STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $79.98 and $28.98

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I like
Batman. He’s a great character, one who has way too many appearances in comics
throughout his own numerous books and seemingly a limited series every other
week. Overexposed? Uh, yeah. He is a truly great character though, one who fits as easily in campy formats as
he does in dark, retro, straightforward, and just plain odd ones. Like Spider-Man.
Like Captain America.
Like M.O.D.O.K. He’s one of, if not THE best comic book character of all time
and I’m including Paste Pot Pete and Mark Hazard: MERC in that equation.

As much
as I like the Batman character (and I must piss off many by saying I consider
Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb’s vision of him my favorite now), I think the movies
have been fair at best. Including the first one. Including Mask of the Phantasm. Including Dead
. Until Batman Begins came out I considered Batman Returns the high
water mark but appreciated the franchise more for paving the way for those that
followed than for their own merits. These are the films that started the
concept of scenery chewing villains that overshadowed the Batman/Bruce Wayne
combo. These were the ones that made it hard to appreciate the fighting
technique of the hero due to unwieldy rubber suits and their limited range of
motion. These were the ones that allowed Prince to bastardize our eardrums, a
Bat Credit Card to be used, a Bat Compact Disc to be used inexplicably as a
scratch turntable disc, and the ones where the Batplane had machine guns that
seemed to fans like a giant “screw you” to the bullet ridden corpses of Mr. and
Mrs. Wayne. For all that they got right, and they did get a lot right, they
were far from perfect and I feel a lot of the rosy perception of them stems
from the fact that they opened the door. Superman lost its way at about the 1
and 3/4th film mark, sending the comic book movie business into
hibernation. Tim Burton changed all that at the end of the 1980’s and look at
how big and overwhelming the comic book movie palette is now.

Batman Begins is leaps and bounds better than
all the other Batman films, though highly flawed. Now that it’s arriving on
home video and the original four films have been given lavish new treatments of
their own, I sat down with the Caped Crusader for the better part of the
weekend and survived.

This is
my tale…

The Flicks

Yeah, he really hid his identity well…

Batman (1989)

amazing how unkind the years have been to Batman. It’s a testament to the
advances in technology in the past sixteen years as well as how seat of the
pants the production of the film was, seeing it today. From the first shot of
the hero where his horrible painted shadow jerkily creeps off frame to the
climactic shots of the Batwing slowly crashing into the Gotham City streets,
it’s not what you’d classify a juggernaut of sight and sound though at the time
it was quite a sensation.

A lot of
what makes Tim Burton such a singular voice is here but in muted tones and
without the spit and polish of his other works, including the Pee Wee movies
and Edward
, which was the project he did between Bat-flicks. There’s
the affinity for the dark corners of the world and the macabre sense of
environment and the symbiotic relationship between his images and Danny Elfman’s
music but it just feels a little stiff. I honestly feel that if Batman
had been the maiden film, the box office may not have been
there but there wouldn’t have been such a lull between this film and the
successful comic book adaptations that are in vogue today.

Like many ballplayers, Joe Randa accepted endorsement deals.

As Batman
and Bruce Wayne, Michael Keaton is a surprisingly strong presence aside from
his ludicrous line delivery in the infamous fireplace “wanna get nuts?” scene.
He does a good job of conveying the scattershot persona of a man torn between
worlds and a slightly insane guy. He’s not all there, and Keaton’s best
strength is showing just how uncomfortable Batman is in his Bruce Wayne suit. As
Jack Napier/The Joker, Jack Nicholson is a mixed bag. On one hand, his is a
powerhouse turn as he chews scenery and gets all the choice dialogue but on the
other, a much more important one, he hogs the spotlight away from where it
needs to be and his Joker isn’t cunning or nearly as funny or cool as he think
she is. As Jack Napier he was interesting, channeling the Jake Gittes and Jack
Torrance nuggets of character and giving Burton’s
movie a meaty center. Once he becomes the Joker with his really freakish
make-up work with the loud purple suits and theatrics it takes a dark and
engaging story into Macy’s Day Parade territory. It ruins the film, though you
can’t fault a film for allowing Nicholson to run the show. He’s the reason the
film wasn’t leaden, because Pat Hingle, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Jack
Palance, and even Michael Gough are so flat that this film could have been a
Howard the Duck sized failure. As it stands, you have to respect it for what it
got right. The Batmobile, at least when it’s not wobbily moving around. The
Batplane, at least when it’s not being shot down by one shot from a pistol
(albeit a long one). The inspired casting of Michael Keaton. The mood and Burton’s marriage of the
industrial age look at the gothic look.

