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Batman Forever

Batman Forever(1995)

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teaser Batman Forever (1995)

Riddle me this: what happens when two colorful villains-Two-Face and The Riddler-join forces to destroy Batman? You get another sequel in the hugely successful Batman franchise.

In Batman Forever (1995), the third cinematic outing for the Dark Knight, Batman (Val Kilmer) is up against former District Attorney Harvey "Two-Face" Dent (Tommy Lee Jones) who is fueled by vengeance after a courtroom attack leaves half of his face brutally disfigured, and disgruntled Wayne Enterprises employee Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) who transforms himself into the dangerous trickster The Riddler. When the two bad guys come together in an elaborate plot to take over the minds of Gotham City citizens, it is up to Batman to stop them. At the same time, Bruce Wayne/Batman has found a new love interest in beautiful psychiatrist Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman).

Batman Forever was all about change for the Batman franchise. Even though the first two Batman films directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton had been enormously successful, Warner Bros. was concerned that the franchise was getting too dark and was not as commercially viable as it should be. The studio wanted Batman to be lighter, funnier, more colorful, and kid-friendly.

Tim Burton had been set to direct the third Batman installment, with Michael Keaton again set to don the batsuit for the third time. However, when it became clear that Burton and Warner Bros. were not seeing eye-to-eye on the changes that the studio wanted to make, Burton was out. The studio kept Burton's name on the film as a Producer-a move they hoped would appease fans-but he had little, if any, real input into the new film.

To replace Burton, the studio hired Joel Schumacher, known for such commercial hits as Falling Down (1993) and The Lost Boys (1987). Schumacher had a reputation for being a studio-friendly director who could bring films in on time and on budget. Schumacher was friends with Tim Burton, so he insisted on getting his blessing to do the film. "I went to Tim, and he wanted me to do it," said Schumacher. "He was very anxious to be involved in his own projects and not do another Batman."

It was important to Schumacher to make this Batman film entirely his own. "I think it was incumbent upon us to give our own version of the Batman legend," said Schumacher, "trying to incorporate some of the things Tim started, but also to give it a never-before-seen look." There was a conscious effort to make the tone of the film more upbeat and less gloomy and to give it a more pop sensibility reminiscent of the Batman comic books. Schumacher did a huge amount of research, going all the way back to the original comic art created by Bob Kane for inspiration. "It was great," he said, "because I was on airplanes and in doctors' offices reading comic books. Everybody was wondering what this old hippy was reading comic books for, but I was doing my homework. The great thing that all the artists have done with Batman over the years is color. They have this license to make this guy purple and his hair blue, and you just accept it in a comic book. We tried in our own way to make a living comic."

The writing team of Lee Batchler and Janet Scott Batchler were hired to pound out a screenplay that would reflect this new upbeat sensibility. Batman Forever would use established Batman villains Two-Face, who made his first DC Comics appearance in 1942, and The Riddler, who made his first appearance in 1948. Schumacher was happy with their first draft, but ultimately he found it too conventional. He then brought in Akiva Goldsman, who had adapted John Grisham's The Client (1994) for Schumacher the previous year, to punch up the story with a major rewrite.

When casting got under way, Michael Keaton was still set to return as the Dark Knight for a reported $15 million dollars. After further negotiations, however, Keaton grew unhappy with the direction in which Batman Forever was going, so he and the studio decided to part ways. Joel Schumacher cited "creative differences." Keaton's departure was another blow for Batman fans, who were fiercely loyal to the first two films and were growing skeptical.

At one point Alec Baldwin was considered for the vacant Batman role, but then Schumacher thought of Val Kilmer, who at that point was best known for his roles as Iceman in Top Gun (1986) and legendary rocker Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's The Doors (1991). Schumacher had recently been impressed with Kilmer's performance as Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993) and thought the actor had what it took to fill the cape. "I believed that Val had the glamour to be Bruce Wayne," he explained, "and at the same time you would believe he would go down to the cave, put on that suit and go out and kick butt." Kilmer was surprised, but equally enthusiastic about taking the role-so much so that he didn't even ask to see a script.

In Tim Burton's original Batman, Billy Dee Williams had portrayed Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent prior to his disfiguring attack that would turn him into arch villain Two-Face. Williams reportedly had done that role with the understanding that when the character evolved into Two-Face later in the Batman series, contractually, he would get to play him. By the time Batman Forever rolled around, however, Warner Bros. bought out his contract, and Williams was out.

