Holy cinematic mystery, Batman!

Last week, writer Marc Bernardin (“Castle Rock,” “Star Trek: Picard”) tweeted that he’d heard from “VERY good authority” that a 170-minute cut of the 1995 superhero blockbuster “Batman Forever” from the late director Joel Schumacher exists, but that Warner Bros. was “unsure if there’s any hunger for what was described to me as a ‘much darker, more serious’ version of the film.”

Variety has confirmed with a source close to the movie that Schumacher did assemble a longer cut of “Batman Forever” that was indeed much darker in nature. This version opens with a sequence involving the villain Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) escaping from Arkham Asylum, and features extended scenes with the Riddler (Jim Carrey) when he invades the Batcave and uses his signature cane as a weapon. The bulk of this version’s runtime focuses on the emotional and psychological issues that led Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer) to decide to become Batman, including a sequence of Wayne facing down a giant, human-sized bat.

The cut of “Batman Forever” that made it to theaters is just over two hours long, and centers on Carrey’s to-the-rafters comic performance as the Riddler and the introduction of Chris O’Donnell as the headstrong Dick Grayson (aka Robin). Some scenes concerning Bruce Wayne’s emotional issues did make it into the film, primarily involving psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman) — but, alas, there’s no Man-Bat.

Aided by Carrey’s then-skyrocketing stardom, “Batman Forever” went on to be the top domestic grosser of the year, with $184 million (or just under $400 million adjusting for ticket price inflation, according to Box Office Mojo). But Schumacher’s follow-up, 1997’s “Batman & Robin” with George Clooney replacing Kilmer, was a critical and commercial abomination, and the franchise went into deep freeze until director Christopher Nolan resurrected it with a far more grounded and gritty approach in 2005’s “Batman Begins.”

Schumacher’s death in June, however, sparked a renewed appreciation for his unabashed embrace of theatrical extravagance in his Batman movies; even “Batman & Robin” has developed a cult following for its high camp excesses.

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Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman in “Batman Forever.” Ralph Nelson/Warner Bros/Kobal/R

So could Schumacher’s original cut of “Batman Forever” ever see the light of day?

Representatives for the studio say there are no discussions about distributing a director’s cut of “Batman Forever,” and are not aware if footage for an extended version has even survived 25 years later. Even so, at least some of the deleted scenes do appear in DVD and Blu-ray editions of the movie, and have made their way to YouTube.

The studio has also been down this road before. For years, Warner Bros. officials waved off persistent talk of a “Snyder cut” of the 2017 superhero movie “Justice League” — i.e., a version that kept to the original vision of director Zack Snyder, who left the project before it was completed. Even after a tenacious grassroots campaign to “#ReleasetheSnyderCut” was joined last November by Snyder and several of the “Justice League” stars — including Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and Ben Affleck (Batman) — Warner Bros. executives insisted that no such cut existed, and there was next to no chance it ever would.

Then in May, Warner Bros. announced Snyder is in fact overseeing a new cut of “Justice League” that will premiere on WarnerMedia’s subscription streaming service HBO Max in 2021. It turns out that a complete “Snyder cut” of “Justice League” did not quite exist — while Snyder has said there won’t be any reshoots for this version, it will likely cost tens of millions for finished visual effects and other post-production work to complete the film. That could be money very well spent: When it’s done, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will provide HBO Max with a premium offering next year as studios are increasingly hard pressed for top-tier fresh content amid the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

So why not even more bonus Batman? Fansites have been floating the idea of a Schumacher cut of “Batman Forever” since at least 2005, and on the most recent episode of the Fatman Beyond podcast with director Kevin Smith, Bernardin noted that, unlike with “Justice League,” finishing Schumacher’s original cut of “Batman Forever” wouldn’t require nearly the same level of expensive visual effects work.

There are still some clear hurdles. Even if all the old footage is still intact and available, the sound mix, color grading and score would likely need an update, and, of course, Schumacher isn’t alive to oversee any of it. Plus, not to put too fine a point on this, but usually scenes are deleted for a reason: Maybe Schumacher’s original cut just isn’t that good.

Then again, Schumacher made no secret that his north star as a blockbuster filmmaker was maximizing the entertainment for the largest number of people possible, rarefied concerns about cinematic quality be damned. Bernardin’s original tweet about an extended cut of “Batman Forever” included a poll asking whether people would want to see it. Over 75% of respondents said yes.

Chris Willman contributed to this report.

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