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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Christopher Nolan
Cast:
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman
Writing Credits:
Bob Kane (characters), Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer

Synopsis:
Batman Begins explores the origins of the Batman legend and the Dark Knight's emergence as a force for good in Gotham. In the wake of his parents' murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. He returns to Gotham and unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength, intellect and an array of high tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city.

Box Office:
Budget
$135 million.
Opening Weekend
$48.745 million on 3858 screens.
Domestic Gross
$204.910 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 140 min.
Price: $30.99
Release Date: 10/18/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• “Tankman Begins” Spoof
• Trailer
Disc Two
• “The Journey Begins”
• “Shaping Mind and Body”
• “Gotham City Rises”
• “Cape and Cowl”
• “The Tumbler”
• “Path to Discovery”
• “Saving Gotham City”
• “Genesis of the Bat”
• Confidential Files
• Art Gallery

• Collectible 72-Page Comic


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 4, 2005)

Although it made $107 million at the box office, most people view 1997’s Batman and Robin as a bomb. For one, Robin took in $55 million less than the next-lowest-grossing flick in the series, 1992’s Batman Returns. In addition, virtually no one liked it. The flick made about 40 percent of its final gross during its opening weekend. Once word of mouth got around, it collapsed.

It also darn near killed the franchise. The Batman flicks took seven years off to give movie-goers time to forget the bad taste left in their mouth with Robin. Rather than continue the series in a “business as usual” way, the next film would reinvent things with a return to the start.

That means a glimpse of Batman’s early years and a look at how he became the Caped Crusader. 1989’s Batman alluded to some of this information and gives us a cursory “origin story”, but for a full exploration of this area, we have to check out 2005’s Batman Begins.

The film’s first act depicts a few different facets of Bruce Wayne’s life. These occur in a non-linear fashion, but to make this synopsis more readable, I’ll place them in chronological order.

We meet an eight-year-old Bruce (Gus Lewis) and see some seminal events. First, he falls in a hole and gets surrounded by bats, an incident that causes a deep-seated fear of those beasts. Next, after a depiction of bats in an opera scares him, Bruce gets his parents (Linus Roache and Sara Stewart) to take him out of the concert hall. As they leave, a street crook named Joe Chill (Richard Brake) robs them. This goes awry and ends in the shooting deaths of the elder Waynes.

Unsurprisingly, this leaves psychological scars on Bruce. When we meet a college-aged Bruce (Christian Bale), he returns to Gotham City to attend a parole hearing for Chill. It turns out that he was a cellmate for crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and will trade testimony for an early release. Bruce plans to shoot Chill but one of Falcone’s underlings beats him to the punch.

Bruce’s childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) – now an assistant to the Gotham DA – tells him that the real roots of Gotham’s problems lie with the Falcones of the town, not the Chills. Bruce confronts Falcone, but the crime boss dismisses the wealthy youngster because he knows the kid has no understanding of the underworld.

Bruce sets out to gain those experiences. He renounces all the privilege that the Wayne name brings and makes an anonymous trek. Eventually he ends up in an Asian prison where Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) approaches him. Ducard works as the representative of Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), the leader of a vigilante organization called the League of Shadows. Ducard promises Bruce that they can help train him to be a more effective tool against crime.

Bruce takes up this work and becomes a star pupil under Ducard’s tutelage. He earns a spot in the League but balks at the final test. Ducard orders him to execute a criminal, a task that Bruce refuses as he doesn’t see this as justice. This launches a brawl that kills Ra’s and almost snuffs Ducard as well. Bruce narrowly saves his unconscious mentor and splits before his tutor awakes.

From there Bruce heads back to Gotham to take on crime in his own way. Thus starts the linear portion of the film as he reclaims his stake at Wayne Enterprises and also launches an ambitious plan to wreak havoc among the lowlifes of Gotham. The latter enterprise occupies most of the screentime as we see Bruce’s plans come to fruition. Bruce lets longtime Wayne Manor butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) in on his plans and makes his old pal part of the program.

In addition, Bruce takes on a role in an obscure part of Wayne Enterprises so he can access the armor and weaponry he’ll need. He works with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to obtain and modify what he wants, and this leads to a formidable arsenal.

