Getting Under the Hood of the Batmobiles

As "The Dark Knight Rises" debuts on DVD and Blu-ray, every version of Batman's beloved vehicle is celebrated in a new documentary and touring show

By Scott Huver
|  Tuesday, Dec 4, 2012  |  Updated 11:34 AM EDT
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"Dark Knight Rises" Trailer

The Batmobile in one of its many guises.

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"Dark Knight Rises" Trailer

Here it is, our first teaser for the third and final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman saga. The film, which stars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Liam Neeson, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard and others, opens July 20, 2012.
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The coolest car in the history of comic books, TV and movies is taking a victory lap.

Whether it’s Adam West shouting “To the Batmobile!” Val Kilmer noting that “Chicks dig the car,” or Christian Bale making certain that it comes in black, Batman’s sleek, stylized and supercharged ride remains one of the most well-known vehicles in pop culture history.

The Batmobile’s intriguing legacy, from its earliest incarnation in the comic book pages as envisioned by Batman creator Bob Kane, to its debut on television by Hollywood auto customizer George Barris to its most recent evolution as the tank-like Tumbler of director Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy, is explored in depth in a new documentary included on the Blu-ray and DVD editions of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

A complete collection of the seven movie vehicles – including the Batpod and a Bane-confiscated Tumbler – has been touring various cities throughout the country, currently on display at L.A. Live’s Event Deck through Dec. 14 in downtown Los Angeles. Access to the public is free.

At the opening of the exhibit, several of the creative mechanics who brought the cars to roaring life on screen and the famous fan who bought himself the ultimate dream car revealed the secrets under the Batmobiles’ hoods.

George Barris, designer and builder of the original Batmobile for the 1966 “Batman TV series.

Building the first Batmobile:
“My interpretation was looking at the comic books to see what the Batmobile was, that Lincoln Zephyr with a bat face cutout in the front by Bob Kane. The original chassis for the Ford Futura [concept car] – I bought it from Ford Motor Company for one dollar. The Futura had many of the aspects I wanted: double bubbles, a low body, a different creation. We only had a budget of $15,000 and 15 days. So if you'll notice my squirters in the front grille are from lawn sprinklers. We kept adding things to it: Bat-chutes, jet packs, the Batphone. That's what made the car become more interesting for the viewer. Bob Kane came out to the plant, and we photographed him with it, and I did have a bat face to put out on the front, and he got a kick out of that.”

Getting behind the wheel:
“I was doing a photo shoot for TV Guide, running my Batmobile down the 101 freeway, and to come to a stop I popped my Bat-chutes. I pull off the freeway to stop the car and here comes the highway patrol. And here's another ticket for me.”

Jeff Dunham, comedian, ventriloquist and proud owner of a Batmobile from 1992’s “Batman Returns”

The beginnings of the obsession:
“My first one was a little Corgi toy Batmobile in 1968 – I was six years old, and I still have that one, too! That's when I first started getting really enthusiastic about Batman. But then when the Keaton movie came out, I fell in love with this thing. This one was the stand-in in “Batman Returns,” and somehow came up for auction. A buddy of mine sent me an email saying ‘You know times are tough when Batman is having to sell his assets.’ I couldn't resist the thing. And it’s street legal now – when you start it up, the license plate comes down in the back – so to go down the freeway in that thing is just unadulterated enthusiasm. It's not like you're in some quarter of a million dollar fancy, sports car where people give you the finger. This is all thumbs up, and the greatest thing ever.”

Hoping to reunite Batman with his ride:
“I’ve never met Michael Keaton, but I'd like him to sign the Batmobile somewhere, or at least he could sit in it and take a picture. That would be awesome!”

Tim Flattery, designer of the Batmobile for 1994’s “Batman Forever”

Bring director Joel Schumacher’s idea for an animalistic interpretation to life:
“They knew they wanted to redesign it, so I ended up coming with five designs and we built models of them: one was like 40s-retro and an homage to Bob Kane; another one was kind of 60s-retro; another one was stealth-faceted. Joel came in and he said, ‘Look. I want to take this a different direction. Something organic that H.R. Giger might do.’ I went back to the drawing board and started redesigning.

Watching Batman bond with his car: “The first time Val Kilmer saw it was the first film test of it, and also the first Batsuit film test. So he walked on the stage as Batman, hadn't seen the car before and he was like, ‘Holy sh**! Where did you guys come up with this?’

Charley Zurian, builder of the Batmobiles from “Batman Forever” and 1997’s “Batman and Robin”

Realizing production designer Barbara Ling’s sleek vision, inspired by land speed record-breaking autos of the 30s: “The first memory is, ‘Hey, this is going to be fun!’ The second memory is, ‘Oh my God, what did it get myself into?’ During the development process, they give me a sketch. I look at it: ‘Okay – I can do that,’ and as I start working, we refine it and add details, tighter, more and more. It was kind of fun doing the nosecone because that whole effect was based on the shutter speed on the camera. Looking at it, it looks like it's spinning one way, but the camera sees it spinning two ways. We only had one car on ‘Batman and Robin,’ so if it was damaged at night, we'd have to fix it during the day and get it ready and back out for the next night's filming. It was a big operation. So it's a big crew – we dedicated about 15 people on the car.”

Andy Smith, builder of “The Tumbler” Batmobile from 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight”

Realizing director Christopher Nolan’s vision of Humvee-Lamboughini hybrid from the model Nolan made with production designer Nathan Crowley:
“It evolved from this little plastic kit about 1/10th scale. That was all we had: ‘Go make that.’ And I think we were pretty close. I loved it – the moment he got it out of the case and said, ‘What do you think of that one?’ I'm like ‘THAT's Batman’s car.’ It is a stunning-looking machine. It looked good as a model, and it looks even better in real life. When you start the thing up and you hear it and see what it does, it's a fantastic device, extremely loud. We worked hard on that: sure, we could make them quiet, but where's the fun in that? It has a visual presence, and when you're winding everybody up to roll the cameras and shoot something, you want it to start up. You want people to react: “Here it comes!”

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