Batman Blu-ray Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review

4

Batman Blu-ray Review
SRP: £19.99

Picture

Out of the original four movies, Batman looks the least immediately impressive in 1080p. The film cannot quite scrub up as clean, nor as detailed as those that follow. Batman Returns, as we shall see in its own review, achieves a more obviously noticeable superiority over its SD relations, whilst both Batman Forever and, especially, Batman And Robin look fantastic. But, this said, Batman '89 still has some degree of hi-definition impact. Just don't expect miracles.

Encoded via VC-1, the 1.85:1 image is sharper than it has been before and free from blemishes or damage. Black levels are robust and solid, the neo-gothic noir of Gotham well established and maintained throughout, with more than adequate shadow-play boosting the atmospheric sets. Batman's costume and paraphernalia also benefit from a greater sense of depth and clarity, with the contours of his body-armour and the fine carving of his, ahem, rubber, revealing previously unseen details of moulding and gleam.

Colours, whilst more comprehensive than its immediate sequel, are hardly the main consideration for Burton 's initial Gotham vision, although you'd be surprised just how much there is on offer. We have the Joker and his in-yer-face garb, his paint-spewing rampage in the museum and the poison-gas balloon carnival to bring some warped colours to the screen. But primaries are not as bold or as striking as they are in the second pair of movies, from Schumacher, and the image doesn't make any effort to pitch them from the screen in any newly conceived boosted fashion. Green and purple are pretty garish but the saturation is not allowed to throb. What is surprising is the new vividness to the little splashes of gore as Jack Napier's bullet ricochets into his own face and then the double-cheek wounds that we see as he dangles above the acid-vat. Or even the blood-speckled joke teeth after Batman sokks! him one in the belfry. The neon sign for Axis glows and explosions look just fine, although skin tones can veer across the board, sometimes healthy, sometimes a little pallid and pasty. Scenes such as those in Knox's press office look very anaemic and lose much vitality due to the sheer softness of the image and some diffuse lighting, and there can be a certain Jekyll and Hyde mix and match about the transfer in this respect. Although, this is nothing that should put anyone off, as this is an accurate reproduction of how the movie should look. For every frail and soft portion there is a longer section that more than makes up for it - such as the great “night drive” episode. Here, you can check out the wonderful midnight blues that the bright yellow headlights of the Batmobile cuts through, and the lovely greens of the trees contrasting with the russet blanket of leaves on the ground. It was always a striking sequence, but it looks its best here on Blu-ray.

Detail is certainly greater, though not by any huge leap, I'm afraid. Burton 's movie still looks a tad soft around the gills and certain images - usually of Gotham 's skyline or of the streets in those long matte-shots - can now appear much more artificial than they ever did before, although you shouldn't have a problem with this as it only adds to the set-bound atmospherics of the piece. Facial detail is also slightly more pronounced but, again, don't go expecting too much from this as the film retains that softness that means it would never ever convincingly press out from the screen. The nice thing about this is that it is readily apparent that the transfer has not suffered any undue or intrusive noise reduction. And, to this end, we still have a layer of filmic grain that is consistent all the way through and, thankfully, does not fuzz about in the darker corners of the picture. As I have said, we can see more finite detail on the Dark Knight's costume, belt and equipment. The Batmobile's animated lock-down actually comes over much better than I thought it would and does not stick out like a big cartoon sore thumb. However, the same cannot be said for the animated figure of Batman and his swirling cape as he turns away from the edge of the roof right near the start - which now looks horrendously obvious. Some of the model-work used to look quite glaring at times, but, amazingly, this side-effect is nowhere near as blatant, with the miniatures blending in a whole better than they previously appeared to.

Three-dimensionality is not up there with more recent movie encodes and we shouldn't really expect it. But there are moments when visual depth is quite rewardingly showcased. The Batmobile thundering down the road, for example, or the tussle in the belfry. But even the likes of that ridiculously long dinner table in Wayne Manor - where Bruce and Vicki eat their soup - presents itself with some measure of screen-penetration. The Joker walking down the street between the raking fire from the Batwing and then producing that immensely-barrelled gun looks pretty nice, too. And, to cap it off, there is no annoying edge enhancement and I saw no evidence of smearing, blocking or any other artefacts in this transfer.

