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Batman Begins explores the origins of the Batman legend and the Dark Knight's emergence as a force for good in Gotham. In the wake of his parents' murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. He returns to Gotham and unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength, intellect and an array of high tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city.
For more about Batman Begins and the Batman Begins Blu-ray release, see the Batman Begins Blu-ray Review
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
» See full cast & crew
Batman Begins Blu-ray Review
The limited edition giftset features some cool treats for Batman and comic book fans.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, July 10, 2008
Warner's Limited Edition Gift Set offers an alternative to the standard Blu-ray release of Batman Begins and fans of the comic book hero should take note. The box includes some serious memorabilia:
A 32-page booklet featuring script pages, storyboards and film stills from The Dark Knight prologue
A 16-page DC comic book adaptation of The Dark Knight prologue
Lenticular art of the Batman Begins BD cover
Five collectible postcards
Your mileage may vary with these mementos, but there is no question how much value you will get out of a fifth item in the giftset:
A $7.50 movie money certificate good toward the purchase of a ticket to The Dark Knight
But don't forget that the main attraction is Batman Begins, finally on BD. Many actors have donned the mask and cape and stepped in front of the camera to fight criminals in Gotham City--from Adam West to Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer to George Clooney. But it was the director- actor tandem of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale that finally hit upon the true essence of Batman in their 2005 blockbuster that reset the series. Batman Begins focuses on the darkest side of society and one man's drive to fight evil without compromise. True to his comic book roots, the Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) of Batman Begins is motived more by revenge than by justice, and learns important lessons from his faithful guardian Alfred (Michael Caine), criminal prosecutor Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and his mysterious martial arts trainer Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). But lessons alone will not be enough to save Gotham City from certain destruction at the hands of Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) and the evil boss who employed him.
The story begins as Bruce finds himself in the far east after suffering a series of traumas as a child and young adult. The first of these experiences is his fall down a dry well on the grounds of Wayne Manor. Alone and injured, the boy is terrified to find himself in the midst of a swarm of bats. Shortly thereafter, Dr. and Mrs Wayne (Linus Roache and Sara Stewart) are murdered right in front of their son, compounding his fears and establishing patterns of loss, identity crisis and vengeance. After years of struggling with these issues, having left behind his parents' wealth and his college education, Bruce resorts to petty theft to try to survive in anonymity and understand the criminal mind. He is caught and incarcerated in a rough Asian prison. While in solitary confinement, he gets a visit from Ducard, who is aware of his identity and his past. Ducard invites Bruce to the mountain estate of Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) to join a gang of vigilantes and strike fear into those who thrive on the fear of others.
Back in Gotham City, the criminal element is thriving. Mobster Carmine Falkone (Tom Wilkinson) controls half the city through his influence and underworld connections. Meanwhile, Alfred has declared Bruce dead, and Wayne Enterprises falls into the hands of its unscrupulous CEO, Earle (Rutger Hauer), who is taking the company public in an attempt to break all ties with the Wayne ideals of social outreach and fiscal responsibility. And a criminal mind is at work in the form of Dr. Crane, who is working with Falkone and a mysterious foreign boss to taint Gotham City's water supply with a dangerous contaminant. It is against this backdrop that a more confident, assured Bruce Wayne returns home. As the final step in establishing his identity, Bruce decides to make himself into a crime fighting symbol using the bat to strike fear into his opponents. With the help of Alfred and Wayne Enterprises scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Batman is born in a way far more vivid, hard-hitting and accessible than previous incarnations.
Batman Begins Blu-ray, Video Quality
One of the flagship Warner releases on HD DVD, Batman Begins was delayed on BD to better capitalize on interactive features. Unfortunately, Warner appeared to make no effort to capitalize on Blu-ray's overarching feature: superior capacity. The bitrates of the BD are no better than that of the HD DVD. That means the picture and sound are also held back by the HD DVD, and appear to have been sourced from the same transfer. The video and audio are not bad at all, but Batman Begins is not up to reference quality by any accurate assessment. The most frustrating part of this observation is not just waiting more than a year for no significant bitrate improvement over the HD DVD, but in comparing Batman Begins to a six-minute prologue of The Dark Knight, which is included on the BD. Every frame of the prologue is truly reference quality, generating a stark contrast to the comparably veiled and constricted dynamics of the main feature.
Watch the scene on the frozen lake, where Bruce spars with Ducard. The color and detail is a touch muted, although the resolution is actually quite good. The tonal balance, from light to dark, appears lifelike, but definition is subdued as if a thin layer of plastic is placed over the screen. It is this "veiling" from the low bitrate transfer that hinders the picture and separates it from reference quality BDs like No Country for Old Men. Night scenes show good black level and adequate 1080p detail, far surpassing the DVD version. Since darkness and gradients of black are featured so prominently in the film and in Batman's accouterments, it becomes a necessity to resolve objects in night scenes. Here again, the BD does an adequate job, and many night scenes show good depth. Unfortunately, some life appears sucked out of the picture.
Batman Begins Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Like the video, the audio appears to be a straight port from the HD DVD, presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 at 16-bit, 48 kHz. While this isn't bad or offensive (there is no audible distortion) it is similar to CD resolution. Warner again does not capitalize on the capacity or capability of Blu-ray's advantages. Still, dialog orchestral sound and some effects and explosions are adequate and resolve well, if not the greatest in definition. LFE content is deep and significantly improves action sequences. In a word, the TrueHD track is polite. And that's a problem.
Watch the scene where Batman eludes the police in the Batmobile, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. At one point, as the tumbler cruises along a sloped roof, the wheels rip off ceramic tiles in rapid succession, like machine gun fire. When I saw the film in the theater, the wheels made a distinct sound as the Batmobile drove over each of these tiles, but the detail, impact and dynamic punch of this audio sequence was a bit lost on the Blu-ray. The sonics are not badly muddied, but they lack the punch, realism and extension of the best BD content. This is a prime example of how HD DVD held back the HD formats. Hopefully, Warner's days of using low bitrate content on BD are coming to an end.
