"I think it's a film about tonsils."
After you turn thirty, you occasionally have moments that make you feel old. I know this is not a unique observation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. This week sees the arrival of The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. I’m going to assume that last sentence is unnecessary. It’s an “event” movie, like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or Cool As Ice. The media hype and subsequent social media fanaticism around its release is phenomenal. EVERYONE is going to see this film. It has formed a bridge between mainstream audiences and nerds alike; if this movie was Ferris Bueller, you might say it was a righteous dude.
But all this talk, excitement and writing of articles with terrible Bat-pun headlines (see above) has made me think: I’ve been through this before.
Let me me take you back to the year 1989. Paula Abdul was ruling the charts with a sassy blend of R n’ B and New Jack Swing, while a hard-hitting new Aussie drama called E-Street made us realise that a reverend with an earring could be a pretty cool guy. In that creative utopia, one image dominated every billboard, poster and magazine cover. It was hard to tell what it was at first. It kind of looked like the open mouth of an animal done in brushed brass and black paint. By then you saw it. A bat symbol. No title, no actors names, just that one imposing, scary-looking, but sexy-as-fuck image.
It was genius marketing. You’ve got to remember that back then, not everyone knew Batman like they know him today. Sure, most people has seen the TV show with its tongue firmly planted in its Bat-cheek (that’s the best pun I’ve got and I’m not even sure if it’s even a pun), but it was seen as something for kids. Bright costumes, celebrity guest stars and a theme song that was just made to be a ringtone. Even the bat symbol on Adam West’s pudgy, definition-less, only-passable-as-sex-symbol-in-the-60’s chest, didn’t really look that much like a bat. It looked more like a cartoon character’s moustache. So no one was prepared for Tim Burton’s moody, Gothic take on the material.
As a twelve-year-old, I was in the key demographic for every bit of marketing that was tied to this film. Action figures? Gotta have one. T-shirts? I’ll have a Batman one AND a Joker one, thanks. Nutritionally suspect Bat-symbol chips? Sure, I’ll try one. Mmm, shoe-flavoured. Trading cards? What’s a trading card again? Fuck it, I’ll have five packs. It didn’t matter what it was, if it had a Bat on it, I wanted it. It was almost as if the film was irrelevant.
I can still remember the night I went to see it. This kid called Anthony Newman was having a birthday party and his dad was going to take a group of us to the 7.30pm session. Every present Anthony got that night was Batman related; it was like every child there was from Warner Bros marketing department’s Village of the Damned, mindlessly chanting “Bat-man, Bat-man…” until our parents had no choice but to take us to see it.
When I finally did get to see it, I loved it. More than loved it. I went to see it at least half-a-dozen times and even contemplated sneaking my sister’s tape recorder into the cinema so I could record the dialogue and listen to it back at home (she had done this with Back To The Future, a tape we listened to repeatedly). It also started my Michael Keaton obsession. The year before I had seen Beetlejuice and thought he was the greatest actor in the world. And now he was fucking Batman. I wanted to be him. I used to stand in front of the mirror and try and pout like him, while arching my eyebrows and looking around quizzically. Fifteen years later, when Gemma and I first started our relationship, we bonded about how much we loved Michael Keaton. It was really odd. I’d never had that conversation with any other person on the planet. But when you both appreciate something so specific and unlikely, chances are you’re going to be compatible.
Of course, the hype soon faded. The next year everyone was talking about Dick Tracy (yes, the Madonna one – it was a strange time), then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then… I don’t know what. I grew out of that marketing kill-zone and started taking notice of boobs, which, funnily enough, advertisers would one day use to get me to buy Windsor Smith shoes. But even though Batman was no longer flavour-of-the-month, I hung in there. I kept reading the comics and bought tickets to all the sequels, Returns through to Robin, becoming increasingly disinterested with the nipple-tastic direction the films were going in.
But that was pre-Nolan. Batman is a phenomenon again and this time around it has been built on the strength of two expertly-crafted films, rather than just a brilliant marketing campaign. I hate the term “gritty reboot” but that’s exactly what this is; a Batman for the post-9/11 generation. Just as the ’89 Batman made the TV-series seem campy, this new, darker take on Batman makes Burton’s films seem ridiculously theatrical. If this gritty reboot trend continues, by 2030 a Batman movie will be about suicidal junkie performing alleyway abortions on teenage prostitutes. Probably.
With a couple of days to go, I can feel that pre-pubescent excitement building in me again. (*Pause – go on, snigger at your own dirty joke. Done? Great.) I’m going to see Batman on the big screen again and this time I don’t even have to pretend to be friends with Anthony Newman to go. I just have to pretend to be friends with Wil Anderson (he bought my ticket). I’m going into it with an attitude of abundance – Nolan’s films have already given me so much, this is all just a bonus now. Even if it’s terrible (which, according to the early reviews, appears unlikely) it’s going to be two hours of Batman on a movie screen. Inside me, the twelve-year-old is spinning out. It’s happening again.
Let’s do this.