Batman Forever: the version we never got to see

Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever was a divisive movie, to say the least, and one that we’ve debated the merits of before on this site. But even those of us who like the film (this writer included) would be quick to admit that it’s nowhere near the brilliance of the preceding brace of Bat-movies from Tim Burton.

It’s intriguing to hear, then, that the original cut of Batman Forever weighed in at 2 hours 40 minutes. That’s 38 minutes of extra footage that never made it into cinemas; enough missing minutes to significantly alter the film. Would the original version of Batman Forever have garnered more love?

The fine folk at have painstakingly procured information from every available source – earlier drafts of the script, the tie-in comic books, the novelisation, the film’s making-of book, DVD extras, on-set reports, magazine articles, trailers, TV spots and even U2 videos – to create a detailed image of what those missing minutes contained. What they, and some enterprising YouTubers, uncovered suggests a more interesting movie.

A lot of the cut material is fairly inconsequential: alternate readings and longer takes originating from Jim Carrey’s improvisations; Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face shouting “If the Bat wants to play, we’ll play!” during the helicopter scene at the start; Val Kilmer’s Bruce Wayne watching Nicole Kidman’s Chase Meridian on TV; some extended fight scenes; Bruce and Michael Gough’s Alfred dissecting one of Riddler’s box devices in a lab, and so forth.

There’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary there, since most films are fiddled with significantly in the edit and none of these bits sound vital to the movie. But other little moments that got cut could have played important roles….

For example, two cut scenes – Chase helping Bruce fight off goons during the Wayne Manor attack, and Drew Barrymore’s Sugar testing out the Riddler’s tech along with Debi Mazar’s Spice – would have given the female characters of the film a bit more to do. And a scene showing Chris O’Donnell’s Robin training in a gym would have made his transition from acrobat to martial arts wunderkind a touch more palatable.

Also, a scene was shot in which Batman follows his Bat-satnav to the scene of a crime only to end up being laughed at by ladies in a hair salon – this would’ve established that the Riddler has tampered with the Bat-nav, explaining why he and Two-Face have such free rein of the city at points.

Some cut scenes played even larger roles than that, and could’ve made the overall film feel very different. The original opening sequence is one example, and luckily for Bat-fans everywhere, a YouTuber has taken raw footage from the DVD extras and edited it together. This is as close as you’ll ever get to watching the scene as originally intended:

If this scene had remained in the movie, dark and rainy shots of Arkham Asylum would’ve been the first thing we saw. Followed by Rene Auberjonois’ Dr Burton (try and guess who he was named after) strutting seriously down a corridor as red lights flashed. “Where’s the other guard?” he asks a member of Arkham staff standing by a door.

“He’s inside watching him, sir”, the guard replies. “Hell of a night out there, doc,” he adds, setting Dr Burton up for a cheery line: “Hell… is in here.”

Doctor Burton enters the cell. The door shuts behind him. Red lights occasionally flash in this otherwise darkened room.

“Mr Dent”, the doc utters into the darkness. “Counsellor?” he adds, when the silhouetted figure across from him doesn’t say anything. Burton moves closer. “Harvey?” he nervously intones. “Two-Face?”

Thunder claps, lightning flashes. The silhouetted figure rises up, and attempts to speak. We only hear muffled sounds though, as it’s now clear he’s been gagged. It’s suddenly obvious that this isn’t Harvey: it’s the other Arkham guard, tied up and attached to the ceiling fan. (Which is a curious feature for a cell to have, but never mind.)

The doc looks up, agape. He notices a ginormous ruddy hole in the wall (he probably didn’t clock the breeze because of that ceiling fan). He turns, and let’s out a little yelp: he’s just spotted the words THE BAT MUST DIE, smeared on the wall in an ambiguous, smudgy residue. Two-Face has escaped, obvs.

As you’ll see if you’ve got the time to watch the clip above, this scene was very dark by Batman Forever standards. It feels so much closer to the vision of Tim Burton’s previous two films. This does make us wonder: if the original cut had been released, would Joel Schumacher’s work have felt a little more connected to the Bat-flicks that came before?

A whole subplot about ‘the red book’ also ended up on the cutting room floor. In the finished film’s version of Bruce’s flashback (which you can watch above), the young Bruce picks up Thomas Wayne’s diary during his parents’ wake. Lamenting that his father will never write in it again, Bruce grabs the book and runs into the night. He falls down a hole, sees a ginormous bat and hatches the plan to become Batman.

