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20th Anniversary: 5 Things You Might Not Know About ‘Batman Returns’

20th Anniversary: 5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Batman Returns'

We’re on the eve of a brand new Batman blockbuster, next month’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” which will feature Anne Hathaway as the semi-villainous cat burglar Selina Kyle who prowls the streets at night as Catwoman. While Christopher Nolan and co. have given some real-world explanations for her eccentricities (her night vision goggles prop up on her head like cat’s ears), the hardest task in defining Catwoman for a new generation will be getting out from under the shadow of Michelle Pfeiffer, whose portrayal in Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” remains one of the towering performances in all of comic book moviedom.

Today marks 20 years since the release of “Batman Returns” on June 19th, 1992, so we thought we’d celebrate by taking some more skeletons out of Bruce Wayne’s very crowded closet, with five things you might not know about the bat-sequel.
 
1. Robin Was Almost In This One. And Played By Marlon Wayans.
Famously, at least one version of Burton’s original “Batman” script featured an appearance by Robin. Supposedly The Joker even made jokes about how the two superheroes were, er, more than just friends and super-heroic teammates. This element was ultimately removed but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t still trying to get him into the movie. When the sequel rolled around, they tried again. “We, surprisingly, got very little directives from the studio, like, ‘You must have Robin’ — there was none of that, really,” explains co-screenwriter Daniel Waters on a retrospective documentary included on the special edition DVD. “I think we did try it. And Tim was big on not making a big deal about it. We wanted to work in a Robin character but I could tell he was not enthusiastic about it from the get go. But we wanted to do something that would be hinted at and then developed in a later movie.” Waters makes this seem very noncommittal, but discussions got pretty far. “At some point there was a discussion of having Robin in the movie,” Burton says in the same documentary. “But the only way I could see it would be to find a profile that would work. What ended up happening was, at the end of it all, we realized we had too many characters. People even complained without Robin there were too many characters. There was always that ‘If we don’t do it in this one, we’ll do it in the next one’ type deal.” The actor they had their eye on for Robin was none other than Marlon Wayans, as a young kid working as a garage mechanic (Waters: “He’s wearing this old-fashioned garage mechanic uniform and it has an ‘R’ on it”). Wayans, who went through costume fittings, isn’t shy about discussing the experience. As late as 2009, when talking to sci-fi site io9 about his role in “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra,” Wayans was bringing up his involvement in Batman. “I was cast, I was paid and everything. I still get residual checks. Tim Burton didn’t wind up doing three, Joel Schumacher did it, and he had a different vision for who Robin was. So he hired Chris O’ Donnell.”
 
2. Annette Bening Was Going To Be Catwoman (Sean Young, Not So Much)
One of the more famous casting swap-outs in recent memory, Annette Bening was originally slated to play the villainous Catwoman. “We had initially cast Annette Bening as Catwoman and did wardrobe things,” Burton said. (One of those wardrobe designs would have had the top half of Bening’s areolas showing. Yes, seriously.) Burton continued: “Really close to shooting, maybe a couple of weeks before, I got a call one morning and there was a long pause on the phone and she said she was pregnant. I’ve never had such a split, mixed feeling – I was extremely happy for her but dropping down a dark abyss at the same time.” Of course once Bening dropped out, the floodgates were opened. “It was kind of a crazy period because every single actress from 20 to 45 on the planet wanted to be Catwoman,” explained producer Denise Di Novi. Indicative of that was the infamous incident involving Sean Young. Casting director Marion Dougherty explained on the DVD: “Sean Young, who had originally been set to play the lead in the first picture, very much wanted to do Catwoman. She appeared in cat costume one day at the studio.” Amazingly, the same documentary team got to get Young to talk about the situation, which seems to (still) be painfully embarrassing for everyone involved. “I thought that it would work to be aggressive in the sense that that is what Catwoman would have done,” Sean Young said, without remorse. “I did a major Catwoman adventure.” “Batman Returns” producer Mark Canton remembers it vividly: “My office door flew open and Michael Keaton and I saw Sean Young dressed as Catwoman leap over my sofa and say, ‘I am Catwoman!’ We looked at each other and went ‘Whoa.’ ” Supposedly, Young got as far as Burton’s office before being escorted out of the building, with Burton, known for his avoidance of any kind of confrontation, hiding underneath his desk and quietly waiting for Young to leave, although he insists he wasn’t there. “I was only told about it,” he said with a mischievous grin. “But the eyewitnesses I believe. I don’t think it was a UFO sighting or a legend of Bigfoot type situation. I think the sources are fairly reliable.”
 
