H D - S E N S E I
A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 (Batman / Batman Returns / Batman Forever / Batman & Robin) [Blu-ray]
(Tim Burton - 1989, 1992 - Joel Schumacher - 1995, 1997)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: Warner Brothers
Blu-ray: Warner Home Video
Case: 4 X Standard Blu-ray cases inside custom heavy cardboard
Batman & Robin
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Video codec: VC-1
Audio (not including DUBs or commentaries):
Batman: Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1694 kbps 5.1
/ 48 kHz / 1694 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz /
Batman Returns: Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1684
kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1684 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 /
48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Batman Forever: Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1879
kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1879 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 /
48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Batman & Robin: Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1915
kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1915 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 /
48 kHz / 640 kbps)
English, English (SDH), Chinese (traditional and simplified), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian. Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and none
BATMAN: The Complete ROBIN Storyboard Sequence
Second disc -
BATMAN: Inspired by Frank Miller's graphic novel THE DARK KNIGHT
RETURNS, this gothic, Wagnerian treatment of the Batman
mythos explains the origins of Batman and his nemesis,
the maniacal Joker (a ripe Jack Nicholson), who has
sinister plans for the citizens of Gotham City.
BATMAN RETURNS: As the pitiful, orphaned psychopathic freak the
Penguin and the power-hungry capitalist villain Max
Schreck (named after the actor who played Nosferatu)
plot to gain domination over Gotham City, the Caped
Crusader battles an equally fatal distraction... Cat
BATMAN FOREVER: Gotham City is once again under siege, this time by
the mind-controlling Riddler and the diabolical Harvey
Two-Face. The Caped Crusader cleans up with the help of
his new side-kick Robin in this effects-laden thrill
BATMAN AND ROBIN: The Caped Crusader returns to battle the abominable Mr. Freeze and green-thumbed Poison Ivy. To save his ailing wife, Dr. Victor Fries turns to a life of crime after a hideous accident makes him unable to tolerate even moderate temperatures, while Dr. Pamela Isley falls victim to mutated plant DNA when things go awry in a jungle laboratory funded by Wayne Industries. Of course, though their interests are diametrically opposed (Freeze wants another Ice Age; Ivy wants to make the world safe for plants), the two villains team up to defeat Gotham's dynamic duo of Batman and Robin, who are joined by butler Alfred's motorcycle-obsessed niece as Batgirl. And when Alfred is diagnosed as having the same terminal disease as Freeze's wife, the trio find themselves not only fighting an altruistic battle, but a personal one as well. A frenetic, colourful, and often overwhelming sequel to the films that precede it.
(or the Good, the Bad... and the Ugly)
Warner had the right idea taking one of DC Comics potentially most mysteriously intriguing characters and bringing a star-studded re-telling to the big screen. While the circus-like villains (often in pairs) always had the upper hand in grandiose, flamboyant gestures, costumes and speeches - The Batman had some silent-type gadgets of his own to subtly 'Wow' and win over the crowd to his own brand of justice. With Burton at the helm and a free-range Nicholson, as The Joker, - fans were treated, in the first effort, to the best Batman ever... for it's time. Although the 'Return' was dismissed by some as too colorful- hence diverging from the old-style 'broodingly dark' narrative - it became my personal favorite. The bizarre and sinister Penguin (extensively make-up'ed, and played brilliantly by Danny DeVito) and the mysterious and dangerous sexpot known as the Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Lurking in the background is a political manipulator named Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) and an army of sewer-dwelling miscreants preparing their vengeance. Keaton more succinctly defined the lead role - making filling his shoes a daunting task for any closely made sequels - ditto for director Burton's unique style. The 'die was cast' and replacements Schumacher and Kilmer seemed destined for viewer dissatisfaction despite the femme fatale grace of Kidman. Lee Jones and Carrey couldn't fit in Pfeiffer's catsuit - and they wouldn't look the same anyway. Changing styles mid-stream or unsuccessfully duplicating the Burtonesque branding left fans uneasy and wanting... something else. So with one last kick at the can - Chris O'Donnell returns as the sidekick to a new Batman - Mr. Clooney who has all the natural gifts, and Silverstone as a cute third wheel (making my generation try to forget Yvonne Craig was unfair indeed.) But then came Arnold. Aaarnnnulllt! Saying it was the worst role of his career would actually be reaching quite low, but as Dr. Victor Fries (alias Mr. Freeze) the franchise was brought to an unprecedented halt and the final film is beyond dreck - it is physically painful to sit through. O'Donnell had a cup of coffee before TV called. It took almost a decade (okay less) to fire up the Batmobile with a full tank again - and while they are right on track today - this series - an anomaly - has it moments of fun and adventure with some iconic lines like 'Never rub another man's rhubarb' or the oft repeated 'You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?' I haven't and shan't.
Image: NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
This appears to be the international set - region free with extensive DUBs and subs - available in many parts of the world - perhaps with a different title or labeling (called the 'Legacy' edition in the UK.) But these are surely the same discs. For some reason North American got to the party later and don't yet have access to the Blu-rays individually yet but you can buy the imports if you choose to go that route.