People made fun of Schumacher’s nipples and crotches, but how about the Burton suit’s armpits?

But at
the end of the day this just isn’t a very good movie. Not hardly.

Batman kills people. Lots of them. From the bombs he drops at the chemical
plant that explode dozens of guards to his machine gun flurries through the
city to dropping henchmen down stairwells to their messy end. It’s not the Batman Bob Kane created and it’s not the Batman that makes the hero so magnetic and heroic.

I almost
wish the Tim Burton of today could remake this movie. The grace he brought to Big
coupled with his undoubtedly assured hand at doing big effects
films (say what you want about Planet of the Apes, it looked damn
good). This is what it took to create a franchise and open millions of eyes to
the possibilities.

To bad it’s

6.5 out of 10

"The Rundown? Never saw it. You were in it?"…… "I’m talking about your mouth, shithead."

Batman Returns (1992)

This is
more like it.

If this
film hadn’t gotten so caught up in the trio of villain characters (Danny
DeVito, Christopher Walken, and Michelle Pfieffer), it really could have
accomplished something special in terms of what a superhero movie was and could
have been. Now, we’ve seen people do it right but Tim Burton is on fire this
time around, employing a truly awesome array of set pieces and moods that alienated
the mainstream audience the first movie amassed but ultimately results in a
better movie than the first. It’s really a shame that it gets so bloated with

Mike Keaton lies beneath.

Keaton once again does a solid job of portraying The Bat, but is sadly given
little to do in terms of fleshing out the character because the stars of the
show are DeVito and Pfieffer. Both acquit themselves well, especially the last
minute replacement for Annette Bening, whose work create a decade long
anticipation for a solo Catwoman feature. When it finally came, it arrived in
the form of Halle Berry. Not what anyone needed. DeVito is
over the top, but I was surprised this time around by the fact he was more than
just a screeching, arch bad guy but rather a little more shaded. Walken, under
a white fright wig, is given very little to do except be Christopher Walken and
be a solid father figure for the extremely stiff future Leatherface Andrew

The main sacrelige amongst fans was Catwoman’s new titlight.

Had the
film chosen to pose a more human threat and allow the Batman/Catwoman and
Selina Kyle/Bruce Wayne story evolve more organically, it’s had been a classic.
As it stands, Batman Returns gets the most right out of the 1989-1997 films
but it still suffers from a serious identity issue. As far as the style goes,
this is a drastic step forward in terms of the production design and in Tim
Burton’s comfort with the character and tone. Bo Welch’s set design (taken over
after Anton Furst saw the light and walked towards it) is considerably stronger
in execution, though his predecessor may have been better conceptually.

firing penguins and other silliness notwithstanding, this is a darker and more interesting
Batman film despite the presence of Paul Reubens and the ever-freaky Sean

7.2 out of 10

Hallmark went for a more spartan look in their recent line of cards.

Batman Forever (1995)

Bye Tim.
Bye Michael. Bye gothic. Bye William Dee Williams.

Schumacher, Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, and Tommy
Lee Jones hit the scene pretty hard in the third entry in the series and the
results are either wonderful or shitty, depending on if you like Ziggy or
literature. There’s plenty of action to be found and there’s too many
characters and plots to really allow the darker elements to shine. The result
is an entertaining and heightened Batman film, but one with a seriously
schizophrenic nature.

with attention spans need not apply as nearly every frame of this flick is
bursting with data. We see the origin of the Riddler (Carrey, leaving no
scenery unmasticated), Two-Face (Jones, doing no Billy Dee Williams
impersonation whatsoever), as well as the arrival of Dick Grayson/Robin and the
appearance of Chris O’Donnell if but briefly on Hollywood’s A-List.

