Holy controversy! Ever since he was named to the role of the Caped Crusader--aka Bruce Wayne, aka Batman--Michael Keaton's been the subject of some severe snickering from comic book buffs and sci fi/fantasy enthusiasts.
The reason: The new Batman, as revitalized in print by Frank Miller, is one no-nonsense dude. And his crime-busting saga, which begins with the brutal murder of his parents, is nothing to laugh about.
By the same token, "Batman the Movie"--from Warners, based on a film noirish script by Sam Hamm --is reportedly serious stuff.
But Keaton's mostly known for funny stuff. As is director Tim Burton, who just had him very funny in "Beetlejuice."
And so, the movie, due to begin production in October in London, has got to win over skeptics.
Some of whom have been voicing their disapproval with hisses and boos at the various sci fi/fantasy/comic fan gatherings around the country. Including those who let loose groans at the 46th annual World Science Fiction fest on the weekend in New Orleans. (See next item.)
No matter that Jeff Walker--Warners' specialty press publicist who delivered the "Batman" presentation for the fans--cited Keaton's nifty critical notices for the grim "Clean and Sober," in which he's a addict-alcoholic.
As some fans pointed out, Keaton doesn't have the physical stature of Batman. (Turns out there are plans to have Batman wear a kind of body armor beneath that black and blue-gray caped outfit--the better to add some musculature.)
No less winning was the pre-production drawing of the Batmobile--which sported a sinister, smooth, vaguely-reptilian look. More groans. But, the fans applauded the Batwing--Batman's plane.
In case you're wondering if die-hard fans matter in terms of ticket sales . . .
Fact is, it's the die-hard fans who can help turn an otherwise-obscure movie into a cult title (see "Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai"). And, largely during repeat viewings, they've been known to help turn hit pics into phenomenons (see the earlier films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg). And to turn some TV series (see "Star Trek") into hit pics (see "Star Trek" and its sequels).
Little wonder that a studio rep was pleased to report that the mood of the fans was very upbeat during last month's Comic Con held in San Diego. In fact, said our source, none other than Batman creator Bob Kane was on hand to talk Batman and field questions--and to applaud the casting of Keaton. (Kane will have a cameo in the upcoming pic, as a newspaper cartoonist.)
The Warners spokesman pointed out that Batman isn't a super hero with super powers: "He's more real man than super-man."
And he promised, "Those people questioning Keaton as Batman are going to be surprised."
Meanwhile, the buzz over Batman continues. "It's the talk of the comic world," said Maggie Thompson, co-editor of the industry trade journal, Comics Buyers Guide.
Ever since the casting announcement, the letters column has been dominated by anti-Keaton sentiments: "And some fans have even taken ads out, directing letter-writing campaigns to D.C. (Comics, "literary" home of Batman) and Warner Bros."
Said Thompson: "If you've followed the new Batman comics, you know that his is a dark and brooding tale, with hints that he may even be psychotic.
"So the question is, can Keaton do this?"