With all that at work, Bruce becomes the Batman, a dark force who quickly strikes fear in the hearts of Gothan lowlifes. He impresses some with his capture of Falcone, but Commissioner Loeb (Colin McFarlane) sees him as a vigilante and wants him captured. At least Bats has one cop on his side: Sgt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), the same officer who comforted young Bruce after his parents’ death.

The movie mostly follows a story related to attempts to poison the populace of Gotham. Led by the Scarecrow, the evil alter ego of court psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), a psychotropic powder will be placed into the water supply of the city and then dehydrated to literally eradicate the citizens with fear. Eventually we learn that a mysterious figure runs the show from behind the scenes and uses both Crane and Falcone as his pawns. Naturally, Batman wants to stop this, so the flick shows us how he attempts to save Gotham.

As a longtime Batphile, I really looked forward to Begins. Arguably, it stood at the top of my “must see” list for 2005, though Revenge of the Sith was on about the same level. While not a perfect Batman movie, Begins mostly lived up to expectations.

First the bad:

1) Katie Holmes. While beautiful, she takes a completely inappropriate approach to Rachel. She makes the character smug and condescending. Because of this, it becomes awfully tough to see why Bruce cares what she thinks; she’s so self-righteous that you want him to tell her to take a hike. Holmes also lacks maturity and force in the part. In her hands, Rachel’s not a strong adult woman; instead she becomes a pouty girl upset her daddy didn’t buy her a new convertible for Sweet Sixteen.

2) The first act. Of course, the movie needed to tell some of the origin story. In fact, with a title like Batman Begins, it required more of an emphasis on the character’s start than I’d expect from other movies of this sort. The name implies it’ll follow how he came to be Batman, so I welcome a longer take on his beginnings.

But not quite this long. Actually, it’s not the length that makes the film’s first act a bit tedious. It’s the sluggish pacing and the awkward time-related transitions. I admire the movie’s attempts to avoid the standard chronology, but they don’t work especially well here. Maybe that’s because it become more difficult to figure out when the flick will skip the preliminaries and get us to the real action that we want to see.

3) Cockney Alfred? I understand a desire to make Alfred a little rough and tumble, but I think prior incarnations of the role worked just fine. This one seems a little off to me, as he lacks the polish to make sense as a butler.

4) Changes made to the origin story. My biggest complaints relate to the relationship between Bruce and Joe Chill. In the comics, he got away with the murder of Bruce’s parents; it wasn’t until years later that Batman tracked down Chill and dealt with him. That was much more interesting than the crook’s easy capture and convenient demise here. He gets Jack Ruby’d and that’s it.

I get that the movie wants to leave Bruce without the feeling of satisfaction he may have received from pulling the trigger himself, but it feels too convenient in a couple of ways. First, it ensures that Bruce doesn’t become a killer, and second, it creates a connection to Falcone. Frankly, Falcone’s a pretty unnecessary character in the first place, but even so, we don’t need him tied to Bruce in this way. I guess this is all better than the lame way Batman made the Joker the killer of Bruce’s parents, though.

And now the good:

1) Pretty much everything else.

That may sound like too much praise, but it’s true. Once Bruce returns to Gotham, the movie rarely makes any missteps. It immediately becomes significantly more interesting and picks up its pace to a terrific degree. I get the feeling director Christopher Nolan felt relieved that the preliminaries were out of the way and he could move on to the meat of the tale.

Or perhaps I’m confusing my own sentiments with the director’s. When Bruce’s plane sets down in Gotham and act two formally launches, though, I do experience a serious sigh of relief that the preliminaries are finally done and we can actually get on with the action.

Granted, we still get some preparatory action at that point. After all, Bruce doesn’t return to Gotham already set up as Bats. He needs to get the mechanics of that alter ego in place. Somehow these seem much more interesting to me than the activities in the first act. Maybe it’s because I can sense we’re closer to actual Bat-action, but I think it’s cool to see Bruce go through all the issues connected to formally turning himself into a superhero.

The move rarely lets up after that. To a degree, the story gets lost along the way, but that’s a complaint one can apply to all the Batman movies. I’m not sure that the narrative matters all that much anyway. The Batman flicks aren’t particularly plot-driven. Their tales exist to give us lots of dark action and colorful baddies. What happens within those stories is simply a means to an end, and that’s definitely the case here.

