Thirty years ago, Michael Keaton first reared his immovable neck and plummy lips in Tim Burton’s Batman movie. It would launch the genre that we are still living through to today: turning kid’s properties into cool and edgy things for teens to enjoy.
Batman‘s greatest contribution was that it eliminated the stigma of the Adam West 1966 Batman TV series. In the parlance of the headlines of its day: “Zap! Pow! Bam! Comics Aren’t For Kids Anymore!”
Batman turned a new corner for adventure pics.
It got things dirty.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles abandon their popular Saturday morning incarnation in favor of the hard-scrabble version from the black-and-white comics that two teens created at a kitchen table. Studios were scrambling to adapt out-there properties: The Mask. The Crow (which would inspire at least one wrestler). Tank Girl. And let’s not forget Darkman, Sam Raimi’s first dip into superheroics.
Then there was the retro pulp hero revival. Batman a yellow fedora and trenchcoat and you have Dick Tracy. Or give him a black fedora and two shiny pistols and you have The Shadow. The Rocketeer and The Phantom both tried to cash in on that retro charm and crash and burned.
Michael Keaton proved to be a controversial casting decision. From Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusade:
In reporting on the casting news, the comics news magazine Comics Buyer’s Guide neatly encapsulated the fans’ sense of betrayal with a single phrase: “Holy Adam West!”
Fans worried that all of the progress that had been made over the past two decades, all of the work that had been done to get the character out from under Adam West’s shadow, might have been for naught. Hiring Mr. Mom to portray the Dark Knight was seen as proof that what Hollywood wanted was to take the character not, as it had promised, back to his 1939 roots, but back to his 1966 leaf rot.
Comics Buyer’s Guide reported that they were receiving several calls a day from Batman fans begging to be told that reports of Keaton’s casting were in error. One writer noted that his non-comic-book-reading friends were now excited about the movie, assuming it would be a broad parody. “They thought Martin Short would make a good Robin,” he wrote plaintively.
During the film’s production, Warners received over fifty thousand petitions and letters of complaint. Among them was a petition started by the owner of a Toronto comics shop, signed by twelve hundred of his customers as well as several writers, artists, and editors of Batman comics, whose signatures he’d secured at the Chicago Comic Con in July.
Keaton did great, though, and would be, at least, considered by a lot of fans as a Top Three live action Batmen. Yet the Keaton decision was a microcosm of Batman casting announcements in years to come.
Today’s prompt: What role originally seemed miscast, but turned out to be a perfect fit for the actor?
Where does he get those wonderful reviews?
Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action Edition. The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band
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