I’ve always considered myself very festive, and one way to get into the Christmas spirit is through the magic of cinema. One of my favorite films, and one of my favorite Christmas films, Batman Returns. Batman Returns is classic Tim Burton, and what I classify as the final film in the “Tim Burton Trilogy”. Not a narrative trilogy, but a spiritual trilogy. The first being Beetlejuice, then Edward Scissorhands. It is sort of an unconventional blockbuster, unlike the first Batman film, because it is told through the eyes of an artist, rather than a Hollywood director. This of course was made before Tim Burton became the “joke” he is today. I put joke in quotes because Tim Burton isn’t what he once was, but he isn’t beyond saving (Sweeney Todd, Frankenweenie, Big Eyes).
There are a lot of really neat things in Batman Returns: a dark and bleak city, great action sequences, and a really cool take on the villains. Yes, it is true that the film is really campy, but I always figured this was Tim Burton’s interpretation of the comic book aspect of Batman. I equate it to the Temple of Doom. There are a lot of really stupid moments in Temple of Doom, but there are a lot of dark and violent aspects. It’s how I think Burton and Denise Di Novi were able to get away with the dark aspects of the film, like a plot of kidnapping and murdering all the first born children. I prefer Burton’s interpretation of Batman more than Nolan’s, because Bruce Wayne is conveyed through imagery, and is given to us through the language of cinema, as opposed to Nolan’s overt approach. Just the image of Bruce Wayne sitting in his study, alone in the dark, and rises when the bat signal shines on him, tells me all I need to know about Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is alone in the dark, but Batman shines in the light. Not that I am actually comparing the two franchises. Comparing Nolan’s Batman to Tim Burton’s Batman, is like comparing the film the Wrestler to Ready To Rumble. One is from a visionary artist, and the other is a blockbuster meant for entertainment.
Both Batman interpretations work on their own level, Burton’s Batman just works better for me because of the subtlety. All of this is set in the enchanting and snow filled Christmas setting, which perfectly compliments the film’s theme of loneliness. And I actually believe that is the theme of the film. The lovelorn secretary, the abandoned child, and of course The Dark Knight, himself. It all fits together as a film that is half artistic vision, but still a mainstream blockbuster. This is exactly the kind of film I enjoy: anyone can sit down and watch it, but you still appreciate it as a piece of artistic cinema from it’s shot composition, production design, costumes, and its very somber score (my favorite score from Danny Elfman). Next time you watch it, look closer at all the detail, and if you haven’t seen it, watch it twice.