Best it has ever looked or sounded 4.5 Stars

To celebrate his 80th birthday and to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, Warner Bros has released 1989’s Batman on 4K UHD Blu-ray in a stunning new transfer supervised my director Tim Burton.

Batman (1989)
Released: 23 Jun 1989
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 126 min
Director: Tim Burton
Genre: Action, Adventure
Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl
Writer(s): Bob Kane (Batman characters), Sam Hamm (story), Sam Hamm (screenplay), Warren Skaaren (screenplay)
Plot: The Dark Knight of Gotham City begins his war on crime with his first major enemy being the clownishly homicidal Joker.
IMDB rating: 7.6
MetaScore: 69

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 5.1 DD, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 2 Hr. 6 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: 2-disc UHD eco keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 06/04/2019
MSRP: $41.99

The Production: 3.5/5

It’s hard to believe that 30 years ago, movies based on comic books were considered a high risk. Sure, Superman: The Movie was a big hit back in 1978, but each film subsequent had diminishing returns. The idea of a Batman movie had been floating around Hollywood for decades, with the last live action adaptation being the Adam West television series in the 1960s that was more spoof than true to the brooding darkness of Bob Kane’s vigilante. When Warner Bros finally did announce the production of Batman, even before the days of the internet, many fans were at first outraged that the studio had hired the team behind Beetlejuice to bring the caped crusader to life – Michael Keaton would play Batman, Tim Burton would direct, and Warren Skaaren would contribute to the screenplay. Fans would be relieved in December of 1988, six months prior to its release, when the first trailer appeared, a hodgepodge of sequences from the film highlighting the movie’s dark tone.

I hate to say this, but when I first saw Batman on opening day back on June 22, 1989 I found it a bit underwhelming, but over the years I gained more appreciation for what director Tim Burton attempted to achieve. Although an unlikely choice at the time, Michael Keaton is very good here as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, a restrained performance that allows Keaton to bring his trademark idiosyncrasies just under the surface of both characters. Jack Nicholson nearly steals the show as The Joker, incorporating his signature smile into the character’s make-up design and allowing Nicholson to improve much of his performance. If there is a weak link in the casting, it is probably Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox, who never really seems to be taking the character or the movie very seriously, almost as if he’s in another movie. Danny Elfman’s score, his first big-budget and comic book movie, has now become iconic with the character (his main theme for Dick Tracy the following year would be very reminiscent of his Batman march theme).

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Batman was shot on 35mm film stock and Warner Bros has given the film a new 4K scan for this release. The 2160p HEVC-encoded transfer on the UHD disc has also been given a high dynamic range grading using HDR10, which helps boost and stabilize the colors while also providing a more perceived depth with deeper blacks and stronger shadow detail. Batman has always been a rather dark film, and it is those darker sequences that really show off the format’s capabilities for an older title. I never owned Batman on Blu-ray, so I really can’t compare how much of a leap forward this release is over the previous release. I do remember that even the 70mm print I viewed back in 1989 seemed rather soft, and overall the film here also appears soft, but that is likely by design. There is some fine detail to be seen here, such as textures in The Joker’s make-up and purple suit, as well as natural film grain. Batman on 4k UHD won’t look like a more modern digitally-shot feature, but this is likely the best it ever has or ever will look. The included Blu-ray uses the new 4K transfer as its starting point, so fans who may not have made the switch to 4K yet will likely want to pick up this release since Warner has not released this as an individual Blu-ray release (much like they did for 2001).

Audio: 5/5

Batman has been remixed in Dolby Atmos (the default track, nonetheless, another nice surprise) for this release, and it has never sounded better. Word on the internet says that this new mix was supervised and approved by both Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, who were never happy with the final mix created for its theatrical release in 1989 (which all previous home video releases used as their source). This new mix opens up the soundstage, sounding much wider and more dynamic. Danny Elfman’s score has a nice weight to it, yet it does not drown out the action or dialogue. Although there are few discrete height effects, they are used to provide a deeper sense of crowd and atmospheric noises. LFE is strong without every being too boomy. The included Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is simply a downmix of the Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 track and not the original 70mm mix, and therefore is a bit redundant.

Special Features: 4/5

Although no new special features have been created for this release, it does include all of the features included on the previous Blu-ray release. The UHD disc contains only the audio commentary as a bonus feature, everything else can be found on the included Blu-ray in standard definition.

Audio Commentary with Director Tim Burton

On the Set with Bob Kane (480i; 2:34)

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman 480i; 40:39)

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight (480i; 71:45): Includes parts 1 thru 3 – The Road to Gotham City, The Gathering Storm, and The Legend Reborn.

Batman: The Heroes (480i; 12:40): Includes Batman, Vicki Vale, Alexander Knox, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent.

Batman: The Villains (480i; 7:23): Includes The Joker and Bob the Goon.

Beyond Batman (480i; 50:41): Includes Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Batman, Building the Batmobile, Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman, Designing the Batsuit, From Jack to The Joker, and Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman.

Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence (480i; 4:25)

Music Videos (480i; 15:18): Includes three music videos by Prince – Batdance, Partyman, and Scandalous.

Theatrical Trailer (480i; 1:44)

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy (in UHD where available) on Movies Anywhere.

Overall: 4.5/5

Batman looks and sounds better than ever in this release, whether you are equipped for 4K or not.

Published by

Todd Erwin

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Carlo Medina

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Thanks for the review, Todd! I am so on-the-fence about this. Normally I jump at 4K reissues, especially if it's a new scan. But last night in preparation for this release I watched the old Blu-ray release and it looked and sounded pretty darned good (Sony 4K player to Samsung 4K TV). As you note, the film is soft, so many traditional non-CG effects probably contributed somewhat to that. I'm just not sure how much better the 4K HDR version would be. Maybe I'll wait for Fry's to do their possible discounted price within a few weeks of release date and then get Best Buy to pricematch. If I hadn't just spent $100 on the Toy Story 4Ks, I probably would not have hesitated on this and Batman Returns 4K.
 

