The days of the blockbuster film as media and cultural event is more or less past barring one or two exceptions. Avengers Endgame being the most recent, but for a time we’d have two, maybe three a year. In 1989 however the biggest one was Tim Burton’s Batman film.
The marketing campaign for that film was genius. It basically threw the pre-existing trademark (the Batman logo) on anything and everything, so from around spring 89 you couldn’t move for Bat-logos everywhere. I remember being in a pub in Camden in London at the end of July in 89 with half the pub having some form of Batman t-shirt on, including myself with this effort drawn by Frank Miller.
If you worked in comics as I did at the time, it was amazing to see people go crazy for the comics with literally a Batman title at least once a week for a year which meant boom times for lesser selling titles who only need stick Batman on the cover to suddenly see a sharp spike in sales upwards. Of course it was the success of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke which created the environment for the film to be made, and made in the way it was as opposed to the campy TV show.
Unlike today where every second of the film is analysed in advance, there was a lack of footage from the film and with there still being a vocal section of fans hating the casting of Michael Keaton, the producers rushed out a poorly cut teaser trailer in 1988.
I know of people who would go as see other films knowing this would be running before that film just to see these 90 seconds, and also, bad VHS copies of it would be shown at conventions just to get people a fix before the big event. The fact the film opened in America a good month before the UK meant waiting was strung out as reviews would come across the Atlantic telling us this was something special, until finally that August the film opened in a blaze of glory.
Leicester Square had been transformed into Gotham City with Bat-Signals galore to help whip up those massive queues waitng to get in, and as for me, I had to wait til the next day to see it and indeed, it was everything I wanted then from a Batman film. I’ve written about the film before here.
Looking back at the film now, even five years after previously writing about it, it’s clear my opinion has changed. The script doesn’t really have a third act with a messy end replacing any sort of more structured ending instead of the disheveled mess that is the ending as it is. It didn’t matter at the time, but now it’s probably two-thirds of the film I thought it was back then, or indeed, five years ago. The film’s place in history is assured, especially as it was one of the first big comic book films and proved they’d make gazillions at the box office. It has a chaotic feel and hasn’t that shiny, glossy feel of a Marvel film, plus it does draw from decades of Batman history with a great performance from Jack Nicholson who is loving every second.
But Batman made comics acceptable for millions of people. It drew in so many people into shops and made them fans of the medium, and there’s the legacy of that film. For that it’ll always hold a special place for comics fans.