Technically the discs are all dual-layered with reasonable to strong bitrates around 30 mbps and use the VC-1 encode for transfers. Perhaps it is my prejudice but I believe Batman Returns looks the best of the lot.As I said in my comparison HERE - 'The color scheme supports the 2-disc version from 2005 but there is more vibrancy and depth. Everything is much tighter but probably a notch below what modern cinema fans may expect. Remember Batman Returns is almost 17 years old now. Burton's film is quite dark (gimmee) and contrast appears improved in the lower lit scenes. At times the image shows a strong texture and overall, with over 4X the bitrate, it bests the DVD in all areas that I can judge. In fact the visuals can be so strong you can discern production attributes (like make-up etc.) which lends itself away from the disbelief. I expect the VC-1 encode filling over 30 Gig alone fro the film probably reproduces the film as faithfully as it can. Effects and details may not be as glossy as modern films, but this is, probably, precisely how Batman Returns looked when it came out theatrically'. As for Batman - it looks a tad softer with grain visible. While detail is not stellar (20 years now folks) it has a very consistent film-like evenness that balances adeptly between the film's darker sequences while showing some occasional depth. The film is not by any means an exploration of color and hence probably achieves the least superiority of SD-DVD of the 4 films of this anthology. I think it looks fine but fans should temper their expeditions in accordance with Batman's age trusting as well that it was probably never meant to look glossy or refined. I have my biggest issue with #3 in this series - Batman Forever. Colors have a bit of life but the image clarity is minimal. While the softness may be a result of the rendering - it may also have been made looking quite similar. It's hard to know for sure but this compares pretty poorly to other Blu-rays I have seen and reviewed. All the good-looking actors can't make an image improve if it is inherently hazy. The grain exists - minimally - but appears blotchy and noise-like. I won't use the term 'DNR' but this is far softer than I would have anticipated. Batman & Robin is only a notch or two ahead looking slightly sharper, moderate color brilliance and while the film is a throwaway - it may have been a case where little effort was gone into the transfer OR some where given free reign to muck with it. I fear the latter. The brief outdoor scenes with Silverstone are probably the best looking in the whole film. I, thankfully, never saw this one theatrically so have no basis for comparison although DVD vs. Blu-ray may have been more telling. Bottom line the first 2 (and superior 2 films) appropriately look the best in my opinion. While these excel over SD-DVD fans should be forewarned not to expect the look of, example, hi-def Spiderman on Blu-ray.
Batman and Robin
Audio & Music:
Warner gives all four films the TrueHD treatment - although all below 2000 kbps. There is plenty of action in these films plus great effect sounds like the roar of the Batmobile engine and the catchy, seething, score. None of the mixes sounded exceptional in my opinion but all had moments of obvious separation - superior to the DD 5.1. Dialogue was adeptly centric but often was overtaken my extraneous sounds. I had a few moments of being impressed but like sounded a bit flatter than I was anticipating. This again may be a case of expectations on my part although I suspect a lack of effort in producing a really dynamic score. Suffice to say better than DVD and audio is a big part of these film experiences.
Warner is always good on this front and there is not much getting in the way of simply throwing the disc in, the feature immediately starting, and then watching the film. The packaging is a sturdy box that opens like a Batman 'tongue-in-groove' gizmo. Best of all these are standard Blu-ray cases unlike Warner's issues of Dirty Harry or Casablanca which had fans shaking their fists while reproducing cases for their custom shelving(s) - to make them aligned (neat and tidy)As previously stated these are the region free international editions will inclusions of many subtitle options as well as DUBs (generally in DD 5.1 French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese.) There are other details like some Asian subtitles for the commentaries etc.
Stacked (full list above). Highlights being the Burton commentaries and the 6-parts (spread over the 4 films) Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the DARK KNIGHT. Warner and Criterion seem to go the extra mile with supplements and these - duplicated from the SD-DVD SEs have a never ending trail of details on the characters and villains as well as healthy amounts of production information. Some of the featurettes are appropriately short and others more extensive. I preferred the historical aspects of the batman legacy rather than the production details but the piece on creating the score was good and Warner should be commended that all are viable to the films (no filler) although some will appreciate stuff like the Music Videos more than I do. So while they are substantial nothing is in HD and nothing new for this package to my knowledge. You do get a second disc with the Digital Copy of the first film for watching on your portable device - this may be cool for some just for Nicholson.
The Batman movies are not without their dividable faults, which can be easier to ignore when you load up the positives of the first 2 flics. Like the Adam West TV show we have a cavalcade of stars - hamming it up and having some fun... at our expense in the finale. Unfortunately the true stars can carry this off well but the last two films are so 'grating' that they have really tarnished this particular series irreparably. Depending on your love of Batman - purchasers might consider the package only in that the price may reward you with #4 - as a kind of modern Ed Wood example to put on for torturous amusement. Highlights are many though and one can only judge personally what they are and whether they are worth the obvious upgrade from DVD.
About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 7500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.
Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who
focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I
find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be
it, but film will always be my first love and I list my
favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible
Sony BDP-S300 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player
Gary W. Tooze