When Tim Burton decided to tackle the Batman mythos in 1989, comicbook adaptations weren't the billion-dollar industry darlings they are today. Aside from a few well-received flights-of-fancy, genre entries offered little more than cheesy
dialogue, laughable special effects, and predictable performances. Neither the director nor the studio could have predicted that their dark and violent reinvention of DC Comics' iconic vigilante would change the landscape of summer cinema; paving the way for more substantial superhero fare like X-Men, Sin City, Iron Man, and, of course, director Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and The Dark
Knight. Even twenty years removed from its debut, Burton's Batman continues to influence countless filmmakers working to introduce their cherished childhood superheroes to audiences around the world.
Don't worry... I can't turn my head, but I'm sure I won't drop you...
Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) may attend business meetings, host charity banquets, and oversee the management of his late-father's corporation by day, but at night he dons a mask and cape; transforming into an elusive, crime-fighting vigilante known to Gotham City as the Batman. But the winged crusader meets his match in a sociopath named Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) who takes on the moniker of the Joker after a freak accident leaves him with white skin, green hair, and volatile psychotic tendencies. Recognizing the danger of everything the clown prince represents, Wayne sets out to stop him at all costs. With the help of tenacious reporters Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Gough), and police
commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), Batman has to find a way to bring an end to the
Joker's mad reign once and for all.
It's difficult to revisit Burton's Batman without immediately comparing the film's every element to its Dark Knight counterpart. Nicholson's Joker simply doesn't stack up to the eerie, unsettling monster Heath Ledger created: his expressiveness makes the character more clown than menace, his purpose lacks the frightening complexity of Nolan's villain, and his endless parade of one-liners plants the Joker squarely amidst Jack's all-too-familiar sneer-n-leer schtick. Keaton's Batman is also a lumbering wrecking ball next to Bale's light-footed, hard-hitting scrapper -- sure, stiffer costumes and cheaper effects are at the root of any inferiority, but it still leads to duller fights and action sequences. Likewise, Burton's Gotham is certainly charming, but ultimately feels artificial and stagey, lacking the real-world nuances and street-level immersion of Nolan's epic.
At the same time, it's also important to remember that Burton's Batman wasn't intended to remotely resemble a grittier adaptation like The Dark Knight. It was meant to bring the pages of a comicbook to life... not transplant superheroic sensibilities into a more realistic setting. In that regard, Nicholson's performance meshes perfectly with the 1989 film's overall tone, its design aesthetic is entertaining and whimsical, and Burton proves he has a confident handle on his cinematic adaptation. With every scene -- with every proclamation made by Elfman's score -- I was transported back to my childhood; to a time when Keaton's kicks and the Batmobile's roaring engine made a bigger impact than they do today. Moreover, Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren's screenplay still holds up quite well. A wry undercurrent of wit pulses beneath the surface of their work, imbuing characters with deceptively complex personalities. Granted, amateur-hour character actors derail a few minor scenes, but the main cast members invest their all to create a living, breathing Gotham City.
It may not be the jaw-dropping experience it was twenty years ago (or the sort of film that can outclass a more weighty outing like The Dark Knight), but revisiting Burton's first go-round is nevertheless a fun and rewarding experience. Between the director's atmospheric vision and unique design sense, Keaton's well-rounded performance, and several rousing action sequences, Batman continues to demonstrate how it became such an influential superhero staple.
Batman features a fairly impressive 1080p/VC-1 transfer that looks startlingly better than previous standard DVD releases. The director's palette has never been bold or colorful, but his drab tones are faithfully reproduced with stable hues and natural skintones. Contrast is bright and pleasing to the eye and, even though the image appears flat on more than one occasion, depth is more convincing than its ever been before. Detail also receives a notable boost. Granted, soft shots and quite a few hazy textures prevent the presentation from living up to its potential, but the overall results are strong enough to satisfy fans of the film. Thankfully, artifacting, source noise, grain spiking, and banding are kept to an absolute minimum. I suspect minor noise reduction has been applied to the transfer, but I didn't encounter the waxy faces or distorted backgrounds that signal an overzealous application. The experience wasn't as jaw-dropping as I was expecting, but it still managed to satiate my appetite for a solid high definition catalog release.
