Warner Home Video
Batman only ran for three seasons back in the late ’60s, but its impact on pop culture remains immense and ongoing. It entered syndication shortly after its initial run, and several generations of children have enjoyed its mix of action, morality and pure campy goodness in the decades since. The big budget movies that started hitting theaters in the ’80s have mostly avoided the show’s highly comedic and innuendo-filled tone ‐ although Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin sure does try ‐ making the series a 120-episode pop culture time capsule.
I was one of those kids who used to love watching the show on weekday afternoons after I got home from school, and while I’ve seen bits of episodes over the years I haven’t actually sat down to watch one in full since my childhood. Part of the reason may be that the show’s never been on DVD before, but there’s also the matter of me growing up and deciding the dialogue, cartoonish action and tights were beneath me. That’s no longer the case though ‐ clearly I’ve grown more self-aware and immature ‐ and now I find myself appreciating the over the top but sincere goofiness for what it was.
Warner Home Video is finally releasing the series on Blu-ray/DVD tomorrow, fully remastered in high definition and featuring over three hours of new featurettes and an episode guide detailing the plots and guest stars. The Blu-ray limited edition set adds Adam West’s photo scrapbook, a pack of collectible trading cards and a Hot Wheels replica Batmobile. The extras add anecdotes and a sense of fun, but the biggest thrill in either version are the beautiful new transfers.
Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) are masked crusaders who defend the city of Gotham against all manner of dastardly criminals, but in their down time they’re nothing more than your average, everyday millionaire and his young ward. Bruce Wayne is the wealthy man, and Dick Grayson is the young man who shares his company, and their super special bat cave rests beneath the majestic Wayne manor.
The show follows a fairly standard path for most of the episodes ‐ a bad guy commits some act or crime, the police make zero effort and instead pass the buck to Batman who Commissioner Gordon calls on the Batphone, the dynamic duo are captured or in danger, and then they save the day ‐ but these constants are never dull or repetitive in a negative way. More than anything else that’s because the dialogue and performances are so gleefully goofy while still being more than a little sincere.
The goofiness is never-ending. There are unnecessary and ridiculous signs everywhere. and even their Bat poles are labeled (presumably so Bruce and Dick will slide into their proper costumes), and in something of a nod to Laugh In the series features multiple cameos popping out of windows as the duo climb exterior walls. The show retains a bit of an After School Special vibe in its numerous asides reminding viewers about the value of good dental hygiene, pedestrian safety and not driving while under the influence, and while they’re brief and buried in zaniness they’re still sincere.
The show also features a a pretty fantastic roster of proper guest stars when it came to the villains, and while the most memorable remain the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Joker (Cesar Romero) and the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) there are plenty of other familiar faces. Julie Newmar, Roddy McDowall, Art Carney, Shelley Winters, Liberace, Otto Preminger, Cliff Robertson, Joan Collins, Ethel Merman, Milton Berle and Zsa Zsa Gabor are the highest profile, but my personal favorite villain remains Vincent Price as Egghead. Because come on, it’s Vincent Price. I’m also a big fan of Bruce Lee’s two-episode arc as the Green Hornet and Kato visited Gotham, but if I’m being honest, my favorite guest star hasn’t changed since my youth. Yeah, it’s Yvonne Craig as Batgirl.
Both the Blu-ray and DVD releases feature a newly remastered picture and sound, and while I haven’t seen the latter I can confirm that the new Blu is a vibrant and sharp surprise. The colors pop so brightly now that I almost expect them to be accompanied by their own word balloon. Warner Home Video has released a split-screen video to highlight the improvement with the original footage on the left and the remastered picture on the right.
The DVD box set comes in typical packaging, but the limited edition Blu-ray set gets a much fancier release. It’s a larger case that opens up like a cabinet ‐ the doors are secured via magnets ‐ and inside you find a form-fitted case with a pocket for the Hot Wheels care, the trading cards and a section that holds each of the three seasons and the two booklets. Also, and this is important, there’s a button on the outside of the case that when pressed plays the Batman theme song.
As mentioned above, both the Blu-ray and DVD sets include the featurettes below and a detailed episode guide.
- Hanging with Batman [29:56] ‐ Adam West tells his story from his childhood on a dirt farm in Washington state through the highs of playing Batman and beyond. West narrates from his living room chair and grows remarkably candid (especially for a promotional featurette) in regard to the depressing and difficult times that followed the show’s cancellation.
- Holy Memorabilia Batman! [29:59] ‐ Ralph Garman shares his Batman collection with West, and other collectors and toy experts discuss how the show helped launch the collectible/merchandising craze. They also talk about folks building and collecting Batmobile replicas. One guy compares acquiring the toys to having sex, so that tells you where they are.
- Batmania Born! Building the World of Batman [29:41] ‐ Interviews with folks who loved the show as kids and now work in the comic/entertainment industry (along with Burt Ward, Julie Newmar and West) make up this featurette, and they highlight the importance of the show in the turbulent ’60s and the frequent innuendo added to the episodes for older audience members.
- Bats of the Round Table [45:08] ‐ West sits down as the guest of honor for a chatty lunch alongside Garman, Jim Lee, Phil Morris and Kevin Smith.
- Inventing Batman in the Words of Adam West [29:30, 29:39] ‐ West reads through his personal scripts from two episodes and discusses the notes he added along the way.
- Na Na Na Batman! [12:15] ‐ Actors from Arrow, The Following, Supernatural and The Mentalist (?) comment on the show’s theme song, costumes, the villains and more.
- Bat Rarities! Straight from the Vault ‐ This section includes the short Batgirl Pilot [7:54], Burt Ward’s screen test [6:16], screen tests with Lyle Waggoner (Wonder Woman) as Batman and Peter Deyell as Robin [4:23] and a James Blakely Tribute [2:24] that acknowledges his contributions as the show’s post-production supervisor.