3. Burton Had Designs For a Third ‘Batman’
By the time “Batman Returns” rolled around, the creative atmosphere had changed. The first film was an experiment to a large degree, to see if the material could be taken seriously and translated for sophisticated modern audiences. While it ended up being a merchandizing bonanza, another iteration was far from a sure thing. “The biggest difference, from the first to the second [movie], was that whole dynamic of the franchise mentality,” Burton explained. “Unlike the first one, before I started the second one, toy companies and T-shirt makers are asking ‘What’s this character going to look like?’ And it’s like ‘Well, we haven’t designed it yet.’ ” Naturally, part of this franchise mentality was prepping for a third film, which at one point Burton had every intention of directing. Burton recalled, laughing: “I remember toying with the idea for another one. And I remember going into Warner Bros. and having a meeting. I was saying, ‘Well, we could do this and we could do that,’ and they said, ‘Tim, don’t you want to do a smaller movie now?’ And about a half hour into the meeting I go, ‘You don’t want me to make another one, do you?’ We just stopped it right there.” While Burton may have bombed out of that studio meeting (he was later retained as a producer, helping choose Joel Schumacher as his successor, as well the writing team of Lee and Janet Scott Batchler for the initial drafts of part three), it’s fairly clear that, once Warner Bros. got a look at the pitch-black direction Burton was steering the Batman franchise in, they wanted out. The biggest evidence of this is the fact that the initial Sam Hamm drafts of the “Batman Returns” script had one of the villains being District Attorney Harvey Dent, who later becomes Two-Face (played, in the first film, by Billy Dee Williams, and in the third film by Tommy Lee Jones), in the place of Christopher Walken‘s Max Schreck. Yet Burton almost returned to the wheelhouse. A year after “Batman Returns”’ release Warner Bros. announced that the Catwoman character would not appear in the fast-developing third film but would rather star in “her own Catwoman film,” with Pfeiffer returning to lead. “Batman Returns” writer Daniel Waters submitted a draft on the day “Batman Forever” opened, which he now admits was a tactical error. “[That] may not have been my best logistical move, in that it’s the celebration of the fun-for-the-whole-family Batman. ‘Catwoman’ is definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family script,” Waters later told Film Review magazine. Waters’ script had Kyle suffering from amnesia and taken in by her mother in Oasisburg, a town in the middle of the desert (in the script Waters describes it as “Emerald City meets Las Vegas”) lorded over by a team of superheroes who supposedly do good but repress the local women, and eventually plan to destroy the town, loot it, and fake their own deaths. So, naturally, Catwoman must reemerge and save the day. Warner Bros. let the property languish, while Burton and Pfieffer moved on to other things, eventually setting Halle Berry as the iconic character (under the direction of French visual effects supervisor Pitof), for the critically and commercially ignored “Catwoman” (released almost a decade after Waters turned in that initial draft). Meow!
 
4. Danny Elfman Approached The Film Like Scoring An Opera
One of the more amazing elements of “Batman Returns,” especially upon rewatching, is Danny Elfman’s absolutely bonkers, totally go-for-broke score. When the original “Batman” was released, Elfman was an unproven quantity with a rock band background and a handful of esoteric small-scale film scores to his credit. But anyone who heard those initial notes for his “Batman” theme knew that he hadn’t just proven himself, but he had created the first truly identifiable superhero theme since John Williams’ “Superman” score. With “Batman Returns” he took an even more grandiose approach. “I’m trying to tap into some deep dark well and I don’t know how hard it’s going to be to find water,” Elfman describes his creative process. “ ’Batman Returns’ was halfway between writing a film score and doing music for an opera,” Elfman explained in a retrospective documentary. At the time of the film’s release, he described what it was like: “Every scene felt like the curtains were opening up on a theatrical vignette and I’d play the music and the characters would do their stuff and then the curtains would close and the next scene begins.” Orchestrator Steve Bartek, who was in Oingo Boingo with Elfman, said that Burton, “Wanted it to be operatic. So there’s a lot of music in the movie. It’s almost wall-to-wall score.” In fact there was 95 minutes of score, which Elfman says is “about double” the average length of a traditional film score, “and about 80 of those minutes are really big.” (In addition to the score, Elfman co-wrote the Siouxsie and the Banshees song that plays during the masquerade ball.) At the time Elfman described his process with Burton as, “Tim will talk to me in a completely gut-level way. He’ll tell me his feelings about this character or that character.” What’s particularly interesting about this is that it directly preceded a major falling out between the composer and director, the details of which have never been explicitly explained. The fallout would last for several years following “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” “Ed Wood” is Burton’s only feature to not be scored by Elfman, with Cronenberg regular Howard Shore on musical duties, and for “James and the Giant Peach,” a follow-up of sorts to “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which Burton supervised, he was replaced by Randy Newman. Part of the difficulty of the “Batman Returns” score had to do with the number of characters, who each had “huge, independent thematic pieces of music that follow them around.” One of the big musical moments in the film is when Catwoman transforms, wrecking her apartment, creating her suit, and generally fucking shit up. Elfman said he wanted to score it “like a silent movie,” which made Bartek a little nervous. “It ended up being chilling,” Bartek admitted. And part of what makes “Batman Returns” is its hugeness – between the circusy stuff of the Penguin’s gang to the slinky mournfulness of Catwoman’s various musical incarnations – it’s a sprawling, intricate score and one of Elfman’s best (and most frequently overlooked). Earlier this year a “complete” version of the score was finally released, with 30 minutes of new stuff including previously unheard cues and alternate takes.
 
