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Batman: The Complete Television Series Blu-ray review
For decades, classic TV fans have been waiting for a home video release of the 1966-1968 “Batman” series. Finally, their “Bat-Signal” has been answered. Warner Home Video has just released “Batman: The Complete Television Series” on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.
Debuting on ABC in January 1966, the show starring Adam West and Burt Ward became a pop culture phenomenon during its three seasons on air. The program was broadcast in two parts weekly, on Wednesday and Thursday nights, until the last season. Part one would have a cliffhanger ending to entice the viewers to watch the conclusion the next night.
Color broadcasting was just settling in during the mid 1960’s, and “Batman” with its bright sets and images was like “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color", perfect to watch in this updated TV system.
“Batman: The Complete Television Series” Limited Edition Blu-ray box set includes all 120 original broadcast episodes. The shows have been remastered in HD, and the video quality is superb in the Blu-ray format. The colors are radiant and the picture is sharp. Little things that weren't noticeable in the “Batman” reruns over the years, whether in syndication or on TV Land or Hub, are fun to pick up on visually via the new Blu-ray set. Cesar Romero’s mustache is clearly visible through his white makeup as The Joker. Romero had refused to shave off his “stache” for the role. Robin (Burt Ward)’s yellow cape has a collar on it, almost like a dress shirt.
The episodes are a delight to watch. As West himself says in the “Hanging With Batman” bonus feature, “Batman was a comedy.” The idea, he notes, was to “make the kids, as you were growing up, believe it. And then as you got older, you saw the absurdities.” In that regard, you have to smile when you see Batman taking on The Joker in a surfing competition (the episode “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!”) or fighting The Riddler in a boxing bout in “Ring Around The Riddler”. This definitely isn't the "Dark Knight" version of The Caped Crusader.
On the other hand, West felt the TV show, in a sense, was also paying homage to DC comics and Batman. “We were really trying to magnify what we saw of the comic books of that particular era and bring it to life” West notes in the bonus feature. And with the Kapow!’s, Zap!!!’s, Boff!’s etc. appearing onscreen during the fight sequences, they did just that.
Batman and Robin's TV adversaries still stand out all these years later. Romero, Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman) were all talented actors who worked well onscreen with West and Ward. In fact, Gorshin was nominated for a 1966 Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his role in the show. Notable guest stars seen in the series included Oscar winners Cliff Robertson (aka Uncle Ben Parker in the “Spider-Man” films), Shelley Winters, and Art Carney as well as Joan Collins, Jill St. John, and Carolyn Jones.
The bonus disc consists of over three hours of extras. Included in the “Bat Rarities! Straight From The Vault” section is Burt Ward’s screen test for Robin, as he acts in a scene with West in both the Wayne Stately Manor and Bat Cave sets. Ward, listed onscreen at the start of the film clip under his real name Burton Gervis, also is shown taking a couple of falls on a mat and breaking a board in half with a karate chop.
Other notable segments are the screen test for “Carol Burnett Show” co-star Lyle Waggoner as Batman and Peter Deyell as Robin, and the approximately eight minute pilot film for a possible “Batgirl” series. Yvonne Craig as “Batgirl” would join the cast of the “Batman” show instead in 1967.
The “Hanging With Batman” bonus section is a 29 minute overview of West’s career, with clips of his roles in the 1959 Paul Newman film “The Young Philadelphians”, the 1965 spaghetti western “The Relentless Four”, and a Nestle’s Quik commercial. An amusing, brief 1976 segment finds West in a modified Batman outfit confronting Jerry “The King” Lawler of WWE and Andy Kaufman ‘feud” fame on a Memphis pro wrestling TV show. Lawler is dressed as “Super King” in a Superman style costume. It’s also interesting to find out that after the “Batman” series ended, West was offered the role of James Bond for the film “Diamonds Are Forever”. West turned down the part.
A minor quibble with the bonus features disc is that it would have been nice to have had a short interview with custom car builder George Barris on how he created the iconic Batmobile (a modified Lincoln Futura concept vehicle). Plus, some of the original ABC-TV promos for the “Batman” series could have been a good addition to the disc.
The Blu-ray Limited Edition release comes in a sturdy, collectible box, individually numbered. Included with the 13 discs is a Hot Wheels replica Batmobile; a scrapbook featuring photos from West’s archives; reproductions of 44 Topps vintage Batman trading cards; a 32 page episode guide; and a code to instantly stream or download the episodes in HD. There’s even a small red button on the box that when pressed, plays about ten seconds of the show’s theme song.
Legal issues tied to the show were the reason it never was released on home video until now. Warner Brothers and DC Comics own the rights to the characters. 20th Century Fox holds the distribution rights to the TV series. All three company’s logos are found on the non-playing side of each disc.
Five decades after it was first broadcast, “Batman: The Complete Television Series” makes for a very enjoyable video viewing experience.
Adam West Guests on Good Day LA 11/10/14
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