncompromising a manner possible. Thus, the bright colours of the Penguin’s circus army and giant plastic duck mobile and the gaudy decor of Max Shreck’s office are set against the impossibly black background of Gotham city to tremendous effect. One will be utterly spellbound if they let themselves take in what Burton serves up here.
Thankfully, the story has the legs to compete with this visual spectacle mainly thanks to the quality of the characters and actors on show. Danny De Vito is perfect as the maniacal Penguin, and Christopher Walken gives us perhaps the most enjoyable comic book villain outside of either Nicholson or Ledger’s Joker. Michael Keaton is superb as Bruce Wayne and Batman both, balancing the different sides to his character with aplomb. Of all those who have played Wayne, his is easily the most spot-on depiction of a disturbed billionaire recluse with a dark penchant for vengeance. The show stopper is of course Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. She is simply incredible as the feline killer blinded by mad rage and that moment when she, Batman, and the Penguin finally meet is not just a testament to her presence but to the quality of the entire project for in that moment we have the essence of Batman Returns. Boom!