The legendary Batmobile and all of its on-screen incarnations was the subject of an entertaining and energetic panel on the first night of Comic-Con International in San Diego. "Inside the Batmobile" featured a panel comprised of pros and fans alike, including comedian and Batmobile owner Jeff Dunham, SiriusXM Howard 101 "Geektime" host Ralph Cirella and Batman movie producer Michael Uslan, as well as Batmobile designers and builders, including "Batman Forever" designer Tim Flattery, "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin" builder Charley Zurian and Andy Smith, designer of the modern-day Dark Knight Tumbler. But the highlight for everyone in attendance, audience member and panelist alike, was George Barris, the designer of the famed 1966 Adam West-era Batmobile, who received cheers and an extended standing ovation upon his introduction.
The session included a screening of 22 minutes of the "Inside the Batmobile" documentary. The full version of the documentary, which is still in production and has an estimated final runtime of between 60-90 minutes, will appear this fall as a bonus feature for the "Dark Knight Rises" Blu-ray and DVD release. Six of the Batmobiles were also on display for fans to view outside the convention center, next to the Bayfront Hilton.
Flattery opened the panel by saying that as far as there being any rules for designing a Batmobile, conceptually, it depends on the vision of whoever is directing the movie. "Joel Schumacher's Batmobile is going to be very different from Christopher Nolan's. Basically, I'm the director's bitch. It's my job to bring forth their vision." Flattery said there's typically a discussion about the script and what they see for the vehicle itself. From there, the designer must attempt to "tickle their fancy" through rough sketches. If the director likes what they see, you develop them further.
"My job, as builder, is to make sure the car is operational," added Zurian. This comes down to reliability, functionality and aesthetics. "The tires have to smoke."
At the end of the day, Flattery concluded, if the car doesn't work, "you have a producer screaming at you that you are costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars a minute."
The car needs to be treated as an individual character in every film. Each movie is unique, therefore each car has its own character. Despite that, there are some aspects of the Batmobiles' designs that remain the same from one iteration to the next. "I've noticed that each car keeps the rocket in the back, though" noted Cirella. "Is that an homage to George?"
"Absolutely," smiled Flattery. "You have to keep the turbine in the back."
"By the way, that turbine was just a five dollar paint can," Barris added, speaking of his Adam West-era Batmobile. "I wanted it to be a car for the people, not a movie car. It had to have charisma." He said he read the script with the "BANGS" and the "POWS" and decided, "If they're going to do that with the actors, I'm going to do that with the car. I'll make oil squirters. I'll make it go bang and pow. I'll make a car the people like. You like Adam? You like Burt? I'll make you like the car as if it were a person. People come up and look at the car and notice the oil squirters and say, 'Hey, George -- that's just like a water sprinkler off of my lawn,' That's right -- I went down to the hardware store and bought an old sprinkler and made it an oil squirter. But you people got a kick out of it. You never forget it!"
"George, I grew up with that vehicle," Dunham said. "I love that vehicle. But it is the white trash of Batmobiles."
According to Barris, the '66 Batmobile was originally straight black and white, but when they filmed it coming out of the Batcave, it looked dull. In searching for a solution, Barris "bought some orange paint and black gloss, put Adam back in there, and pow, it became the Batmobile."
When asked how much money he actually had to work with, Barris answered, "I was given fifteen days and fifteen grand."
"Hey Andy, how much were you given for the tumblers in the 'Dark Knight' films?" asked the moderator.
"Two and a half million," Smith replied after a pause and a smile. "But that was for five vehicles."
"But he didn't have ejector seats," Barris added with a laugh.
The panel concluded with most in agreement that for nostalgia's sake, the George Barris Batmobile is the best. However, when it comes to feature film Batmobiles, there is not a clear winner. "My favorite is whichever one I'm currently watching on the screen," Dunham stated.
"Inside the Batmobile" will release as an extra on the "Dark Knight Rises" Blu-ray and DVD this fall from Warner Home Video.