Joe Dante was part of a class of filmmaker that came up in the 80s under the wing of producer Steven Spielberg, and while he doesn’t get the projects and budgets of Robert Zemeckis or Chris Columbus, he’s still be turning out great work recently with films like The Hole and Burying the Ex. But what if, after Gremlins, Dante’s career had gone in another direction, a more action-oriented direction, one that involves the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime. Yes, apparently Dante was up for the job of directing a Batman movie before Tim Burton in the mid-80s, but he’s now revealing why he passed, and who he would have liked to play the Joker.
While talking to Psychotronic Cinema, Dante said that he pondered making Batman following his smash success with Gremlins. Batman was stuck for years in development hell after the success of Superman: The Movie, with that movie’s writer, James Bond scribe Tom Mankiewicz, trying for years to crack the script. Dante said he had a vision for his Batman, but he eventually decided against deploying it for very specific reasons.
“I wanted to hire John Lithgow for that part [of the Joker] because I had met him on The Twilight Zone movie. And for whatever reason, I started to gravitate more towards The Joker than towards Batman,” said Dante. “And I actually woke up one night and I said to myself, ‘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.’ I think I was not the right guy to do the movie.”
Lithgow would have been intriguing as the Joker because he’s both incredibly gifted as a physical comedian and he can be quite menacing too. Still, Dante’s rationale makes sense. Being a little too focused on the villains is one of the things that killed the Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman series in the 90s, but you have to wonder, what would Dante’s career have looked like if he had made a blockbuster Batman film? “I don’t regret not doing Batman, in the sense that I’m not sure what it would have ended up being like,” he said. “But I certainly can’t say it was a major career-booster, my decision not to make it.”
And that’s a shame because if you watch Gremlins, its sequel, and Dante’s Twilight Zone: The Movie segment as a whole, you can certainly see how he could have had Burton’s career with a Batman boost. Alas, we’ll never know. Dante will next exercise his directing chops in an upcoming episode of WGN’s witch series Salem.
Source: Geek Tyrant