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Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology(1989-1997)
For more about Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology and the Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray release, see Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 11, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Keaton, Chris O'Donnell, Kimberly Scott, Michael Paul Chan
Directors: Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray Review
A completist's study into the rise and fall of a powerhouse franchise...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 11, 2009
When Tim Burton first tackled Batman in 1989, comic book adaptations weren't
exactly the billion-dollar industry darlings they are today. Aside from well-received flights-of-
fancy like Superman, comic films offered little more than cheesy
dialogue, laughable special effects, and mediocre performances. I doubt Burton (or Warner
Brothers for that matter) could have imagined his dark and violent reinvention of DC Comics'
iconic vigilante would go on to influence twenty years of cinema, motivate a floundering
genre, and pave the way for grittier superhero successes like Blade, X-Men,
Sin City, Iron Man, and, of course, director Christopher Nolan's own
revered interpretations of the caped crusader, Batman Begins and The Dark
Knight. Sadly, Burton also couldn't have predicted the coming storm of lesser
sequels that threatened to derail the entire franchise.
Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) may 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 himself into an elusive, crime-fighting vigilante known only as the Batman. When a freak accident leaves a sociopath named Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) with white skin, green hair, and volatile psychotic tendencies, he takes on the moniker of the Joker and begins to plot a widespread attack on Gotham. Wayne recognizes the mounting danger and sets out to stop the Joker, a man he believes was responsible for the death of his parents. With the help of his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Gough), tenacious reporters Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), and police commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), Wayne sets out into the night to bring an end to the Joker's mad reign once and for all.
I have to admit, it's tough to revisit Burton's Batman without comparing it to Nolan's vastly superior Dark Knight. Nicholson's Joker simply doesn't stack up... he fails to evoke the eerie, unsettling presence that Heath Ledger brought to the character, and never shelves his all-too-familiar schtick. Likewise, Burton's Gotham is charming, but ultimately feels artificial and stagey, lacking the real-world nuances and street-level immersion of Nolan's epic. Even so, Nicholson's performance blends well with the 1989 film's overall tone and Burton's design aesthetic is engaging, leaving little doubt that the director had a confident handle on his cinematic adaptation. The entire film offers plenty of nostalgic jolts that transported me back to childhood; to a time when Keaton's bounding superheroics and the Batmobile's roaring engine hit with far more impact than they do today. Better still, the screenplay holds up well. Aside from several rather gimmicky character actor routines, the cast crafts a living, breathing Gotham City that reveals endless secrets lurking in its alleys. Batman certainly isn't the jaw-dropping experience it once was, but it's still a relative joy to watch.
In 1992, Burton made his second and last trip to the Batcave, pitting Batman (Keaton) against a hideously deformed businessman named Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin (Danny DeVito), and a sharp-tongued dominatrix named Selena Kyle, better known to comic fandom as Catwoman (a leather-clad Michelle Pfeiffer), in the carny-infested underbelly of Gotham. Navigating a dense minefield of political opportunists and greedy fatcats, Wayne has to come to grips with his feelings for his feline counterpart, stop a corrupt industrialist named Max Schreck (scene-stealer Christopher Walken) from selfishly manipulating the citizenry, and prevent the Penguin from exacting his revenge on a city that has rejected him since his birth.
Even though I've hunkered down with Batman Returns again and again over the years, I just can't get into it. I know there are plenty of filmfans out there who adore its quirky sensibilities and surrealist tangents, but I've never been able to get past its missile- packing penguins, over-the-top carnival baddies, or plodding plot developments. While the sizzling chemistry between Pfeiffer and Keaton and the intriguing interactions between Catwoman and Batman makes the entire production worth watching, both aspects also take a back seat to a variety of meandering storylines that abandon the twisted fun of the original Batman in favor of bleak imagery, despondent characters, and lackluster villainy. In fact, Burton seems to have been more interested in making a dark romantic comedy than a thrilling superhero pic. Ah well, I've never been able to fall in love with Batman Returns and I doubt I ever will. Chalk it up to personal taste, but this one isn't for me.
