The Batman films have been titans in theaters for more than twenty years. Yes, even Batman & Robin made a lot money. The presence of these films, however, tends to overshadow Batman ventures in other mediums, mainly television. In 1992 kids watched as Batman: The Animated Series created a new Bat mythos different from the films or the long-standing comic series. Anyone part of the generation that was exposed to this version of Batman cites it as the foundation of their passion for the bat.
The animated Batman has had a long and varied life. Since 1992, there have been more than seven takes on the cartooned caped crusader. Many of these incarnations are due to the work of a small group of men who, today, are held in as high regard as the writers working on the comics. So when Warner Brothers began putting out feelers looking for a possible new direction for Batman in film, it’s no wonder they turned to this brain trust for ideas.
The idea they put forth was a live-action adaptation of the animated series, Batman Beyond. This story finds an elderly Bruce Wayne living in a Blade Runner-esque Gotham. Unable to personally keep up his own crusade against crime, he asks a young man named Terry McGunnis to dawn a futuristic Bat-suit. The animated series lasted 52 episodes and led to one direct to video movie, Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker.
Of course, the result was a complete clusterfuck.
Alan Burnett’s work in animation goes as far back as the Super Friends in the late 70’s. Since then he can be credited with being one of the chief minds behind nearly every DC Comics based animated series. Look up the man’s resume; it is basically a laundry list of everything you loved about your childhood. Even today, Burnett is the co-producer of the steady stream to direct to video films DC releases.
Burnett wrote the script with Paul Dini, who shares equal credit as an architect of the animated DC universe. However, Dini can also be credited with having contributed episodes to Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, Star Wars: Clone Wars, the Clerks cartoon, issues of Detective Comics, both scripts for the Batman Arkham video games, and perhaps greatest of all is that Dini co-created a little character named Harley Quinn along with Bruce Timm. He’s also married to a magician, in case that last part didn’t sell it for you.
So, how did these two living legends manage to churn out a clunker of a script? Truth is, the live action Batman Beyond wasn’t their project. Both Burnett and Dini were brought on board under the supervision of a guy named Boaz Yakin. Yakin’s most famous credit at the time was having written the script for that unwatchable Punisher movie with Dolph Lungren. Yet in early 2000 Yakin had garnered himself a little clout by making the film Remember the Titans. It was a surprise hit, and by surprise I mean nobody realized that football movie + Denzel Washington = money. Surprise!
The script for Batman Beyond was supposedly beyond violent and full of sex. Imagine Burnett and Dini, legends in children’s entertainment, realizing they turned their beloved cartoon into an R-rated demon. Warner Brothers was shocked at the script’s content. The energy and excitement that led to talks of Keanu Reeves and Paul Newman taking roles was extinguished. Burnett and Dini had no interest in working on a script that was bound to wallow in development hell forever. Soon after their departure, Boaz Yakin also walked and went on to write the super successful Prince of Persia movie.
The studio moved away from Batman Beyond as a way to reboot the franchise and instead looked to Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller to create a PG-13 Batman everyone could enjoy. Oops.
The Batman Beyond script is impossible to find online, which is to say: Warner Brothers hated it so much they buried it forever. Yet, now that Nolan’s trilogy comes to a close, don’t be surprised if Batman Beyond pops up again as a possible way to bring back the Bat.
If you haven’t already, check out the rest of the Bat Out of Development Hell series.