Batman: 2 Disc Special Edition DVD Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review

Batman: 2 Disc Special Edition DVD Review
SRP: £16.73

Picture

In a word - WOW! Warners have come up trumps here, people. The image supplied on this new version is a revelation. Sporting a brand new transfer (keeping the same anamorphic 1.85:1 image from before) that is extremely sharp, Batman has never looked better. In fact, it looks as though it was filmed yesterday. With marvellous colour reproduction and a great level of black on offer, the Dark Knight fights his battle amid a Gotham City that literally springs from the screen with a healthy, vibrant sheen. Close-ups are immaculate, with terrific skin-tones and sparkling eyes. The extra level of clarity reveals lots more detail on the clothing, the set design - particularly the Axis Chemical Plant - and Batman' gadgets. But, the problem with this new degree of sharpness is that the matte shots of model backgrounds now look a little more bogus than they did before. When the camera pans rapidly up the side of a model building, it sadly looks just like a model building. But really, to quibble about things like this is pointless - this is a great transfer, and no mistake. Colours are bold and rich - the Joker's wardrobe, that little flash of blood flung from his bullet-gouged cheek, or his gore-speckled joke-teeth after Batman socks him one - and they literally shine out of the darker elements of the picture which, of course, are prevalent throughout. Shadow-play is extensive and the disc has absolutely no problems with it, or the contrast changes.

Print damage was hardly ever an issue with Batman and, barring the ever-so-slightly juddery main titles, there is nothing to speak of that mars this edition. Grain is not there and the picture remains stable and unblemished throughout. On the digital side, I saw no edge enhancement that caused me any degree of concern, and with zero pixilation, only very minor artifacting and no colour bleed I'm happy to say that, overall, I am very impressed with this transfer. It positively gleams.
Batman: 2 Disc Special Edition

Sound

Here's that word again - WOW! The DD5.1 mix sounds like it has been cleaned up a bit from the one adorning the original release, coming across a littler clearer and sharper. But the obvious option here, folks, is the DTS track, which is simply wonderful. Immediately, Elfman's masterful score soars through the speakers - just listen to those drums pounding away - and continues to amaze throughout. It bubbles away during the quiet moments and really comes to life when the big stuff comes, treating that famous fanfare to a scintillating delivery. The audio range is much greater, the bass sounding emphatically deep and resonant and the high-end remaining consistently clear and realistic.

The sound may not be quite as bombastic as it could have been, given the improvements that have been made, but it is definitely now much more enveloping. Footsteps on the rooftop gravel, Jack Napier shuffling cards, a stretcher being loaded onto an ambulance - the realism and the steerage is impeccable and crystal clear. And this is just the first few moments!

The Axis Chemical sequence (“We've been ratted out, boys!”) delivers a standout cue form Elfman and features lots of great steerage of gunshots, steel-on-steel clanging and hissing steam. The depth and space afforded by the new mix has the film yawning out from you, adding hugely to the atmosphere. The rears are certainly utilised but I still feel that a little more work could have been done back there. By far the best effects are spread across the front soundstage. However, for a true test of DD as opposed to DTS flick through both on the bit when Batman crashes through the skylight in the art gallery and he and Vale make their zip-wire escape. Absolutely no contest, with DTS being the clear winner. A marvellous makeover, fun and intricately involving with lots and lots of neat stuff to listen out for.
Batman: 2 Disc Special Edition

Extras

This 2-Disc release is literally packed with stuff. Hooray!

Disc 1 contains Tim Burton's typically dry and silence-heavy Commentary Track. He sounds so laid back that I almost fell asleep listening to him. There is good stuff in here though, if you've got the patience to sit through it. He defends Prince's songs as they perform the voice of the party-time Joker. Nicholson's enthusiastic approach helped the cast and crew through the arduous and cold night-shoots. He also gives clues about his filmic inspirations and cites the British production design crew as being anal in their joy of detail, and he admits that Hollywood would have been too pushy and crowded to get the job done - which is why it was so nice to work at Pinewood. This would have benefited from having someone else on it to keep things lively. Imagine Mad Jack. Disc 1 also houses the Theatrical Trailer.

Disc 2 is where it's all happening though. The stuff contained here is a true Bat-fan's dream. I'll state from the outset that there is some repetition between the various documentaries and, barring lots of input from Jack Nicholson - who seems to crop up everywhere - there is actually very little from the rest of the cast. We do get to see them - Keaton, Basinger, Hingle, Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox), the great Tracey Walter and Billy Dee Williams - but their input is limited compared the film producers and the comic book writers and artists.

Starting with the brilliant documentary Legends Of the Dark Knight: History Of Batman (40.34 mins) we get a comprehensive look at Batman's pen-and-ink heritage from Bob Kane's first Da Vinci-inspired pencilling at the start of the Second World War, through his various incarnarntions, partners and enemies through the forties, fifties, the pivotal sixties and the seventies when farcical adventures were eliminated in favour of dark psychological stories, and radical new writers were brought in to re-invigorate the formula in the likes of Frank Miller, Denny O'Neil and Jeph Loeb. Narrated by Mark Hamill, the voice of the Joker from the wonderful Animated Adventures, this has lots of interviews with the writers and artists, including Marvel's rival Stan Lee, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, Harlan Ellison, Alex Ross, Neil Adams, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and even Kane's still-lovely wife. I have to admit that I find more honesty, commitment and character devotion from the comic book crowd than I do from any batch of filmmakers. For these guys the character - whoever it may be - comes first and foremost. An excellent feature, filled with fact and fun artwork.