Burton's vision unspooled further in 1995 when director Joel Schumacher -- hot off grim- n-gritty fare like Falling Down -- decided to replicate the colorful world of comics with Batman Forever. While the comic books he relied on for reference remain a mystery, he nevertheless amped up the franchise's palette, cheesed up its mythos, and dropped a surprisingly one-note Val Kilmer into Batman's boots. For the hero's third outing, Schumacher also chose a more cerebral villain in the form of a scorned Wayne Enterprises employee named Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey). Calling himself the Riddler and joining forces with an unpredictable madman named Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), Nygma begins to distribute a device that will allow him to sap the intelligence from everyone living in Gotham. As Wayne rises to this newest challenge, trains a young man named Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell), and attempts to confront his fears with the help of a slinky psychologist (Nicole Kidman), he has to stop the Riddler and Two-Face from destroying everything he holds dear.
I distinctly remember enjoying Batman Forever when it first arrived in theaters -- Kilmer's tormented take on Batman was stirring to my young mind, Schumacher's Riddler and Two-Face seemed more visceral than other comic book film villains, and the cast's passion was apparent. What a difference fourteen years makes. In retrospect (and, again, with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight fresh in my mind), Forever amounts to Batman-lite; a watered-down, shallow follow-up to Burton's original. Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot to love. Kilmer may not separate Bruce from Bats, but he does fine work in each role. Jones and Carrey may ham it up to insufferable heights, but there's an infectious whimsy to their performances. O'Donnell may make a few missteps along the way, but he's a far more relevant addition to the roster than he is in Batman & Robin. In fact, only Kidman and the remaining supporting cast undermine Schumacher's decidedly decent efforts. While I hate to slap the word "average" onto a favorite from my teenage years, that's exactly what Batman Forever is: an average genre actioner that neither crackles nor fizzles.
Batman & Robin
It all came crashing down in Schumacher's 1997 follow-up, a brash and ridiculous mess that placed then-rising star George Clooney behind the wheel of the Batmobile, increased O'Donnell's Robin to leading-man status, crammed in an annoying subplot for a feisty upstart calling herself Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), and introduced some of the lamest cinematic villains to ever grace the big screen -- a fervor-inducing scientist named Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), a pun-spewing, lovelorn iceman named Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and a musclebound neanderthal called Bane (Jeep Swenson). But statue-top car chases, gaudy set designs, and piss-poor character development was only the opening volley of Schumacher's misfires. As Batman, Robin, and Batgirl race to save Gotham from an even more convoluted threat than was served up in Batman Forever, they have to deal with Alfred's cancer, overcome their interpersonal issues, defeat neon-lit henchmen, and prevent a cadre of villains from achieving their evil schemes.
Much has been written about Batman & Robin, so much so that I hesitate to hurl another log on the would-be-franchise-ender's funeral pyre. Schumacher's production design borders on ludicrous from beginning to end, finally stepping over the line when Poison Ivy and crew arrive to a gala disguised in giant gorilla suits. Akiva Goldsman's script is a bumbling series of one-liners and unfulfilled ideas; a botched screenplay that fails to offer a cohesive plot, affable characters, or anything more than neutered villainy. It doesn't help that the film's already shoddy gags fall flat (an American Express plug is painful to say the least), its action sequences are more akin to parody than legitimate heroics, and its mind-numbing dialogue nearly ended the careers of several modern-day heavyweights. Ultimately, Batman & Robin is one of the worst comic book films of all time... it might even be the most disappointing comic book adaptation ever conceived. Warner Brothers was wise to shelve the franchise and rethink their entire approach to Gotham's savior.
