Holy boring courtroom maneuvering, Batman! Judge Brett Cullum wishes they'd just release the Batman series on DVD already, so he wouldn't have to put up with less-than-stellar DVD rehashes of VHS features like this.
Robin: The way we get into these scrapes and get out of them, it's almost as though someone was dreaming up these situations; guiding our destiny.
Batman the 1966 television series has been the subject of many documentaries—and until a number legal issues are resolved, that's all we'll see on DVD of the show. Batman: Holy Batmania! was originally produced as a VHS promotional piece in 1989 to coincide and capitalize on the impending Tim Burton Batman film. From what I can gather it appears the producers have added about seven minutes of footage for the new DVD release (and also excised some footage that had some legal issues), foreshadowing the Batmania sure to come again over Batman Begins. Supplementing the disc are three biography documentaries on Adam West (Batman), Cesar Romero (The Joker), and Julie Newmar (still the purrrfect Catwoman, despite Halle Berry!) produced in 2000. Will Batman escape unscathed even though he is going onto the nefarious Image DVD label? Will fans care about a two-disc package with no shows on it? Tune in here to find out…same "bat" time, same "bat" channel.
Facts of the Case
Seems like many fans of Batman didn't like the fact that Adam West and Burt Ward played the dynamic duo as a campy psychedelic live action cartoon. Yet Batman saved the comic book from being canceled, according to Bob Kane, and it also helped propel The Joker and The Riddler to the forefront of Batman rogue's gallery. (Previously, they had been minor players.) It was also a huge ratings hit that rescued ABC from a slump in viewership. Nitpickers can also claim Adam West was the perfect Batman, since he is the only actor with the exact height and build that Bob Kane described in the comics. The series, which ran for three seasons, was a cultural phenomenon that made the superheroes a viable marketing force in America. Celebrities actually fought to be on the show as a "special guest villain," and we got to see screen legends having an absolute gas playing bad and trying to take over Gotham City. Where else could you see Joan Collins (Dynasty) as Siren, George Sanders (All About Eve) as Mr. Freeze, or Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) as the Bookworm? The show was silly, harmless fun, and remains a very popular way to enjoy the adventures of the Caped Crusader and his Boy Wonder. But you can only enjoy it in syndication, because the DVD rights to the series are currently locked up in a legal battle between Fox and Warner Brothers.
At first glance the four documentaries included on Disc One look exhaustive. But then you start to realize that some of the footage is repeated, especially between "Holy Batmania!" and "Adam West: Behind the Cowl." They are interesting, but I fear the "Holy Batmania!" feature covers material that any fan of the show will already know. It documents the show's inception, filming, and its legacy. The individual features on the three actors are where the real meat of this set comes in, and for those three documentaries the investment might be worth it. Cesar Romero and Julie Newmar had fascinating lives outside of their Batman fame, and they both come across as legends you want to know more about. Poor Adam West looks like a sad, tragic figure as the "Behind the Cowl" feature follows him in the years after Batman appearing at car shows and trying to get any role he could find. Batman seemed to sideline his career, and also did very little for Bruce Ward's, too. There is a really sad claim by one of West's publicists that he and William Shatner (Star Trek) are the only figures to work more now than they did back in their heyday. I could name most of Shatner's projects, but what has West been in? Both Adam West and Burt Ward were victimized by typecasting for the rest of their time in Hollywood, but at least Ward found a way out through his own special effects company (ironically called Boy Wonder Productions).
The video is, as expected, a full screen treatment. It looks grainy and has many artifacts, and really looks like VHS in terms of quality. It's only forgivable because this is a documentary, and the stock footage used would be problematic to clean up. Audio is a nice Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, though much of it sounds mono (probably due to the sources they used). Extras include a treasure trove of promotional spots and trailers from both the series and the feature film. Also found are screen tests of Burt Ward and Adam West, and more surprisingly that of Lyle Waggoner (Wonder Woman's love interest) and Peter Deyell (apparently an unknown who reminds me a great deal of Ralph Macchio). There is also a network presentation (something they used to sell the series) featuring Jill St. John (Diamonds are Forever) and Frank Gorshin as the Riddler. Many of the 1989 revival segments are included as well. Disc Two is really brief, and I wondered why it couldn't all fit on one disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Two cast members of the show are not covered very well in this set, and it irks me. The show was Batman, but what of his (cough) "partner" Robin? (They were so close producers demanded they insert a female Aunt character to make them seem "less gay.") Bruce Ward doesn't deserve a biography? The poor kid gets ripped to shreds as Adam West refers to him as a "pain in the beep" to work with. Vincent Price (who played Egghead) talks about how the crew wanted him to pelt Burt with over two dozen rotten eggs when the script only called for two single ones. About the only anecdote Burt gets to tell about himself is how the network censors were concerned with how he "fit" into his costume. Now why is he the only one who ever mentions this? Gorshin's The Riddler seems to have a more prominent package in tights, as does Adam West in many scenes, rather than Robin (not that I was looking or anything). No matter what, Bruce was still half of the show, and deserves his own biopic, being the man behind the Batman. Another slighted cast member worthy of a biography would be the series' most popular villain, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin. The man made more appearances on the show than any other "special guest villain," but all we get is a story about how he didn't really smoke cigarettes.
As far as gripes about the documentaries themselves, I've already mentioned the serious amount of overlap between them. The same clips are used in all four in some cases, and even entire segments of the narration are lifted and grafted right onto each piece. Why not just have the decency to cut all of these titles together, so we could watch it once and get everything? And there are some glaring omissions in the lives of the subjects. Newmar actually held patents for a line of panty hose called "Nudemar," but it doesn't get a mention. Cesar Romero also has some omissions in his story as well. As good as the pieces are, they do miss some crucial moments. Also, oddly enough, most of the Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) promos and material have been edited out of this release. For some reason on the VHS version of "Holy Batmania!" there was more support to her section, including screen tests and commercials. They are not here.
If you're a fan of the show then this set is a nice companion to all things Batman. Otherwise, I would say it's a rental at best. I appreciated the pieces on Julie Newmar and Cesar Romero, and found them the most satisfying part of this four-course meal. That probably has to do with the fact that the Batman aspect was underplayed for them, and instead we get a study of their entire life. The Batman series is chronicled pretty well here, but hardly any of it is revelation. But it's still a nice era to revisit! A time when superheroes ruled prime time, even if they were two jokesters in tights fighting a psychedelic battle against slumming celebrities with words like "OOF!" and "POW!" inserted into fights.
Can we lock up the Batman? Hardly. Image deserves props for releasing this, but needs to learn how to do the Bat-tusi and how to clean up VHS for DVD presentation. I also would like to enter a plea: "Someone please give Robin his due."
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Screen Tests
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