But in the longer cut of the film, there was more to it than that. In an extended version of the flashback, young Bruce finds a passage in his father’s diary written shortly before his death: “Bruce insists on seeing a movie tonight…” Around the two-minute mark in the video above, you can practically see the spot when he’s supposed to read it.

Those seven words would shatter young Bruce’s life. The guilt would consume him. Becoming Batman wasn’t just a ploy for revenge against Gotham’s criminal element, then; it was Bruce’s atonement for directly causing his parents’ death by forcing them out of the house that night.

Additionally, a brace of lines alluding to Batman being “a killer” were also cut from the movie. Two-Face would’ve called him one in the helicopter, and a TV report would have suggested it too. Both scenes took place before the flashback, meaning that the revelation that Bruce perceives himself as a bringer of death would’ve been foreshadowed. In a clunky way, maybe, but foreshadowed nonetheless.

But don’t worry; Bruce’s guilt would have been resolved in the end. Another scene was cut where Bruce wakes up with temporary amnesia after being shot by Two-Face and taking a tumble.

In this shaken up state, he remembers his life as Bruce, but not his time as Batman. So Alfred decides to bring Bruce down to “the cave beneath the [main Bat]cave”, where he first came up with the idea. (You can you watch a version of this scene above, which was cut together from the raw footage by the same YouTuber that did the opening sequence.)

Bruce finds the red book lying in cave, and sits down to read it. A voiceover would then read aloud for us, repeating the line that instigated Bruce’s guilt all those years ago: “Bruce insists on seeing a movie tonight…”

Bruce would pause for a moment, compose himself, and opt to read on. Something he didn’t do as a child. Thomas’ final diary entry continues: “…But Martha and I have our hearts set on Zorro, so Bruce’s cartoon will have to wait until next week.”

Cue tears from Bruce, a muttering of “not my fault” and the revelation that Bruce didn’t cause his parents’ deaths at all. He’s not a killer. He doesn’t need to feel that guilt. It’s at this point that the giant bat that Bruce saw that fateful night would reappear, and Bruce would stand up to it.

In this symbolic moment Bruce would face the fear, face the guilt, and face the fact – as many have posited online – that he’ll be Batman forever.

It’s beginning to look a lot like the powers that be cut all the darkest material, isn’t it? And since these deleted scenes contain grim ideas that would’ve fit better with Burton’s gothic aesthetic than Schumacher’s toy-touting colour, you can see why that decision was made. You may not agree with it, but the logic gels with the whole approach they were taking.

Two little Riddler moments that could be deemed a tad dark were ditched for the final film as well: a bit where he beats a guy with his cane (the same chap that Two-Face uses for his punching demonstration), and a moment in the final battle where he drugs Chase and knocks her out.

Admittedly, though, even if you inserted all these scenes and moments back into the movie, Batman Forever would probably still fall short of fan favourite status. If anything, it might make matters worse: a film that contains both a thrusting Carrey yelling “JOYGASM!” and an angst-ridden guilt storyline would be a film with one hell of a tonal disconnect. The finished film feels consistent, even if that translates to consistent annoyance for some viewers.

But still, it’s interesting to know that the darker tone of Burton’s Bat-films wasn’t thrown out wholesale until the edit. Shades of it still existed in the original script for Batman Forever, and they made it into that initial cut of the movie. A cut that opened with a rainy Arkham scene, built up to a guilt-ridden flashback, and ended with Batman and Robin posing on a gargoyle…

Once the effects work was complete, this shot would’ve apparently shown Val Kilmer and Chris O’Donnell among the iconic Gotham skyline, with the Bat-signal shining in the background. Hardcore fans won’t need reminding that Tim Burton’s Batman ended with Michael Keaton striking a similar pose, and Batman Returns had Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman doing the same.

So, the original ending to Batman Forever would have paid an obvious homage to the films that came before it. But for reasons unknown, the decision was made to have Batman and Robin running towards the camera instead.

I for one would certainly like to see that initial cut of the movie. It may have been a jarring viewing experience, but it sounds like it would’ve tied the three films closer together. Alas, it’s probably a bit late for an extended cut DVD now…

Batman On Film.

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