High-Pressure Hype Surrounds `Batman'

``Batman'' may not only be this summer's most expensive release, but it will likely outgross most of its competition before Labor Day. The comic book fans have loudly debated the project; the merchandising campaigns and advertising have ballyhooed it; and the new video by Prince (``Batdance'') has celebrated it.

```Batman' is not just a movie,'' says a smiling Kim Basinger, who plays Batman's girlfriend, Vicki Vale. ``It's an event.''

She, other cast members, director Tim Burton, and numerous Warner Bros. executives spent several days with reporters at the Registry Hotel here.

Mr. Burton and star Michael Keaton frequently appeared together. Burton said he enjoys the ``beautiful design'' of bats. He wondered at the mysterious, resonating effects the creatures have on humans. His voice was soft, his face pale under a shock of black curly hair. At 31, he seemed too young to shoulder the responsibilities of a mega-project like ``Batman.''

Keaton, usually fidgity and edgy, seemed comfortable with Burton. ``Hey, all I've got to say is: Tim is my ally on this thing,'' said Keaton. ``I decided just to trust him after ... the last thing we did together, `Beetlejuice.' We're always doing something different.''

Asked about the incredible hype accompanying the film, Keaton said, ``I wasn't aware of the hype for a long time, you know. We were shooting in England and didn't have to deal with all that. We were just working. That was a blessing. But I knew something was up when I first got back to L.A., and there at the airport was this baggage handler, and the first thing he says is, `Hey, good luck with the movie.' ... Then I really knew what was going to be in store from now on....''

Burton said, ``Everybody wants to talk about the big stuff, the explosions, the fights, the budget, Jack [Nicholson's] makeup, all of that. But what I wanted underneath it all was to be able to avoid the standard comic-book stuff - you know, that sense that all the words are enclosed in balloons coming from the mouths.... I wanted to think we could actually feel we can know these strange characters with their strange costumes.... ''

Keaton winced. Kim Basinger had already said that his heavy, stiff costume not only limited his movements but left dark stains on her own clothing during their scenes together.

``It's the good guy, Batman, who is in the dark, cold colors and the Joker who has the brightest, most vivid colors,'' Burton continued. ``It is the normal that is dull and the insane that is bright. Normalcy can be pretty scary.''

Basinger clung to the idea that hers was the only sane voice in the proceedings. At times on the set, she claimed, she was content just to sit back and watch the ``two fruitcakes'' (the Joker and Batman) do their thing. ``I just play a woman who falls in love with a very strange man, Bruce Wayne,'' she says. ``Even when I find out he dresses like a bat at night, I'm not thinking about that. It's my love for this guy I'm concentrating on. That's all. I even think I could become a part of that world. I could just move in - yes, and even remodel Wayne Manor.'' She grimaces. ``It sure needs it!''

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