Supercut: The Bat-Turn

19 July, 2012 at 11:11 pm (batman)

In 2007, when Christopher Nolan was filming his future blockbuster The Dark Knight, they didn’t yet know how successful it was going to be, and so people actually bothered to do all sorts of publicity press about it. On June 14, 2007, a number of nerd blogs were granted press access to a promotional photo of the Batman suit, which had been revamped since Begins. Now, the suit is revamped for every movie, usually for simple reasons like: it’s hot, it’s heavy, it’s difficult to get in and out of. And when there’s continuity of creative personnel, the returning actors and directors like to try and streamline the process of not having to wait on the mechanics of the giant bat-suit in the room. Later that same week, Entertainment Weekly published this same promotional image (with a bizarre claim of exclusivity) and the all-important caption:

[T]he cowls of past suits were firmly attached to the neck and shoulders of the costume — necessary to maintain that iconic silhouette and to prevent the actor from moving around inside the mask. The new headpiece — modeled after a motorcycle helmet — is separate from the neck, so star Christian Bale can now swivel his noggin side to side, or nod up and down.

“The first time an actor playing Batman can turn his head!” trumpeted the blogs, forgetting that Bat-actors prior to 1989 wore costumes made of cloth, which wasn’t quite so restrictive.
Small changes in the Batsuit between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight
While the lack of a sculpted neck changed the profile and silhouette of Batman for the second of the three Nolan films, the ability to not have to stiffly turn Batman’s whole torso to look at something helped significantly increase naturalism to his movement. When one looked back on Batman Begins and the previous quartet of films, his movements suddenly jumped out as very strange and wooden. While current hype for The Dark Knight Rises keeps bringing up this particular point as if it might be something you haven’t thought of, apparently the idea worked itself sufficiently into popular culture to merit a definition on Urban Dictionary:

Urban Dictionary the Bat-Turn
But, honestly, it had never occurred to me. It took me many rewatchings to notice that Michael Keaton suddenly lost his raccoon make-up before he tore off his bat-cowl in Batman Returns. I even owned an official licensed Batman Returns rubber Bat-cowl and knew first-hand that one couldn’t simply turn one’s head in it. And yet, I guess I always assumed the dramatic way that Keaton’s Batman turned his whole body around to suddenly look at something was a dramatic flourish, a reason to have his cape flutter and flow around him. Because, frankly, when you’re wearing a cape, it’s nigh-impossible to resist the urge to constantly swoosh it around you, and sudden dramatic turns with one’s whole torso really fulfill the whole drama of the thing.

But, like the negative-space arrow in the FedEx logo, once it was pointed out to me, I couldn’t un-see it. So, here’s my own minor contribution to the pre-Dark Knight Rises clutter of hype and anticipation: a edited montage — or “supercut” as the kids now have it — of all of Michael Keaton’s failures to turn his neck independently of the rest of his body.

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