"Thanks God! Who’d have thunk addiction and debauchery could make me such a power player in Hollywood!"

works is Kilmer. He’s a terrific choice for the role (edging out my personal
Lord and Savior Alec Baldwin), seeming more capable of the physical demands of
being a pugilist detective. He also carries the air of privilege well, and his
rapport with Alfred the Butler
feels genuine. As a foil for O’Donnell’s young hothead, he also excels and
though he can be annoying (well I kinda hate Robin anyway) their scenes often
work quite well.

villains are atrocious. Jim Carrey had yet discovered his dramatic skills at
the time, relying more on his Ace Ventura schtick and a variety of hairdos and
costumes. Jones is ill at ease as Two-Face, lost in a bad makeup job and
material he obviously feels is beneath him. In fact, he took the role solely based
on a nephew’s recommendation. Oh, and a bag of cash I’m sure. Whenever the film
shifts to these characters the carnival aspect takes over and the good work by
Kilmer is lost in the shuffle. Because of Nicholson’s legacy, every villain
ever to grace this era of Bat-films suffered from a serious “me too” vibe.

Jim Carrey high-fives Dennis Quaid on the set of Innerspace 2.

actually added some nice nuances to the franchise, though. He’s not a piss poor
director or the “killer of the Batman” many claim him to be. The film looks
good and he’s a better action director than Burton. It’s just too overblown to register,
though it must be said that Kidman’s wordy femme is a major step up over the
ever-screaming Kim Basinger love interest.

A good,
but certainly not great entry.

6.3 out of 10

What about the Rainforest Costume Ball needs saving?

Batman & Robin (1997)

Bob Kane
died before this came out, but if he were alive when it did he’d be dead before
the ending shot of running heroes occurred.

With that
said, I don’t have the hatred for Batman & Robin that many people
do. I just don’t have the energy and don’t feel the bar had been raised all
that high for it to fall far enough to warrant the spew. It’s a terrible film
to be sure, but in the grand scheme of Batman films it is small potatoes. There
had been so many tiny daggers of injustice for the purists to be wounded by, I
find it hard that a nippled, ice-skating hero could do much more damage. It’s
pissing on a coffin, disrespectful but nothing more than insult to injury.

Plus it
had John Glover in it and no film with John Glover is all bad.


premise is this: Mr. Freeze (that guy from Stay Hungry) needs to keep his
frosty wife in stasis so he’s stealing diamonds like it’s going out of style.
Also, Posion Ivy (Uma Thurman) has been created when she was given a lethal
poisonous dose before her time and was resurrected by plants. Oh, and the silly
topical comic character Bane is in the mix too. Oh, and Batgirl is created when
Alicia Silverstone arrives at Wayne Manor and is revealed as Alfred’s long lost
almost relative.

the neon and day-glo scenery and ludicrous action scenes. Forget the horrible
dialogue and the fact that this is pretty much the feature adaptation of the 60’s
Batman show rather than a sequel to Batman Forever. The thing that
really stinks about this movie is how anyone thought that an audience needed
this many characters to be entertained. If it were The Thin Red Line, I’d
get it. It’s a third sequel in a comic book franchise.

"Neeeek, eees dis a FREEZE FRAME? Hahahahahahahhaimpeachme."

this movie is like pulling an allnighter and then having to babysit nineteen
children. It’s a caffeine enema that never pauses to allow you to breathe and
with nary a good performance to be had. It’s a shame too, because George
Clooney, especially today’s George Clooney is like a real-life Bruce Wayne
making glossy mainstream films as the “sexiest man alive” on one side and being
politically outspoken and making art films on the other. Sadly, he was
ill-prepared for this and he isn’t helped by dialogue or set pieces. Plus, it
was before he really found his stride in Out of Sight, the true turning point
of his career.

