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Batman Returns
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Batman Returns

After the runaway success of Tim Burton's first Caped Crusader movie, Batman (1989), a sequel seemed like a sure bet, at least in the minds of executives at Warner Brothers, which owned the franchise. But Burton had to be talked into coming back for another stab at the legendary comic book character. In fact, his first public reaction to the suggestion of a sequel was that it was "a dumbfounded idea." The studio persisted, and he finally relented, but only after getting the script he wanted. Although there were plenty of characters and plot threads that could have been carried over from the first movie, Burton wanted an entirely fresh approach in Batman Returns (1992), with an opportunity to create another Batman story from square one. After a disappointing first draft by the first movie's writer, Sam Hamm, which had the Penguin and Catwoman teaming up in a quest for hidden treasure, producers brought in Daniel Waters, whose black comic take on the cult hit Heathers (1989) was certain to be more in tune with Burton's sensibilities. Waters came up with a social satire that had an evil business mogul named Max Shreck (a homage to actor Max Schreck who created the vampire role in Nosferatu, 1922) backing a bid by the Penguin for the Gotham City mayor's office. Waters also gave Catwoman a more ferocious background, with psycho-sexual overtones and a contemporary feminist slant.

Burton needed more than a new script, however, to be sold on the project. He also required a completely new look, abandoning the idea of working in England on Anton Furst's still existing sets from the first movie and hiring production designer Bo Welch, who had designed the director's earlier features Beetlejuice (1988) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Burton also secured the services of a large number of King Penguins, which had to be flown from England in a refrigerated plane and kept happy and healthy with a refrigerated trailer, a swimming pool stocked daily with a half ton of ice, and a daily delivery of fresh fish.

Michael Keaton was also not a shoe-in to return as the Dark Knight until the studio offered him a substantially larger salary. With the new script, Keaton was also able to bring deeper shades of anger and neurosis to Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne. Presumably, the greater acting opportunities and bigger pay helped assuage the fact that with so much focus on the over-the-top Penguin and Catwoman characters, the title role was almost a supporting player in his own story.

Burton wanted to cast Marlon Brando as the Penguin, but this was nixed by the studio (which preferred Dustin Hoffman) and most vehemently by Batman creator Bob Kane. Consideration was also given to Christopher Lloyd when the character bore a closer resemblance to the tuxedoed dandy familiar from the Batman TV series. When Burton and Waters redrew the character to be a deformed, vengeful half-human/half-bird villain, attention turned to Danny DeVito. He, too, was initially reluctant but consented after talking with pal Jack Nicholson, for whom the Joker role in the first movie was a major financial windfall. DeVito threw himself into the part despite the hours of make-up required to make him the Penguin and a level of secrecy surrounding the character's look that prevented DeVito from discussing it even with his family.

Michelle Pfeiffer was also not the first choice to play Catwoman. Annette Bening was signed but had to drop out when she became pregnant. Julie Newmar, one of three actresses to play the role in the TV show, reportedly lobbied for the part, despite being close to 60. Tense moments were caused when Sean Young showed up at the Warner Brothers lot to pursue the job. Young was originally cast as Vicki Vale in the first film, but after breaking her collar bone in an on-set accident, she was replaced by Kim Basinger. In the early 90s Young had a reputation for difficult, erratic behavior, so when she showed up at the studio in a Catwoman costume, producers went to great lengths to avoid her and Burton allegedly hid under his desk. It was reported that Lena Olin and Madonna were also briefly in the running, but Pfeiffer was finally signed for the part at $3 million, $2 million more than Bening's asking price.

Burgess Meredith, who played the Penguin on the TV series, was asked to play the character's father in the opening of the film but illness prevented him from it. Burton then brought in two of the stars of his feature debut, Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens and Diane Salinger, to play the character's parents.

Batman Returns garnered some good reviews and a number of nominations and awards but ran into controversy, and some diminishment of box office, when parental groups complained of its violence and sexual innuendo. The McDonald's fast food chain caught the most flak because they were giving away Batman Returns toys in their child-oriented Happy Meals.

Director: Tim Burton
Producers: Denise Di Novi, Tim Burton

Screenplay: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm, based on characters created by Bob Kane

Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky
Editing: Bob Badami, Chris Lebenzon
Production Design: Bo Welch
Art Direction: Rick Heinrichs
Original Music: Danny Elfman, Steven Severin (song "Face to Face")
Cast: Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman/Selina), Danny DeVito (Penguin), Christopher Walken (Max Shreck), Michael Gough (Alfred).
C-122m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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