One might criticize Begins for its lack of a relatively strong Bat-nemesis. Indeed, you’ll find no one as interesting as the Joker, the Penguin or the Catwoman here. The movie realizes the Scarecrow well, and Cillian Murphy’s performance makes him surprisingly effective. It’s cool to have a villain who’s so unintimidating physically. Scrawny Murphy looks like a good gust of wind would blow him down the street, but he manages to infuse the character with enough menace and bravado to make it work.

Not that he has a ton to do, however, and the film’s structure requires it to obscure the identity of the real main villain until well into the third act. Surprisingly, none of this matters. Prior Batman movies relied heavily on their baddies to carry the stories, but this one doesn’t. That comes as a positive since it lets us concentrate on other issues.

The excellent work of Christian Bale certainly makes all of this fly more effectively. He captures all sides of the role very well. Not only does he come across as a menacing and powerful Batman, but he fills out Bruce better than any of his predecessors. I especially like the way he shows Bruce’s fake playboy side. Those parts got lost in prior Batman flicks, but Bale realizes them nicely.

He also presents true depth in the part. Check out the scene in which he acts the fool at a society function with his two supermodel dates. When he encounters Rachel, he immediately sobers up – to a degree. He doesn’t negate his earlier silliness, but we can sense his regret that he needs to put on this face and look like an idiot in front of his longtime friend. Bale delivers real dimensionality in the role and gives us these feelings without overstatement. I don’t want to say he’s the best Batman/Bruce to date – I always really like Michael Keaton – but he may well earn that status.

An absolutely top-notch cast helps support Bale well. Except for Holmes, I can’t find a dog in the bunch. I may not care for the whole Cockney Alfred choice, but I can’t fault Caine’s performance in other ways. He doesn’t act like the Alfred of the comics, but he fleshes out the role with life and verve.

Freeman does exceedingly well with a small part. Heck, I thought he made a greater impression here than he did during his Oscar-winning role in the tiresome Million Dollar Baby. Usually when Freeman “slums it” in blockbusters, he phones in his performance. Not so his turn as Fox. He looks like he’s having a ball in the role and makes the part much more memorable than it should have been.

Oldman may well be the best of the supporting bunch. We’re so accustomed to seeing him play over the top, outrageous characters that it’s a little strange to watch him as a straight arrow. Oldman reins in his hammy tendencies to make Gordon believable and warm. I like the way the film depicts the burgeoning relationship between Gordon and Batman and look forward to further developments in future movies.

Actually, I look forward to pretty much everything in future movies – at least in the next one. Who knows – maybe it’ll stink and sour me on the renewed franchise. I doubt it, as I expect the second flick to top this one; with all the origin stuff out of the way, it can dig into its story with more gusto.

Until then, I’ll just have to remain happy with Batman Begins. At this point, I can’t – or won’t – call it the best of the bunch. I really loved Batman and Batman Returns, so I won’t negate years of enjoyment – and many, many viewings – by a declaration of allegiance to a flick I’ve only seen twice. That said, it delivers the goods and may well eventually earn the title of Best Batman Ever.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A/ Bonus B+

Batman Begins appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though most of the movie looked good, a few issues kept it from greatness.

Sharpness seemed pretty positive. The image usually came across as nicely distinct and detailed. However, light edge enhancement permeated the transfer and sporadically rendered it a little on the soft side. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and the movie appeared free of any form of defects. Some grain existed but no other distractions occurred.

No one expects a light and lively palette from a Batman movie – well, except for Joel Schumacher – and the tones of Begins match those thoughts. Did any bright colors pop up here? Perhaps, but I find it tough to recall them outside of maybe some tops worn by Holmes. In any case, the movie replicated the hues accurately, and the colors delivered the dark production design well. Black levels came across as deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not overly thick. Ultimately, Batman Begins was a little too soft to be a top-notch transfer, but it satisfied most of the time.

I encountered almost no reason to complain about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Batman Begins. From start to finish, the movie featured a dynamic auditory experience. The soundfield was wonderfully broad and immersive. It created a smooth environment in which all the action occurred. In addition to the expected solid stereo presence of the score, the effects formed a terrific feeling of realism. They were always appropriately placed in the spectrum and they blended together well. Panning was smooth and tight, and localization seemed great.

All five speakers blasted audio much of the time. Given all the action sequences, those offered the most attention, and they lived up to expectations. The surrounds both bolstered the front environment and also presented more than a little unique information. They helped give us a good 360-degree setting in which to experience the action. Check out the Batmobile chase and the climax on the train for the movie’s best segments.