As most of you probably expect, Warner's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track isn't going to blow anyone away simply because it has to contend with the inherent limitations of Batman's twenty year old sound design. Dialogue is nicely balanced and precisely prioritized for the most part, but dropped lines and lost whispers muddle the proceedings on occasion. Likewise, LFE support is relatively aggressive, but sometimes fails to match the intensity of the on-screen action it accompanies. To my relief, the rear speakers are fuller than I thought they would be, creating a mildly immersive soundfield that allows this one to emerge as an above-average catalog effort. Moreover, Danny Elfman's score and Prince's songs emerge from every direction and resonate more than they ever have. I can't say Batman's sonics will woo the most stringent audiophile, but I had a difficult time drumming up any major complaints.
Packed with more than fifty pages of photographs, script excerpts, and comic art, this 20th Anniversary Digibook release will strike many as a more attractive prospect than the Batman Anthology box set; particularly those fans who aren't interested in shelling out cash for director Joel Schumacher's entries in the series. More importantly, the 2-disc set features a revealing documentary, an enthusiastic commentary, and a variety of behind-the-scenes materials that provide a thoroughly satisfying glimpse Batman's production.
Audio Commentary: Burton dives into a detailed and deliberate discussion that covers
his attraction to the project, what he brought to the table, how he selected his cast, how he influenced the design of Gotham City, and the film's eventual reception. Never at a loss for words, the eccentric director is a joy to listen to. Fans will find this is a great place to start when they begin digging into the anthology.
Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman (SD, 41 minutes): This deep
exploration into Batman's roots, incarnations over the years, and cultural significance is a
fascinating dissection of the character's origins, purpose, and lure.
Shadows of the Bat (SD, 72 minutes): A lengthy and stirring documentary that covers the genesis of the first film, Burton's critically acclaimed ensemble cast, and the on-set atmosphere that made the shoot so successful.
Beyond Batman (SD, 51 minutes): Batman also includes five engaging mini-docs
that focus on the film's cinematography, make-up, props, vehicles, costumes, and musical
The Heroes and the Villains (SD, 20 minutes): Next up are seven video profiles that
examine Bruce Wayne, the Joker, Vicki Vale, Commissioner Gordon, Bob the Goon, Alexander
Knox, and Harvey Dent.
Storyboard Sequence (SD, 4 minutes): A glimpse at a deleted Robin sequence Burton cut out of the film long before it was shot.
On the Set with Bob Kane (SD, 3 minutes): The father of the Batman mythos shares his
thoughts about the character and Burton's film. I wish it were longer, but this is a fine
Music Videos (SD, 14 minutes): Rounding out the package are three dated Prince music
videos for Batdance, Partyman, and Scandalous.
Arriving on store shelves more than two months after the Batman Anthology box set, this standalone Blu-ray edition sheds the series' baggage to focus entirely on Tim Burton's original Batman. Not only does the film itself hold up quite well (in spite of unavoidable comparisons to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight), the disc offers a noteworthy catalog transfer, a solid TrueHD audio track, and a healthy helping of supplemental material. It even comes packaged in a handsome, 50-page Digibook case that further showcases the characters, the production, and all the hard work that went into its development. If the prospect of paying for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin doesn't sit well with your soul, look no further than this excellent release.
Warner Home Video has announced that, on May 4, it will release Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin on Blu-ray in individual releases. Until now, the Burton/Schumacher canon of Batman movies was available in Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology, ...
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring 'Batman: The Movie 20th Anniversary' to Blu-ray on May 19th. This digibook release appears to be identical to the first disc of the 'Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology' which was released last week, meaning ...