Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 (Blu-ray)
Directed by Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:11080pVC-1 codec
Running Time: 126/126/121/125 minutes
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish, others
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, many others
MSRP: $ 129.95
Release Date: March 10, 2009
Review Date: March 4, 2009
Criminals in squalid Gotham City have a new crime crusader to fear, and his name is Batman (Michael Keaton). The alter ego of millionaire Bruce Wayne, Batman locks horns with Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) who transforms into a hideous white complexioned-green haired psychotic calling himself the Joker after Batman inadvertently dumps him into a vat of chemicals. The Joker then proceeds to wipe out the population of Gotham City first by tainting beauty products and later by gassing the citizenry as they scramble to pick up millions of dollars he throws into the streets.
Tim Burton’s first foray into the gothic world of the Dark Knight was quite a revelation in 1989 after decades of syndicated reruns of the campy Batman series from the 1960s. Michael Keaton was controversial casting as the title character but quickly established himself as an able crime fighter, and Jack Nicholson as expected walked away with the movie as the cackling, maniacal Joker. The romance element supplied by Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale was steamrolled into the movie at too fast a clip, her character being too quickly clued into Batman’s identity and thus becoming the love of Bruce Wayne’s life much too readily (this relationship should have been given two or three films in which to grow).
Shady entrepreneur Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) joins forces with sewer-dwelling The Penguin/Oscar Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) in an attempt to force out the current mayor (Michael Murphy) and install The Penguin as a figurehead while Shreck pushes his hazardous environmental measures through the local government. Shreck’s put-upon secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) finds out too much and is pushed from an upper floor of Shreck’s office building. Brought back to life by the attention of alley cats, Selina transforms herself into Catwoman who prowls the night looking for men to exact her revenge upon. Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) finds himself drawn to Selina, at first not realizing that the woman he’s crushing on is going to be someone he’ll eventually have to face and defeat.
Director Tim Burton’s second go-round with the inhabitants of Gotham City is much less fun than the original picture. Less gothic than the first but equally dark (with splashes of bright color) and far more grotesque than Batman, Batman Returns has some superb elements (the dynamic between Batman and Catwoman and their alter egos among its greatest achievements which deserved a much fuller examination), but it’s stuffed to the gills with three villains of varying degrees of infamy and not enough time to develop a satisfying set of capers for all of them to take part in. Being shot mostly on Los Angeles soundstages rather than on London backlots gives the film a more claustrophobic feel, too, not helpful for a superhero action picture.
Batman (Val Kilmer) has his hands full to overflowing in this third film, initially dealing with a constant stream of crimes by Harvey Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and later dealing with another arch enemy, Bruce Wayne’s former employee Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) who in his psychotic madness to invade the minds of the populace becomes the Riddler. Once Two-Face and the Riddler join forces, Batman has no alternative than to accept the help of recently orphaned Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) who has recently become his ward. On the romantic front, Batman is involved in a romantic triangle with himself as Bruce Wayne and Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman).
Joel Schumacher’s first venture into the world of the Dark Knight has a hyperactive, carnival-like atmosphere that’s loud, colorfully vulgar, and somewhat off-putting. Once again, the story is overcrowded with villains and a bothersome love interest (though Kidman is ravishing) plus the addition of Robin (the best addition to this world with O’Donnell underplaying and stealing the picture from the likes of the monotonously overacting and exhaustively hectic Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones). It’s a decidedly different take on the world of Gotham City, and with judicious cutting and better plotting, it might have been a fun venture and a viable alternative to Burton’s world view of the material. As it is, though, it’s a manic mess.
Batman (George Clooney) has both of his arms full of trouble in this fourth installment. Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is on a murderous rampage to steal all of Gotham’s diamonds in order to keep himself and his cryogenically frozen wife alive. The evil Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) wants to wipe out all human life to leave the Earth free for her plants. Faithful butler Alfred (Michael Gough) is dying from McGregor Syndrome, and his niece (Alicia Silverstone) invades the household after getting booted out of school. Finally, Robin (Chris O’Donnell) is smarting from constantly taking orders and not being respected as an equal member of the crime-fighting team. Can tempers cool and feelings get soothed so Gotham can sleep easy once more?
Joel Schumacher’s second go-round with the franchise is a bigger messy tangle than his first attempt with an unnecessarily overcrowded cast of characters, pointless scenes which have no place in the story (a street race with motorcycles is the nadir for the franchise), and atrocious acting from Silverstone (who’s simply terrible) and Schwarzenegger (who struggles to wrap his Austrian accent around the endless lame quips and double entendres he’s saddled with). There’s the germ of a good idea here: the rivalry and superhero envy between Robin and Batman and the near-dissolution of their partnership by the clever, alluring Poison Ivy. I’m convinced if screenwriter Akiva Goldsman had stuck with just that and left out Mr. Freeze, Batgirl, and sick Alfred, the film would have had a chance to be a much bigger hit and surely a better film.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Though sharpness, color saturation, and detail are more than adequate, the picture appears smoother than I remember from previous viewings of the movie. Has a bit of DNR been used here? Certainly, not enough to make the people waxy-faced but possibly some to make a smooth blending of the live action filming with the brilliant matte paintings used to give the film its distinctive look. Blacks are not of reference depth, partly due to the large amounts of smoke and fog which diffuse the darkness. So, the film is a step up from the DVD in picture quality, but it’s not the giant leap that fans will no doubt be looking for. The film has been divided into 38 chapters.
