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If you've ever owned the original release of Batman Returns on DVD, it most likely left you longing for a special edition somewhere down the road. Don't get me wrong, the production notes included on the disc were absolutely riveting and I mourn their absence here like I mourn the loss of the pan and scan transfer, but somehow I'll have to find a way to sleep at night without both. Aside from never understanding the title, Batman Returns is my all time favourite bat flick, so I apologize in advance for the overly-positive review of the overly-dark Batman movie.

It's time again for my box set plug. Unless you're one of those who would sooner put nipples on the bat suits than buy one of Schumachers films, you can purchase this as part of the Batman Motion Picture Anthology box set. While it was considerably cheaper to buy them as a whole when they came out, this apparently is no longer the case. But seriously, these special editions don't boast pretty package artwork and do you really want those ugly spines staring you in the face from your shelf? Of course not, you want that big attractive box set spine with the bat logo looking back at you.

Batman Returns
Feature
In this sequel, Batman has a trio of characters to rid the streets of Gotham City of. The first is Max Shreck, an incredibly corrupt businessman at the head of Shreck Industries polluting Gotham with waste chemicals. The second is his secretary, Selena Kyle, whom Shreck murdered. Supernatural forces bring Selena back to life in the form of a Catwoman and this kitty's hungry for revenge. Last is the Penguin, a deformed individual who's risen to mayoral candidate thanks to the empathetic hearts of Gotham and backing of Shreck. Deep down, he wants revenge of the people on Gotham for having everything he never had living in the sewers, namely a childhood.

I heavily resent the negative response this film has been given by the public. I suppose they prefer their super hero films dumb and loud? I admire Burton for giving us such an intelligent Batman film with several layers of story to it. Maybe it's the maniacally sinister plan to turn Batman into what he hates most—a criminal—that really entices me. They don't want to kill Batman; they want to positively destroy him.

Somewhere on one of the documentaries on the Batman Forever special edition, someone says that "Batman is all about duality" and they're absolutely right. Look closer at these villains and that's exactly what you'll see, fragmented pieces of Batman. Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) is the part of Bruce that lost his parents at a very young age and has never recovered from it. Max Shreck is a warped vision of businessman Bruce Wayne only without any morals. Catwoman is the part of Bruce that hides behind a mask only confused as to which side of the law she belongs on. I greatly enjoyed Burton teasing the audience with the question of Catwoman’s motives. Catwoman aside, these aren't plot points taken from the comic book, these were made for the movie and I commend the filmmakers on them.

Batman Returns
I was astonished at just how much Danny Elfman improved upon his previous Batman score with Batman Returns. Every character has their own motif and they're all woven together masterfully as the film progresses. This is the story with almost every other aspect of production, bigger and better, especially set design. With the clever use of miniatures and mattes, Batman Returns is a visually epic film to look at. Almost everything in the movie is huge with massive sets including a huge Shreck department store building, sewer lair, the Bat Cave, Wayne Manor, and the streets of Gotham. If nothing else, the movie is fun to look at.

The only part of Batman Returns that really left me scratching my head was the ending. Penguins with rocket launchers on their backs? Batman just happens to have a single button remote control to jam the signal? I can only suspend disbelief so much for these films. I bought the cats licking Selena Kyle back to life. I also bought the yellow ducky-mobile that Penguin drives around in. I even kept myself from questioning what the heck the Bat-boat was doing in the sewers, but an army of penguins? It's a stretch, and luckily the film doesn't harp on it for too long.

Getting back to positives, once again, casting is dead on. It may seem like I'm copying the format of my Batman review here, but both films earn similar praises that, I can assure you, won't be given to the next two Bat films. The three baddies of Batman Returns are all thoroughly enjoyable thanks to stellar performances. I expected nothing less than greatness from Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken, but who knew Michelle Pfeiffer could play crazy so well? Despite minimal screen-time, Michael Keaton again defies logic and plays a great Batman/Bruce Wayne. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle wonderfully reprise their roles as Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon.

Batman Returns
In the end, I enjoyed Batman Returns considerably more than I did Batman. Maybe it's because we didn't have to be introduced to the world of Batman again, that the movie jumps right into the action. Maybe it's because Burton serves up a more complex story this time. Either way, this is great stuff as far as summer blockbusters go. Come to think of it, rather odd to have a summer blockbuster set during Christmas, right?

