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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Batman Begins

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#1 of 66 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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Posted June 29 2008 - 04:05 PM



Blu-ray Disc Review




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BATMAN BEGINS


Distributor: Warner Bros.
Original Release: 2005
Length: 140 min
Genre: Action/Adventure/Crime/Thriller
Film Rating: PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Colour/B&W: Colour

BD Specifications:
Resolution: 1080/24p
Video Codec: VC-1
Disc Size: BD-50

Audio:
  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 (default)
  • French (Quebec) Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

    Subtitles (movie & select features): English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese






  • Release Date: July 08, 2008.


    Film Rating: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

    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.


    Posted ImageVIDEO QUALITY: 4.5/5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

    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.


    Posted ImageAUDIO QUALITY: 4.5/5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

    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!! Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
    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!


    Posted ImageSPECIAL FEATURES: 3.5/5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


    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.

  • MTV's Tankman Begins (5:12) - A Batman spoof starring Jimmy Fallon who bums a ride to the MTV awards an manages to get picked up by Batman in the Batmobile... only it doesn't quite turn out to be Batman.

  • Batman - The Journey Begins (14:15) - A number of the film's participants show up here including Christopher Nolan and various aspects of the film’s production are discussed including the concept, set design as well as the development of the film and the casting of Batman himself.

  • Shaping Mind And Body (12:48) - Observe Christian Bale's transformation into Batman which includes many rehearsal shots and the training that was necessary. There are some great martial arts demonstrations found here.

  • Gotham City Rises (12:48) - Witness the recreation of Gotham City, The Batcave and Wayne Manor. Director Nolan talks about how he wanted Gotham to have a “recognizable texture” with a desire to resemble a large American city.

  • Cape And Cowl (8:18) is a feature that focuses on the wardrobe of Wayne/Batman. The design and manufacture of the Bat Suit is shown here from start to finish.

  • Batman - The Tumbler (13:39) - The reinvention of the Batmobile as Christopher Nolan and the production designers discuss what was envisioned as his "new Batmobile". A number of models and concept designs are shown including demonstrations of the finished product.

  • Path to Discovery (14:13) - where Nolan talks about the importance of Wayne’s disappearance in terms of the storyline. Also discussed here are various location shoots and the reasons they were chosen.

  • Saving Gotham City (13:01) - is a feature the focuses on the development of the miniatures, CGI and special effects for the monorail chase scene. There is a ton of great behind-the-scenes and stunt shots found here.

  • Genesis Of The Bat (14:53) - is a look at the Dark Knight's incarnation and influences on the film through the evolution of time.

  • Additional Footage - actually, it's additional behind the scenes footage which includes Reflections on Writing Batman Begins (1:57) - with David S. Goyer talking about the script, Digital Batman (1:06), the effects you may have missed with Paul Franklin, visual effects supervisor, and Batman Begins Stunts (2:29) featuring various behind the scenes Batmobile, wirework, and martial arts stunts.

  • In Confidential Files, go beyond the movie and discover facts and story points not in the film. These are located on a single menu where you can click on individual items such as the Utility Belt and find various bits of trivia and facts relating to each item. Other pieces of equipment covered are the Memory Fabric Cape, Prototype Military Suit and the Tumbler. There is also a section listing the various enemies; Scarecrow, Carmen Falcone and Ra’s Al Ghul. And lastly, you’ll find a listing of the various allies and mentors; Detective Sgt. James Gordon, Rachel Dawes, Lucius Fox, Alfred Pennyworth and Henri Ducard.

    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.

    Michael Osadciw
    (With credit to Herb Kane in select sections)
    June 29, 2008.

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    #2 of 66 OFFLINE   Michel_Hafner

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    Posted June 29 2008 - 09:21 PM

    Is this the same transfer and encoding as the HD-DVD or is it sharper?

    #3 of 66 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 01:03 AM

    I do not have the HD DVD to compare. I had heard that WB was re-encoding for Blu-ray...?

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    #4 of 66 ONLINE   Joseph J.D

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 01:29 AM

    Excellent review Michael......I've been waiting for this one to come out ever since I purchased my PS3 almost a year ago during the height of the format war. Judging from your thorough review, I'm going to be extremely pleased with this disc. Can't wait for Amazon to deliver my copy....the limited edition boxset of course. Posted Image
    Recently watched- Halloween(1978), The Blob(1988), Simon & Simon: Season 3, Lost: Season 5, I Am Legend, Krull, The Beast Within, Subspecies, Lost: Season 4, District 9, Lost: Season 3, The Warrior's Way, The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Godzilla 3D, The Walking Dead: Season 4, Lost: Season 2, Dracula(1979)

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    #5 of 66 ONLINE   Jason_V

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 02:25 AM

    Mine should be on my doorstep in exactly one week. Then I spend all night with Batman. Thanks, Michael, for easily justifying the Limited Edition box!

    #6 of 66 OFFLINE   TheBat

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 05:31 AM

    its the same transfer as the HDdvd version.

    Jacob

    #7 of 66 OFFLINE   Thivanka R. Perera

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 05:48 AM

    Nice, gonna pre-order this straightaway. Thanks for the review!

    #8 of 66 OFFLINE   Ron Reda

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 06:37 AM

    There goes yet another one of my HD DVDs! Posted Image Oh well, I have NO problem double dipping on this title...I was only able to view the HD DVD on a 3.0 system so I'm REALLY looking forward to hearing it on a full-blown 7.2 system. Posted Image
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    #9 of 66 OFFLINE   bases1616

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 08:36 AM

    Michael, I am sure I read somewhere that Warner was going to use the same encode as the HD DVD. Also, I know on the PS3 you can hit the display button so it will tell you if the video is VC-1 or AVC. I saw on the specs the video codec has a ?. Nice review and this was the same point I was trying to make to Cameron Yee that as good as Batman looks and sounds it is not a 5/5 for PQ and AQ. He gave Natural Born Killers a perfect 5 on PQ and AQ. I have Batman Begins on HD DVD and look forward to comparing the two.