Adam Lenhardt

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In the early nineties, I thought this was just about the coolest movie there was. But it didn't age well, especially when the post-Schumacher Batman movies allowed Batman to move and do the things he does in the comics and in the cartoons.

The opening scene is pure magic: the establishing shots of Gotham City with the tour-de-force production design; the family in a situation very much like the one that took Bruce's parents; Batman watching from atop a building; the muggers sorting through their loot and Batman descending in the background, silhouetted by the steam coming from some exhaust pipes; right up through "I'm Batman" is just amazing. But the rest of the movie doesn't live up to it. For most of the rest of movie, Batman is entombed in the suit rather than aided by it.
 

Carlo Medina

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I too have to admit that the film didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped. Another reason I didn’t immediately pull the trigger. Nolan’s films had a lot to do with that.
 
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Josh Steinberg

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I’ve lucked out with this movie in that each time I see it, I’m instantly 7 or 8 again, and it’s the most awesome thing ever.

The spell is broken the second it ends, and intellectually I can see the flaws, but it always manages to transport me.
 

English Invader

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I've loved this film ever since I was a kid and have it on VHS (both in Widescreen and Pan & Scan), DVD and Blu-Ray (same deal with the other 3 films).

For me, the magic carries on with the Burton orchestral score and the Prince music in the end credits (both the music score and soundtrack albums are worth listening to if you get the chance).

4K UHD is a long way off on my upgrade path so I won't be buying this release any time soon (especially since it's not bringing any new bonus features to the table).
 
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Keith Cobby

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I too have to admit that the film didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped. Another reason I didn’t immediately pull the trigger. Nolan’s films had a lot to do with that.
Agree. Nolan has finished Batman for me. Not that Bale was necessarily the best but the films were majestic. So I probably won't watch pre and possibly post Nolan; except for the Adam West television series, of course.
 

Traveling Matt

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I know Nolan's films have added another layer to what many people think of Batman in live-action form so I won't bother defending what I grew up with. I'll just say the Burton films do what the Nolan films attempt to, all the while having an easy way about them. Much more digestible. :)
 

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both in Widescreen and Pan & Scan),
Not really pan and scan as it’s a 1.85:1. film. They just opened it up. You didn’t lose any picture information.

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.
 

Worth

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Not really pan and scan as it’s a 1.85:1. film. They just opened it up. You didn’t lose any picture information.

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.
4:3 masters were usually opened up a little and cropped a little, the amount varying from shot-to-shot. It was rare that it was completely opened up.
 
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Lord Dalek

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4:3 masters were usually opened up a little and cropped a little, the amount varying from shot-to-shot. It was rare that it was completely opened up.
This was the only first series Batman shot hard matted at about 1.66 (not consistent though as there's at least one shot of the Joker that was done without mattes) so there is more loss than gain.
 
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Bryan Tuck

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Thanks for the review, Todd.

I really wish they had used that extra 5.1 DD track to provide the film's original 70mm audio mix like with SUPERMAN, especially since the remix is apparently so revisionist.
 

Brian Kidd

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Thanks for the review, Todd.

I really wish they had used that extra 5.1 DD track to provide the film's original 70mm audio mix like with SUPERMAN, especially since the remix is apparently so revisionist.
The remix isn't as revisionist as many would lead you to believe. It's very well done. I love the film and don't regret a penny I spent on it, as it is a fantastic presentation of the film.
 

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Considering how many complaints the old mix gets around these parts, no great loss.
 

Carlo Medina

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Considering how many complaints the old mix gets around these parts, no great loss.
Interesting to hear. I haven't watched my DVDs in forever (and my equipment back then was subpar) but listening and watching the Blu-Ray on my current equipment was a generally favorable experience. I had no problems with the video or audio of the BD release. I have the version in the funky shell case (not the standard keepcase), not sure when that one was released.
 

Bryan Tuck

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The remix isn't as revisionist as many would lead you to believe. It's very well done. I love the film and don't regret a penny I spent on it, as it is a fantastic presentation of the film.
Considering how many complaints the old mix gets around these parts, no great loss.
It still would hardly have taken any effort at all to include it instead of the redundant downmix of the Atmos, and then everyone would be happy.
 
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Malcolm R

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It still would hardly have taken any effort at all to include it instead of the redundant downmix of the Atmos, and then everyone would be happy.
Yes, it seems unnecessary to have three different formats of the revised English sound mix.
 

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I know Nolan's films have added another layer to what many people think of Batman in live-action form so I won't bother defending what I grew up with. I'll just say the Burton films do what the Nolan films attempt to, all the while having an easy way about them. Much more digestible. :)
I know that Nolan is held in high regard around here, but I find his Batman films to be missing the fantastic element. I wanted to see the high tech, large, mysterious Batcave. Also, I didn't like that the Bat costume and Batmobile were just corporate creations by someone else instead of Bruce Wayne.
 
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Malcolm R

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Also, I didn't like that the Bat costume and Batmobile were just corporate creations by someone else instead of Bruce Wayne.
I dunno. You go the homemade route and you end up with Peter Parker's "onesie" from Homecoming (or was it Civil War?) :D
 

RobertR

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I dunno. You go the homemade route and you end up with Peter Parker's "onesie" from Homecoming (or was it Civil War?) :D
Ah, but there's a huge difference between what's "homemade" to a poor high school student and what's "homemade" to a billionaire industrialist. Think of Tony Stark making the "homemade" Iron Man suit. ;)