Wednesday, September 23, 2020

EP193: The Man who Saved Batman Part Two

Ken talks with Michael Uslan, the originator and executive producer of the Batman movie franchise.  This week we discuss the various Batman reboots, Christopher Nolan’s vision, the upcoming reboot, and why I hate what Zach Snyder has done to Superman. 

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Ralph C. said...

For some, their Batman could definitely be Kevin Conroy, the voice of the Batman: The Animated Series and animated movies, including my definitive Batman movie, Mask Of The Phantasm. Kevin was actually on Cheers, where he played a baseball player that Carla really liked.

Jeff Boice said...

Thanks again- I liked Mr. Uslan's remark about Happy Meals, and I really liked you calling him out when he used that "he's the nicest guy you'll ever meet" line one too many times.

My introduction to Batman was the same as most Boomers: the 60's TV show, then that Signet paperback that reprinted some of the classic stories- starting with the origin- I do remember thinking "this is weird, these stories aren't anything like the show".

BruceB said...

I also hate Zack Snyders take on Superman. My dream Superman movie would be written by Superman fan Jerry Seinfeld, set in the 1950s, based on the fifties more comedic style of the comic books and of the Adventures of Superman television show, but even funnier. I absolutely love the first Christopher Reeve Superman film, which had hilarious performances from Gene Hackman, Valery Perrine and Ned Beatty, and Reeve's Clark Kent was a hoot, so no one can tell me a Superman movie can't be funny. It had wonderful action and touching emotion right along with the humor. Great film. But setting a Superman film in the fifties takes it out of the recent Superman loop, justifying all kinds of differences as does the fact that humor would reflect the Superman comics and television version of that time. And I bet a script by Jerry Seinfeld would be wonderful.

Hogne B. Pettersen said...

I blame Frank Miller and Alan Moore for the fact that superhero comics from the 90s all HAD to be dark and gritty. After Miller's success with Daredevil and his classic The Dark Knight Returns. The latter is where a 50 year old Batman returns after a ten year absence, when superheroes have been outlawed. The exception being Superman, who works for the American President, a caricature of Reagan. And Batman has nothing but contempt for Superman, they even fight and Batman beats him, via synthesized kryptonite.

After this, all superhero stories had to be adult, grown up, dark and gritty. And it never stopped. It was also the trend where every single story arch had to be a momentous event in the hero's life. Tiresome. When DC Comics rebooted everything with Crises on Infinite Earths, all of the characters stories were started over. And John Byrne and other writers ran with the dark and gritty theme.

So what you are saying, Ken, about it's not right that Batman and Superman shouldn't be friends, that's how they have been portraid for the past 30 years. It's not like it was pre-Crisis, where they were friends.

Ralph C. said...

Hotness B., that blame for the “dark and gritty” shouldn’t be laid at the feet of Miller and Moore. That blame could be laid on the pencils, inks and keyboards of the artist and writers, and also at the editors and publishers— and also some of the comic book readers/fans that gobbled up those other stories and books— that made the environment exist where that became the one-note standard. All Miller and Moore did was tell the stories they wanted to tell. How it was interpreted by the comic book world isn’t their fault.

Daniel said...

This was a great interview. Thank you for doing it. Michael Uslan seems like a genuinely nice person, and his tenacity in getting that first Batman film to the screen is commendable.

I still passionately disagree with you about your take on the Zack Snyder DC films. His Superman isn't "dark." It's that he (like Chris Nolan with his Dark Knight Trilogy) has chosen to put Superman in a believable, real world setting, and our world today is a dark, unforgiving place (just look back at any of your blog posts about Trump (which I agree with)). Zack Snyder is holding a mirror up to us as a society and showing that we don't deserve Superman. And yet, despite this, his Superman perseveres anyway. Half the people in his world literally hate Superman, and yet Snyder's Superman continues to fight to protect them even though doing so literally kills him. That, to me, is a true representation of hope and heroism.

We live in a world in which Barack Obama gave us bureaucratic insurance reform in order to help people stay healthy, and yet half the country demonized him as the literal anti-Christ. So what Snyder is showing us that, if a literal god-like figure showed up in our world, we would never, ever embrace him as a savior (as in the Chris Reeve films or as in the formulaic Marvel films). If this god-like figure showed up in our world, half the people in this country would demonize him. That's just a fact. And to not acknowledge that would narratively and thematically tone deaf. And that's what Snyder is showing. He's deconstructing the character and the idea of super-heroes and saying, "If these characters suddenly showed up, this is how it would likely play out."

I think his choice to have his trilogy's structure mimic the life of Jesus (Man of Steel: Birth; BvS: Death; Justice League: Resurrection) is no coincidence. He's pointing out the hypocrisy of the moralists in this country who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus but who, in reality, would reject him if he actually showed up. And I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with that.

Does this mean that a deconstructionist approach to super-heroes is the only way to tell super-hero stories? No, of course not. I may not be a fan of the formulaic, goofy, glib Marvel approach to the genre, but others obviously are. But by the same token, the success of the Marvel approach also does not delegitimize the deconstructionist approach. It's a big enough media world and the genre is flexible enough to allow for these multiple approaches to telling these stories.

People are obviously entitled to like or not like whichever films they choose. My main issue though (and as much as I like you and your work, I think you fall into this category), is that most of the objections to Zack Snyder's DC films is "that's not the way that I would have done it." And that's an unfair burden to place on any artist. Films, like any art form, should be judged by the artist's intention and how successfully or unsuccessfully s/he achieved what they set out to do. So criticizing Snyder's DC films is like saying that The Godfather Trilogy is terrible because it wasn't funny enough. The Godfather films weren't intended to be funny, so to judge them because they didn't make you laugh would be ludicrous. And yet, that's the standard that Snyder's films are held to.

Again, I really like you and your work (particularly on Frasier), and have affectionate memories of your time in Baltimore when you worked for the Orioles. But on this matter, I just vehemently disagree with you.

Troy McClure said...

I am so tired of the 'gritty real world' defense. This is Superman, not Taxi Driver.

The most unforgiveable thing about Snyder's take on Superman, other than the films being joyless CGI laden green screen travesties, is that Clark Kent and Superman are completely identical. Christopher Reeve was savvy and knew he had to make the roles distinct. The famous quote by him is that if he didn't, a pair of glasses would be standing in the place of a performance.

Snyder's Superman is Clark Kent is Superman. It's not just that Reeve's Clark and Superman have different personalities, the inflection of his voice, his body language and his vocabulary are also different. All of that enables the viewer to suspend disbelief about no one recognizing Clark is Superman.

Because Henry Cavill's Clark and Superman are exactly the same in every single way, it's even more unbelievable that no one figures out his secret in five seconds.

I'd love to see Superman done properly, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon.

No said...

"Anyone but Val Kilmer". LOL.

In his defense, he did a spot-on Jim Morrison and Doc Holliday.

Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson nailed the Batman and Joker from the start, and Tim Burton's vision was perfect. I say this as someone who doesn't normally give a crap about superhero movies, but the 1989 BATMAN was absolutely as groundbreaking and well done as everyone says. It probably sums up everything that is vital about American superhero films.

Hogne B. Pettersen said...

@Ralph C: I see that I should have included that i LOVE Alan Moore and Frank Miller's work. It's brilliant. And you are right, the blame should be put on everybody who tried to copy them, which is still going on. (PS! I'm found you calling me Hotness hilarious :-D )