On The Set With Bob Kane is just 2.31 mins of the man himself filmed on the set of the film as it was being made. It's nice to see, but a little pathetic as it offers nothing that we aren't going to learn in greater detail elsewhere.

Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight comes in three parts which can be watched separately, or all in one as a Play All, lasting for 71.30 mins. Part 1 - The Road To Gotham chronicles the ten-year odyssey to bring the original Bob Kane dark version of Batman to the screen. The makers, Peter Guber, Mark Canton, Tim Burton and especially Mike (“No Pow! Zap! Or Wham!”) Uslan are honest about using Donner's Superman as a template for tone and credibility, and its success to sell the idea to the studio. They were keen to remove the blight of the sixties show from the public's mind. There was still some pretty bizarre ideas floating around the initial scripts and casting - Bill Murray as Batman and Eddie Murphy as Robin, anyone? But Burton gave the project the necessary element of risk, supplying his quirky darkness. Part 2 - The Gathering Storm and Part 3 - The Legend Reborn detail the actual production process. Sean Young, who was so nearly Vicki Vale, recounts her regrets about not being able to finish filming. Keaton's casting controversy is covered with a little insight from the star, himself. Jack Nicholson - nuff said - he was top choice from the start offers lots of recollections, while the producers hint at the mega-deal he wangled for himself. Gough and Hingle get a little moment apiece, too. Sam Hamm denies involvement in putting Vale in the Batcave and having Napier, as opposed to Joe Chill, kill Wayne's parents. “A script is a blueprint ... not a Bible.” Burton, however, doesn't get around these developments very satisfactorily. There is also a very touching moment of reminiscence from Kane's wife when she recalls the two of them arriving at the premier of the film. Good stuff.

Beyond Batman features six cool featurettes, which again can viewed separately, or all together. Visualising Gotham: Production Design (10.22 mins) takes a look at Anton Furst's combination retro-look with 40's art deco. Burton says he wanted a parallel New York that didn't fit into any era and would, thus, be timeless. Building the Batmobile (9.22 mins) reveals that Furst's designs took fourteen weeks to build and then the designers and art crew realised with horror that they'd left the door off. The Wonderful Toys: The Props And Gadgets Of Batman (6.01 mins) has John Evans tell of the process of turning more of Furst's designs into a reality. It all seems so simple - Furst gets his drawing approved by Burton and then passes it onto Evans and his crew to do all the hard work. Evans is a pragmatic jobsmith - a gaffer with his eyes on the time-sheets and the costings. Designing The Batsuit (6.56 mins). I'm not too fussed on this muscle-suit. Batman is meant to have trained and built himself up, not be reliant on a moulded facsimile of Anatomical Man. Once again, as with Bale all these years later, poor Keaton had to undergo a full body-cast and then have the muscle bits stuck on - we get some very brief shots of him suiting up. Thankfully, the undies-over-the-pants look was never going to be in. From Jack To The Joker (10.37 mins) meets makeup fx man Nick Dudman, who is clear and methodical about his design work for Nicholson's mask. Mad Jack, himself, reveals that it was he who had the fright-wig toned down for a greater effect. And finally in this section, we have a look at Danny Elfman's classic score in Nocturnal Overtures: The Music Of Batman (7.03 mins). Burton liked his Oingo Boingo stuff initially and Elfman says that he got his ideas from walking around the Gotham City set at night. This is a great collection of admittedly brief featurettes.

And there's more. We get a set of Heroes (12.30 mins) and Villains (7.18 mins) Profiles that, unlike the naff ones on Batman Begins actually feature the actors, themselves, as well as input from the people behind the scenes and the artists who have brought them to comic book life in the past. Again, this has a Play All option. It juggles talking heads, film clips and artwork, mixed with some new and old interviews. And yes, even the great character actor (although often sidelined) Tracey Walter gets some time to discuss his role of Bob The Goon.

A particularly splendid bonus is the Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence (4.22 mins). This exciting scene would have introduced to Dick Grayson into the mix. With accompanying sound fx, Elfman's score and voices culled from the Animated show - Hamill as the Joker, Kevin Conroy as Batman - this is really well done. The Flying Graysons! Batman on horseback! Brilliant. Still glad it wasn't in the film - I hate Robin.

And, to top this enormous package off, we get three Prince Music Videos - Partyman, Scandalous and Batdance. Take them, or leave them. I left them.

Folks, this is a tremendous set of features. The docs on the comics are worth it alone. I truly cannot wait for Batman Returns. And guess what? I'll be reviewing that soon, too.
Batman: 2 Disc Special Edition
A fantastic movie that, apart from Prince's ill-matched songs, stands up very well today, and this is a much-deserved, spruced-up re-release. Folks, this double-discer is a class act in every department. The AV quality is a considerable step up from its prior edition and the extras are Bat-fan gold. Bale's incarnation, to my mind, is the better, more fully-rounded one and it has a much stronger action element, but Burton's vision captures the gothic darkness and the borderline horror aspect that we all love about Batman.

It's definitely time to chuck out the old bare-bones release and replace it with this exemplary edition. There's heaps of good stuff lovingly presented here. Totally recommended.

Scores

Movie

.
9

Picture Quality

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
9

Extras

.
9

Overall

10
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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