The Batman Anthology
While everyone will identify particular standouts and personal favorites in the series,
most people will agree that the Batman Anthology is a wildly uneven collection that
reaches tremendous highs and descends to troubling lows. Its especially disheartening
when you consider Christopher Nolan's contributions to the mythos -- at times, the first four
Batman films are more a study in cinematic devolution than anything else. Purists
and completists will rejoice, but frugal filmfans will probably want to wait until Warner
Brothers releases each individual entry before sinking any money into Burton and
Schumacher's superhero shenanigans.
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Video Quality
Considering it's the oldest film in the anthology, Tim Burton's 1989 original 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.
Batman Returns, on the other hand, boasts the best 1080p/VC-1 transfer of the bunch, delivering shot after shot of fantastic visuals, exacting detail, and perfectly resolved blacks. Stunning delineation reveals the inhabitants of every shadow, striking contrast gives the image excellent dimensionality, and rich color reproduction allows each frame to leap off the screen. For a catalog film, detail and texture clarity is as close to reference quality as they come. The tattered fabric hanging around the Penguins shoulders showcases errant threads and stitches, the creases in Catwoman's leather costume are crisp, and the dials and markings on Batman's gadgets are clear and legible. Some softness invades establishing shots, but I never got the impression that it was the result of the technical transfer. As it stands, the picture is smooth and clean -- artifacts are nowhere to be seen, the noise that clutters the DVD version is gone, and edge enhancement and noise reduction are MIA. I may not enjoy the film itself as much as others, but I was thoroughly wowed by this near-perfect catalog presentation.
Unfortunately, Batman Forever takes a step back with an uneven 1080p/VC-1 transfer that falters with consistency issues, unresolved blacks, and unpredictable clarity. Detail is sharply rendered one moment and poorly-defined the next. While the good certainly outweighs the bad, the film's problematic shots are a distraction that caught my eye on a regular basis. Even so, I get the sense that most of the transfer's shortcomings can be attributed to the original print. Colors blare and skintones are a bit too warm, but it does seem to gel with Schumacher's flashy production design. Likewise, shadows are deep and oppressive, but often feel artificially brightened as if the director was compensating for on-set mistakes in post production. Luckily, the picture is just as polished as the other transfers in the anthology. Macroblocking and digital nonsense are non-existent, contrast is confident, depth is engrossing, and primaries sing. It's a comparative letdown to be sure, but one that shouldn't prevent Batman Forever fans from enjoying the merits of its presentation.
Batman & Robin
The most recent entry in the anthology offers an at-times striking 1080p/VC-1 transfer
that doesn't suffer from the issues that plague Schumacher's first run-through. The palette
is just as unsightly as before, but the Blu-ray presentation handles its oversaturated
skintones and unnerving primaries with ease. The darkest portions of the screen are inky,
visibility is spot on, and impeccable contrast imbues the image with considerable depth.
Several scenes aren't as sharp as others, but the majority of shots deliver remarkable fine
details, earthy textures, distinct edges, and crystal clear on-screen text. Likewise, I noticed
artifacting in a trio of bustling action sequences, but found the rest of the presentation to
be quite reliable. All in all, Batman & Robin may be one of the worst films I've ever
had to endure, but its technical transfer should excite anyone that actually cares about this
maligned series closer.
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As most of you probably expect, Batman's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is the weakest in the anthology simply because it has to constantly contend with the inherent limitations of the film's twenty-year-old sound design. Dialogue is nicely balanced and prioritized for the most part, but some dropped lines and lost whispers muddle the proceedings. 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.