So, all things considered, this is a fine hi-def image for a predominantly shadowy, soft-lensed, noir-ish offering twenty (can you believe it?) years ago. It may still look a little soft, yet the image is definitely more detailed than before. Does it provide enough of a visual upgrade over the great SD Special Edition? Well, I think it does - but there may be many who feel a little short-changed by what this higher resolution image really has to offer when compared to the later entries in the series. A strong 7 out of 10.

   
Batman

Sound

Well, to be honest, although this TrueHD track is an improvement over its DTS forebear, it comes up short of what many may expect from it. For a start, the entire thing may be quite wide and expansive, but its canvas is spread predominantly across the front. The surrounds do come into play, but you can clearly tell that their effects aren't exactly the best, or the most scintillating around. The big action set-pieces are obviously where the steerage and the detail are best encountered. The Axis Chemical sequence (“We've been ratted out, boys!”) delivers a standout cue form Elfman and features some degree of directional enhancement for the gunshots, steel-on-steel clanging and hissing steam. The depth and space afforded by the remix certainly adds a great deal to the atmosphere, though it still has to be said that when effects emanate from behind you, they don't do it with any real conviction. The Bat-cave has some decent-enough swirls and screeches from the bats that shift quite authentically around the speakers, however. But, as I say, the rears could have utilised a little more action back there.

Solid bass provides a weighty foundation to the action scenes, though, providing some crunch and power to fists in the face and body-blows. A couple of gunshots to Batman's armoured chest have some wild vigour that is much appreciated. The actual extension to things like the Batmobile careering around the streets, bodies tumbling into garbage bins, a mighty bell crashing down through the cathedral may not travel too far into gut-rumbling, floor-trembling territory, but there is definitely more oomph to the impacts. High ends have a better degree of clarity too - such as the glass shattering from Batman's vapour-phials, or the museum skylight exploding as he crashes through to save Vicki Vale. But for a great little sonic jolt, beware of that spring-mounted boxing glove that the Joker suddenly sends hurtling into a TV screen - well, it made me jump and I knew it was coming!

Keaton's introverted line delivery is accurately frustrating, whilst dialogue, on the whole, comes across quite clearly. However, I do think that there are times when speech seems to drop in volume slightly and this is something that I hadn't noticed with any other audio transfer of the movie ... well, not enough to mention, anyway. Elfman's dynamite score is well served, with some fine instrument-spotting and a firm sweep that is deep and warm, rushing around the set-up with aplomb, though not quite as room-engulfing as Elliot Goldenthal's are in both Batman Forever and Batman And Robin. And then there are the songs from puny pop-tart Prince, which have plenty of presence and sit quite thickly upon the soundtrack - not an error in the transfer, just a marketing tactic that deliberately reinforces their place in the mix. And always did.

There is a DD 5.1 track supplied as well, but this is certainly weaker and less exciting than the TrueHD. Just compare and contrast the Axis Chemical shoot-out or Batman's window-crashing entrance for evidence of this. So, as with its hi-def image, Batman's new improved audio does make for a better and more exciting experience, though its upgrade may not be as emphatic or as grand as you may have hoped for.


Batman

Extras

The Special Edition 2-Disc release was literally packed with stuff. And the good news is that it has all been carried over to this BD as well. Hooray!

First up is 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.

But the real meat of the matter that follows 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 to that of the film producers and the comic book writers and artists who put the enterprise together.

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 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 and the whole caboodle is rounded out with the film's trailers. But I feel that since the disc doesn't take advantage of BD's capabilities, other than managing to fit it all this onto one platter, it can really only expect to gain an 8 out of 10.


Batman

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. The AV quality is a nice step up from Special Edition SD and the extras are Bat-fan gold. We may not have anything new - no PiP for example - but the familiar stuff is strong enough anyway.

Christian 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 exudes a sense of mystery and Grand Guignol that Nolen's gritty urban take has jettisoned in favour of realism. Nicholson steals the show, but this was an audacious and influential comic-book adaptation that opened many eyes and minds to the bonafide possibilities of superhero movies being taken seriously once again after the Superman series had degenerated into nothing more than a patriotically coloured farce. Burton would follow this up with the even darker and much more compelling Batman Returns, itself something of a ground-breaker in that it felt like both the final word and a new beginning for the character and the franchise.

For true Bat-geeks this Blu-ray is a no-brainer. You get everything that Warner graced the earlier release with and you get the raised level of picture and sound. So, for the discerning, it is definitely time to chuck out the older copy and replace it with this edition. There's heaps of good stuff lovingly presented here and the whole package come mightily recommended.

Scores

Movie

.
9

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Extras

.
.
8

Overall

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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