Batman Begins DVD Review
PictureBatman Begins has been transferred to disc in a wondrous anamorphic 2.40:1 image that does impeccable justice to the picture that I saw all those times on the big screen. Well, there's a tremendous amount of good stuff here, and a tiny little bit of bad, too. Firstly, let's get the bad out of the way. There is, if you look for it - like I did - some low-level artifacting present in the greys of the picture, such as when Ducard introduces himself to Wayne in the prison cell. But, let me stress that this is really only likely to bother those with much bigger screens, and even then, only if they are scrutinising. There is also a very light sort of glassiness to some of the brighter, naturally lit scenes that is, again, more noticeable on larger screens.
But, after those minor gripes, I have to admit that the image, on the whole, is spectacular. With zero print damage, a crystal clear reproduction of the colours - the icy blues of the frozen prologue, the earthy hues of the urban battleground, the exquisite flames of the explosions and the gunfire and the gloriously demonic red eyes of the flying Hell-bat - this disc excels.
Black levels are impenetrably deep, granting the picture a wealth of depth and atmosphere. Fast action is handled exceptionally well, with Batman hanging beneath the monorail a standout example. The many scenes of clouds of bats hurtling around the screen are picked out with a sure-fire eye for quick, clear detail. Sequences set in subdued light - most of the film, actually - never look murky or indistinct. Edge enhancement is there if you look for it, but I can't think of an instance where it drew attention to itself. There is no smearing or colour bleed, whatsoever. Warners have done an exceptional job of transferring this movie to disc.
SoundBatman Begins has amazing sound. Utterly amazing. If my neighbours haven't already alerted the police, then they're bound to just after I finish writing this and spin the disc again - because I'm really in the mood for it, now. The DD5.1 presented here is totally immersive, exciting and all-involving, featuring so many clever little nuances and an immensely rewarding surround experience that it trounces almost everything else I've heard. And, boy, is it loud! The bass levels on this shake the very foundations of the earth, let alone the living room. At the cinema, when the Batmobile revs into action, it rattles your ribcage like nothing else. Well, rejoice, because this disc reproduces that incredible gut-punching roar perfectly. Honestly, I felt pressed back into the sofa by the power of it. The bats surging around Wayne down in the cave, the explosive exit from Ra's Al Ghul's temple, the speeding monorail - everything has that vibrancy that you crave from a surround set-up, fully utilising every speaker and enhancing the film a hundred-fold. Do not mourn the lack of a DTS track - I sincerely doubt that it could sound any better than this.
Dialogue is constantly clear and impeccably delivered. The fabulous score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard literally blasts its way out of the speakers, and the touching piano-led motif, for when things quieten down a bit, has a luscious clarity. The automatic gunfire has sharpness and bite and the bruising fist-fights contain enough wince-inducing impacts to have you rolling with the blows. You may not be able to see as much of the battling as you'd like, but you're sure gonna hear it.
This is track of reference quality. It's great to say that about a DD5.1 track, as well, being as I am a true devotee of DTS. So, put on your cape and cowl (my son's are a bit tight, but they'll do for now), turn out the lights and let the roof lift off. It's a blast.
ExtrasWarner's have released Batman Begins in both single and double-disc editions. The single-disc edition just contains the movie, its trailer and a preview for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
The 2-Disc version, however, is the obvious one to go for. This Deluxe Edition contains all of the above on the first disc, with the addition of the MTV Movie Awards spoof of Batman Begins (5.10 mins). This wacky, daft, but great fun parody featuring tolerate-or-hate him Jimmy Fallon, has the comic hitching a ride in the new Batmobile on his way to hosting the show. Actually, I found this to be a great send-up, with Fallon brilliantly cut into scenes from the movie of big chase through Gotham. The intercuts between mirth and mayhem are pure wise-ass larking about, but very smoothly done. “Who is this guy?” demands the cop from the film. “I don't know, but he's in a tank ... Tankman!” replies a spoof-cop. As to the identity of the caped pretender, let's just say that he's Dynamite!
Disc 2. Firstly, let me state that whilst the menus may look cool - with each screen (and there are quite a few of them) resembling a page from a Batman comic-book - navigating them is tedious, time-consuming and, initially at least, somewhat perplexing. It's a bat-logo left and right combo, then highlight a section of the artwork type of thing, but it isn't user-friendly. Anyway, as well as some pretty worthless character profiles for the goodies, the baddies and the Bat's equipment, from cape to Tumbler, we get seven mini-docs.
The Journey Begins (14.14mins) covers the initial ideas that Nolen (who looks like Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney character) and David S. Goyer had, and how they germinated into the finished screenplay. We hear of the bogus script, entitled Intimidation, used to throw snoops off the scent, and how they set about recruiting the finest cast that they could get, inspired by Richard Donner's Superman. Goyer touches upon the intrinsic element that makes this film, and its particular incarnation of Batman, stand out for me, personally - that there aren't too many actors out there who could fully fill both sides of the Dark Knight, Bruce and Batman, and coalesce them into one being. Nolen cuts to the quick regarding Bale - “Look in his eyes,” he says. Didn't I say that somewhere, too? We also get participation from Bale - built up to the size of a bear after his skeletal turn in The Machinist - fight arrangers, producers and production designers. It's a nice feature, but far too brief.