Batman Forever would mark the first time ever that Two-Face would be portrayed by a live actor and not an animated character. Mel Gibson was among the many names discussed to play him. Ultimately, Academy Award-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones (Coal Miner's Daughter [1980], The Fugitive [1993]) was offered the part, even though he had never even heard of Two-Face. However, Jones' young son was very familiar with Two-Face and encouraged his father to take the role. "It was his enthusiasm," said Jones, "that was decisive for me."

For The Riddler, Joel Schumacher pursued Robin Williams for a year, but Williams remained non-committal. Eventually, Schumacher thought of an obvious choice: Jim Carrey. Carrey at that point in his career was on the brink of superstardom, and Batman Forever would see his career explode. His manic energy and athleticism made him perfect for the edgy role. Carrey had large shoes to fill, since actor Frank Gorshin had been a very popular fixture on the campy 1960s Batman TV series playing The Riddler. "I tried not to do a Frank Gorshin," said Carrey in a 1995 interview, "because he was so strong in it...He was The Riddler. I didn't try to outdo him or anything like that. I approached this like me. What I would do, where I would go. I just did The Riddler like when Elvis went to Vegas."

When Michael Keaton was still attached to play Batman, actress Rene Russo had been hired to play Bruce Wayne's love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian. However, when Val Kilmer took over the role, Russo was deemed to old to play opposite Kilmer. Jeanne Tripplehorn, Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford and Linda Hamilton were all considered as possible replacements. Finally, Nicole Kidman came on board to play the sexy psychiatrist. It was to be a breakout commercial role for her that would catapult her into superstardom.

Batman Forever also introduced Batman's sidekick Robin into the film franchise for the first time. For reference, Schumacher and the writers went back to the original source when Robin first became a fixture in DC Comics #38 in April 1940. They decided to use the original comic book story of how Robin (aka Dick Grayson) is working as a circus acrobat at the time he witnesses his entire family being attacked and killed. It would be a splashy entrance for the Boy Wonder, and the casting of Robin would be crucial.

While Schumacher adhered to the original concept of Robin's introduction, he did want to change Robin from being an adolescent to someone older. There was a nationwide search for the actor who would play him. Schumacher met with many actors for the part including Ewan McGregor, Jude Law, Alan Cumming, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio-all of whom were virtual unknowns at the time. Finally, he thought of Chris O'Donnell, who had co-starred with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (1992). O'Donnell was excited about the prospect of playing Robin, but he did have concerns that Robin might come off as a joke. However, Schumacher wanted to make Robin a sexy heartthrob with an edge. The director had O'Donnell pierce his ear and get an edgier haircut. "I was definitely worried," said O'Donnell in a 1995 interview. "In the TV series Robin was definitely geeky. But when I read the script and realized what they were doing with the part, I didn't have any hesitation." This would be a Boy Wonder with an attitude.

With all forces set to go on Batman Forever, Schumacher began a 10-month intensive pre-production phase with a budget between $90 and $100 million dollars. In order to realize his new vision of Batman, it would mean designing and building new sets, new costumes, new props, and even a new Batmobile. Barbara Ling was brought on as Production Designer with the assignment to make Gotham City splashier and more evocative of its comic book origins. "The audience would have a visual ride as well as an engaging story, because I think you owe that to people when you're doing a live-action version of a comic book character," said Schumacher. The main challenge facing the production team was finding a place to construct their enormous sets. Schumacher found the solution in Long Beach, California in the giant white dome structure that once housed Howard Hughes' airplane, the Spruce Goose. The enormous empty space was perfect for filming on the large scale that they needed. The bat cave, Wayne Manor interiors, and the villains' lairs were some of the sets built inside the dome. For the exteriors of Wayne Manor, Schumacher used the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture in Glen Cove, New York.

While the new giant sets were being built, a new Batmobile was being meticulously designed along with new costumes for Batman and Robin. Schumacher wanted the Batmobile to appear like an "organic being"-unlike any other Batmobile before it. Eight thousand work hours later, the new Batmobile was born, featuring a look that suggested it had ribs and wings like a living, breathing creature of flight. It also featured a new batwing "fin" on top of the car.

