Blu-ray Disc Review
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Original Release: 2005
Length: 140 min
Film Rating: PG-13
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Video Codec: VC-1
Disc Size: BD-50
Subtitles (movie & select features): English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese
Release Date: July 08, 2008.
Film Rating: /
Starring: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon), Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox)
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Batman Begins returns the dark knight to the screen the way that I expected: dark, gloomy, and full of solid super hero action. Although, I find this film doesn’t display Batman as a super hero as much as we would expect. This is the beginning after all, just as the film’s title expects. So we see Bruce Wayne make a series of errors reminding us that he is, ultimately, a human. And even so, we see more of Bruce Wayne in this film than we do of Batman, but even with the costume on, we still see him as Bruce Wayne. Got it?
I began watching Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward when the series was playing in the ‘60s (no, I’m not that old – they were Saturday morning reruns). I’m actually a child of the Tim Burton Batman, and no more. After Burton left the scene, so did I, and as I grew up, I grew away from the original series as well. To hear that Christopher Nolan was bringing back the Dark Knight in that light intrigued me – no neon colours popping off the screen, no stupid one-liners. I bought my movie ticket, watched it in the theaters and said to myself that Batman is finally on track again. Nolan got it right.
This is a review of the long-awaited Blu-ray disc that Warner Bros. purposely held off until the BD group had certain technology ready for playback. For the synopsis you will find comments from classic HTF reviewer Herb Kane and I’ve continued my review with comments on audio/video performance. Note that the HD DVD’s special features are identical to this disc (with the exception of a Dark Knight special).
The disc took about 30 seconds to load (a visual of a spinning disc) and it did cause my Panasonic DMP-BD10A to freeze when selecting features in the special features menu. I had to power off my player to get it going again (and even waited a 1-minute “please wait” cycle before I was able to power it back on).
HTF Reviewer Herb Kane writes: Directed by Christopher Nolan, best known for his 2000 non-conventional hit, Memento, he succeeded again by delivering an engagingly original film in Batman Begins. As its title might imply, the film may be (incorrectly) presumed to be a prequel to the four-film Warner Bros.' series that ran between 1989 and 1997, however, not only is Gotham a completely different place, but the events of the Batman franchise are freshly re-invented and newly executed. The film commences with a sequence that establishes how a childhood incident traumatized the young Bruce Wayne resulting in the bat-phobia.
This dark film chronicles the life of billionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale), who is rescued from an Asian prison camp by the enigmatic Henri Ducard (played by Liam Neeson). Bruce, who suffers from recurring dreams after witnessing the murder of his parents, has been wandering the world. Ducard finds him and offers him an alternative to his itinerant lifestyle. Ducard starts to train Bruce to become a member of the League of Shadows, the organization presided over by Ra's Al Ghul (played by Ken Watanabe) which is devoted to restoring law and order.
Under Ducard’s tutelage, Bruce undergoes rigorous training, and soon converts the young man into a lethal weapon. Bruce hooks up with the League of Shadows so he can return to his native Gotham City and fight crime there. With the assistance of his faithful butler, Alfred (played by Michael Caine); a spy-tech inventor named Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman); a rare but honest cop, Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman); and an assistant D.A., Rachel Dawes (played by Katie Holmes), Bruce unleashes solemn justice in Gotham. He must face two enemies right off the bat; the city's crime lord, Carmine Falcone (played by Tom Wilkinson) and a demented psychiatrist called The Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy).
Unlike other installments in the franchise, Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer explore fundamentals of Batman’s past that include development of the character and his surroundings i.e. the Batcave, the suit and utility belt and the Batmobile for instance. This provides us with better understanding of who he is and how he operates.
Of the five well-known actors to don the cape (Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale), surprisingly, there's little doubt that Bale is the most talented and the most effective. Totally believable as both Bruce Wayne and Batman and, while in the latter role, his appearance is more than just a face behind the mask. Keaton, Kilmer, and Clooney allowed the costume to dominate their performances. Here, the performance dominates while the costuming is secondary.
An exceptional supporting cast surrounds Christian Bale, with Oscar-winners Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman leading the way. Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy turn in fine supporting performances.
