Adam West And The Age Of Innocence

I was sorry to read about the death of Adam West — known to everyone over a certain age as Batman — this past weekend.  West, who was 88, died after battling leukemia.

adam-west-and-burt-ward-i-010Hearing about West’s death made me think, of course, about the Batman TV show that was enormously popular when I was a little kid.  The word that inevitably is used now to describe the show is “campy,” but really it was more about innocence.  Batman was just like a comic book of those days brought to life, with every punch marked by a Pow! or Whammo!, with characters who weren’t dealing with any “real-world” problems, and with a hero who constantly lectured Robin, the Boy Wonder, in an avuncular way, instructing him all on the platitudes about brushing your teeth and eating your vegetables and being a patriotic citizen that we kids were hearing all the time at home from our parents and grandparents.

Sure, the show was played with a wink, and usually Batman gave Robin the benefit of his wisdom as they were using a rope to walk up the side of the wall in an obviously fake way, just before some famous person put their head out of a window in a silly cameo appearance — but the fact is that the platitudes still got stated on network TV by a hero who apparently meant every word, the hero always escaped from whatever devilish contrivance the Joker or the Penguin or the Riddler put him into, and in the end truth and justice and the hero prevailed . . . and nobody really got hurt beyond taking a few punches to the jaw, either.

The show worked because the theme song was cool, the Batmobile was cooler, and Adam West played Batman right down the line, delivering his homilies and interacting with Commissioner Gordon and even the Catwoman with straight-faced earnestness — presaging the career of Leslie Nielsen playing hilarious deadpan characters in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies.  West was perfect for the Batman role, and that West was able to impassively act the part was particularly impressive when you consider that he was romping around in an embarrassingly tight superhero costume and cape.  It couldn’t have been easy being Batman, but West pulled it off — and even more remarkable, when you think about celebrities of the modern era who will do just about anything to get attention, he never dissed the show or made fun of it, even after the show had long since ended.  To the contrary, West seemed legitimately appreciative, at least publicly, that he had a chance to be a star and a hero to little kids during those long-ago days.

It’s unimaginable that a show like Batman would ever get made these days, because network executives would insist on complex characters struggling with inner demons and the violence would be much bloodier, and scarier, and deadlier, and Batman would never give Robin the kind of lectures that the Boy Wonder got back in the ’60s.  It’s understandable, I guess, but it’s too bad, too.  There’s something to be said for innocence, and a hero who thinks it’s important to mention dental hygiene now and then.

To The Bloodmobile!

This afternoon I gave blood at the American Red Cross bloodmobile at the New Albany Farmer’s Market.  It was one of eight different mobile units that were out for blood in the central Ohio area today.

IMG_2400It’s the first time I’ve donated at a bloodmobile, as opposed to the set-up when the Red Cross comes to visit our law firm — and the whole time the voice in my head was saying, in its best Adam-West-as-Batman tones:  “To the bloodmobile!”

The principal difference between the bloodmobile and the standard set-up is the number of machines that are available.  Other than that, the process was the same.  There are four comfortable padded couches — two to a side — on which donors can recline while doing their civic duty, and the staff was friendly and professional.  All told, it took me about 40 minutes to verify my identity, answer the health questions, give blood, and then grab a water bottle and snack and head out the door to buy some cheese, preserves, and apple butter at the Farmer’s Market.

There’s always a need for blood., and giving is a good way to help your community and people in need.  If you’re at a place where the bloodmobile is visiting and you’ve got a few minutes to spare, your donation would be much appreciated!

How Many Supermans Is Too Many?

Another Superman movie is set to be released.  It’s called Man of Steel, and it promises to show more extraordinary feats by the first superhero of them all.

I’m sure the new movie has spectacular special effects, but I’m suffering from a profound case of Superman Fatigue Syndrome.  I’m old enough to remember when the cheesy George Reeves Superman TV show episodes — “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive” and standing for “truth, justice, and the American way” — were rerun on cable TV.  I enjoyed the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and particularly liked Superman II, where Superman gives up his powers then returns to defeat General Zod in a movie filled with classic comic moments.  I thought Superman III sucked, though, and after that I lost interest in the Superman story.  I didn’t watch Superman IV, or the Smallville TV series, or Superman Returns.

To tell the truth, Superman is kind of boring.  He’s indestructible, flies faster than anything, can lift anything, can survive in the superheated conditions at the Earth’s core, etc.  What’s the challenge?  So long as he avoids that hidden piece of Kryptonite that makes him like a mere mortal, you know he’s going to win any battle.  Any superhero who can reverse the rotation of the planet and thereby change the course of time and bring the dead back to life, as Superman did in the first film, isn’t going to struggle with any villain found on Earth.  How do you top that feat in later films?  (I’m sure, of course, that the new movie will try to do so.)

More basically, how many Superman, Batman, and Spiderman movies can be made, and remade, and remade again?  There’s so much copying, so much formula-driven film-making, and so little creativity in the movie industry that it’s remarkable when a truly new and creative hero film, like The Matrix, gets made.  Hollywood should be embarrassed to keep churning out the same characters in the same settings, over and over and over, and audiences should be embarrassed to keep buying tickets.