The 1.78:1 aspect ratio of the film is presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. The picture is much sharper than the Blu-ray of the first movie with better depth of color and far richer blacks with excellent shadow detail and much improved fine object detail, too. There is a fine grain structure to be seen here, too, which is very welcome indeed. The movie has been divided into 39 chapters.
Framed at 1.78:1, the Blu-ray is presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Picture quality varies throughout the presentation with some scenes vivid and dimensional and others surprisingly soft and less detailed. The fluorescent colors favored by director Schumacher certainly pop in their deeply saturated and garish way, and blacks can be deep or milky depending on which scene is being evaluated. It’s a very inconsistent transfer.
The film is once again framed at 1.78:1 and encoded at 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Color depth and brilliance is never a problem, but sharpness sometimes is with images that are alternately crisp or somewhat soft. Blacks are rich with fine shadow detail. The most recent of these four films, alas, does not offer the best transfer. The film has been divided into 42 chapters.
Batman - 3.5/5
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track pales in comparison to today’s modern sound mixes. The soundstage spread is reference for its era but certainly not reference in terms of today’s films. There is some effective bass, but its depths are not comparable to what we’re used to now. There are no digital artifacts and the recording matches the video quality just fine for its era, but the more recent films in the anthology series carry a much more evolved and involving audio mix.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix sounds more like a modern action film of today with a much wider and deeper soundstage than the Blu-ray of the original movie. Bass has some real kick for the subwoofer, and though not as sophisticated as today’s action film sound mixes, one can discern some ambient sounds being delivered to the surround channels. Danny Elfman’s score gets a nice reproduction in this lossless audio track.
Once again, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix begins to resemble more recent action pictures with effective use of the surround channels for various ambient sounds and the imaginative Elliot Goldenthal score. Bass levels can be quite effectively deep and resonating.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track sounds exactly as we expect modern action movies to sound. The surrounds are alive with whizzing and panning effects constantly, and the music makes its presence known to thrilling effect. Bass is deep and turbulent at all the proper moments giving the subwoofer a nice workout. How ironic that the worst movie in the set has the best audio to offer.
Batman - 4.5/5
Tim Burton’s audio commentary is a very worthwhile listen. Never at a loss for words even when he stumbles over his own enthusiasm constantly, the track is well worth the time for fans of the movie.
“On the Set with Bob Kane” is a too brief 2 ½ minutes with Batman creator Bob Kane sharing his original ideas for the character and expressing his delight with the finished film.
“Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman” is a comprehensive 40 ½-minute condensation of the original character’s transformations through the decades with many comic book experts sharing their ideas about the character’s changing persona.
“Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” is a three part distillation of the making of the picture. “The Road to Gotham City” runs 17 ¾ minutes detailing the ten year journey of the script to its production stage. “The Gathering Storm” offers 23 minutes about the casting of the movie (including actress Sean Young’s departure and replacement by Kim Basinger) and the cast’s unanimous praise for director Tim Burton. “The Legend Reborn” is a 31-minute behind-the-scenes look at the filming with many key people in front of and behind the camera describing their work.
“Beyond Batman” is a gallery of featurettes offering in-depth discussions about the production design and cinematography (10 ½ minutes), the construction of the Batmobile (9 ½ minutes), the dazzling array of props and gadgets in the movie (6 minutes), the construction of the batsuit (7 minutes), the extensive make-up for Jack Nicholson’s The Joker (10 ½ minutes), and Danny Elfman’s wonderful music score (7 minutes).
“The Heroes and the Villains: Profile Galleries” allows the viewer to select a series of brief cinematic profiles of the characters and the actors portraying them. On the Heroes side are Batman, Vicki Vale, Alexander Knox, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent (if chosen to view all, the featurette runs 12 ½ minutes), and the two Villains noted are The Joker and Bob the Goon (together running for 7 ¼ minutes).
A storyboard sequence for an unfilmed Robin subplot is available for scrutinizing. Dialog, music, and audio effects have been created to go with the storyboards in this 4 ½-minute segment.
The original theatrical trailer runs 1 ¾ minutes.
Three music videos by Prince can be watched individually. “Batdance” runs 7 minutes. “Partyman” lasts 4 minutes. “Scandalous” runs 4 ¼ minutes.
The set offers a digital copy of Batman. It can be used with both PC and Mac devices with instructions in the box for installation.
Director Tim Burton weighs in with another audio commentary. This time around, though, he seems stuck for words fairly often, and there are some gaps and lots of “you know”s interrupting his recitation.