Batman Begins Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
First a brief highlight of the booklets from the giftset: comic book fans will find the DC "The Dark Knight" booklet to be an awesome collectors item. The longer booklet is far more detailed in laying out and storyboarding the entire sequence of the prologue. Both are printed on decent stock that doesn't bleed ink or light. Warner did a good job with these items. They alone will be worth the extra cost of the gift set to collectors and comic book fans, even if you don't care about the movie money, lithograph (staring at it gives me an instant headache) or postcards.
Prologue: In terms of the Blu-ray, the best supplementary material by far is the six- minute prologue of The Dark Knight presented in a 1.80:1 aspect ratio at 1080p resolution. Rarely has video quality this good been achieved in home video. The scene shows a bank heist orchestrated by The Joker (Heath Ledger) and his cohorts--each with a clown-face mask. The scene is shot, acted and produced impeccably for IMAX. In addition to whetting viewers' appetites for the sequel, the reference quality of the prologue shows the shortcomings (both video and audio) of Batman Begins.
Picture-in-Picture: This is why we had to wait so long for the title to appear on BD? The interviews, behind-the-scenes sequences, and commentary are all quite interesting, but I would have much preferred that Warner focused its efforts on delivering the feature film in the best possible quality. The PiP material showcases director Christopher Nolan and all the major actors of Batman Begins. Much of the content is very instructive; however, there are lags in which no picture or commentary is included for a couple minutes at a time, which hurts the pacing.
Genesis of the Bat: Clocking in at 15 minutes, this featurette is in standard definition like all remaining supplementary material (aside from the theatrical trailer). Genesis of the Bat is an amalgam of several on-set interviews--mostly from Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer--to explain the conception of Batman Begins to reset the Batman saga.
Batman: The Journey Begins: At 14 minutes, this featurette is among the least rewarding supplementary features on the BD. It focuses on the film's casting of such stars as Christian Bale, Katie Holmes and Cillian Murphy, among the other actors that helped Batman Begins achieve success.
Path to Discovery: Another 14-minute, standard definition featurette, Path to Discovery documents the film's opening footage shot in Iceland and the challenges of shooting in a cold climate.
Saving Gotham City: Clocking in at 13 minutes, this featurette focuses on the film's action sequences. Nolan sought to minimize computer-generated graphics and developed better ways to shoot the scenes. This not only makes Batman Begins impressive from a technical standpoint, but it eliminated the need to integrate CGI into the film, which can dynamically squash the image.
Shaping Mind and Body: At 13 minutes, this documentary shows why Bale, a questionable candidate for a superhero, is actually the most successful actor to try on the Batsuit. The behind-the-scenes footage and interview commentary document the way Bale worked hard at his role while effortlessly latching on to the concepts laid out by Nolan and Goyer. Easily one of the best featurettes on the BD.
Gotham City Rises: Another fascinating featurette clocking in at 13 minutes showcases the design team that put together the most elaborate incarnation of Gotham City. By combining designed sets with existing structures, the film achieved an amazing metropolitan look, ranging from the luxurious sets of Wayne Manor to the precarious elevated train to the slums of Gotham's "The Narrows" district.
Cape and Cowl: This eight-minute documentary focuses on the Batsuit from a conceptual, technical and practical perspective. It shows how much work went into every detail of Batman's outfit.
Batman: The Tumbler: Clocking in at 14 minutes, this featurette showcases the Batmobile, from Nolan's original vision as a cross between a Hummer and a Lamborghini to Katie Holmes' take on the vehicle. Some interesting technical details, but mostly fluff.
Rounding out the supplementary content is a still gallery from standard definition PR campaigns, a set of SD confidential files showing conceptual animated text pages, an MTV spoof entitled Tankman Begins, from the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, and the high definition theatrical trailer (abbreviated version).
Batman Begins Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I can't decide whether the giftset or standard BD release are right for you--it depends how much you like comic books and memorabilia--but I hope everyone with a Blu-ray player understands that they need this film in their collection. Part of what makes Batman Begins succeed is the way it focuses on Bruce Wayne's psychology and motivations. The film carefully and chronologically documents how he goes from frightened and orphaned child to the ruthless caped crusader. While Bale is excellent in his portrayal of Bruce Wayne, he seems tentative in becoming Batman. Bale admitted struggling to get Batman's voice and other mannerisms, and this seems apparent, but this just makes the superhero more endearing and believable. Unlike other superheroes, Batman does not have any superhuman powers. He relies on manmade technologies and his own martial arts training to outwit, overpower and defeat his enemies. So it makes sense that the confidence and character to become Batman should build more gradually. Bale's vulnerabilities are in-character. That is why his approach works.
There are a few amateur moments in the film--Dr. Crane's delivery was sometimes off, as was Dawes'--but with Bale's solid portrayal of Bruce and Nolan's ability to pull the entire story together, the new saga of Batman is off to a riveting start. Throw in some fine effects, excellent sets of Gotham City and dark cinematography, and Batman Begins may be the best superhero film ever. Even though there are some negative vestigial effects of Warner playing both sides of the fence with BD and HD DVD, this is an easy BD to recommend, and an important addition to any Blu-ray collection.
Batman Begins: Other Editions
Batman Begins Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - July 8th, 2008 - July 8, 2008
After nearly two years of waiting, Warner Home Video has delivered one of their most anticipated "make-up" films to Blu-ray with today's release of 'Batman Begins'. Back in October of 2006 when the film was initially released in high definition on the now defunct ...
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