In the late ‘80s, when Tim Burton’s big screen adaptation was coming into play, Goodtimes Home Video decided to release a two-cassette VHS version of the serial, which had been forgotten after the TV show had risen above it on the cult ladder. Columbia Pictures, too (which had recently been purchased by Sony), observed the hypocrisy — though they obviously did not enjoy it. Many of the serial’s racist slurs were replaced with awkwardly-different voices by dialogue that didn’t even synch well with the lip movements, and delivered by actors that had not mastered the fine art of speaking into a microphone. Voice-over actor extraordinaire Gary Owens was called in to replace the original narration (and frankly, did a better job with his deliveries than the original narrator, Knox Manning) with some less-offensive commentary.
Amusingly enough, even though the serial had now been made family-friendly for the modern world, the world still wasn’t ready for it — and the VHS version soon found itself out of print (it’s the only way to see the “edited” version). I hang onto my copies to this day, no matter how worn and inferior they are. In 2005, when Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins revived the Gotham Franchise, Sony decided to unveil the original serial in its ugly, unedited form (under the Columbia label) with absolutely no disclaimer whatsoever announcing the oft-bigoted dialogue contained therein.
Go figure, eh? Of course, which ever version you encounter, be prepared to be aghast by what you see. Batman is a truly awful serial, but it’s the pinnacle of involuntary hilarity at the same time. Just like either narrator of the serial says, it’s “eking out a precarious existence on the dimes of curiosity seekers” — it has for decades, and will continue to do so for decades to come.
Enjoy (if you can, that is).