Batman [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Samuel Scott (31st December 2013).
The Film

***This is an A/V and extras review only. For reviews on the movie from various critics, we recommend visiting HERE.***

Jack Nicholson is the Joker, who emerged from a horrible accident as a maniacal criminal. Michael Keaton is the Caped Crusader, who emerged from a childhood trauma to become a masked crime-fighter. Kim Basinger is Vicki Vale, the talented photojournalist desired by both men. And Batman is the movie, the all-out spectacular directed by Tim Burton, set to songs by Prince and a music score by Danny Elfman, and an Academy Awardฎ winner for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Anton Furst and Peter Young).

Video

Warner Home Video have released Tim Burton's "Batman" onto Blu-ray in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the original aspect ratio is 1.85:1). It has been given a 1080p transfer and uses a VC-1 codec. Overall, it looks good, but it isn't reference quality.

One of the first things that may strike you about this transfer, is just how good some of the background detail is. For example, when Bruce Wayne is on the steps of City Hall, listening to a press conference before The Joker comes and ruins the day, you can see each individual brick quite far in the background. Facial detail is fairly average, though each strand of hair and every skin contour looks to be of a decent standard, apart from in some of the darker scenes, where shadows do disrupt the standard of the more minute details slightly. Black levels are generally strong, and the various dull shades of grey and brown of Gotham City seem perfect. Contrast levels are consistent, and skin tones look good also, if occasionally a little soft. There is a little noise every now and again, but nothing disruptive, and there are barely any signs of edge enhancement, aliasing or motion judder. I noticed no scratches or dirt in the print. After over twenty years since its release, this is the best I have seen "Batman" look, but it still doesn't show quite as much depth as I would like.

The disc is region free and the feature runs 126:19.

Audio

Warner have provided a number of audio options on this release:
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
- Spanish (Castellano) Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
- German Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
- Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
- Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0
- Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital 1.0

For my viewing, I opted for the lossless English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Like the UK DVD releases (original and 2-disc SE), it tends to be more front heavy than you might expect. The rear speakers are generally kept for the action scenes, and for the score, and not so much for subtle environmental effects. The LFE comes into play at reasonable intervals, generally serving up low-end rumblings which are perhaps not quite as strong as required judging by the on-screen action. Still, the track is reasonably immersive when it needs to be, with good directionality and channel separation. Dialogue was clear at all times and there are no signs of any damage to the track. There are no dropouts or scratches, and I noticed no background hiss.

Optional subtitles are available in Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, English HoH, Finnish, French, German, German HoH, Italian, Italian HoH, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

Extras

We start off the extras package with a solo audio commentary by director Tim Burton. Solo commentaries are notoriously the most variable you can get, as there is nobody to help push things along if the participant stalls and struggles to think of anything to say. Thankfully, Burton does very well here. Although I find that I dislike him in interviews, he gives an honest and varied commentary. He talks about all the technical aspects, as well as different parts of the project in general. Notably, he is also quite forward with the elements he feels didn't work, and which strengths of the Batman characters he focused on.

The "Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman" documentary (40:34) looks at the beginnings of Batman, right through to the present iterations (pre-Nolan anyway). Many DC stalwarts that have worked on the comic books are interviewed here, along with famous Batman fans such as director Kevin Smith (whose daughter is called Harley Quinn after a DC character). Writer Harlan Ellison is one of the more interesting of the interviewees who talks about the understanding of comics and their place in America, both past and present. We learn about Batman creator Bob Kane (who is also interviewed), how the comic industry formed the Comic Magazine Association of America, how Batman was revitalised by "The Dark Knight Returns" comics, how readers got to choose some story arcs, and how the success of the Burton films helped get more animated Batman shows made for television. Batman is a character steeped in history, with many ups and downs, and this documentary is easily accessible for those who, like me, are only looped into comic book characters via the big screen. As a bonus, it is narrated by Mark Hamill.

The "On the Set with Bob Kane" featurette (2:31) is a short look at Batman's creator Bob Kane behind-the-scenes of the feature. It's nothing more than a quick fluff piece, with short soundbites from Kane played behind scenes from the movie, and artwork of the comic books. Kane also gives us a very quick look at the Gotham City set, which was built at Pinewood Studios in London, England.

Next we have the "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight" featurettes (71:30):
– "The Road to Gotham City"
– "The Gathering Storm"
– "The Legend Reborn"
The first part of this three-part series, looks at the pre-production elements of the movie. It actually strays quite far though, even looking at the first college course in comic books and the effect it had on the industry. Seemingly, Batman went through so many iterations of screenplays as the project had been kicking around for a number of years, that there were possibilities of a comedy style movie, and even an art-deco style movie, and was eventually greenlit after Beetlejuice opened to reasonable numbers. The second part features the filmmakers and cast discussing the difficulties in the script-writing and casting processes. I imagine that if Michael Keaton was announced as Batman now, after Nolan's trilogy become extremely popular, rather than in the eighties, he may have been hounded as much as Ben Affleck currently is after it was announced he will be the new Batman. Don't get me wrong though, a lot of flack was given for this choice in pre-production from comic book fans, and it even made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Still, they made the right choice IMO, because Keaton played the character well. The final featurette in the series looks at how Tim Burton set out to create a movie that fans would appreciate and would carry on the legacy of the caped crusader.

Next we have a series of featurettes under the heading "Beyond Batman":
– "Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Batman" (10:22)
– "Building the Batmobile" (9:22)
– "Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman" (6:01)
– "Designing the Batsuit" (6:56)
– "From Jack to the Joker" (10:37)
– "Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman" (7:03)
These take a closer look at more intricate details of various aspects of the movie. We learn more about the production design, the look of the Batmobile, Batman's various tools, the batsuit, the make-up effects used on Jack Nicholson, and the score by Danny Elfman, who does the majority of scores for Tim Burton. At 7-10 minutes a piece, these are just about the right length and go into enough depth to give you a good understanding of what goes behind the design of such things.

The next two featurettes give us a better understanding of some of the characters:
- "Batman: The Heroes" (12:30)
- "Batman: The Villains" (7:18)
Here we learn more about Batman, Vicki Vale, Alexander Knox, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, The Joker and Bob the Goon. The characters are analysed by the filmmakers and some fans in order to give us more knowledge of each character and their backgrounds. They are short pieces, and it would've been nice for longer and more in-depth looks at the history of each character, but what we have here still makes for an enjoyable viewing.

There are some music videos by Prince:
– "Batdance"
– "Partyman"
– "Scandalous"
Personally, I'm not a fan of Prince, and these tracks did nothing for me. Still happy to have them included though.

"Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence" featurette (4:22) is essentially a look at the storyboards for one of the sequences from the film. It's standard storyboard fare, with the original pre-production storyboards being used in order to make an animated visualisation. It also plays out as an alternative introduction to the character of Robin and takes place during the final act of Sam Hamm's original script.

We finish the extras with a theatrical trailer (1:48).

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: B Audio: B- Extras: A- Overall: B+

 


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