Batman Returns ups the ante with a richer TrueHD mix that takes advantage of its surrealist fight scenes and chaotic car chases. Bass tones are more powerful this time around, the rear soundstage is loaded with ambience, and immersion is, at this point, a foregone conclusion. Better still, I was smitten by the track's breezy channel pans and oh- so-precise directionality. When Selena Kyle first realizes she's been transformed by her supposed murder, listen to the tone and atmosphere evoked by the musical score, the enhanced acoustics of her apartment, and the crinkle of furniture as she prowls about her lair. While the sound designers go overboard on more than one occasion -- often packing each speaker to the brim with unnecessarily aggressive effects -- the end result is a more explosive and effective soundscape. I can't stand when Penguin's fowl friends come to his aid, but there's no denying how naturalistic their sewer home sounds. Taken as a whole, Batman Returns' audio quality almost manages to live up to its stunning video presentation.
It took fifteen minutes before I began to appreciate Batman Forever's TrueHD offering, but once the Riddler and Two-Face took center stage, the soundfield simply erupted to life. LFE thooms and bass-heavy gunfire are impressive enough, but Nygma's mind-drain machine introduces genuine weight and presence into the soundscape. Punches and kicks land with power, dialogue is spot on, and the various vehicles roar onto the scene with flickering fire and thunderous throttle. The lumbering effects occasionally overwhelm more subtle sonics littered about the presentation, but it seems to be par for the course for Schumacher's over-the-top production. Best of all, the dynamic score features crisp trumpet cries, piercing guitar riffs, and unwavering brass calls. My only real complaints involve a few stocky pans and inaccurate channel assignments that continually pop up throughout the film. Regardless, Batman Forever sounds great and matches the film's flashier aesthetics with some inspired sonic fireworks.
Batman & Robin
It may accompany the worst film in the collection, but Batman & Robin's stirring
TrueHD mix doesn't seem to care. Dialogue is crystal clear and perfectly prioritized,
resonant low-end tones undergird every crashing tank and bursting ice fixture, and rear
speaker support is lively and persistent. As much as the film tends to distract the viewer,
sonic immersion is a cinch for the listener -- chilling beams whip from channel to channel,
shattering glass convincingly spills across the soundfield, and distant screams seem to
appear from every direction. I certainly wouldn't call the soundscape realistic, but it is
consistent with Schumacher's rabid imagery and go-for-broke sensibilities. It's invasive,
clumsy, and annoying... just as it's meant to be. More importantly, the constant barrage of
blaring instrumentation is jarring and dynamic, making the musical score a integral part of
the lossless presentation. As it stands, you may not like what you hear, but it's hard to
argue that the track's technical prowess is worthy of legitimate praise.
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology ports over all of the supplemental material from the DVD set. While the video content is presented in standard definition and there aren't any exclusive features to be found, the collection is extensive and thorough. There are several particular hits and misses, but I doubt anyone will complain about the hours and hours of supplemental material spread across each disc.
The most exciting extras are bundled with director Tim Burton's original 1989 entry in the series, including the first three parts of a revealing documentary that wraps up across the other discs in the anthology. Add to that an enthusiastic commentary and several informative featurettes and you have a supplemental package worth some serious attention.
Burton's second outing delivers a similar feature-set that allows the director, cast, and crew to justify the decisions that went into the film, defend its production design and villain- heavy storylines from detractors, and delve into the effort that went into bringing his vision to the big screen.
Schumacher's first stab at Batman earns a respectable collection of extras that are surprisingly candid about Forever's rough reception and divisive design direction. While it doesn't deliver the breadth of the package included on Burton's original, it does a fine job of documenting the inner-workings of Schumacher's production.
Batman & Robin
The most hated entry in the anthology also has the most awkward supplemental package. Many of the features tiptoe around the obvious and attempt to salvage as much dignity for its cast and crew as possible. Can't say I can blame the disc's producers for that.
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As is the case with any boxed set that includes films from various eras, Batman: The
Motion Picture Anthology will rope in completists while holding casual fans at bay with
its high price point and uneven collection of films. However, anyone who does pick up the
anthology is in for a pleasant treat. Attractive video transfers, compelling lossless audio
tracks, and hours upon hours of supplemental material are on hand to keep you happy for
days. It's certainly not a perfect set, but purists will be happy with what they find.
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