"Batman Returns," Warner Bros.' mega-sequel (rumored cost: million), doesn't open until June 19, but already the bat-hype and marketing tie-ins have begun.
The follow-up to Tim Burton's 1989 release, the sixth-highest-grossing picture of all time, is considered the movie to beat in the summer box-office race, and the trailer has been wowing audiences with its turbo-charged action sequences, the virtually unrecognizable Danny De Vito in a Penguin get-up, and Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer's French-kissing-in-funny-costumes scene.
A two-page spread in the May issue of Vanity Fair (a photo of the roly-poly Penguin in the company of a giant rubber duckie!) and another two pages in the current Entertainment Weekly (replete with former animator Burton's sketch of Cat- woman's punky Catsuit) offer a glimpse at the film's look: dark (some say it's darker than the original), weird (some say it's weirder than the original) and evocative of silent-screen horror classics.
Indeed, director Burton and Bo Welch, his production designer, have thrown in homages to a weltanschauung of silent-era titles, most of them German.
* The look of the film was heavily influenced by Robert Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," the seminal 1919 film with a lunatic fairground atmosphere and cracked-mirror angles.
* The character played by Christopher Walken is named Max Schreck after the actor who assayed the title role in F. W. Murnau's vampire classic "Nosferatu."
* In profile, Ms. Pfeiffer's Cat- woman is said to bear a remarkable resemblance to the evil, robotic Maria in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis."
* And, in designing Mr. De Vito's freakish Penguin features, the Batfolks looked to Lon Chaney's grinning monster in the 1927 Tod Browning creeper, "London After Midnight."
On the merchandising front, $50 million in "Batman Returns" advertising and promotional tie-ins are in the works, with Coca-Cola, McDonald's, J.C. Penney, Sears and Choice Hotels (parent of the Quality and Comfort Inn chains) among the businesses looking to cash in on the expected bonanza.
And breakfast-nookers will be heartened to know that Ralston-Purina is readying a sequel to its popular "Batman" brand cereal, introduced in 1989. (Serial cereals?) The new "Batman Returns" breakfast food, a rice-based, chocolate-flavored concoction, will be on supermarket shelves by mid-May.