It’s an
example of what happens when you pull the creative people away from the
decision making process. It also has some pretty neat effects and some decent
production value, but this was a franchise that was taking on water since it
sailed and this was the end of the journey. I’m glad it happened. It had to in
order to make a studio and a film watching public realize what really had to be

3.0 out of 10

"They didn’t laugh when I handed Oskar’s list off to telemarketers."

Batman Begins (2005)

First a
word about Devin’s controversial review of this film; I agree with most of it.
The only difference is that I think the negative aspects don’t hurt the film as
much as he did. There are flaws in Batman Begins, rather large ones.

You know
what? The film is still excellent.

deciding that the character of Bruce Wayne needed to get some love, this new
beginning spends a whole lot of time setting the stage, covering to some extent
the Batman: Year One elements of the
character’s origin as well as building a new mythology for the missing years
where a young troubled man became a warrior with a mission. It’s fascinating stuff,
with Christian Bale capturing both the lost son and the pain driven fighter to
perfection. He may not have that spit and polish that the character of the
comics had, there’s a little bit of a working class edge to Bale that is hard
to ignore, but his energy and intelligent eyes make a world of difference. He’s
an excellent choice (told you so on October 22, 2002) and emerges by far the
best screen Batman of all time. Given a more functional suit with a scarier
cowl, he takes his already considerable presence and amplifies it. Granted, his
voice sometimes seems forced in the suit, but at least it’s different enough
from his Bruce Wayne voice to suspend disbelief. When it comes to the
physicality, this Batman is much more menacing even when the editing doesn’t
allow the audience to really see it.

Oops, I dropped a screen grab from Takashi Miike’s Ebony & Ivory music video on accident.

premise centers on the birth of the Batman character from the ashes of a
wealthy family shattered by bullets, and the movie has no qualms in taking its
time to do so. The Batman costume doesn’t make an appearance for some time, in
some ways similar to how Superman and Spider-Man took some time to simmer. It’s
a worthy formula for a film like this, especially since this film doesn’t care
about making its villain characters front and center. In fact, throughout the
bulk of the first two acts, the villains are either clouded in secrecy or more
gray than black. When the villains do become focal, the film loses its way
thanks in part to a weak third act and unconvincing actions scenes, especially
in a day and age where commercials and music videos dish out action sequences
that’d be the envy of ten decades of action flicks. Of course, that’s just eye
candy. Where Batman Begins butters its bread is in story and characterization
and aside from a flimsy love interest in the person of Katie Holmes (when will
one of these new age comic flicks offer up a worthy leading lady?), it’s a
drama that just happens to have batarangs rather than an action flick with
intervals of talking.

For the 11,039th straight time, the Cowl won the staring contest.

addition to Bale’s iconic work there’s Liam Neeson in top form as the
mysterious Ducard, a mentor character to Wayne who just might be more than he
seems (a pointless twist does cheapen him a little or rather another actor
whose work was wasted). There are few actors who do a better job of playing
this sort of role and when a director allows him to shine (shame on you Mr.
Lucas), Neeson is the best money can buy. The same can be said for Morgan
Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Tom Wilkinson. Their presence alone add
a great deal to the proceedings but when coupled with a surprisingly sober
approach from filmmakers David Goyer and Christopher Nolan, a gimmick becomes a
film and bubblegum becomes a substantial meal. A nod must be given to Linus
Roache, who in a very small amount of time paints a father figure whose death
really feels like a loss.

Cillian Murphy’s work is sometimes good and sometimes a little off and there’s
really no doubt from the outset that he’s a really bad guy. You need a little
bit of deception involved and sadly his Scarecrow isn’t as creepy as he could
have been and Murphy’s not the kind of actor who can take a one-dimensional
role and weave silk with it.

it is an actor friendly film and definitely worthy of the pedigree seeping from
its pores. Nolan’s a terrific filmmaker, and though his action chops (or second
unit supervisor) and action editing could use some work, there’s still a very
nice and eerie palette for his movie. Especially effective is Batman’s first
attack at the docks, where the scene unfolds more like a horror movie than a
superhero flick. Though the detective aspect isn’t as honed as it ought to be
(at the end of the day, the villains are unimportant), seeing how Wayne gets his arsenal
and sexy car is invigorating. There’s already enough baggage with the character
to take with a grain of salt, so it’s nice to see fairly reasonable attempts
made to keep the storytelling as intelligent and reasonable as possible.

