“Gremlins” director Joe Dante has had a long and illustrious career in film and television, but he certainly walked away from a potential feather in his cap by turning down a proposed “Batman” movie in the early 1980s.
In a career-spanning interview at the Psychotronic Cinema blog, Dante talked about the “Batman” movie that never was, written by James Bond veteran Tom Mankiewicz, of "Diamonds are Forever," "Live and Let Die," and "The Man with the Golden Gun" fame.
Mankiewicz, who died in 2010, had some serious clout in the superhero genre. While he was credited as a “creative consultant” on Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman: The Movie” and Richard Lester's 1980 “Superman II” he was in fact responsible for a major rewrite that condensed 400 pages of script into the two workable screenplays. He also had a hand in the "Donner Cut" of "Superman II," which restored the original footage that had been deleted for the theatrical release.
Dante described the abandoned "Batman" project as dark, but certainly not "Chris Nolan-dark.” He added that it “was certainly darker than the TV version.”
Dante explained that he was asked to do the project right after “Gremlins” and described it as a “revenge story” that “started with his parents getting killed.” He also stated that it was outlandish and had “a lot of giant props in it,” which brings to mind the giant booby-trapped balloons in Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” movie.
Most interesting, though, is Dante’s choice of Joker. The director said he wanted comedic actor John Lithgow, whom he had met on the set of the “Twilight Zone” anthology film, to play The Crown Prince of Crime. And while it never came to be, Lithgow’s manic brand of physical comedy -- showcased in his turns as the evil Lord John Whorfin in “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension," and as Dr. Dick Solomon in “3rd Rock from the Sun,” to name but two genre favorites -- would have made for a very interesting Joker.
Ultimately, it was Dante’s fascination with the villain, rather the hero, that drove him away from the project. He told himself, “I can’t do this movie—I’m more interested in The Joker than I am in Batman, and that’s not the way it should be.” When he shared this revelation with the film’s producers, he says they looked at him like he’d completely lost his mind, but Dante stood his ground. While he doesn’t regret walking away from the “Batman” project, he recognizes that his decision wasn’t a major career-booster.
Dante, who continues to work in film and television, made a recent foray in the DC Universe, directing the 8th episode of DC’s "Legends of Tomorrow,” “Night of the Hawk.” His next project, “The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes,” is a feature about B-movie director Roger Corman taking an LSD trip in the company of Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, and Dennis Hopper -- all in the name of art, of course. The project is very personal for Dante, who got his start at Corman’s New World Pictures, where he was the uncredited co-director of the cult classic, "Rock ‘n’ Roll High School," starring the Ramones.