Gotham City comes to Battersea as Batman and his foes fly into town

The Caped Crusader and Robin are back. Paul McCann reports on the hype for their new movie

A mountain of hype was used to support Britain's biggest and most expensive movie premiere last night when Batman and Robin opened at nine screens in London's West End and at 19 cinemas across the country.

A massive party thrown inside Battersea Power Station which was converted into Gotham City for the night, complete with a "Wayne Manor". So large has been the pre-release marketing effort by the film's makers, Warner Brothers, that some movie industry insiders wonder if it isn't a tactic to swamp poor reviews because the film is a turkey.

Batman and Robin, which cost more than $100m (pounds 75m) to make, is the fourth in the current series of Batman films and the second to be directed by Joel Schumacher. It goes on general release in the United Kingdom from Friday.

It opened in America last Friday to limp reviews, but Warner Brothers secured distribution in a huge network of cinemas and it took $43.6m (pounds 27m) at the box office in the first weekend. That was only just down on the $52.8m first weekend take of the last Batman film, Batman Forever - but well down on the $90m taken by Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, in its first four days earlier this summer.

The premiere in Britain will be followed by similar process in at least half a dozen countries across Europe over the next month as the film's stars tour the Continent giving interviews and appearing at premieres.

"Gone are the days when you waited a year for a blockbuster to make its way from the US to the rest of the world," said Boyd Farrow, editor of the film industry bible, Screen International. "Now there is so much competition to have the summer blockbuster that they need to capitalise immediately on the hype of the first opening weekend in America."

The film here is also helping to publicise the opening of Warner Brothers' latest cinema complex - a 32-screen behemoth in Battersea.

The premiere was attended by three of the films four stars, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and ER star George Clooney.

Industry cynics claim that the stars were brought together for an unusual recording of Oprah in America last week to help publicise the film's release there.

"I think they must be worried about what word-of-mouth reaction will do to it," says one industry source who wishes to remain anonymous. "It is a classic tactic, you hype the film to the heavens, get it into as many screens as possible on its first weekend and that way you get as many people as possible in to see the film before the fact that it is a turkey gets around."

Mr Schumacher has already been forced to deny strong rumours in the American press that the film had to be extensively re-shot after poor audience reactions to test screenings. He is thought to have spent extra time in the editing suite removing what has been described as the more "camp" aspects of the film.

"Well there is certainly plenty of camp left in it," says The Independent's columnist John Lyttle who saw the film's press preview.

"The thing looks like it has been set in a gay nightclub in the Seventies. It is more like the Sixties TV series than the previous `Dark Avenger' films - only the TV series was better at camping it up.

"People at the preview were howling at all the wrong places and at the end the Warner's publicity people looked shocked."

However, Boyd Farrow believes the release strategy is standard for such a big-budget film. "It may not be a masterpiece, but it is a good summer movie. And it has to fight off the competition from The Lost World and Men In Black."

Pointy-eared

roll of honour

Batman (1943) Columbia

Starring: Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin.

Verdict by Halliwell's film "bible": A 15-episode Saturday morning serial where the caped crusader takes on a Dr Daka. "A reasonably spirited romp marred by tinpot sets."

Batman and Robin (1948) Columbia

Starring: Robert Lowery and John Duncan.

Halliwell's verdict: It takes 15 episodes to combat someone called The Wizard.

Batman (1966) NP Publications

Starring: Adam West in camp pants and decidedly non-macho Burt Ward.

Halliwell's verdict: Glossy feature version of TV serials. "The result is more childish than camp."

Batman (1989) Warner Bros

Starring:Michael Keaton as Batman, Jack Nicholson as The Joker and Kim Basinger as implausible be-spectacled reporter.

Halliwell's verdict: "The campness of earlier versions gives way to a gloomier psychological interpretation."

First weekend US takings: $40.5m.

Batman Returns (1992) Warner Bros

Starring: Michael Keaton as the depressed batbloke, Danny De Vito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer in the best costume so far as Catwoman.

Halliwell's verdict: "A blacker, spikier, but less focused version of a Disney animation feature."

First weekend US takings: $45.7m.

Batman Forever (1995) Warner Bros

Starring: Val Kilmer, Chris O'Donnell briefly as Robin and Jim Carey as The Riddler.

Halliwell's verdict: Not available

First weekend US takings: $52.8m.

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