PictureWarner's bring Batman Begins to Blu-ray with the same VC-1 transfer that it had in its former HD days and, even when compared to many other more recent releases on the format, it still provides scintillating proof of the sheer eye-candy that a great 1080p encode can deliver. The 2.40:1 image is in love with darkness and shadows and those that swirl and fester around the picture for much of the running time are some of the thickest and blackest on offer. But, despite such a weight of gloom and murk, the transfer is still vibrant, colourful and highly detailed. No matter how strong the blacks are, there is never a feeling that something has been lost within them. It is testament enough to see the impenetrably black vision of Batman moving through shadows that are almost equally as dark, yet the picture loses nothing of the detail therein. The glistening of water on Batman's costume and on the tumbler after it has careered through the waterfall are marvellously etched, as are reflections on glass and chrome etc, such as when Bruce arrives for a plush dinner with two babes on his arms. Detail is also at a premium. Just check out the sack-cloth mask for the Scarecrow and all those morphing worms and maggots. Or the once-hazy and messy buildings whizzing past Rachel as she succumbs to the fear toxin - now amazingly sharply presented despite the visual trickery playing with them. The cityscapes and flybys look great too, with a level of intricacy that is best appreciated on the biggest screens.
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 or the mud-caked prison, the exquisite flames of the explosions and the gunfire and the gloriously demonic red eyes of the flying Hell-bat - this transfer excels. The primaries are strong and reliable. Look at the greens during the Young Bruce prologue or when the older, wiser (and more bruised) version contemplates rebuilding the ruins of the manor at the end. Skin tones are good - convincing in the case of Bale and Caine, though a little less-so and perhaps more glassy for the likes of Holmes and Wilkinson. Eyes definitely sparkle, with Bale and, of course, Murphy taking the honours here. An incredibly thin smattering of grain adds a visible texture to the image and the contrast is never less than spot-on. Bright whites never bloom and cool blues maintain a soothing quality. Neon lights in the distance and computer readouts in the foreground as the renegade train thunders towards a jabbering Shane Rimmer in Wayne Tower add tremendous little pockets of interest, as do the markings on the ninja armour and arm-greaves. Flying debris always looks fine and crisply rendered too, no matter how much of the stuff is spinning about the screen. And the tempest of bats through the windows and down the halls of Arkham have oodles of sharp detail, as well.
One thing that I haven't liked about any version of the film that I've seen is the smoky haze of the fear-toxin cloud during Ra's Al Ghul's attack on Gotham. Some slight banding seems apparent within it and some softening-up of detail - beyond the obvious that you'd expect when looking at something through a thick cloud, that is. Whilst this is nothing serious, it does mar an otherwise impeccable transfer. But it is nice to see that the VC-1 encode has managed to overcome the low-level artefacting that was sometimes present in the greys, such as when Ducard introduces himself to Wayne in the prison cell.
The film still doesn't lift from the screen as much as I would like it to, but then only something like the excessive hand of edge enhancement would do anything like this. There is some very slight EE but this is so minimal that I'm not going to complain. Three-dimensionality of the “I, Robot” variety is not in evidence, but this isn't to say that Batman Begins has a flat image. Far from it, actually. The streets of Gotham are filled with depth, especially when the Batmobile is roaring through them, the figure of Bruce amid a whirlwind of bats down in the caves, the elevator dropping away from the raging inferno above, Batman falling through his smokescreen of winged buddies in Arkham and his subsequent death-ride beneath the monorail are all prime exponents of both a well-held frame during action and an innate sense of realistic depth. And the final time we see Katie Holmes as some, ahem, nicley defined attributes too ... if you know what I mean.
But as great as Batman Begins looks in 1080p, just wait until you clap eyes on the mouth-wateringly gorgeous image on the IMAX prologue for The Dark Knight - simply jaw-dropping, folks.
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 on the original SD version was totally immersive, exciting and all-involving, featuring so many clever little nuances and an immensely rewarding surround experience that it trounced almost everything I'd heard before it. But this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track goes even further in filling the room with convincingly dynamic and richly detailed sound. 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 with the original DD track, but whilst the lossless alternative does the same thing with an equal amount of vigour, it also does so with greater depth and a more naturalistic balance between aggression and detail. 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. Some people decried the excessive use of bass in Batman Begins, but I can't detect a problem with it at all. To my ears, nothing is swamped or blown-out by the sub or the bass levels that hug the movie with an earthy, guttural swagger almost constantly. The film is one of the most bombastic that I have come across, dropping the foundations of the sound design almost as deep as the caves beneath Wayne Manor, but it doesn't do this at the expense of the clarity and the directionality of the other sounds in the mix.
The frontal array is gloriously wide and spacious and the many impacts littered across it have positioning that genuinely seems to push further back and further out with amazing subtlety. Panning around the set-up is transparent and always seamless and the track is razor-sharp with its presentation of even the slightest effect.
