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Review: Batman: The Movie (1966)

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson

Premise: A feature length version of the 1960s television series. Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) must stop super villains The Joker (Caesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) from extorting the world under the threat of a device that dehydrates people.

What Works: Batman: The Movie is a very good adaptation of the television series, as it incorporates all of the successful elements of the show while expanding the action set pieces and the story to justify a feature length. Batman: The Movie uses the same costumes, sets, and props as the show and nearly every major character appears in the picture, including Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, Madge Blake as Aunt Harriet, and Alan Napier as Alfred. Most importantly, the film preserves the tenor of the show, including the 1960s-era codas and the campy dialogue and music while delivering thrills at a regular pace, and it is a great sample of most everything the show had to offer. This makes Batman: The Movie an effective substitute for the television series, which is especially significant given that the show still has not been released on home video due to disputes over copyrights and royalties. Despite the darker versions of the Caped Crusader that have come since, this is Batman at his most iconic; the incarnation of Batman and Robin as played by Adam West and Burt Ward has carved its own niche in pop culture. In fact, because other film versions of Batman have gone in such darker directions the 1966 film is made even more distinct. Other versions of the character are much more narratively and psychologically sophisticated, but this Batman film is a lot of fun to watch and makes for satisfying family entertainment. Nostalgia aside, Batman: The Movie holds up pretty well. This is an action-comedy, which is a tough combination to get right, but the filmmakers nail it by finding the appropriate tone. This is best observed in the action sequences which are impressive for their time and for the scale of the film, especially a sequence in which Batman and Robin take on a submarine crewed by the villains. The comedy also remains funny with the goofy gadgets, bad puns and deliberately hokey effects. This gives the 1966 version of Batman the look of a comic strip and that gives the film a timeless quality.

What Doesn’t: Batman: The Movie is a longer and slightly bigger version of the television show which makes sense since it was made for the purpose of broadening the audience base. However, it does play very much like an elongated episode of that show and although the production values of the feature film are slightly better than those of the television program its scope is ultimately limited to the dimensions of television. The filmmakers did not do anything different to distinguish this film as a feature which at some level makes it a missed opportunity. Also, fans of the television show may be disappointed to find Lee Meriweather rather than Julie Newmar cast as Catwoman.

DVD extras: The Special Edition includes a commentary track, a tour of the batmobile, featurettes, and a still gallery.

Bottom Line: Batman: The Movie is an extremely entertaining film. It’s cheesy and does not take itself very seriously, but that is exactly what it is supposed to be, and it works as an addendum to the television show and as a film in its own right.

Episode: #198 (July 27, 2008); Revised #398 (July 29, 2012)