Video
Warner Brothers gives us Batman Returns in it's original aspect ratio of 1:85;1 anamorphic widescreen. When this title was announced, I sold back my original 1997 release, so I've nothing to compare it to, but on its own, Batman Returns looks very good. For a film that at times feels noir, it's all going to be about black levels, and thankfully this transfers black levels are near perfect. From the Penguin’s sewer lair to the Bat Cave, the movie looks fantastic.

Audio
Batman Returns is outfitted with Dolby Digital 5.1 track along with a DTS 5.1 track. As was the case last go-around in 5.1, the star of the soundtrack is without question Elfman’s score. When things get loud, the track sounds good and no matter what the volume is, dialogue is always easy to distinguish from the score/effects. I've heard better tracks, but I've also heard worse.

Batman Returns
Extras
I failed to mention in my review of Batman how nice it was for Tim Burton, Jack Nicholson, Danny Elfman and the rest of the lot to return for new retrospective interviews. The same goes for Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer in this picture. I wouldn't have been surprised if any of them would've wanted to forget their involvement and focus on a more serious career—but everyone here is a fantastic sport, and I was surprised at just how invested these performers were in their roles. Michael Keaton, however, chose not to participate in any of these special editions and is represented in archive footage only. I guess at the time these features were produced he was busy preparing for his acclaimed role in Herbie: Fully Loaded? Keaton has never been much for celebrity and his absence here is very unfortunate.

On disc one we have the original theatrical trailer and a director commentary by Tim Burton. Burton re-hashes much of what you'll hear in the documentaries on disc two, so this commentary can be skipped without missing too much. What you won't hear on disc two is Burton discuss more in depth public expectation for the film and more of his reasoning behind creative choices concerning characters, designs, and story. Don't take my less than stellar opinion of Burton’s commentary as a stab at the director however, as his involvement in these special editions makes them worth owning.

Disc two first offers up 'The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin', a promotional featurette from 1992 hosted by Robert Urich of Love Boat fame. I recall my father taping this for me when it originally aired because I had baseball practice that particular night. Seeing it now, I realize how badly this featurette stinks of promotion. It's really nothing more than a twenty-two minute commercial with talking heads. Worth watching only for the nostalgia, if you want a real behind the scenes feature, seek it elsewhere on the disc.

Batman Returns
Next up is the fourth instalment of 'Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight' entitled 'Dark Side of the Knight'. The first three parts can be found on the Batman special edition. Clocking in at a noticeably shorter than last go-around thirty minutes, the featurette really covers a lot of ground for its duration. The most fascinating bits are the parts on pre-production with sketches, stories, and home video footage. A very entertaining feature.

The meat of disc two is the 'Beyond Batman' section which is a collection of six short documentaries on specific aspects of production. A wonderfully convenient feature is the 'Play All' option which links them together for a running time of just over an hour. They cover music, costumes, production design, and much more. These are definitely not items to miss on disc two. I don't know whose idea it was, but it seems like every moment of production was videotaped for historical purposes, and their inclusion on the disc makes for a most insightful look back at what went on. My favourite part of 'Beyond Batman' is 'Assembling the Arctic Army' which features footage and interviews with Stan Winston on creating the animatronic penguins. I didn't even realize they were animatronic, which speaks highly of Winston’s team.

A third feature standard to all Batman special editions is a heroes and villains gallery. You may wonder what more could be said about the Batman and Alfred that wasn't said in the previous heroes entry, but that's the fun part. These aren't all-encompassing biographies of the characters, but rather cover what the characters are going through in the film in mention. The villains gallery is worth seeing because of the insight on how screenwriter Daniel Waters reinvented both Catwoman and the Penguin from their comic book counterparts. Combined, these two features run a total of eighteen minutes.

Lastly we have a music video by Siouxsie and the Banshees. I usually detest music videos that mix trippy footage of the band with clips from a film as a cross-promotion, but it actually turns out well here. The song features the Catwoman motif from Elfmans score and the footage cleverly recreates the cinematography/lighting schemes of the film. To say the least, it's light-years better than anything Prince did for the previous film.

Batman Returns
Overall
I greatly enjoyed Batman Returns and likewise enjoyed this special edition DVD. The running time of supplemental features may be considerably shorter than it's predecessor's special edition, but this release leaves nothing to be desired. From technical aspects to supplements, I would whole-heartedly recommend this DVD to anyone.


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