June 23, 1989 became a reinvention of modern cinema with Tim Burton's "Batman" film redefining the summer blockbuster film, while paving the way for our current flood of superhero based films.
As a dedicated film enthusiast, I have always been fascinated by the "summer blockbuster." What is going to be the big film of each year? While Batman became the undisputed top contender, 1989 was a remarkable year for movies. When Batman hit Cinema IV in Corsicana, the marquee was a dream team of beloved franchises: Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (to be fair, Part 5 was not the series' finest moment, but it's done little to diminish my fondness for William Shatner).
I remember sitting in one of those split theater in Cinema IV. The air and my soda were cold, my popcorn was fresh, and as soon as Danny Elfman's ominous score framed the giant bat-logo, I was hooked.
So was the rest of the country that summer. "Bat-Mania" was a genuine phenomenon. Everyone wanted to take part in the action. If it wasn't lace up hi-tops and t-shirts, it was kids getting bat symbols shaved in their hair. There were two soundtracks for the film: The aforementioned Danny Elfman score, and a collection of music from Prince that highlighted the Joker's more dastardly cinematic schemes.
Even Corsicana wasn't immune to this pop culture craze. Deb's Doll House promoted Batman-themed watches. John Roberts of Movieland ran a full page "Corsicana City News" ad claiming that Batman had saved the video rental store from all of Gotham's worst villains (and while you're at it, check out Texas Best Yogurt and his Midway Arcade). If you went to the old K-Mart or College Park Mall, Batman. Hung out with friends, Batman. If you weren't a fan of the pointy-eared crimefighter, you were out of luck that year.
Looking back past all of the hype and marks on pop culture, it's still one of my favorite all-time films. From the dark Gothic aesthetic of a city in ruin to the great music, the remarkable design of the Batmobile (one of my all-time favorites), to the casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Jokers have come and gone throughout cinema history, but Jack is "my" Joker. There is such a sense of absurd lunacy mixed with spontaneous malice that remains one of the best representations of the iconic villain.
Michael Keaton turned out to be another great choice as the dual role of Bruce Wayne and Batman. While the movie was in production, there were actually signed petitions being passed around imploring Warner Bros. to recast the Dark Knight. This was back in the days before the internet, and much less social media, was a household item, so the chance for someone to unleash their inner cranky back then wasn't as instantly rewarded like it is now.
There were issues with the film, of course. Female lead and love interest Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) could have been given something more to do than scream at everything as a general reaction (a femme fatale would have been a nice touch), and try as I may, Alfred (Michael Gough) letting random people into the Batcave was the biggest face-palm of the entire film (at least they had the good humor to poke fun at that scene in the sequel).