Audio quality delivered the goods as well. Although some of the lines in the early training scenes seemed a little metallic, they were anomalies. Otherwise speech was consistently clear and natural, and I never noticed any signs of edginess. Music was bright and bold, and effects delivered a strong punch. Those elements were always tight and crisp. Bass response was particularly good. I noticed no overwhelming low-end that disrupted the proceedings. Instead, the bass complimented the mix and enlivened the action. This was a vivid and dynamic track the embellished the movie.

We find a mix of extras inside this two-disc “Deluxe Edition” of Batman Begins. First we confront a disappointment: no audio commentary. This surprised me since director Christopher Nolan chatted over Insomnia and Memento, his two prior films. I don’t know why he didn’t provide a commentary here.

That leaves most of the supplements on DVD Two. All we get on Disc One are the flick’s trailer and a spoof called Tankman Begins. This five-minute and 10-second comedy piece aired at the start of the 2005 MTV Movie Awards. It focuses on Jimmy Fallon but also features an appearance by Andy Dick. It’s not funny at all, though I’m happy it’s here as a footnote.

When we head to Disc Two, we find an unusually cool format. We flip through the extras via an Exclusive Interactive Comic. Each menu screen presents parts of a story that pits Batman against the Scarecrow. This comes out in a smooth manner and offers a lot of fun.

The majority of DVD Two’s attractions come from its eight featurettes. We open with one called The Journey Begins. This 14-minute and 10-second show offers the usual set of movie clips, behind the scenes elements and interviews. We hear from director Christopher Nolan, co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, production designer Nathan Crowley, producers Charles Roven and Emma Thomas, actor Christian Bale, and fight arranger David Forman.

The show covers Nolan’s and Goyer’s interest in the character, developing the material and choosing the movie’s subjects, secrecy around the project, casting the main character and supporting roles, and Bale’s approach to the role and physical training. A bit of puffery occurs when those involved discuss the supporting roles, but overall this piece includes a lot of good notes. I especially like the information about the scriptwriting as well as the parts that concern Bale’s training.

Next we get Cape and Cowl. The eight-minute and 10-second featurette involves Nolan, Bale, Goyer, costume designer Lindy Hemming, costume FX supervisor Graham Churchyard, and actor Gary Oldman. We learn about the design and creation of Batman’s costume as well as how it worked day-to-day. We get nice insights into their choices and intentions as this show provides a solid exploration of costume-related topics.

With Gotham City Rises, we find a 12-minute and 43-second program with comments from Nolan, Bale, Crowley, Thomas, Roven, visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin, director of photographer Wally Pfister, Cardington supervising art director Steven Lawrence, producer Larry Franco and special effects supervisor Chris Corbould. It discusses the look and building of the movie’s version of Gotham. We learn what the participants wanted to do with the urban visuals as well as places like Wayne Manor and the Batcave along with the methods used to execute these. The program gets into a deep exploration of inspirations and choices along with the technical issues to create a vivid program.

Path to Discovery goes for 14 minutes and nine seconds. During it, we get notes from Nolan, Goyer, Crowley, Bale, Pfister, Franco, Thomas, Corbould, actor Liam Neeson, stunt coordinator Paul Jennings, stunt performers Buster Reeves and Mark Mottram, and art director Susan Whitaker. It digs into the sets and locations used to create the Himalayan monastery setting used in the first act. We hear a lot about the challenges related to shooting in Iceland; I particularly like the tales about filming on a melting lake. The show gives us another informative and rich take on its subjects.

For the 12-minute and 45-second Shaping Mind and Body, we encounter information from Nolan, Bale, Jennings, Forman, Neeson, This one goes over the movie’s fight sequence. We learn about the Keysi method featured in the flick along with choreography and execution of the hand-to-hand pieces. We also gets notes about training and rehearsals as well as choices made in the cutting and photography of the fights. As usual, this one covers its material well and develops the topics effectively.

On screen 11, highlight “ripped from the pages” and hit “enter”. This presents a featurette called Genesis of the Bat. It fills 14 minutes and 50 seconds with remarks from Nolan, Goyer, DC Comics president and publisher Paul Levitz, DC Comics editor Bob Schreck, comics writer Denny O’Neil, Wildstorm artist and editorial director Jim Lee, and DC VP/executive editor Dan Didio. We hear about what the writers wanted to do with the comics’ history, collaborating with DC and influences, the roots of some characters, and changes over the years. This doesn’t attempt a full history of the Batman comics. Instead, it prefers to focus on the effects the comics had on the movie, which makes it pretty tight. It’s not one of the better featurettes on this DVD, but it gets into matters with reasonable effectiveness.

