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In the long list of films that need better treatment on DVD, the Batman films ranked pretty high up for me. The previous editions were just several of many great films unlucky enough to be given standard Warner Brothers treatment. Ignoring picture quality and extras, the discs were given two of the most annoying features I can think of; double-sided discs housed in cardboard snapper cases. Released in the monstrous hype that surrounded Batman Begins, I'm expecting Warner Brothers to really deliver the goods here for making me wait so long for this special edition.

Unless you're one of those who would sooner bite off your own tongue and spit it at Joel Schumacher than buy one of his Batman films, you can purchase this flick as part of the Batman Motion Picture Anthology box set. It houses the films in a nifty Bat-logo case and is usually cheaper than buying them all separately. Other than pricing and packaging, I can't give you much else incentive to buy the box set.

Batman

Feature


Fueled by the childhood memory of his parents’ murder, billionaire Bruce Wayne is taking on the criminal underworld of Gotham City first hand. Disguised as the masked vigilante Batman, he strikes fear in the hearts of criminals. Just as this new calibre of crime fighter begins to clean up Gotham, a new calibre of criminal is rising. After a near-fatal experience with a vat of chemicals, Jack Napier is terrorizing Gotham as the homicidal clown prince of crime, the Joker. Can Batman uncover the maniacal plan the Joker is plotting to carry out? And more importantly, can he stop it?

I have to applaud the creative team here for their inclusion of one particular Batman aspect that most incarnations ignore: his detective skills. After all, the character's first appearance was in a series called Detective Comics. Despite this inclusion, I found the depiction of the Batman enjoyable in spite of two major source material deviations. Firstly, the screenwriters had Batman kill, and secondly they replaced Joe Chill with the Joker as the killer of Bruce's parents. I see now that time has washed away nearly all of the original negative response these changes brought about when the film opened in 1989.

I find these changes acceptable because of the nature of the property we're dealing with. Batman is, in my mind, the most versatile comic book character ever. It's because of this that I can deal with these changes. It's the versatility of Batman that makes the old 60s show and the recent Batman Begins both Batman and both acceptable. Come to think of it, the 'Batman killing' aspect isn't so much a change but rather a trait that certain interpretations chose to leave out.

Speaking of source material, you've got to love the visual irony of Batman vs. the Joker. In one corner on the side of good, we have a giant black bat; a symbol of fear, a creature of the night. In the opposite corner of evil, we have what appears to be a clown, an icon of harmless mirth. Not until I began to pick apart the film did I realize just how clever Bob Kane was when he created these characters nearly seventy years ago.

Batman
Of the many interpretations of the dark knight, this one remains my second favourite, right behind Batman Returns. Burton is an incredibly talented filmmaker, one with a knack for creating vivid worlds for his colourful characters to play in. Speaking of colourful characters, I could watch Jack Nicholson as the Joker for hours on end and never grow bored with it. He plays crazy very well; too much I've heard some say considering he's on-screen significantly more than Batman. Burton explains that the unbalance was intentional during a featurette on disc two, furthering my admiration for the filmmaker.

Beyond Nicholson, the rest of the cast is pitch-perfect. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He may seem to fit the role well in retrospect, but check out his work prior to Batman. With a resume like that, I would've questioned his casting as well, but it works. Kim Basinger is as good as she possibly can be in the role of Vicki Vale, the bat-babe of the picture. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle are Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon. Sadly, this is the first and last time we'll get to see Billy Dee Williams as district attorney Harvey Dent. He'll be replaced by Tommy Lee Jones for the characters alter-ego, Two-Face, in Batman Forever. Considering Williams accepted the role with Two-Face in mind, I mourn the re-casting as I would've enjoyed seeing Williams as a villain.

I could go on with endless praise of the film from visual effects to costumes to Danny Elfman's masterpiece of a score, but you're probably not reading this review for a critique of the film, so I'll save my typing for what this special edition offers over the previous edition.

Batman

Video


Batman is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen. To adequately judge this new transfer, I felt it necessary to pull out my old 1997 DVD and compare the two side by side. This new special edition looks excellent all on it's own before any comparison. Colours are particularly rich for such a dark film and black levels look great. I found little to no grain and softness only present in select matte shots near the ending.