The new 40 pound Batsuit design created some controversy with its most marked new feature: nipples. It was a change that Schumacher said was inspired by statues of the Greek gods, and he wanted a more anatomical look to the suit. The new addition brought mixed reactions and a lot of criticism, but the nipples stayed.

The visual effects in Batman Forever were a combination of computer technology and miniature photography. The process was cutting edge at the time, though computer effects and animation were in their embryonic stages. The effects work was supervised by John Dykstra, who also helped add the one thing missing from Gotham City in previous Batman films: vibrant colors.

Included in the extreme makeover of the Batman series was the musical score. Danny Elfman, a longtime collaborator with Tim Burton, had composed the memorable score for the first two Burton-directed Batman films. However, with Batman Forever, he, like Burton, was out. Elliot Goldenthal, who had received an Academy Award nomination the previous year for his score for Interview with the Vampire (1994), was brought on board - it was the first time he had worked with director Schumacher. For Batman Forever he wanted his music to convey a sense of "power and flight."

When filming began, everyone involved felt the pressure of the high stakes involved. "The pressure doesn't come from the complications of the character," said Tommy Lee Jones in a 1995 interview, "it comes really from the magnitude of the movie...The challenge really came from living with and maintaining this enormous scale." For Jim Carrey, "it was just a great chance to go crazy."

With so many A-list personalities involved, it was inevitable that there would be tension on the set. Reports surfaced of friction between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey. Jones, usually a very serious actor, was concerned that Carrey was upstaging him and dominating the film. This was publicly denied, and Jones went on the record saying that he liked Carrey and that there was no problem. Carrey, however, was a little more forthcoming. "Tommy Lee Jones is an amazing actor," said Carrey, "but he scared the hell out of me. He's a pain in the ass, basically, in the sense that he is not somebody that you want to hang out with too long. He is a complex, troubled individual and that is basically where he is at. It was like two rams smashing into each other; it was kinetic and interesting."

Jim Carrey's style was to improvise and experiment with his part, which could be frustrating to others, though his flashes of comic brilliance is what makes the talented actor so vivid as The Riddler. "It was hard not to laugh when Jim was working," said Val Kilmer, "because he'll try anything." Carrey went through "at least 100" canes doing his Riddler shtick. Carrey would end up breaking them in two, snapping them over his shoulder, and taking chunks out of the ceiling with the question mark-shaped prop cane. Carrey also had to work out extensively and watch everything he ate for the duration of the shoot because the skin-tight Riddler suit didn't allow for the slightest weight increase.

Audience expectations were high in the summer of 1995 for Batman Forever, which opened to great hoopla. Reactions were mixed but generally positive for the visual thrill ride that was Batman Forever with Joel Schumacher as its new ringmaster. The new installment was splashier, sexier, more colorful, and had more one-line zingers. It was also more kid-friendly, which improved merchandising profits for Batman toys. Filmgoers went to the theaters in droves, making Batman Forever the second highest grossing film of 1995 (the top grossing was Toy Story).

The soaring ballad "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal had originally been a track on his self-titled second album. It was its inclusion on the Batman Forever soundtrack, however, that made the song a huge hit which dominated airwaves throughout the summer of 1995. Joel Schumacher also directed the popular music video featuring Seal singing the song next to the bat signal intercut with clips from the film. "Kiss from a Rose" went on to win the two top Grammy Awards that year for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

All the painstaking technical work on Batman Forever was rewarded when it received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Sound.

The huge success of Batman Forever resulted in Schumacher being tapped again to direct the next Batman film, Batman & Robin (1997) with George Clooney in the bat suit. The fourth installment was a major disappointment, however, and the franchise wasn't revisited again until the summer of 2005 with Batman Begins. This time, Christopher Nolan (Memento [2000]) was in the director's chair and Christian Bale in the bat suit.

Producer: Tim Burton, Peter Macgregor-Scott
Director: Joel Schumacher
Screenplay: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman, based on characters by Bob Kane
Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
Film Editing: Mark Stevens, Dennis Virkler
Art Direction: Christopher Burian-Mohr, Joseph P. Lucky
Cast: Val Kilmer (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Tommy Lee Jones (Harvey Two-Face/Harvey Dent), Jim Carrey (Riddler/Dr. Edward Nygma), Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian), Chris O'Donnell (Robin/Dick Grayson), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Drew Barrymore (Sugar), Debi Mazar (Spice), Rene Auberjonois (Dr. Burton).
C-121m.

by Andrea Passafiume

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