BY IAN GONZALES
Given the recent Internet buzz over Tom Hardy’s casting in Christopher Nolan’s next Batman film, I thought I’d take a look back to when Batman movie “news” wasn’t so promising. Dear Reader, let me take you back to 1997…
In 1997, the Bat Gravy Train came to a bloody, screeching halt. Joel Schumacher’s toy porn, Batman & Robin, brought the Batman film franchise to a quick, neon soaked end. It was the early days of the World Wide Web and Batman & Robin was one of the first Hollywood blockbusters to fall victim to the dial-up Internet’s never ceasing offensive line of Computer Chair Quarterbacks. Still, that same group kept championing a fifth Batman film as they tore down the fourth. Each was after their own vision of Batman, each of them sought a Batman who wasn’t there.
Fan journalists scoured the Internet and back sections of magazines like Starlog and Comics Scene for news of their champion’s return to the big screen; as the Internet grew, so too did access to the “news” siphoned from “well placed sources” in the form of rumors and press releases. Names were attached, plot points were revealed and eventually, scripts were leaked. Slowly, these “news stories” crept from the back of published magazines to the forefront of the web. The sub par standards of the 24 Hour News Cycle conquered the typed word.
Before Batman & Robin’s release, Warner Brothers was ready to green light a fifth Batman film. Known primarily as Batman 5, the main cast of the previous film was set to return, including George Clooney as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Chris O’Donnell as Robin/Dick Grayson and Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth. Warner wanted the movie in theaters by June 1999 to capitalize on Batman’s 60th Anniversary. Screenwriter Michael Protosevich already turned in a draft of the script before the fourth film’s release.
Fan backlash, critical pans and (most importantly) Batman & Robin’s poor box office receipts crippled Batman 5 before Mr. Schumacher and company could cast a hot star as the next film’s main villain. The movie slipped into a coma in June of 1997. There isn’t much reliable information on the film. Internet Entertainment “news” was basically in its infancy, so stories like “Joseph Gordon Levitt may or may not be in the next Batman, but it would be awesome if he was” or “OMG, Leo as the Riddler?!?!?!” weren’t as prevalent on 800 billion different geek and movie “news” sites as they are today. No, information on Batman 5 was sparse at best, but what little is known about the lost 5th Batman film makes for an interesting lesson on the Internet.
The first pseudo reliable source is an unknown issue of Total Film magazine, confirmed in part by IGN and the archived Super Hero Hype message boards (OK, so maybe it’s not reliable at all since neither author cites the issue number or publication date of the magazine). The main villains were to be Scarecrow and Harley Quinn along with a cameo by the Clown Prince of Crime himself – Joker. The plot involved Harley Quinn, the Joker’s daughter, employing the Scarecrow and his trademarked fear toxins in a bid for revenge on the man that killed her father, Batman. The movie, titled Batman Triumphant (an unused title for Batman & Robin), was supposedly a cross between Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film and Schumacher’s Batman Forever.
Jack Nicholson even strongly hinted at his return to the role of the Joker. “The Joker is coming, and that’s no laughing matter,” he said at a 1997 press conference. Mr. Nicholson later backed out of it stating his comment really didn’t mean anything. According to rumor, the Joker was to appear as hallucination brought on by the Scarecrow’s gas and did not represent the plot of the Sunsoft NES game Return of the Joker whatsoever.
Information regarding Batman Triumphant is sparse partially because the script was locked away in a vault before high speed Internet became the standard in homes and business. Also, there probably wasn’t a lowly assistant in Hollywood who realized how valuable that script would be in the growing world of infotainment. Regardless, the Internet grew and there is a bit more information on the next abandoned Batman project.
The next script was kicking around Warners was called Batman: Darknight. A 2005 Batman On Film interview with Lee Shapiro, one of the script’s screenwriters, revealed a lot of info on this fan-pitched script. Dick Grayson left Wayne Manor to study at Gotham University. While there, Dick discovered the Scarecrow was using his fear toxins on patients and students. He also stumbled upon the genetic experiments of one Dr. Kirk Langstrom (AKA Man-Bat). Grayson would tell his mentor of his discoveries and the Batman flick would ensue. Batman: Darknight’s central plot is fairly easy to find with a Google search, even if the script is not. Still, an interview with a screenwriter about a project that never saw the light of day is telling of the times itself. With ever increasing access to the wheelings and dealings of the studio back lot types, fan journalists began to uncover the minutiae of movie making. News of this project mixed with what readers knew of Batman Triumphant (as partially detailed on the Super Hero Hype message boards above). Eventually, Warner passed on this and went back to an idea first pitched to them in 1998.
Shortly after Batman Triumphant was shelved, Joel Schumacher, stating he “owed the fans” a real Batman film, was the first person to pitch Warner Brothers on a Batman prequel film, specifically, a film based on the Frank Miller/Dave Mazzucchelli classic comic, Batman Year One. While Schumacher left the franchise before Warner Brothers approved the idea, a Google search reveals lots of information on the 2000 pitch and screenplay by Frank Miller and Darren Aronofsky. Personally, I believe that Mr. Schumacher’s intentions were true. His apology on the Batman & Robin DVD bonus disc is proof enough for that. The poor guy looks like he hit someone’s kid with a car. Keep in mind, this is the guy who made The Lost Boys, Falling Down and 8mm. He can make an accessible and dark film. It may not have been the best movie in the world, but the idea of A-Game Joel Schumacher on Batman is at least interesting.
As “news” of the Miller/Aronofsky project made its way through the studio system, it found its way onto the ever expanding World Wide Web, even if a particular rumor was made up by a janitor. There is a plethora of information all over the web regarding their vision of Batman Year One including a screenplay! Ultimately, Warner Brothers passed on this project, paving the way for Memento director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and a reinvigorated Batman franchise.
The Cyber Wild West was like an unfiltered sewer grate of bad information. It still is, to some degree, though studios are learning to manipulate fan fervor and get what was once a small press release meant for the back of Starlog or Fangoria to the front page of the hottest geek site du jour. The latest Christopher Nolan Batman film is subject to the same “investigation” as its unsuccessful predecessors. Personally, I take solace in that regardless of what movies do and do not get made and what the doom saying naysayers of the Internet type, Batman said it best:
Ian Vs. the 90s is an ongoing column in which I take a look back at a very dark time in comic books – the 1990s – in search of the best (and worst) that dire decade had to offer.
Like this piece? If so, I implore you to re-post it. Also, feel free to follow me @IanGonzales on Twitter. I promise I won’t tweet Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne spoilers.