5. Parents Were Not Happy

Despite its commercial success (worldwide gross: $266 million in 1992 dollars), one group that absolutely loathed the film were parents (and outspoken parents’ groups). “Batman Returns” has a decidedly more mature, complicated tone, with horror movie overlays that are more “Freaks” than “Fantastic Four,” and a kind of raw sexuality exemplified by the S&M undertones of the Catwoman/Penguin relationship. (In Sam Hamm’s original draft, this stuff was even more blatant, with Catwoman explicitly wearing a “bondage mask,” operating as a violent sex murderer.) Co-screenwriter Daniel Waters remembers seeing the movie with audiences: “I know I’ve seen the movie with audiences much more than Tim has. It’s always great, the lights coming up after ‘Batman Returns’ and it was like kids crying, people acting like they had been punched in the stomach and mugged. Part of me relished that reaction and part of me, to this day, is like ‘oops.’ ” Given that it was a movie in which a woman wears dominatrix gear throughout, another character bites a man’s nose until it gushes blood, and the opening scenes involve Pee Wee Herman dumping a mutated baby down a sewer, it’s not entirely surprising: even for diehard fans of the film, that’s admittedly a little tough. While the film, critically, fared pretty well (Ty Burr in Entertainment Weekly called it “the first blockbuster art film”), it wasn’t lauded as the visionary breakthrough the original was, even though it is just as bold (if not bolder), both visually (Bo Welch’s exaggerated production design still dazzles) and thematically. “I did hear of a backlash,” Burton admitted, in his usually aloof way. “You know, ‘We can’t have black stuff coming out of [the penguin’s] mouth.’ ” Original screenwriter Hamm took a stauncher approach: “The movie itself, apart from the marketing and the money generated from toys sales, was never presented as a child-friendly movie. I just think it’s a mistake of perception. The parents who complained just got it wrong. There was no attempt to deceive anyone.” Well, that isn’t exactly true: we remember a glossy prime time television special, hosted by Robert Urich (and included on the special edition DVD) that got our ten-year-old heart beating extra-fast. All that being said, for a movie derided for appealing to children, in the subsequent, brilliant, and hugely influential “Batman: The Animated Series,” that version of The Penguin would take its cues from the Burton appropriation – with a more grotesque, flipper-handed character. (The character would go through one major redesign during the course of the series, reverting him back to the more “classic,” more human variation.) And what’s more, Danny DeVito says kids still come up to him, “They’re still charmed by it. And I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.” Black goo be damned! And while the film has many detractors (eventual-Robin Chris O’Donnell said, “I didn’t like the second one as much, it got really dark”) it has just as many high profile champions, including genius anime director Satoshi Kon (“Paprika,” “Millennium Actress”), who, prior to passing away in 2010, noted it as one of his 100 favorite films.
 

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Comments

pete33

im in agreement with alot of the comments, Batman Returns is a great batman film, one of the very best. perfectly casted, gotham city looks awsome with the snow, the gothic look, devito was crazy as the penguin! totally demented! the movie is a bit depressive near the end but its a batman movie! it dealt with so many of the problems of duality and darkness that you see in the comic books but without copying the comics word for word. unlike nolan, who's banal films are made strictly for the comics nerd crowd, tim burton actually did his own thing and was original with the material and not trying to please some comic book fanboys, but still kept true to the characters as seen in the comics, just slightly altered to fit a serious live action movie. seriously, the burgess meredith penguin would not work in a big budget serious batman movie. i love how tim burtons character designs have actually influenced the comic books, instead of the other way around. his take on the characters was memorable, mythic and sheer genious, unlike the dull, "realisitic" nolan versions (seriously, nolans scarecrow and catgirl are an absolute bore). i dont hate joel schumachers batman like other people do. batman forever is an awsome movie, just about on par with Returns for me. i loved all the original films. i even have a soft spot for B&R as ai remember going to the theater to see it. it may suck but at least it was FUN. the new movies are just overrated and i fail to see whats so special about them. the new ones have gotten so far away from what batman used to be. being serious is one thing, but taking all the fun elements that made the first 3 batman's so successful to the point that the movies become lifeless and bland no different then any courtroom drama on TV is another. Batman Returns might have got a bad rap back in the day because of its darkness (and yes, it is pretty damn dark, even by todays standards) but looking back in history, today its definetly looked at in a better light. plus, its the movie that spawned the also pretty awsome Animated Series that i grew up watching everyday afterschool.