I Say, Bring On The Next Star Wars Movie!

George Lucas has decided to retire, and to help fund his retirement he decided to sell Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Company for $4 billion and change.  The deal not only should provide Lucas with a comfortable retirement, it also means that more Star Wars movies will be made.  Disney has announced that the next Star Wars movie, episode 7, is scheduled for release in 2015.

Many fans have expressed concern about the sale to Disney, how it will affect the Star Wars franchise, and whether the movies will stay true to Lucas’ vision.  I’m not one of them.  I loved the original Star Wars films — I remember watching the first movie, with awe and wonder, in the old University Flick theater on the Ohio State campus, and then promptly watching it again — but I eagerly anticipate a fresh look at the characters and the Star Wars universe.

Beloved film franchises can become creaky and rote over time; they get to the point where only diehard fans can watch them.  Those franchises are injected with new energy when the characters are re-imagined by new creative minds.  The Star Trek and Batman movies are good examples.  Does anyone object that Heath Ledger had the opportunity to give his dazzling interpretation of the Joker?

I don’t understand the concerns, anyway.  It’s silly to worry that Disney is going to produce dross.  It just paid $4 billion, in significant part, to buy the Star Wars franchise and the right to produce new movies.  It’s safe to assume the company isn’t going to run its huge investment into the ground by bringing junk to the big screen.  If anything, the Disney approach might avoid some of the excesses of the later Star Wars movies, which could mean we won’t see annoying “comic” characters like Jar-Jar Binks, leaden, embarrassing, and unbelievable romances, and another exploding Death Star to provide a big finish.  And it’s not as if Disney could over-commercialize the Star Wars characters, either.  This is the franchise that led the way with action figures, comic books, and made-for-marketing characters like the Ewoks.

Lucas always said that he envisioned the Star Wars saga as a nine-movie tale, with the final three movies following the stories of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo and their children.  That’s apparently what Disney is planning for the next installment of movies.  I’ll be interested in seeing what happens to those now-iconic characters.  The Star Wars universe is sweeping, and there are lots of good stories yet to be told. Bring on the next Star Wars movie!

The Dark Knight Rises, In IMAX

Yesterday Kish and I went to see The Dark Knight Rises, in IMAX, at the Easton AMC Cinemas.

First, about IMAX:  I frankly don’t think it’s worth the extra money for standard Hollywood fare.  Before yesterday, the only IMAX movies I’d seen were nature-type movies about hiking on mountains or rafting through the Grand Canyon — movies where the spectacular scenery, on the huge screens, made for an overwhelmingly memorable experience.  Action-movie footage of Gotham City, car chases, and hand-to-hand combat just don’t have the same impact, no matter how loud the explosions might be.  IMAX gives you a bigger screen in a bigger theater, but I wasn’t able to appreciate any other material differences from your normal movie experience.

As for The Dark Knight Rises, the film is very, very long.  It has the standard elements of a seemingly indestructible, unbeatable villain and a plot that places Gotham City in mortal peril yet again, thereby allowing Batman and his comrades to show their superhero stuff.  Batman suffers mightily, as he always does, and speaks with that annoying growl when he wears his suit, and gets to use some new high-tech gadgets in the Battle Against Bane.

It’s a perfectly acceptable end to the Dark Knight trilogy, as characters and scenes from the prior two Dark Knight films make appearances.  Christian Bale has the Batman and Bruce Wayne characters down cold, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman play their enjoyable supporting roles well, and Gary Oldman is steady and unflappable as Commissioner Gordon.  My favorite characters were Anne Hathaway, as an untrustworthy cat burglar thief turned ally, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cop trying to deal with the carnage.  It’s rare that you appreciate acting — as opposed to action — in a film like this, but Hathaway’s performance broke through the explosions and fistfights.  And I think Gordon-Levitt makes a very convincing, and believable, action movie hero.

All of that said, I found it impossible to watch the movie without thinking of the subtext now put on the film by the Aurora, Colorado shootings.  The Dark Knight Rises is a dark, violent movie where innocent people going about their business get shot and killed by masked bad guys.  How can you watch Bane’s crew kill people at the Gotham Stock Exchange, for example, without thinking of the people at the midnight show when James Holmes burst in and began firing?  For me and probably for many people, the grisly backdrop of the shootings make it impossible to enjoy the movie as it was intended — as escapist, superhero fare.

Holy Cow Batman is 82 !

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Yesterday the original Batman, Adam West turned 82. The Batman Show aired back in the 60’s and Batman had a host of villians that he fought on a weekly basis. One of my favorites was the Mad Hatter where his hat pops open and a pair of eyes hypnotizes / paralyzes his prey.

Of course the show would culminate with a fight scene, Zlonk, Klonk, Kapow where Batman and Robin would prevail. This was classic television in the good old days. Sometimes I wish we could get those days back.