VIDEO QUALITY: 4.5/5
Just awesome. This is a fine looking video presentation that brings film to home. Its finely textured images are resolved with precision on this amazing high definition image. Depth, clarity, image contrast, and colours are all displayed with accuracy, so it seems. Black level is deep and shadow detail is exceptional. I’d recommend viewing this film in a dark room for the best experience. Set lighting for the film locations is just right and the high definition image allows one to see the glow of it off of surrounding objects just as walls, sidewalks, and puddles. I feel like I'm standing there on set with the actors. When Bruce Wayne is training in the snowy land with the League of Shadows, the colour temperature is slightly blue. This blue tint doesn’t stay consistent through the film, but I'm sure it was applied to make the scene feel more cool (those of you with uncalibrated display devices will never be able to tell the difference between these scenes and the rest of the film). My only gripe is that interiors, say, such as in the case of Bruce Wayne’s birthday part nearing the end of the film, is that the image can be too warm. This gives faces and skin tones a slightly orange look as if everyone had rubbed on some arteficial tanning lotion. Yuck, and thankfully, like the cool arctic blues, it’s not consistent through the film. I do know this warmth is true to the theatrical presentation. I recently saw a trailer in the theater for The Dark Knight and the warmth in interior scenes was just as present. Compression artefacts are not noticeable and edge enhancement is completely absent. The aspect ratio is 2.40:1.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4.5/5
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is the preferred option as it presents the audio bit-for-bit identical to the supplied 5.1 mixdown. Note that you’ll have to select this option since the default is strangely set to the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 encode. The result is a very satisfying soundtrack that is wide open from front to back. The three front speakers work together to create imaging across the front of the screen. Sounds pan effectively but phantom imaging with sound effects is weak (and that also includes front-to-back phantom imaging along the sides; it seems there is a hole there). I also didn’t think the soundstage stretched deep enough either. This is because of the common movie mixing technique of using the center channel to take on most of the center imaging. It confines the sound to the speaker location, occasionally collapsing that wide soundstage into a single point source. Still, the audio is full range, defined, and well recorded in all channels - you'll want a full range center channel or have that bass redirected to a subwoofer.
Bass is deep, tight, and defined. Midrange is full, but maybe just a tad too thick, but thankfully the top end is neither dull nor abrasive, delivering a much more neutral sound than the aggressive and bright audio I remember hearing at the theater (I was plugging my ears). It’s nice to hear that a well-recorded soundtrack can be preserved with a lossless codec and be finely delivered in our home theaters!
Surround usage is plenty. I found them to be mixed at just the right level; they were blended splendidly with the front channels as to not draw too much attention to themselves. I never once thought about them during the film even though I was well aware they were active. As expected, there is plenty of surround use during action sequences but even quiet moments can have room ambiance to increase depth perception. What is disappointing about the soundtrack in general is dynamic range: the differences between quiet sounds and loud sounds aren’t that dramatic making the soundtrack sound a bit compressed. Those loud action sequences, especially those involving the Batmobile, sound too flat…well, to be more precise, the overall volume for the whole sequence is a bit louder than the rest of the soundtrack, but there is no sound that tends to “reach out” at you more than the next as I would expect in a source with a wide dynamic range. This is a bit disappointing only in the sense that if I were standing there on the side of the road watching the Batmobile wiz by me, the sound would have much more impact than what is presented here. I know...movies does not = real life...but I've heard many other movie mixes much more convincing in this regard and doing it without blowing out my eardrums.
The music soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is a stand out. It’s recorded nicely in the mix and fits the visuals very well.
TACTILE FUN!! /
TACTILE TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
Batman Begins is much more effective using a tactile transducer, or a “bass shaker” of some sort. Using dedicated LFE signals only, fight sequences, Batmobile chases, and heavy hitting sounds come alive on the seat and add a great deal of shake. The LFE channel is used considerably, but appropriately. It’ll draw you into the movie much more!
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3.5/5
The feature that’s been the big hold-up for this Blu-ray disc is the In-Movie Experience using Blu-ray’s BonusView capability. Note that your BD player must be BonusView or BD Live capable to view this feature. The IME feature was ready when HD DVD came to market, and Warner Bros. took advantage of this feature with a handful of titles. For those of you who own the HD DVD, I don’t believe anything here is different. But for those of you viewing this for the first time, director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer discuss with other cast members aspects of the film’s production as you watch the film – it’s like an audio commentary, but with video, and that may be more interesting to those of you who may be more of a visual learner. Even though there are a few blank moments on screen, the feature is worth checking out after the year and a half wait.
New to this Blu-ray disc is a promotion for The Dark Knight. Presented in high definition, The Dark Night Imax Prologue (HD, slightly less than 1.78:1, 6:37) shows a
heist with several men wearing clown masks, who, during the heist, are talking about who the Joker is. Each of them are shot one by one by a member in the group, and the audience finds out that the final masked man is the real Joker, and the joke was on the rest of them.A violent taste of things to come?
The rest of the features are a good in content but disappointing in the sense that they are shot in widescreen 1.78:1 (with what I assume would be HD cameras), but are presented windowboxed 1.78:1. What happened here? There is no reason why these standard definition features couldn’t have been made at least to fill up the full 1.78:1 HD screen.
Lastly, you’ll find an Art Gallery comprised of three sections: U.S., International, and Explorations. You’ll find the dozens of film posters that were used to help promote the film. Don’t forget to check out the theatrical trailer as well.
IN THE END...
I’ll admit I had a difficult time processing the beginning of the film regarding Bruce Wayne’s acceptance into the League of Shadows. There was something not right about the delivery of it on screen; something didn’t work for me, although you will probably think otherwise. Beyond that, this is a stellar film that returns the character to his dark roots. This Blu-ray disc is flawless in delivery in both the audio and video departments and the special features (specifically the BonusView feature) are worth the title’s delay to the market. Released just a few weeks before the next installment, The Dark Knight, this disc should wet the appetite of enthusiasts.
(With credit to Herb Kane in select sections)
June 29, 2008.