Agent69

Anyone who grew up in the 90's loved these films.
I was obsessed by Nicholson's Joker and Pfeiffer's Catwoman. And sine others have mentioned him in the comments, let me say that Nolan doesn't come close to capturing my imagination like Burton did. Too bad Burton seems to have lost his touch as well.

[A]

I was gonna say "hey this is more like 5 things you didn't know if.." but no, the words "might not know" are actually in the title. See, that's the way other sites link to you, guys.

ChrisGa

I have some appreciation for all the Batman flicks, but Batman Returns in my mind remains the best of the first franchise and either of Nolan's pics(both highly overrated in my book). The real shame was no follow through on the proposed Catwoman spin-off; Michelle Pfeiffer gives possibly the greatest performance(well maybe next to Christopher Reeve) housed in any film based on a comics property.

The Bandsaw Vigilante

@ Tim Burthog:

Actually, the Schumacher films *don't* work precisely because of these exact same reasons you list. One can view the Burton films as arch, demented comedies, and they have moments that are actually really quite funny; coming from an honest, twisted place (even the so-called "campy" moments). The Schumacher films just turn everything into a vaudeville gag, hoping to gain extra-credit points just by winking and being barndoor-broad.

The Bandsaw Vigilante

One of my great regrets to this very day is that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton never reteamed to produce one more (perhaps final) Batman film — a proper trilogy, perhaps covering Two-Face's turn (through Burton's lens) and certain other elements that we'll never get to see, now.

And although Keaton wasn't fond of the suit, he reportedly turned down something close to $30 million to reprise his role in "Batman Forever" (probably for the best), but one can only imagine what a third picture would've looked like, and where it would've gone. To say nothing of that potential Burton-directed Catwoman movie.

For myself, the Joel Schumacher movies do not take place in the same universe as the Tim Burton ones — once Bruce and Alfred drive off in that limo in the winter snow, holding the cat, the universes diverge, and the Burton-verse Batman has entirely-different future adventures than the Schumacher-verse ones.

About the only consolation I can take from the Schumacher disasters is that, without them and Joel going so far off the reservation into gay, camp fantasia, we never would've gotten the Christopher Nolan films as a repsonse — the franchise had gotten *SO* incredibly derailed that the studio needed to regain some measure of grounded credibility by bringing in the director of Insomnia and Memento for a gritty, realistic reboot.

And I for one couldn't be more thrilled about that end result.

zebsdead

All this information including the quotes was lifted from the Batman Returns two disc DVD in the making of feature, in almost the exact order too.

jeanrobie

Here's another thing you might not know or remember about this movie: it was accused of borrowing imagery from Nazi depictions of Jews for the Penguin. The producers disputed it at the time, but I don't think Tim Burton really cares who he cops imagery from and if you watch it with this in mind, it's hard to miss–especially the similarities between Moses and the Penguin.

Tim Burthog

Strange how this always gets lauded as being poles apart from Schumacher's efforts when the scenes between Penguin and Catwoman, where they're sitting around making bad puns to one another, are just as campy as anything in the later films.

triguous

I almost forgot how much I hate the deep-voiced trailer narration. So glad it's a thing of the past. Scenes from the film speak for themselves, thank you.

vdoun

I find it ironic that Chris O'Donnell didnt like Batman Returns. It was dark, funny, riveting, and very imaginative. Unlike the crap that followed it, oh wait, O'Donnell stared in Batman Forever, hmmm envy much?

Christopher Bell

Dope piece, Drew. I think it's time I gave the Burton ones another go through.

Hurrah

I adore 'Batman Returns'! Of the original 4 part series it's the only that comes off as a truly great film. I think Nolan's two- now three- efforts are stronger films but 'Returns' is such a nuts, wild crazy flick it still might be my favorite thing Batman.

P.S. Nice to see when it came to casting Burton wasn't color bind. I'm all for a black Robin. Not to mention they did cast Lando as Harvey Dent.

Keith L

I must have watched it over 50 times… I used to watch Batman Returns every other day (rotating with the first Batman) after school when i was 10 or so. Still love the movie!

cory everett

One thing to note: I love this movie.

jimmiescoffee

Michelle Pfeiffer is so hot in this flick. Truly iconic performance.

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