    #10 of 66 OFFLINE   Paul Hillenbrand

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 09:02 AM

    Blu-ray.com Post # 167
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Maxpower1987 (Blu-ray Insider)
    I couldn't care less about bitrate (I'm not one of those people who watches the movie with the bitrate gauge on,) but I do care about PQ, and unfortunately with a lot of WB's titles the reason we get poor PQ has little to do with bitrate. You could do Batman Begins at 40Mbit CBR and it is still going to look smooth. The DNR is burned into the master, and that is why people are irritated with WB, especially as they seem to be the only studio who have taken this attitude to grain reduction, though it may become more widespread.
    This sounds like it doesn't look good for the Blu-ray version being any better than the HD DVD.
    Guess I'll just keep my HD DVD copy.

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    #11 of 66 OFFLINE   Will_B

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 09:57 AM

    The situation of some of the extras still being "presented windowboxed", coupled with the inevitability that there will be another edition once both Bat-films are out (a two-pack of some kind), keeps me away.

    I'm taking the description to mean that when watching on a current 16:9 television, the 16:9 screen suddenly switches to 4:3 with black bars on the left and right, and within that 4:3 is the widescreen (but now tiny) extra, forcing a person to play with their television controls to zoom into it to get it proper.

    In the near future, widescreen tvs will be so commonplace that no one authoring movies will even consider mixing techniques like this. Then it will be safe to go all-in. Until then, films like this that are part of franchises (and get many re-releases) are something one can avoid when situations like this come up.
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    #12 of 66 OFFLINE   Travis Brashear

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 10:55 AM

    Can you verify the runtime of the "Batman Begins Stunts" clip? According to the Easter Egg files at DVDTalk for the SD release, they say this clip runs 2:29, not 1:46, as your review shows. I'm curious if something's been edited out of this minor featurette...
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    #13 of 66 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 12:31 PM

    When I get a chance sometime early tomorrow morning, I will check:

    Alex - the video encode using my PS3
    Travis - the stunts clip runtime verification...I'm going to believe you. The reason I say that is when I was going through the feature last night, I hit the "skip" button on my player with the display time up just to get to the end time...well, I don't think my player displayed it properly and I think I wrote the time down when I hit "skip"

    Will, you are correct - windowboxed meaning bars on the sides and top and bottom. Just like looking out a window!

    Paul - the video is very acceptable. Without some inside information I can't say for sure what has been done to the video. The video doesn't look objectionally smoothed over to me. Can I see grain? Nope. Although it doesn't appeared to be smeared to reduce it.

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    #14 of 66 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 12:45 PM

    I don't know that much grain would be visible in Batman Begins in any event. Chris Nolan insisted on shooting the film anamorphic and depending on what film stocks were used, grain may not be readily apparent. IMDb shows no indication of a DI, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one. Take that information for what it is.
    "My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

    #15 of 66 OFFLINE   MarkBirds

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 05:35 PM

    Can anyone explain the difference between the BB regular Blu-ray and BB deluxe Blu-ray? Is it worth the extra 15 bucks?

    Thanks in advance.
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    #16 of 66 OFFLINE   Travis Brashear

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    Posted June 30 2008 - 11:47 PM

    Michael,

    Thanks so much for verifying!

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by MarkBirds
    Can anyone explain the difference between the BB regular Blu-ray and BB deluxe Blu-ray? Is it worth the extra 15 bucks?

    Here are the Gift Set exclusives:

    Movie cash ($7.50 value) to see THE DARK KNIGHT in theaters

    32 Page Booklet Featuring Script Pages, Storyboards, and Film Stills from THE DARK KNIGHT Prologue

    16 Page DC Comic Book Adaptation of the DARK KNIGHT Prologue

    BATMAN BEGINS Lenticular Art

    5 Collectible Postcards

    Bad-ass Box to House it all in to make your friends go "Whoa!"

    Is it worth the extra $15? Objectively, I'd say no (so many extras devoted not just to the sequel, but to only about six minutes of the sequel?!...the movie cash offsets half of it, though)...but I'm a collectibles whore, so I'm buying it anyway!
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    #17 of 66 OFFLINE   David Deeb

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    Posted July 01 2008 - 08:43 AM

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Travis Brashear
    ...but I'm a collectibles whore, so I'm buying it anyway!

    Posted Image

    I know...our logic for this addictive hobby is ridiculous. I have the SD version of Batman Begins and I've never watched it.

    But I'm dying to see Dark Knight, so I'm ready to re-watch Begins for the first time since I saw it theatrically.

    So my stupid logic is "don't watch the SD now. Get the Blu-Ray next week" and never watch the SD version I got a few years ago. Do I need therapy?

    #18 of 66 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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    Posted July 01 2008 - 09:17 AM

    the stunts is 2:29
    the film codec is VC-1
    the special features codec is MPEG-2

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    #19 of 66 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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    Posted July 01 2008 - 09:39 AM

    I suspect the 32 page booklet is identical to the one that came with the 2-disc deluxe edition released in 2005.
    "My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

    #20 of 66 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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    Posted July 01 2008 - 09:55 AM

    I never watched my 2-disc SD-DVD either, but I'm being a very good boy about not double-dipping.

    So far. . .
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