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 that is even more resonant in TrueHD - moments of lyrical memory for Bruce as he recalls his father, for example. 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. The echoing of shots and screams around the containers in the dockyard are more precise and realistic. The grating of Bruce's blade against Ducard's as they train on the frozen lake and the immense creaking and groaning of the ice all around them; the various directional shouts, impacts and grunts during the prison skirmish and the wonderfully intricate and impeccably steered explosions and debris flung about the Ra's temple are absolutely reference quality. The weight of the wood being flung apart is galvanising and almost physically felt by the listener. The rears kick in with some delicious effects of their own, too. When Batman calls for his own breed of backup, listen to the chittering arrival of the swarm of bats begin from behind you and then roar over you. The Batmobile crunching its way over cop cars and the showering of man-hole covers puncturing the Gotham night - so many elements that make this track a pure standout.
Of course, I've got to find something to nit-pick though, haven't I?
Well, okay then. But only a couple of things now seem to let the track down, and even then this is probably down to the fact that we have heard so many even more fabulously intricate sound designs on the format since Batman went lossless. For instance, as the plummeting train hits the deck, along with Liam Neeson, the resulting chaos doesn't sound quite as devastating as I know it would have done had it been in the likes of I, Robot or Beowulf - the resulting scattering of debris nowhere near as exact or satisfying. Considering the level of intricacy that was afforded a similar scene earlier on when Ra's temple goes all sky-high around our ears, this is something of a slight let-down. Jeez, listen to me - it still sounds amazing, though!
This is track of reference quality. 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.
ExtrasPorting over all the additions that the original 2-disc Deluxe SD and the subsequent HD version had, Warner's Limited Edition Gift Set Blu-ray release still manages to chuck in some more quality bonuses.
First and foremost is the six-minute IMAX-filmed prologue from The Dark Knight - a sure-fire cause for celebration for Bat-fans in its own right. The sequence in question details, in DD 5.1 and 1.85:1 - as one of several scenes in the movie that Nolan actually filmed using Imax cameras - the bank raid that the Joker perpetrates with a gang of duped, clown-masked miscreants who will ultimately end up being the butt of a fatal prank that their boss plays on them. Nice to see William Fichtner as the shotgun-toting manager of the mob-owned bank mounting a fight-back, and the scene is a truly tremendous appetite-whetter for the real deal. All in gloriously vibrant and immensely detailed 1080p, the sequence is bright and colourful and in full surround. One curious moment, however, comes when Heath Ledger's Joker removes his clown-mask and glowers down in close-up at Fichtner's stricken stooge - his voice suddenly takes on a gargantuan sound that is totally at odds with the aural design around it. At least it does on my copy! However, this little sneak-peak is just great and, capped-off with a little montage of other clips from film, this time featuring Batman, himself, really puts the icing on an already very tasty cake.
Also within the groovy lenticular box, you will find two little booklets, both detailing the bank raid prologue to The Dark Knight - one a comic-book adaptation from the forthcoming tie-in and the other a sort of script-cum-storyboard selection. There are also six postcards depicting some of the classic promo art from the first film. I've already got a couple of versions of these, but I have to say that these are probably the best. A money-off coupon for a cinema ticket for the new movie can also be found - but this only applies to those living in the States - and of the much touted USB stick that various elements claimed the set contained ... there is no sign. In actual fact, this intriguing extra is only available as an exclusive at certain outlets.
The In-Movie Experience is a direct lift from the HD and, as such, now often appears a little underwhelming. Various box-outs and drop-ins to behind-the-scenes snippets add to the excitement, but the mystique feels somewhat diminished a couple of years down the line. And, although the rest of the copious extras are very welcome and well worth checking out, much the same can be said about the majority of them as well.
This is what we get -
We get 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!
The numerous featurettes commence with The Journey Begins (14.14mins) which 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 something like a 3-second flash-cut 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 original Easter Eggs are still here, but they are now much more accessible, as they were on the HD edition. Well, to be honest, they weren't exactly hard to find in the first place, were they? For the record, these little elements are - Goyer talking about 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.
As I said way back in the review for the Deluxe Edition, 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 Dark Knight comes to Blu-ray, I would hope that all of this gets royally expanded upon and a lot more incorporated into the technology available to BD. I suppose one thing is guaranteed - an emotional look at Heath Ledger's input, career and legacy.
All this said, there's still plenty here to enjoy - and the set gets a 9 for the cards, booklets and the IMAX snippet.
VerdictThe best Batman gets the best Batman movie ... so far. And whilst I fully expect that to change once I've seen The Dark Knight, for now Batman Begins remains 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 in reality, but Bale's incarnation is, without doubt, the one that could exist. And damn well should.
The AV quality is fantastic, too. Barring the very slight banding in the smog, this picture is scintillating. And the sound ... well, just “Holy hearing-aid, Batman!” Incredible.
With the exception of the IMAX prologue for The Dark Knight - which is an extremely high-profile bonus - the extras are plentiful, but lack real depth and repeatability, barring the terrific Tumbler and fight training footage perhaps. The much-touted In-Movie Experience, so much the selling-point of HD over BD, now seems a little more hit-and-miss than it once did, but even for those on the cusp of what could be a triple-dip, Batman Begins on Blu-ray is a nigh on essential purchase. And I would definitely go for this Limited Edition Gift Set.
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