The existence of the Batman Forever Schumacher Cut has been confirmed, and we can’t help but wonder just what a tonal change is contained within.
Recent chatter concerning Zack Snyder’s Justice League seems to be focused on the lack of subscriber numbers the recut film brought to American streaming platform, HBO Max. That, along with Warner Bros’ announcement that the ‘Snyder-Verse’ series of films are officially done, plus its flat refusal to consider releasing the Ayer cut of Suicide Squad, has many debating whether the entire venture can be deemed a ‘success.’
We’d argue that the value of announcing and premiering Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max probably added more to the steaming platform than can be counted in a single month’s subscriber numbers, but that’s not the oversimplified, headline-grabbing response that tends to draw clicks.
However, Warner Bros will most likely possess an array of shiny algorithms to detect all of the ways in which the project brought both eyes and subscribers to HBO Max. As such, we don’t expect Zack Snyder’s Justice League to be the last project of this ilk. Up next? Well, let’s talk about why it makes perfect sense to release ‘The Schumacher Cut’ of 1995’s Batman Forever.
You don’t need us to tell you that the release of 1995’s Batman Forever marked a sea-change for the Batman franchise, eschewing the previous two films’ gothic broodiness in favour of garish neon camp. Following the exit of director Tim Burton following 1992’s Batman Returns, a freakish and kinky examination of the Batman mythos, Joel Schumacher came in to helm the next instalment. Given the mandate of appeasing appalled parents and franchise partners such as McDonalds, none of whom were too happy with Return’s none-too-subtle perversities, the Falling Down director came in, restored the silly campiness of the 1966 TV show and within two films, killed the biggest franchise in Hollywood.
Or at least, that’s how the legend goes.
However, with one of Batman Forever’s writers, Akiva Goldsman, confirming last week that a longer, darker director’s cut of Batman Forever does exist, it seems that Schumacher’s original intentions were different to the film that made it into cinemas. Says Goldsman, who claimed to have seen the cut recently: “Batman Forever still has a renaissance coming. I really am interested to see whether the original cut of Batman Forever comes out because I got to see it, recently, the very very first one, which was Preview Cut: One. It was really dark, it was a pretty psychological exploration of guilt and shame.”
Ultimately, Schumacher would revise his original cut, excising much of the darker material and leaning into a version that would play to the increasingly theatrical sensibilities that the former costume designer would further explore in 1997’s Batman & Robin, 1999’s Flawless and 2004’s The Phantom Of The Opera.
So why would the original director’s cut of Batman Forever be the perfect release for HBO Max? Firstly, the film is said to be complete, with no costly reshoots needed (not that you’d be likely to get Val Kilmer back in the suit 36 years later anyway). That’ll make a refreshing difference for Warner Bros, who splashed out a hefty amount on material for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the bulk of which was spent on sequences building up teases to sequels that the studio had no intention of making.
Sure, a restoration process would be needed, but this would be relatively cheap, assuming all of the original negatives still exist. Although Schumacher himself is sadly no longer with us, Tim Burton produced the film, and who better to oversee a darker recalibration of the movie in Schumacher’s absence? The cut certainly possesses value beyond that of a mere curio: after all, had this darker version made it to release, we most likely wouldn’t have gotten the subsequent zaniness of 1997’s Batman & Robin, nor then the direct realist counterpoint of the Nolan films.
In short, Batman’s cinematic history would look very different indeed has this version of the film made it to release.
So what does the Schumacher cut look like? Whilst this is mostly speculation, we do have some nuggets of information that allow us to envisage what the director’s original vision entailed.
Firstly, it would be naive to imagine that a completely different version of the film exists in the vein of The Snyder Cut. After all, that film was subject to protracted reshoots which significantly altered its tone and content. In terms of actual scenes, we know a fair amount of what was stripped from the original, significantly-longer 170 minute cut of the film (the theatrical version of Batman Forever weighs in at two hours, meaning there’s another 50 minutes of footage we’ve never seen).
In fact, a fair amount of footage is already available for public consumption. The film’s Blu-ray boxset release contains a number of deleted scenes, some of which point to that brooding, introspective tone that Goldsman referenced when he described Schumacher’s first cut as a ‘pretty psychological exploration of guilt and shame.’
In one Batcave sequence, we see Bruce reach an epiphany about the nature of being Batman. It hints at exploring the possibility that embracing the mantle of the Bat has served as a means for him to avoid facing his fears, preventing him from addressing his own fear of survivor’s guilt at witnessing his parents’ murder by instead redirecting that fear into others. Criminals, as it happens, that cowardly and superstitious lot.