Cape And Cowl (8.18 mins) is purely a look at the new Batsuit. Costume Designer Lindy Henning and Graham Churchyard (Costume FX) detail the creation of a more supple/flexible combat outfit. This truly unique bit of kit (far more stealthy without that bright yellow logo) had to be constructed from a full body cast of Bale. It's a quick run-through in which Bale reveals that he likes its feral look, with that thick panther neck. We get a small cape test, too. Apparently that memory fabric actually exists. And we know the Tumbler exists - so, hey - all this is possible after all. Hmm, I'll be calling Mr. Fox in the morning.
Gotham City Rises (12.45 mins). This is a punchy, quick-stab look at the creation of the huge sets that constructed Gotham. Now, I like this new-look urban battlefield, but I prefer the gothic, gargoyle and spire cityscape from Burton's movies. But that design with this Batman simply wouldn't work. A gritty realistic hero would be too much at odds with such highly stylised surroundings. Anyway, just look at what they got into Cardington Airship Hangar - the Narrows, downtown and midtown Gotham, a freeway and the monorail! The Bat-Cave is fave, though. It's funny how one day of filming with real bats convinced everyone that it was best to take the CG route. Wayne Manor still looks like an English country estate - but then, of course, it is. The rolling meadows outside and the rain in the air can't fool anyone.
Paths To Discovery (14.00 mins). This piece covers the makers' desire to show us what happened during Bruce's seven-year odyssey of self-discovery, and the search for a location to do it justice. The Himalayas were out, so they found a site beside a glacier in Iceland and opted to build Ghul's temple there. We finally get to meet Liam Neeson here, as he and Bale tell of the real danger of filming a swordfight on a frozen lake that is genuinely cracking beneath them. Apparently, the next day it was a lake once more. Nature's such a comedian - they even had to bring their own snow to Iceland.
Shaping Mind And Body (12.48 mins). Nolen wanted to put the threat back into the violence, and found that the still-evolving Key-Si (from the heart) fighting style suited the down-and-dirty brutality that would forge Batman's grim world. This is an excellent little feature offering lots of really great footage of this tight and tremendously aggressive discipline. Just look at the slowed-down moves and combinations. What a shame, then, that we can't really see them in the movie. The pole-fight on the wooden stilts could've been incredible - so why do we only get 3 seconds of it in the film?
Genesis Of The Bat (14.52 mins). Sixty-six years of Batman through the comics, his origins, his mythology and enduring popularity - this details the influential stories and images that provided inspiration for the film. That seven-year gap, once again, is revealed to be what Nolen and Goyer wanted to explore. My favourite Batman story, “The Long Halloween” gets an influential nod, as well as some of the tales from the 70's.
The Tumbler (13.38). Without doubt this is the best Batmobile I've ever seen. Huge and aggressive - it's an intimidating bruiser of a vehicle that has thundered brazenly into Batman's history. Don't get me wrong, I still love all the other cars - but, come on, those super-long, finned dragsters couldn't get around the city streets without the use of grappling hooks. The Tumbler just goes through what it cannot get around, and, man, does it look mean doing it! This covers the design work, the fx and the final look. Lots of cool footage here, folks. Nolen, Goyer, Bale, Oldman, even Katie Holmes pops up to drool over it, and the drivers and builders confirm that, as miraculous as it seems, once constructed, the Tumbler did everything you see on film. Except the really BIG jumps, obviously. I gotta get one of those ...
Then we get the Art Gallery, which has US and International Posters and, under the heading Exploration, we get some really stunning and unusual poster designs. There are some beautiful and striking images here.
The Easter Eggs - I think I've found three - are called Finders Keepers, and actually aren't that hard to find at all. Lasting between 1 min and 2.30 mins, we have Goyer on the lengths that the fan-boys went to in order to gain info on the making of the film, a “Spot the real from the CG Batman” moment and some snatch 'n' grab rehearsals of wirework, ice fighting and Tumbler-tumbling. Nifty.
Let's not forget the 72-page comic-book that comes with the Deluxe Edition. This contains some pivotal and classic moments from Batman's heritage. We get The Man Who Falls plus the first Batman story - The Bat-Man by creator Bob Kane - and a chapter from The Long Halloween. Real fans have these already and new ones will certainly feel the urge to get some of these classic books.
All this looks great, doesn't it? And, it would be if it was incorporated into one meaty Making Of, instead of scattered about like this. And, worst of all, we get precious little input from the stars, except for Bale, who keeps popping up. The whole set of extras, whilst covering all bases, still feels disappointingly insubstantial, and a somewhat missed opportunity. Batman is much, much bigger than this. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I? When the next instalment comes ( I hope it's not Batman Continues), expect a super-deluxe-special-collector's edition to coincide. With a commentary.
There's still plenty to enjoy in here though.
VerdictThe best Batman gets the best Batman movie. Batman Begins is a triumph. It works as an emotional roller-coaster and a super-charged blast of the purest adrenaline. Bale is simply magnificent, Caine works wonders and Nolen puts the meat back on Batman's bones. With such utter class and conviction running the show, I might even consider the arrival of Robin with much less fear than normal. Only kidding, folks. They wouldn't do that to us, would they? Stylish, high-impact brutality paves the way for most believable Batman you are ever going to see. I doubt him getting away with the Batmobile for long, but Bale's incarnation is one that could exist. And should.
The AV quality is fantastic, too. Barring the very slight artifacting, this picture is scintillating. And the sound ... well, just “Holy hearing-aid, Batman!” Incredible.
The extras are plentiful, but lack real depth and repeatability. The Tumbler section and the fight footage are superb, though. But the layout and design of the features may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but leave a lot to be desired. There is a proper menu list at the end of the special features, though. But, hey, you've got to get there first. There is a way, but I haven't found it yet.
Batman Begins is a nigh on essential purchase.
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