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