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Batman: The Movie: Special Edition (1966)

Between the sublime and the ridiculous you'll find ... the sublimely ridiculous. And in that loopy, dizzy place lies Batman: The Movie, which hit the big screens in 1966, between the first and second seasons of ABC's Batman TV series' three-season run. Now considered a "camp classic," it's a silly-without-shame ancestor of the Zucker Brothers' Police Squad! series and Naked Gun and Airplane! movies. Sure, it's all so far over the top they installed a ski lift. It winks at the audience so often you develop a tic. Yet it's well-crafted and self-aware pop cheese that for more than three decades has maintained a devoted fan following.

Its plot is a TV episode blown up to triple-helping proportions. Philanthropic millionaire Bruce Wayne (Adam West in the role he consumed with droll relish and made his own) and his youthful ward, Dick Grayson (Burt Ward, all gosh-wow enthusiasm and earnest Boy Wonder intensity), slide down the Bat-pole and, as the Caped Crusaders, speed off in the Batmobile and Batcopter to the latest Bat-emergency. At stake is a kidnapped British tycoon and his super-invention, a Hoover vacuum cleaner that extracts all moisture from a human body, reducing the victim to a handful of Kool-Aid-colored powder. The culprits are no less than four of Batman's most favored fiendish foes — the Joker (Cesar Romero with white face paint over his famous Latin lover mustache), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith, ad-libbing bon mots in top hat, tails, and signature cigarette holder), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin, his manic giggle branding him forever), and the Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, sexy and versatile and the living embodiment of "lift and separate"). These vile vultures of villainy — you can't help but talk like that after watching this — team up to take over the world by using the de-liquifier on the United World Security Council.

Can the Dynamic Duo stop the "fearsome foursome" in time? Will Bruce Wayne fall under the spell of lovely Miss Kitka, exotic correspondent for the Moscow Bugle, who happens to be Catwoman in disguise? Can the man-eating shark (rubber, leaking water from its sides) be stopped with Shark-Repellent Bat-Spray? Will Commissioner Gordon decipher the Riddler's criminal conundrums? ("What weighs four ounces and is very dangerous?" "A sparrow with a machine gun." "Of course!") Well, naturally. Along the way, we're treated to dozens of giddily ludicrous Bat-gadgets and a script supported with laugh-out-loud lines and crisp directing.

It's the villains — rather, the terrific character actors who play them — who add so much of the fun to this puff pastry. Here are some of that generation's most watchable television players allowed to cut loose and cavort with all stops pulled, delivering with full-bore gusto lines you can't find anywhere else. ("We shall spring them from the Joker's jack-in-the-box, through that window, out over the sea, and into the waiting arms of the Penguin's exploding octopus!") Right behind them is Adam West, pigeon-holing his career for life with a performance so straight-faced, so deliberately arch and mannered that one fantasizes about him teaming up with William Shatner for a Vegas lounge act.

Oh, sure, the whole thing has its problems. The rat-a-tat gags could try the patience of a Catskills comic, and once the story reaches cruise velocity it stays there too long, so by the final time the supervillains launch a Polaris missile at our heroes you might miss it while checking your watch. And certainly Batman: The Movie won't be to the tastes of those for whom The Batman can only be the Dark Knight of the post-'80s graphic novels or movie franchise.

Nonetheless, this unembarrassed fluff is goofy clean fun, nostalgic and timeless in its Theater of the Absurd outrageousness. Its guilt-free pleasures satisfy long-time bat-fans and now, generations later, may bring their own young ones into the fold. Anyone who starts up his Volkswagen Jetta by reciting "Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed!" knows what it's all about.

*          *          *

Fox Home Entertainment's Special Edition DVD is a labor of love that adds a trove of goodies to a fine edition of the movie. The print and transfer are excellent — clean and sharp with vibrant colors. There's almost no speckling or blemishes and it's in its original 1.85:1 (anamorphic) aspect ratio. The primary audio track is in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, which offers a slight upgrade from the alternate monaural track. The sound is good, reasonably clear and clean, though it shows its age with some slight hiss and a limited frequency range. A French mono track and English and Spanish subtitles are also on board.

A new screen-specific audio commentary track features Adam West and Burt Ward is relaxed reminiscence, having fun offering anecdotes about the making of both the series and the movie, often joshing back and forth in Mystery Science Theater style.

West and Ward are on screen in a new featurette wherein, with self-effacing good humor, they offer their perspectives on having Batman and Robin as their day jobs, and about working with the numerous guest stars.

"The Batmobile Revealed," hosted by the Batmobile's designer and engineer, is a guided tour of the most famous black sedan on the planet. "From the Vaults of Adam West" and "Behind the Scenes" are click-through photo albums of production designs, cast and crew candid shots, and promo images.

—Mark Bourne



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