“Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders,” now on home video and released to theaters for one day only, is no Miyazaki, but it’s a loving homage to a particular sliver of pop culture history that turned out to be much more fun than I expected (and I’m an original fan of the’66 series).
The creators got it right. They depicted the glorious camp of the original series without ridiculing it. In fact, they used the comfort and confidence of their homage to poke fun at other aspects of the Batman cinematic mythos (take that, “The Dark Knight Rises”).
But, to it’s credit, the movie wasn’t a note-for-note recreation of the ’66 series. It embellished where necessary without crushing the spirit of the show. For instance, the Batcave is bigger (although there still is a massive, unsealed nuclear reactor mere feet from where they work), including some of the classic Batman “souvenirs” (big dinosaur, giant Joker card) and classic Bat-costumes. Still, some of the equipment, like the Bat-Analyzer, was just as it appeared and was used in the show.
- My only nitpicks were in character design. Batman, Robin, Catwoman and Joker looked just like the actors in the show, while Riddler and Penguin were merely caricatures. (Whereas, in the “Batman ’66” comic, the artists took pains to make them look like Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith.) A friend speculated that this was an image-licensing issue.
- My guess is that the dialogue was recorded in sequence. Adam West and Burt Ward, recreating their TV roles, sounded very old at the beginning of the movie, but grew progressively peppier and more dynamic (pardon the pun) as the movie went on. In other words, West and Ward were getting into it. Julie Newmar obviously was having great fun back in her Catwoman role.
- I don’t know if this was an in-joke, but I’m guessing it was: One of my pet peeves watching some of the old, Saturday-morning versions of Batman and Robin was that, from scene to scene, Robin’s R emblem would change. Most times it would be its normal yellow-on-black, but sometimes it would be black-on-yellow. This also happened in “Return of the Caped Crusaders.” Loved it.
- During a climactic scene, Batman appears on “Gotham Palace,” singing and dancing. This was an obvious call-back to Adam West’s wonderful 1966 appearance on ABC’s “Hollywood Palace” (see clip below). West, that night’s host, sang the opening number in Bat-costume; he has a great voice. (And by the way, if you have the time, watch the entire episode. It’s a classic, featuring Ray Charles, George Carlin and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans!)
- One last question: Why is it that Warner Bros. can ably recreate the look and vibe of a classic TV show, but, try as they might, have yet to be able to recreate the essence of Looney Tunes?