When it
boils down, this is a masterpiece for well over half its running time, at least
in the sense that it merges pulp and celluloid into something familiar and
fresh, truly respectful towards half a century of comic books. That is an
amazing feat, so when the film does lose its way it’s forgivable. A good start.
A very good start.

Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan, Batman is not only in safe hands but as
primed for film history as a character this overexposed can possibly be. Over
repeat viewings, the flaws become less of a problem and the virtues damn near

Batman Begins rocks. It rocks pretty damn hard.

8.4 out of 10

The Look

The first
four films in the series were given rather unattractive transfers their first
time out and while these are considerably better, they’re not perfect. The
first film in particular has some scratches and dirt that usually get cleaned
out on such a high profile release. It’s still quite nice, but it’s obvious
that the later films were in much better archival shape because they have a
little more jazz to them. Still, these are quite nice and Batman Begins is
downright gorgeous. Most of the films spend their time in the dark and when
they aren’t (Mr. Schumacher…) there’s usually some sort of heightened reality
at play. The newer film spans the world but more often than not features a nice
if not subdued look. All together, this is ten discs of rather attractive
stuff, though not too close to perfection as some might have hoped.

8.7 out of 10

The Noise

The discs
all sound splendid, and the anthology set features both DTS and Dolby 5.1
presentations, creating the optimum soundscape to hear Danny Elfman’s finest
hour and the sounds of Kim Basinger screaming at the drop of the hat. A lot.

Batman Begins disc represents the finest in tech and Warner Bros. has always
been one of the better studios in recent memory when it comes to audio
presentation. This is no exception and the result is a set of films that look
pretty sharp and sound even better.

9.0 out of 10

The Goodies

I really
liked the wraparound Shadows of the Bat
maxi-featurette that spanned the 2nd disc of each of the first four
films. It ties them together and gives folks a reason to keep on moving through
the films. There’s enough information and participation from folks either in
period EPK footage or current interviews to satisfy nearly everyone. What I
most appreciated was how the struggles and triumphs of making these films were
discussed with a fairly frank demeanor. Joel Schumacher does a terrific job of
explaining why Batman Forever worked and Batman & Robin sucked and for
the most part accepts full responsibility. That’s important, as is the numerous
bits of material that explain how things were shaped, what casting decisions
were scuttled, and who the casualties of the process were. Sean Young even
participates, giving the gossip column aspects of the filmmaking a little
attention and though the later films get a shorter shrift in the legacy
department it’s only because the legacy was waning when they hit the scene.

than what they represent to a guy like me, these were seminal films and
instantly must-see ones that are snapshots of the time they were released. They’re
also cautionary tales, all of which is expertly captured here.

the first four films are given a bevy of features as listed below.

