Before Batman Returns this summer, director Tim Burton has a few details to attend to. ”Little things,” he says wearily. ”Like the editing, the special effects, the previews. We’ll be working right up to when’s the opening?” June 19. ”Well, the day before that.”
Decked out in cobweb-and-grime-flecked sets, the Batman sequel promises to be even darker, weirder, and, well, more Tim Burtonesque than the 1989 original. ”For better or worse, I had more of an effect on this one,” he says. Shooting in L.A. instead of London made this production smoother, and there were no script snafus like the writers’ strike that hamstrung Batman. Asked about the sequel’s story line, he laughs. ”Haven’t you heard? There is no plot.”
Actually there is, and it’s straightforward enough: In the midst of his campaign to become mayor of Gotham City, the Penguin (Danny DeVito) conspires with Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) to destroy Batman. But as in Burton’s other films (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), the story is secondary to the spectacle.
Burton, a former Disney animator, was especially determined to flesh out the original comic-book conception of the Penguin. ”He was just some fat guy in a top hat and a tuxedo — it didn’t make sense,” he says. Instead, he and DeVito made him a freak with webbed hands, abandoned by his parents as a baby and raised by penguins in Gotham City’s sewers. For some scenes the actor wore 20 pounds of quivering silicone to lend his body a wobbly look.
In contrast, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman getup is skintight and sinewy. Costume designer Mary Vogt says the stitch-laden bodysuit, designed for Annette Bening (who dropped out to have Warren Beatty’s baby), was ”probably better for Michelle, because she’s more athletic, more streamlined.”
Performing under all that outfitting, Burton says, was ”technical, time-consuming, painful work.” Still, he believes, the result is ”kind of a comedy. But then again, at this point I’ll laugh at anything. Or start crying.”