There can’t be many vehicles in popular culture as well-known as Batman’s Batmobile. The car is as much a character as the Caped Crusader himself, and it’s the topic of a documentary simply titled The Batmobile that Warner Bros. put online recently. I must confess, I’m a couple of weeks late to the party, for I only learned about the video—which I think was originally one of the extras on 2012’s Blu-ray of The Dark Knight Rises—in our virtual office this morning. And I was originally going to write this piece as an argument for the one true Batmobile, but actually, that would be wrong. Instead, the documentary convinced me that each iteration of Batman’s ride is equally valid in its own right.
OK, maybe not the unmodified Cadillac that he used in a 1943 production, but definitely the rest of them. As the character developed in print, the Batmobile went through a series of changes, usually at the whim of whomever was drawing it at the time. But for many, the name Batmobile probably conjures up images of the 1960s TV version. Designed by legendary customizer George Barris and driven by Adam West, I’m currently struck by just how well-labeled every batgadget happens to be.
In the 1980s, director Tim Burton brought the darkness back to live-action Batman, influenced by comics like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Brian Bolland and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Did you know that the Burton Batmobile’s jet-like canopy came about because the film’s art director forgot to leave room for more conventional doors? Other neat facts I have learned today are that the taillights are borrowed from a Ferrari, and the fuel filler comes from one of London’s Routemaster buses.
Or how about the fact that Joel Schumacher tapped HR Giger for ideas when he took over the franchise? Giger drew something characteristically outrageous that couldn’t be translated to the screen, but you can see his influence in the carbon-fiber body that shows up on screen.
When filmmaker Christopher Nolan put his own spin on the Dark Knight, he wanted to combine the profile of a Lamborghini with the ruggedness of a HMMWV. The result was the Tumbler, a vehicle that I’ve always found a bit of a turnoff—and that’s before I saw pictures of the plasticine model that Nolan himself built, a misshapen red thing that looks like it escaped from the nearest butcher. But the documentary has given me a new appreciation for the engineering that that went into creating a working stunt vehicle. By the time of The Dark Knight in 2008, the Tumbler was so fast, its camera car had to be supercharged in order to keep up.
For fans of Gotham’s vigilante, or even just those who like movie cars and the work that goes into them, The Batmobile is worth an hour of your time.