  • Commentary
    by director Tim Burton on Batman and Batman Returns
  • Commentary
    by director Joel Schumacher on Batman Forever and Batman & Robin
  • On the
    Set with Bob Kane
  • Legends
    of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman – The Batman comic book saga as
    reinvented and reinterpreted over nearly seven decades
  • The
    Bat, the Cat and the Penguin – Cast and crew members recall the making of the
    equally spectacular sequel
  • Additional
  • Riddle
    Me This: Why is Batman Forever? – How a new director and cast created a
    new version of Gotham’s classic good and
    bad guys
  • Shadows
    of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Parts 1-6: The Road to Gotham City, The Gathering Storm, The
    Legend Reborn, The Dark Side of the Knight, Reinventing a Hero, Batman
  • Beyond
    Batman Documentary Gallery:
  • Visualizing
    Gotham: The Production Design of Batman
  • Building
    the Batmobile
  • Those
    Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman
  • Designing
    the Batsuit
  • From
    Jack to the Joker
  • Nocturnal
    Overtures: The Music of Batman
  • Gotham City Revisited: The Production
    Design of Batman Returns
  • Sleek,
    Sexy and Sinister: The Costumes of Batman Returns
  • Making
    up the Penguin
  • Assembling
    the Arctic Army
  • Bats,
    Mattes and Dark Nights: The Visual Effects of Batman
  • Out of
    the Shadows: The Production Design of Batman Forever
  • The
    Many Faces of Gotham
  • Knight
    Moves: The Stunts of Batman Forever
  • Imaging
    Forever: The Visual Effects of Batman Forever
  • Scoring
    Forever: The Music of Batman Forever
  • Kiss
    from a Rose Music Video by Seal
  • The
    Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries
  • Bigger,
    Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin
  • Maximum
    Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin
  • Dressed
    to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin
  • Frozen
    Freaks and Femme Fatales: The Makeup of Batman & Robin
  • Freeze
    Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin
  • Music
    Videos:Batdance, Partyman, and Scandalous by Prince, Face to Face by
    Siouxsie and the Banshees, The End is the Beginning is the End by the
    Smashing Pumpkins, Foolish Games by Jewel, Gotham City by R. Kelly, Look
    into My Eyes by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
  • Batman:
    The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence
  • The
    Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries
  • New
    digital transfers with Both 5.1 Dolby and DTS Surround
  • Theatrical

truly overwhelming stuff, but once you’ve done one of the films it’s intriguing
to see how they approached the next and I found myself looking forward to each
new segment even though I didn’t really like the films. The beauty of DVD is
how it allows us to learn filmmaking through the trials and tribulations of
others and though this isn’t a “warts and all” set of discs, there is some fascinating
stuff to be seen and it’s a bit cool and weird to be seeing scenes for the
first times on films as familiar as these. They’re not that good, but they’re new
and that’s almost enough.

course, some of the stuff isn’t so dreamy and I can go through my life without
ever hearing Batdance again.

What did
surprise me was the menu system. I was expecting a little more, I think. I was
assuming these would be the high water mark and I was really disappointed. I
especially hated Batman Begins, which makes you wade through a rather dull comic
book searching for hot spots to click. Thankfully there ultimately is a master
menu but I had very little luck finding it the first time around.

no commentary on the Nolan film but it is packed with a nice array of features
and feels at home with the other, more densely populated discs. Of course we’ll
see a really loaded version right before the next Batman film arrives but this is
better than most releases of a major film this close to release.

All in
all, these are hefty discs loaded with bells and whistles and surprisingly
entertaining and informative commentaries (will you hate me if I admit that I
liked the Schumacher ones a little more?) that are worth the wait for the
purists and people who want to revisit a time when the idea of a comic book
movie was ludicrous to studios and fanboys earned their love and hate without
all the ease of use modern webheads are allowed. These are a slice of time and
loaded ones at that.


8.5 out of 10

The Artwork

http://chud.com/nextraimages/batmannn.jpgThis is a surprisingly disappointing bit of packaging, especially considering that this is a franchise so closely in touch with its marketing side. The new film has a nice cover and very sleek casing and discs but an oddly sized comic book insert does little to inspire and when is someone going to realize that adding comic books or playing cards or shot glasses is just stuff that adds to the cost and makes a DVD harder to just enjoy on its own merits. The box gets damaged easier, takes up more space, or just plain looks bad when you mess with simplicity.

What stinks about the anthology is disc art that is a little tacky with skinny metallic lettering and an unimaginative approach to cover art. The bat symbol is one of the most recognizable bits of branding ever to grace Earth, yet it’s not the focal part of the design. You’d think that the four films would get slightly altered versions of it, or a motif that seemed more organic. Instead, it’s amateur hour with designs that honestly look like fan art made up of the films’ posters and a cracked copy of Photoshop.

The new movie has a decent enough disc but the older ones look like Hank.

7.0 out of 10

Overall: 8.0 out of 10

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