“The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin” is a TV special running 22 minutes telecast before the film’s premiere, hosted by Robert Urich, and featuring interviews with the stars and the director. Offering quite a few clips from the film, the featurette is very soft and not particularly pleasant to watch though comments from the stars here are recycled in other featurettes on this disc.
“Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight - Part 4” is a 30 ¼-minute EPK for the film featuring old and relatively new footage mixed for the interviews with the stars. Surprisingly Christopher Walken’s character and performance is not mentioned in this featurette.
“Batman Returns: The Heroes and the Villains: Profile Galleries” allows the viewer to select a series of brief cinematic profiles of the characters and the actors portraying them. On the Heroes side are Batman and Alfred (collectively running 7 minutes), and on the Villains side are Penguin, Catwoman, and Max Shreck (collectively running 11 ¼ minutes).
“Beyond Batman” is a gallery of featurettes offering in-depth discussions about the revisited Gotham City on its Hollywood soundstage location (11 ½ minutes), the costumes for the principals (13 ½ minutes), the elaborate make-up for the Penguin (8 ¼ minutes), minutiae about the various real and anamatronic penguins used for the Arctic Army (9 ½ minutes), the elaborate (for their day) visual effects (11 ½ minutes), and the music themes for the three main characters (11 ½ minutes).
The music video for “Face to Face” by Soiuxsie and the Banshees runs for 4 ½ minutes.
The theatrical trailer plays for 2 ½ minutes.
Director Joel Schumacher contributes a chatty, interesting audio commentary though he does repeat many anecdotes here that he also mentions in many of the featurettes. He’s proud of his first big film tentpole and explains the choices he made in casting and the film’s look and feel along the way.
“Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever?” is another 23 ½-minute television special for broadcast before the film’s premiere. Hosted by Chris O’Donnell, the special features interviews with the principal actors and the director talking about the new look and approach for the film.
“Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight - Part 5” spends 28 ½ minutes again with the director and stars discussing why it was felt the franchise needed freshening and how they went about doing it.
“Beyond Batman” is a gallery of featurettes offering in-depth discussions about the production design of the new Gotham (12 ½ minutes), the costumes and make-up (13 ¾ minutes), the stunt work (5 ¾ minutes), the visual effects (7 minutes), and the score and new music themes (6 ½ minutes).
“Batman Forever: The Heroes and the Villains: Profile Galleries” allows the viewer to select a series of brief cinematic profiles of the characters and the actors portraying them. On the Heroes side are Batman, Robin, and Dr. Chase Meridian (9 ½ minutes total length). On the Villaiuns side are the Riddler and Two-Face (total combined time 6 ¾ minutes).
There are seven deleted scenes which can be viewed individually or in one 14-minute grouping.
The original theatrical trailer runs 3 ½ minutes.
Seal’s music video for “Kiss from a Rose” runs 4 minutes.
Director Joel Schumacher checks in again with another audio commentary though he wraps this one up several scenes before the end. He once again offers some fun anecdotes on the making of the film, especially a story about a practical joke he and George Clooney played on Chris O’Donnell.
“Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight - Part 6” is a very honest 27-minute distillation of the feelings about this almost universally disliked fourth picture in the franchise. Interviewed are the director, producer, and the five over-the-title stars talking about their feelings about the film. It’s not all negative; many of them have fond memories of the experience of making the picture, but most realize that the end result didn’t live up to the huge expectations for it.
“Beyond Batman” is a gallery of featurettes offering in-depth discussions about the production design for the fourth go-round of the story (10 minutes), the new vehicles (10 minutes), the new costumes and redesigned ones (12 ¼ minutes), the intensive make-up designs for the new characters (9 ¼ minutes), and the film’s visual effects (9 minutes).
“Batman & Robin: The Heroes and the Villains: Profile Galleries” allows the viewer to select a series of brief cinematic profiles of the characters and the actors portraying them. On the Heroes side are Batman (3 ½ minutes), Robin (3 minutes), and Batgirl (2 ½ minutes). On the side of the Villains are Mr. Freeze (3 ½ minutes), Poison Ivy (2 ½ minutes), and Bane (2 minutes). All must be watched individually; there is no “Play All” control.
There is one deleted scene (actually an extended scene when Barbara first arrives at Wayne Manor). It runs 45 seconds.
The film’s original theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes.
Four music videos may be watched individually: “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” by The Smashing Pumpkins (5 ¼ minutes), “Look into My Eyes” by Bone Thung-n-Harmony (5 minutes), “Gotham City” by R. Kelly (5 minutes), and “Foolish Games” by Jewel (4 minutes).
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 Blu-ray release faithfully ports over all of the bonuses from the previous DVD release of these films plus offers a digital copy of the first movie for those inclined to use the enclosed code. All the films are certainly improvements over their DVD counterparts, but one’s enthusiasm for upgrading will depend on how much one wishes to own the wonderful original and its increasingly unsatisfying sequels in high definition.