As you might expect, The Tumbler focuses on the new Batmobile. The 13-minute and 35-second piece offers details from Nolan, Bale, Pfister, Oldman, Crowley, Goyer, Corbould, Jennings, special effects workshop supervisor Andrew Smith, stunt performers George Cottle, George Peters and Dean Bailey, and actor Katie Holmes. We find information about the reimagining of the vehicle and how they made it. The program goes over initial considerations and their development into reality. We also see tests and shooting the vehicle. I must admit I’m not wild about the Tumbler, but at least I can better appreciate its design via this show’s nice exploration of its look and build.

For the final featurette, Saving Gotham City lasts 12 minutes and 55 seconds. It gives us comments from Nolan, Corbould, Holmes, Jennings, Reeves, Pfister, Lawrence, miniature unit supervisor Steve Begg, sequence lead – Double Negative Matthew Twyford, and visual effects supervisor Janek Sirrs. “City” focuses entirely on the movie’s climatic sequence. (That means you’ll want to skip this if you’ve not already seen the film, but really, who’d be dopey enough to examine the extras for a movie they’ve never seen?). We get information about the practical and computer effects used to execute the end scene and all its components. These also include stunts and photographic elements. As always, the program gives us a solid exploration of its topics and proves quite useful.

You’ll get to an Art Gallery if you click “down” from “Genesis” to highlight “A Jungian archetype come to life”. This breaks into three areas. “US” shows nine American ad pieces, while “International” offers 14 promo pieces used in other areas. “Explorations” presents 40 ad ideas that weren’t utilized. It’s the most interesting of the three areas, but I like all of them.

Strewn throughout the various screens, you’ll find Confidential Files. These text elements provide notes about Batman’s hardware – including the Tumbler, his cape and suit, and his utility belt – as well as friends and foes. To access them, simply look for connected words in the comic book text. For instance, if you see “Rachel”, that’ll take you to her biography. You can find the other components attached to the ones you choose. These offer nice details about the various elements.

By the way, if the presentation of these components annoys you, simply skip ahead to the final screen. It offers an icon that lets you see an index of all the various features.

The disc also presents some not-too-hidden Easter Eggs. On the second screen, there’s only one icon available. Press “enter” to see a 113-second clip with co-writer Goyer. He gives us fun anecdotes about research and secrecy for the movie.

From the fourth menu screen, do the same thing. (You won’t see an obvious icon, but just press “down” and hit “enter”.) This opens a 61-second piece with visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin. He shows us a concept clip that contrasts Bale as Batman with a digital Dark Knight.

The third egg appears on the seventh screen. Go “left” from “Tumbler” to access two minutes, 25 seconds of test footage for the car, the cape and stunt concepts.

Finally, a non-disc-based component arrives. We get a collectible 72-page comic. This piece includes three separate stories. We find the original “Bat-Man” story from 1939’s issue 27 of Detective Comics as well as 1989’s “The Man Who Falls” and 1996’s “The Long Halloween”. The relevance of “The Bat-Man” is obvious. The other two appear because they were big influences on the screenwriters. This compilation comes with high-quality reproduction and offers a nice bonus.

Ask me in five years where Batman Begins ranks among the other flicks. Right now I still prefer the two Tim Burton efforts, but I may feel differently a few years down the road. Begins starts a little slowly, but it quickly picks up steam and stands as a very strong effort overall. The DVD offers very good picture along with excellent audio and a nice collection of extras. The absence of an audio commentary or deleted scenes disappoints, but at least the featurettes give us a positive view of the production.

I strongly recommend Batman Begins as both a movie and a DVD. This is a fine package for a terrific movie that will undoubtedly offer lots of replay value. Warner Bros. produced two versions of the DVD, though, so the question becomes which one to get.

This shouldn’t be much of a dilemma. The single-disc Begins retails for a mere $2 less than this Deluxe Edition. That makes it a no-brainer. Unless you don’t care at all about extras and can find the movie-only release for a substantially lower price, definitely go for this satisfying Deluxe Edition.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4552 Stars Number of Votes: 134
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