Tim Burton's 1989 Batman was hugely successful, both commercially and critically. It was one of the most-anticipated movies of the decade; a massive marketing campaign made the Caped Crusader nearly inescapable in the leadup to the film's premiere. Prince's soundtrack was the number-one album on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks. But, despite all the praise and box office receipts, Batman was not without its detractors.
"This just hit me the wrong way," said Cesar Romero. His misadventures as Batman's nemesis predated the film version by twenty years, so it was only natural that he'd have some feelings. "This picture is dreary. The violence in it... Good God!"
Tim Burton's vision of Gotham was a far cry from that of the 1966 Batman TV show. Gone were the friendlier, tongue-in-cheek tone and dance sequences from the earlier series. Batman was, by comparison, pretty dark in '89.
"This is a very serious, heavy crime drama," said Romero, then 82 years old. "It's not the Batman concept at all. And Nicholson, who is such a wonderful actor and who has done such good work, is just so violent."
Batman '66 was perfect for its time. It was colorful and groovy. It starred the right actors at the right time. The show was so spectacular and attention-grabbing that it created a demand for Batman merchandise.
"What we did was fun," said Caesar Romero. "It wasn't played [violent]. It was a spoof. It was fun. It was a comic strip."
Batman '66's appeal was its bombast; it captivated viewers and made children want to buy toys. The show was the cornerstone on which a commercial entity was then built.
The Batman movie from 1989, by contrast, was just one of many products. The soundtrack, a full-length album by platinum-selling megastar Prince, was its own gigantic success. $750 million in merchandise was sold leading up to the movie's premiere. David Handelman of The New York Observer observed that Tim Burton's film was "less movie than a corporate behemoth." Whereas Batman '66 was the foundation on which an empire was built, Batman '89 was the crown jewel at the top of a new phenomenon. Batman was already huge in the summer of 1989. The movie didn't create demand; it capitalized on demand built by its own marketing campaign.
While that makes the movie sound soulless, it actually freed it up to take more chances. Kids were buying toys regardless, so Batman didn't need to be a commercial. Instead, it got to be a weird, darker take on the Batman lore and its characters. It got to be a Tim Burton movie, dressed up as Batman. Instead of getting a Batman movie that was more tied to previous iterations, we got the most artist-driven Batman movie there could have been in 1989.
The Joker of old couldn't be bothered, though. "In fact, I don't understand what this 'Batmania' is all about," said Caesar Romero.
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