Batman Returns – Trancers III Deth Lives – tape 1832

First on this tape a Sky Movie Channel presentation (in widescreen, no less) of Batman Returns.

At the time they were released, Tim Burton’s Batman movies were well received. Most people’s memory of Batman was of the Adam West TV shows of the 60s, and in comparison to those, Burton’s version looked like a dark, gritty revisionist version.

But Burton brings a whole new set of issues to the movies. His love of the the odd and the outsider really comes to the fore in this sequel to the first Batman. In many ways, this shows what Burton will do when let off the leash. Batman suffered from Nicholson’s central performance as Joker. He overbalanced the movie, giving Keaton’s Batman/Wayne too little screen time, which was a shame because Keaton was far more interesting that Nicholson, who was allowed to overplay wildly. Burton’s relative inexperience meant Nicholson was indulged, and the movie suffered.

Batman Returns feels like a more confident work. It’s got the best performances of any of the pre-Nolan Batman movies, none of which feel like they’re out of control. DeVito’s Penguin is perfectly revolting, just the right amount of outrageousness, but never once feeling like he’s just camping it up. He also has some of the best lines. “I was their number one son, and they treated me like number two” remains a favourite.

Walken is as cool and quirky as Walken ever is. I haven’t got a clue what his character’s agenda ever was, but Walken makes anything seem better just by being there.

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman doesn’t make a lot of sense either. You’re never sure why she’s doing what she’s doing – neither is she, for that matter. But the performance is good, and her costume is striking, to say the least.

Michelle Pfeiffer

Keaton’s Batman gets a little bit more to do in this one, but you can still get the feeling that it’s quite hard to fight in that suit. He still can’t turn his head.

The story is fairly nonsensical, but that’s not really why we watch a Tim Burton movie. But it looks amazing, taking the original production design of Anton Furst from the first movie, and layering it with a freaky circus chic, and shooting the whole thing in a cool blue palette, before that was a cliche.

In fact, it seems, from this movie, as if Burton, and particularly his composer, Danny Elfman, haven’t yet got Edward Scissorhands out of their heads, as the Christmas setting and the voice-filled score owes much more to that film than it does to the first Batman outing.

It’s Burton’s imagination that rescues this movie from being an incoherent mess, which I suspect it would be if it weren’t so gorgeous. Just one example: Penguin’s henchmen rig the batmobile with a remote control so the Penguin can control it, and blacken Batman’s name. They manage to get past the Batmobile’s security simply by pointing a remote control at it. This is stupid, to my comic-book reader’s mind.

But when Penguin takes control, he doesn’t do it by using a joystick and a computer. Burton has him in a tiny Batmobile, like a fairground kiddy ride, and we forgive the unlikelyhood of the previous scene.

Mini Batmobile

I find I can forgive quite a lot of stupidity in a movie like this if the design works overtime. (This also explains why I like Space 1999.)

After this movie, there’s another one with a slightly lower pedigree. Trancers III: Deth Lives is another in the low budget Trancers series, starring genre favourite Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth, who hunts Trancers for a living. If I remember the original correctly, Trancers are violent zombie-like people, originally caused by psychic influence from the baddie in the first film.

In this film, Andrew Robinson (star of Dirty Harry, Hellraiser and Deep Space Nine) is using the Trancer technology to create super-soldiers, and Deth is taken into the future – 2015 to be precise – to stop him ruining the even further future.

It’s a bit of a tiresome runaround with some half-hearted gore effects, some lacklustre fight choreography, the obligatory topless scene in a bar, and an awful synthesized score. Even Thomerson seems to have lost some of the charm that made the first film fun and memorable. But Helen Hunt pops up – she was in the original – which lends it a bit of heft.

After this, there’s an edition of the US Top Ten.

Then, Richard Jobson presents an edition of The Movie Show, which starts with a report on Beyond Bedlam, a horror film based on a book by Harry Adam Knight (pseudonym of the great film journalist John Brosnan).

The tape stops during this show.


  • trail: Patriot Games
  • trail: New on Sky
  • Fiat Punto
  • Slim Fast
  • Puma
  • trail: Beyond 2000
  • Bodyform
  • British Gas – Harry Enfield
  • Daily Mirror – Jimmy Tarbuck



  1. To this day I can’t understand how the bit with the Ice Princess falling to her death and hitting the ground all onscreen got into a PG-13/12 certificate movie. Just as horrible as the start of “Cliffhanger.”

    1. Plus, it’s not as if Batman has never saved anyone falling in that exact way before. He just stared at her. It’s symptomatic of how Burton never grasped Batman’s no-kill rule. See also the scene where he blows up a henchman with his own dynamite.

      1. Batman Returns was a 15 certificate in the UK (on video anyway – there’s also a 12 cert cut version), I think it’s still the highest certificate ever given to a Batman movie.

        Always think the non-PG Batmans (Batmen?) since Burton’s films have been “hard” 12s. The creation of Two-Face in The Dark Knight can’t have gone down too well with the younglings, but that was a 12 too.

      2. If I’m not mistaken, I think Burton’s first Batman was the first 12 cert film, and the video was 15 because 12 at the time only existed for cinema releases. I imagine the same was true of BR. It was quite a while before 12 changed to 12A in cinemas, and the 12 cert arrived for video. The BBFC site would seem to bear that out.

        Interestingly, there *is* a 12 version on video, with 7s cuts: “Cut required to remove a potentially dangerous imitable technique, in accordance with BBFC Policy and Guidelines and the Video Recordings Act, 1984.”

        I suspect this might have been a scene where Catwoman puts aerosols in microwaves to cause an explosion – a scene definitely in the movie (it’s in this Sky broadcast) but cut for video.

      3. And, in “Sleepy Hollow,” how he has the Headless Horseman kill a little boy for no reason other than “just because.”

  2. The first UK 12 was the Shirley MacLaine prestige drama Madame Sousatzka a few months before Batman. But Bats is the one we all remember, understandably.

    The BBFC are still very concerned about imitative behaviour. For ages they’d cut out bits where characters were seen breaking into cars if the film basically showed you how to do it!

  3. Oh, and incidentally I’m one of about fifteen people who actually saw Beyond Bedlam in a cinema. Because I was an idiot.

    1. And in a strange coincidence, the tape I just pulled out of storage for my next batch of digitizing – Beyond Bedlam. It’ll be a long time before it reaches the blogging queue, though.

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