New 'Batman' looks somber but lacks violence

September 05, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Holy evolutionary cycles! "Batman" leaps back to television in a new cartoon series to be seen weekday afternoons on the Fox network beginning Monday. And the network offers a pair of weekend previews, at 9 a.m. today and in prime time at 7 p.m. tomorrow on WBFF-Channel 45.

But this "Batman: The Animated Series" owes much more to the feature film caped crusader (two pictures and counting) and creator Bob Kane's original DC Comics character than it does to the played-for-laughs TV series with Adam West and Burt Ward (on ABC from 1966 to 1968).

Ominous shadows, cynical characters and relentlessly foreboding music (original scores by Shirley Walker) take the place of the "Thwack!" "Pow!" and "Ugh!" cartoon clouds of the old series.

As in the comic book/movie evolution, sidekick Robin is gone. Batman/Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred (voiced by Efrem Zimbalist shows a sardonic, smirky sense of humor. Even Commissioner Gordon seems a lone light of integrity in a police force gone bad.

Indeed, in tomorrow's s preview episode, "On Leather Wings," a fat police detective says of the Dark Knight, "any nut case who dresses up like a bat, sooner or later he's gonna snap."

And the Jekyll/Hyde-like story, an old one from the DC Comics days, tells of a scientist who combines chemicals to turn himself into Man-Bat, a marauding villain/victim with whom Batman must do battle.

"It's somber, psychologically moody and very exciting," says executive producer Jean McCurdy in publicity materials for the series, produced by Warner Bros. Animation.

But is that really what kids should be watching at 4:30 on weekday afternoons?

Well, better this than tabloid reality shows. And parents should know that violence seems intentionally toned down, unlike the relatively graphic depictions in the comic books.

For instance, while a security guard plunges out a high window early on in the preview episode, he falls not to his death but to a splashy landing in a convenient canal. The next shot shows a newspaper's front page, with the injured guard telling his story.

And Batman treats Man-Bat compassionately, using computer expertise to find an antidote to the transformation formula.

Viewers at times may marvel at the animation techniques of the new series, with broodingly executed plays of light and shadow in the backgrounds and a variety of unusual perspectives. More than 70 artists are said to work on the series.

In one scene, for instance, Man-Bat tows Batman into the night sky. They sweep over a police blimp, and a virtual cinema verite sequence makes the viewer seem to be following on Batman's heels, tumbling up and over and nearly colliding with the aircraft's vertical stabilizer.

Production notes credit the combination of a variety of animation techniques, including "limited animation," where only a part of a drawn object moves, and "full animation," where movement ripples throughout.

And the moody backgrounds seem that way because they are literally noir, with black background paper underlying all the drawings in stead of the conventional white.

Warner Bros. has cast a number of prominent actors for voice roles in future episodes, including Mark Hamill for the Joker, Roddy McDowall as the Mad Hatter, Paul Williams as the Penguin and Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman.

In tomorrow's prime-time preview, careful listeners can hear Richard Moll ("Night Court") as district attorney Harvey Dent, Rene Auberjonois ("Benson") as Dr. March and Meredith Macrae

as Francine.

*

WHO MESSED UP? -- Several readers have pointed out an error last week's column about "Dr. Who," the English sci-fi series seen on Maryland Public Television:

Yes, it was Tom Baker, not Jon Pertwee, who portrayed the time-traveling doctor while wearing the --ing long scarf. The error originated elsewhere, however, in an errant picture caption in a reference work consulted for the column.

One reader also notes that the series has not technically gone out of production in England, but remains on hiatus while the BBC seeks an independent producer.

Officials at MPT have also reported that last week's "Dr. Who" pledge breaks, which screened home video pitches made by area "Whovians," generated about $18,000 in pledges.

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