Spotlight Goes Behind The Scenes With Daredevils Batman
Caped Crusader's Great Adventure
It's Six Flag's sizzling new show and it's even hotter than the movie
By Anne E. Kornblut
Despite the multi-million-dollar budget, the all-star cast and even the sleek new Batmobile of the upcoming "Batman Forever", the movie will never be as hot as the new Batman Stunt Show at Six Flags Theme Park in New Jersey.
During the 20-minute stunt show, which has an average of one stunt per minute, multi-story building blew up, motorcycles soar and characters, both good and bad, lob pyrotechnics-loaded rockets with abandon. In a scene reportedly very similar to one in the movie, a full-size helicopter hovers about the set, then explodes - shooting orange flames, sometimes as hot as 3,000 degrees, more than 10 feet in the air.
For the audience the stunts have a sizzling affect.
"I'm all the way up in the control booth, behind the glass, and even I can feel the heat", says Scott Bonelli, the technical director of the show.
The stunts are one of the few signs that this stunt show is live, not Memorex. Another hint is the characters. They're played by professional stunt people rather than actors, because the physical challenges are so demanding. Otherwise, the show looks exactly like the set of a movie in progress - except that the Batman Forever Stunt Show, they get only one take.
"These pyrotechnics are just like the ones in motion pictures for special effects", explains Sharon Newport, the company manager of the show, who has also worked behind the scenes on full length feature films. "They're the cousins of fireworks, not unlike the ones used for aerial displays on the Fourth of July."
The stunt show's 36 units of pyrotechnics are known in the industry as "hits" and the show, which Newport says cost over $1 million to produce, uses a computerized system to control the explosions. By reading a programmed laser disc, the computer "knows" when to ignite each explosive on the set - but as a double safety precaution, it can't complete the ignition without a person pushing the button.
Don't worry! The biggest mishap since the stunt show
started was Batman's tussle with the Velcro on his costume on opening day. Based
on the intensity of the stunts - each of which must be perfectly timed with
the next - it's amazing that everything runs so smoothly.
During one scene, which Newton says was the most difficult to coordinate, a helicopter rises above the set and appears to dramatically burst into flames as Batman guns it down. In order to sway from side to side, the chopper relies on 650,000 gallons of hydraulic fluid; four engineers were hired to create that prop alone.
In another scene, Batman, who's played by a rotating cast of stuntmen, rides onstage in the 24-foot, 1-ton Batmobile - an exact replica of the movie version minus a back fin that opens up. As he battles his opponents, the black wondercar "drives itself". And according to stage manager Rick McAllister, even the amazing Batmobile has seen a few scrapes.
"Occasionally, we have bumped into something," he admits taking me for a spin in the infamous car. Steering the vehicle from the secret back seat - while I sit in the front and pretend to drive - McAlister manages not to repeat such bumps, even though he's more than 15 feet from the front wheels and can only see through a dark, tinted glass.
"Learning how to do this was a challenge", he shouts up to the front of the car as he crouches in the hidden spot, "but by now, I think I've got it."
Everyone's also gotten used to fixing up the set after each of the five daily performances - a task that takes a full 45 minutes, more than twice as long as the show itself. While the actors cool off, the crew replaces hits of pyrotechnics all over the 45-foot façade of the Gotham National Bank, cleans up the Batrocket launcher, restores "blown up" bricks and lampposts to their original positions and even gives that Batmobile a quick dust.
Doug Miller is the pyrotechnical supervisor, responsible for putting each explosive in the right place.
Isn't he afraid of the dynamic power he holds in his hands five times a day?
"No", he laughs, "I drink and smoke. Pyro people all drink and smoke."
And, like Bruce Wayne himself, some members of the rest of the crew and crew are thrill-seekers too - which explains their attraction to a stunt-show career.
"I prefer this to film work", says Newport. "Film is so tedious. You do the same shot over and over. I like the excitement and immediacy of our stunts."
Of course, there is another reason to put on the show. "I like watching the kids", says Newport. "Some of them scream, sure, but some of them wear their Batman costumes to the show. These kids really relate to the characters, who are heroes to them."
Judging from the reactions of kids in the audience, Newport is right. As one little girl says after the last explosion. "This is even better than watching a movie - more real."
Driving them Batty: Our hero's batcycle is really a souped
up Honda but the 24 foot Batmobile is an exact replica of the movie version.
The highlight of the show is the exploding helicopter that appears to burst
into flames when Batman guns it down. The Chopper relies on 650,000 gallons
of hydrolic fluid & is attended by four engineers.