It was back in 1989 that Jack Nicholson, his face frozen into a permanent, monstrous grin as the Joker, marveled at the escape of his arch-nemesis Batman and wondered, “Where does he get all those wonderful toys?”
With the release of that hugely successful film, the Tim Burton-directed “Batman,” a movie franchise was born, and with it the beginning of a warehouse full of gadgets, Bat-suits, cat suits, Batmobiles, Tumblers, utility belts, production drawings and other artifacts carefully preserved by the archivists at Warner Bros. Studios. A massive selection from that history — dating from Burton’s two films to Christopher Nolan’s brooding Dark Knight trilogy — is now at the center of the Warner Bros. VIP Tour in Burbank through the summer.
In time for the 75th anniversary of Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics, fans of the films can see all of it up close, including an unprecedented gathering of Batmobiles and other vehicles from all seven of the studio’s films. In the studio lot museum, the bottom floor is dedicated to a rich collection of production art, costumes, miniatures, Bat-weapons and other props. There is a floor-to-ceiling glass display case filled with rows of Batman cowls from the various films, worn by actors Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale. (The second floor remains dedicated to Harry Potter.)
But the cars will always draw special attention. In his 2012 book “Batmobile: The Complete History,” author Mark Cotta Vaz wrote of the mystique of Batman’s car: “The Batmobile is as swift as the wind, as fast as a speeding bullet. When it arrives to save the day, it’s like the cavalry and Marines rolled into one. The Batmobile is an icon of American car culture…”
The exhibit was created by a team headed by Lisa Janney, the studio’s vice-president of Corporate Archives, where “Warner Bros. has taken a long-term interest in preserving our studio assets,” she said. “We want to be able to tell a complete Batman story. For us this was an exciting opportunity.”
Studio archivists have worked to collect the Batman items even as the films were in first production, with access to designers and shooting scripts in order to prepare for the permanent collection once shooting was completed. When needed, they’ve consulted with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other art institutions for preservation advice, and it shows in the quality of the items. In most cases, the costumes and vehicles look as new as they did on screen years before.
The exhibit was officially opened Thursday morning by actor Danny DeVito, who portrayed the snarling Penguin in Burton’s 1992 sequel “Batman Returns.” Standing amid the collection of Batmobiles, motorcycles, Tumblers and aircraft, DeVito flipped on the Bat-Signal for a gathering of media, studio reps and fans.
“Batman is relatable. He doesn’t have superpowers,” said Janney. “He does have really cool cars, and there’s not one of us out there that wouldn’t love to drive a really cool car. And Batman has cool cars.”
For more information, visit vipstudiotour.warnerbros.com or call (877) 492-8687.
Follow Steve Appleford on Twitter: @SteveAppleford.