It’s perhaps the closest that Schumacher comes in his brace of films to mining the same rich seam as Burton, exploring the warped psychology that Bruce Wayne applies to his existence to justify his actions as The Batman. It’s a scene that works particularly well, not least because Kilmer is given plenty of time to let the slow realisation set in, before exclaiming “Batman is my enemy’. All in a moment rendered even more powerful, both by Alfred (played by Michael Gough) gently agreeing, just as an acid-tongued talking head on the TV denounces Batman’s vigilante activities.
(Useless fact: the TV pundit in this scene is named ‘Kenneth Frequency’, a sure reference to 1994’s R.E.M. song, What’s The Frequency Kenneth? R.E.M. would have a song rejected by Burton for 1992’s Batman Returns soundtrack, have a song appear on the soundtrack to 1997’s Batman & Robin, but strangely, given the reference, have no connection to Batman Forever at all.)
In a clear continuation of this theme, it seems that Schumacher’s original cut would have featured a fairly developed plot line that would have seen Bruce Wayne retire from being Batman, disillusioned and disorientated after sustaining a head injury when Wayne Manor was attacked by The Riddler, Two Face and a coterie of goons. It’s almost certain that the theme of survivor’s guilt would continue to run through this strand of the story with Bruce forsaking the cowl to instead focus on looking after his young new ward, Dick Grayson.
Of course, Dick’s own family has just been murdered at the hands of The Riddler, Two Face and a gaggle of goons, so the guilt and shame weighing on Bruce’s soul would sit heavier still: not only did he fail to save his own parents, but he failed to save Dick’s too. And now, with the angry young man living in Wayne Manor, Bruce is forced to relive his own trauma, as if it were fresh, every time he lays eyes on the future Boy Wonder. (Not quite ‘boy’ perhaps, O’Donnell was actually a rather improbable 27 at the time of playing Dick Grayson.)
In a cathartic moment to conclude this sub-plot, Bruce returns to the shadowed recesses of the cave that he first fell into as a child, facing his fears. Much like Luke Skywalker in the dark side cave on Dagobah, Bruce comes to realise that the fear, guilt and shame that is overpowering him does not lie in the cave itself, but rather, in the words of Master Yoda, is “only what you take with you,” living instead inside of him. The discovery of his father’s journal makes it abundantly clear that the cinema trip on that fateful night to see Zorro, was his parents’ choice, not his, therefore liberating Bruce of much of the guilt that he has carried with him all of his life. And just like Luke squaring off against an imaginary Vader in the cave, a symbolic manifestation of his internal fears, Bruce also has to face down his own demon in the form of a giant Man-Bat.
These scenes, and no doubt others that we are not yet privy to, would certainly send the film’s tonal pendulum swinging back towards the Burton films, although how far is anybody’s guess. Other sequences such as Two Face battling with Batman in a helicopter, waxing philosophical about their moral similarities, perhaps less so. The same goes for a rumoured extension to the scene where a demented Riddler destroys the Batcave, Carrey’s performance possessing a degree of menace, but ultimately winding up a string of entertainingly-delivered catchphrases, sure to make the intended youthful audience cackle with glee.
Of greater interest would be the discovery that Schumacher shot wildly different takes throughout the film, allowing a consistent tonal shift in his original cut. Although this is of course, pure speculation.
Even if a profoundly psychologically darker cut of the film does exist, the film’s visuals are irretrievably lurid, bathed in a Neo-Tokyo neon glow and sporting the angular geometrics of Russian Constructivist architecture. It’s a far cry from the inky black Gothic design of 1989’s Batman and especially removed from the bleak German Expressionist style of Batman Returns with its oppressive neo-fascist cityscape.
Should the film veer into darker waters, there’s no getting past that garish aesthetic. In short, this mythical cut is never going to be another Burton film. Instead, with Schumacher’s first cut of Batman Forever, it’s more likely that the director was attempting to create a film that segued more neatly from the tonally dark Burton films into his more colourful, stilted style.
In this sense, we’re reminded of Guillermo del Toro’s proposed approach for his abortive take on The Hobbit films, using the planned two films to gradually mesh the dark fantasy stylings of his Hobbit films into the warm emotional earnestness of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy. In doing so, creating a smooth tonal transition between the two series.
In this way, the Schumacher Cut would be a really interesting watch, not least because it would work far better as a stylistic continuation of the previous films. Will we see it? We hope so. Only time will tell, but it would be a fitting tribute for a filmmaker whose reputation was unfairly maligned by 1997’s Batman & Robin, and for that reason alone, we’re supporting The Schumacher Cut.
Just leave out the Bat-Nipples.
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