When compared, I find the biggest difference occurs on the streets of Gotham City. The first matte shot below of the 200th Founder's Day Parade looks much better in this edition, from improved contrast to a sharper image. The second screenshot further illustrate the better level of contrast, particularly in the Joker's face. The third shot boasts that both transfers had excellent black levels so there was little room for improvement there. The biggest achievement here is the improved contrast levels.  It should also be mentioned that the 1997 DVD had a faire share of dirt and artefacts scattered throughout that are nowhere to be seen here. It's not terribly distracting, but notice the framing issues between the two transfers? Where the second transfer shows more on the right side of the image, it leaves out some of what the first transfer showed on the left. A minor quarrel, however.


1997 Standard DVD
Batman
2005 Special Edition DVD
Batman
1997 Standard DVD
Batman
2005 Special Edition DVD
Batman
1997 Standard DVD
Batman
2005 Special Edition DVD
Batman


Audio


I rocked out to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on Batman, and was pleased. This star of the track is clearly Elfman's energetic score, at times flowing from all available channels. The audio on the disc is good, but far from impressive. I'm almost certain this is the same 5.1 track from the 1997 release, which is okay because I enjoyed the previous disc's audio.

Extras


On disc one we have the film's theatrical trailer and a commentary by director Tim Burton. Burton won't win any awards for thought articulation, but if you can sit through his ramble, he offers up information you won't hear on disc two, such as fan reaction to the changes in the movie. Absent, sadly, is the humorous Diet Coke commercial from the original VHS release with a cameo by Michael Gough as Alfred.

First up on disc two is a fantastic documentary called 'Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman'. Narrated by Mark Hammill (the Joker from the animated series), this look at the source material of the film clocks in at a strong forty minutes. I was very surprised at just how thorough this feature was with Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Mike Mignola, Stan Lee, Elizabeth Sanders Kane, and even the late Bob Kane himself all speaking their minds on the character's legacy. This is not a documentary to miss.

'On the Set with Bob Kane' is an absolute gem for fans of the Dark Knight’s creator, if only it could've been longer than two and a half minutes. Kane talks about how he came up with Batman, the casting of the movie, and takes a stroll about the Gotham City set during the day time. This is clearly a promotional piece from 1989, but promoting what, I wonder?

Batman
A feature standard to all films in the box set is 'Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight'. That title is actually code for 'The greatest making-of you'll ever see for Batman'. At an hour and ten minutes, the feature is broken down into three chapters chronicling the film from conception to premiere. It's a cool mix of old/new interviews and on-set footage. This along with the above documentary would've been enough to satisfy me in the bonus materials department, but Warner Brothers has much more to offer.

Another feature standard to all four films is a heroes and villains gallery. You might expect lousy text bios, but we're given video profiles featuring several minutes of clips and interviews. Instead of just covering Batman and the Joker, the gallery covers Vicki Vale, Alexander Knox, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, and Bob the Goon. Together these bios run about twenty minutes total and feature a convenient 'Play All' feature. A surprisingly entertaining feature.

Next up is 'Beyond Batman', a series of six mini-featurettes on the film's production that can be viewed separately or all at once. Together, they run a total of fifty minutes. They cover the production design, batmobile, prop design, batsuit, Joker makeup, and music. I found these almost more entertaining than the 'Shadows of the Bat' feature. If it wouldn't have nearly doubled the running time, these could be part of it. These, like nearly everything else on this disc, are worth your attention.

A surprising inclusion on the disc is a proposed alternate ending that would've introduced Robin. Using original story-board artwork and featuring Mark Hammill as the Joker—this is a most interesting look at what could've been. I personally am glad Burton chose to scrap this ending and go in a different direction.

Finally, we have three music videos by Prince that tie directly in with the film. Never have I wanted to see a line of dancing Batmans strut their stuff alongside a line of dancing Jokers, but that's exactly what Prince gives us. He himself is split down the middle like Two-Face, with one side dressed as Batman the other as the Joker. Seeing this incredibly undignified take on Batman makes Schumacher's stuff look like noir.

Batman

Overall


It took them eight years, but Warner Brothers has finally given Batman it's due on DVD. There's absolutely no reason not to upgrade from the 1997 release to this one; unless of course you're still clinging to your pan and scan transfer which you won't find here, thankfully. Buy the set, watch the film, experience the documentaries, but please... skip the Prince videos.


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