Eruditorum Press

We’re not cancelled; these are just our Wilderness Years

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

7 Comments

  1. bbqplatypus318
    January 15, 2015 @ 11:25 pm

    I'm one of those people to whom Batman will always mean Kevin Conroy. I was still wearing diapers when this came out, so I never got around to seeing it until both I and pop culture in general were the wrong age for it. The Prince soundtrack is hardly the only reason it's dated.

    But you really can't deny what a big artifact of Soda Pop Art it is. It really doesn't need to be said (though people continue to say it anyway – it's half the point of the movie "Birdman," a film with as firm a rectal gaze as any I've ever seen. A bit TOO inside baseball, that one).

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  2. Daru
    January 16, 2015 @ 12:22 am

    I remember going to see this being an absolutely major event for myself and our little group of tow other friends. I wasn't I don't think a mayor reader of Batman comic books, though I had dipped into a tiny amount of Marvel and DC, but generally superhero comics bored me and I was more interested in experimental works.

    The build up to going to see it felt like a massive cultural event, and being in my late teens I was totally hooked into it – yes I remember the huge marketing campaign and it completely drew me in to be honest, as this was the guy who'd created Beetlejuice and we were going to get a Batman movie that would re-define the genre. (that was what went through me at the time anyway)

    As a massive pop art event it was brilliant to go to see in the cinema, especially being there with not only my friends, but the entire audience. That was exciting indeed. Despite loving the movie in a lot of ways, I remember being vaguely disappointed as the choice to have Prince's music as part of the soundtrack really got in the way for me.

    The main thing I loved though were the aesthetics of the movie and over time, looking back at the film I love that Tim Burton did manage to create a cinema fusion of expressionism and pop art for mass audiences and I agree that he's not as much the auteur as he is made out to be.

    Nowadays my favourite films by him are things like Ed Wood which is a love story to a certain period of cinema and Big Fish which is one of my favourite films about storytelling.

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  3. Adam Riggio
    January 16, 2015 @ 1:52 am

    It's true: What more can be said about Tim Burton's Batman? Frank Miller laid the groundwork, but this film was the massive cultural touchstone that defines the possibilities of Batman today. Every cinematic pop culture take on Batman is a reaction to this film. The only innovation I could see was Nolan's sudden embrace of mythic and symbolic storytelling in Dark Knight Rises. But that's another blog.

    What is most interesting is to compare Batman and Star Trek V. Some of my favourite moments on your blog is when you make an interpretive point about an episode or film that I've never thought of before, but after reading it appears obviously sensible. One of those was when you articulated how Star Trek V is basically a bog-standard TOS story with a longer running time and a bigger budget. There were little intrusions of the innovations of TNG, particularly Klingon Captain Klaa, who was basically a TNG Klingon amped up for the confrontational Federation-Klingon relationship of TOS. But the storyline was utterly traditional, an example of the worst impulses of the show to dismiss pagan or mystical gods as malevolent aliens (ex. Triskelion, The Apple). Ironic, since Sybok was originally inspired by the cultishness of Christian televangelists.

    Burton's Batman similarly returned to original aspects of Batman for its inspiration, but in this case, the first Batman comics were very innovative: dark, violent stories told with surreal cartoonish elements. It was something like German Expressionism injected with multicoloured nightmares. Frank Miller resuscitated that style in his own stories during the 1980s, incorporating it into the Long 80s cynical approach to realism. Miller and Burton were actually innovators in returning Batman to his roots, as the camp of the Adam West show and the Comics Code era material had completely defanged Batman's style of any viscerality.

    Star Trek V reached back to its foundational tone of camp and its condescending Western ethnocentric fable narratives to create an utterly retrograde and disappointing movie that influenced no one because it had nothing creative left to say. It was even more disappointing because it contrasted with TNG's innovative new approach to Star Trek narratives and styles. Batman reached back to its foundational tone of dark surreality to overcome its camp image to create a pop culture masterpiece.

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  4. K. Jones
    January 16, 2015 @ 4:41 pm

    I was four in 1989, which means I was cognizant of '89 Bat-Mania but not really ensconced in it. There was just no time for anything that wasn't teenaged, mutated, terrapin and undoubtedly a shadow warrior. (My cultural baptism was six parts punk movement) But of course Batman was in the cultural lexicon and there was a span between Batman '89 and Batman Returns where obviously it ominously loomed like a shadow over all young developing lads.

    For me Batman is Batman because of The Animated Series, which I devoured after school every day (and discovered on my own). But I certainly already "knew Batman". I'd seen the Burton films, I'd seen the Sixties show, the Scooby team-ups, the old cartoons.

    When I finally got around to tracking down a VHS of Batman (I believe I rented it from a grocery store video rental … that was a thing once, right?) I'd probably seen Returns more than once. It was a little bit scary, a little bit campy, and had Prince music spiking its way through the Elfman soundtrack. I loved it. Tim Burton's Batman … hell, Tim Burton's entire filmography … is the perfect world for a dour little nonconformist and junior artist to watch and rewatch.

    I can't even bare to watch it nowadays. I grimace when I see Burtonisms because Burton never made an effort to evolve, adapt or move past them, seeing them as tried and true. That and I've dated a few too many girls with a bit of an obsession.

    But my Batman fandom is stronger than ever … so well done, DC, Warner Brothers and Tim Burton, for releasing these when I was a little sponge.

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  5. Froborr
    January 18, 2015 @ 12:05 am

    Phew. I was a little worried when I saw you were covering this–I've already written my coverage and let my Patreon backers see it. (The general public gets it in a month or two.)

    I was eight when this came out, and it left very little impression. I liked the sequel a lot more. But for me the definitive Batman is roughly equal parts Adam West and Kevin Conroy–the former is the Batman of my childhood, the latter the Batman of my teens.

    Hope you'll forgive the bit of self-promotion, but this is too appropriate a post to not do it: I'm starting a psychochronogaphy of the DC Animated Universe (that is, Batman the Animated Series and the shows with which it shares a continuity) February 1. I've already written the first dozen or so articles (including one on this movie) and anyone who donates $2 or more per month at my Patreon gets to see them as I write them.

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  6. Cleofis
    January 18, 2015 @ 9:48 pm

    Should probably be noted here that Anton Furst is the mind to which the aesthetics of Batman '89 are most indebted, may he rest in peace 😛

    I remember my parents had his on VHS when I was a kid, and it was a point of obsession for me throughout, a combination of their steadfast refusal to let me watch any of the live action Bat-flicks and my having received a set of the Topps trading cards based on the film as one of a couple gifts after having ear tubes put in, providing a tantalizing glimpse. I came up on BTAS (and Kevin Conroy remains my definite Batman, for whatever that's worth now), and made a beeline for '89 once I turned 13 and was officially allowed to see it. It left an impression, and I love it still today. It's interesting how you can see in this movie, both as a film and cultural phenomenon, the seeds of the superhero film industrial complex in which we currently live. Burton knew not what we wrought.

    Forborr, I am psyched as hell to hear about that DCAU project, and will eagerly await it 🙂

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  7. John Biles
    January 19, 2015 @ 11:26 am

    I was a little too old for this in that my image of Batman came from 60s Batman TV and the Superfriends and this Batman was a little too dark for me.

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