Batman Returns appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A consistently solid transfer, I found little about which to complain.
From start to finish, sharpness was excellent. Virtually no softness marred the presentation, as it consistently seemed crisp and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. A handful of print flaws were apparent, though. I saw specks and grit here and there, though not with any significant frequency.
Colors looked terrific. Because it took place at Christmas, Returns boasted a more varied palette than did the first movie, and these tones were rich and distinctive. Black levels appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail seemed to be very strong. Only the source defects caused any distractions, and they almost led me to give Returns a “B+”. However, I thought the rest of the transfer was so positive that even with the specks, it merited an “A-“.
In addition to the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, Batman Returns boasted a DTS 5.1 mix. As was the case with the special edition for Batman, the two tracks on Returns sounded a lot alike. I thought the DTS edition was marginally bolder and more dynamic, but it didn’t improve matters enough to warrant a higher grade.
Besides, both presented very good audio. Officially, Returns was the first movie to hit screens with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix; unofficially, 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the initial DD offering, for it was used as a “test case”. Anyway, the mix for Returns still worked pretty well.
The soundfield appeared nicely broad and engrossing. The forward spectrum dominated the affair, as I heard a lot of well-defined and accurately placed audio throughout the film. Elements panned cleanly across speakers and the entire package blended together neatly.
Surround usage seemed to be fairly active and involving. Music emanated from all five channels, and the rear speakers also added a nice layer of reinforcement to action scenes. Some solid split-surround usage occurred, such as when motorcycles would pan from front to rear. All in all, the soundfield aptly served the film.
Audio quality was good. Dialogue was consistently distinct and accurate, and outside of a few lines from the Penguin, I noticed no edginess. Effects presented positive dynamic range and sounded clear and realistic. Music was nicely dynamic and bold, as Danny Elfman’s score showed the strongest elements of the mix. Overall, dynamics seemed good, with tight, lively bass. The audio for Batman Returns provided a satisfying experience.
How did the picture and audio of this DVD compare to those of the original DVD? Both offered improvements. The picture was tighter and bolder, with better definition and clarity all around the board. The audio also seemed a little more concise and better integrated. This edition offers a definite upgrade compared to the prior set.
When I wrote my review for the new Batman special edition, I noted that I’d waited for such a release since 1991. I’ve wanted a feature-filled look at Returns for nearly as long, so I’m glad to finally receive this two-disc Special Edition.
DVD One offers the movie’s theatrical trailer as well as another audio commentary with director Tim Burton. He provides a running, screen-specific chat. Burton follows up his pretty solid Batman track with another mostly nice look at his film.
Actually, I think the Returns commentary improves on the Batman track. Most of the time Burton discusses the actors. We get some casting notes but he usually focuses on how they worked in the roles and what they brought to the parts. He explains why Batman/Bruce Wayne don’t have a lot of screen time in his two movies and digs into actor/character notes well.
In addition, Burton goes over the change of studio location from England to LA and the issues that came along with that as well as the added pressure that went with a sequel to a hit. He also gets into the usual nuts and bolts like stunts, visual effects, music, and script concerns. Burton addresses the complications that came with such a large cast of characters plus some logistical areas.
Every Burton solo commentary suffers from some dead air, and that trend continues here. However, there’s not a lot of it; indeed, he yaks more here than he does during the Batman discussion. Burton fills the vast majority of the piece with solid notes about the movie and his experiences. This adds up to a useful and informative commentary.
Over on DVD Two, we open with a 21-minute and 50-second program called The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin. Hosted by Robert Urich, this piece originally aired in 1992 to promote the movie. It offers the standard repertoire of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Burton, whip trainer Anthony DeLongis, co-costume designer Mary Vogt, costume designer Bob Ringwood, Batman creator Bob Kane, animal trainer Gary Gero, special penguin makeup effects supervisor Stan Winston, production designer Bo Welch, producer Denise Di Novi, and actors Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Danny De Vito. The show covers facets of the various performances and characters, and elements of the shoot such as managing the real penguins, creating fake penguins, and new sets and toys.
Make no mistake: “Bat” existed to get people to see the movie. Within that genre, though, it’s not bad. Sure, it includes tons of film clips and comes short on insight, but it makes up for these with some nice shots from the set. These glimpses behind the scenes are good enough to make up for the banal nature of so much of the rest of the piece.
A continuation of a series started on the Batman DVD, Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 4 lasts 30 minutes and 10 seconds. It includes remarks from Burton, Keaton, Di Novi, De Vito, Pfeiffer, screenwriters Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm, casting director Marion Dougherty, actor Sean Young, producer Mark Canton, co-producer Larry Franco, director of photography Stephan Czapsky, and editor Chris Lebenzon.
The show gets into expanding Batman for the sequel and developing the script and characters, and Burton’s reluctance to do the second film. We learn why Robin remained absent and Burton’s take on Batman as well as bringing back returning actors and casting new ones. We hear about their views of their roles and also go over Sean Young’s disastrous attempt to get the Catwoman role. We find notes about preparation for the flick and the impact of merchandizing, sets and the atmosphere during the shoot, various tales from the production, post-production concerns and reactions to the film.
I loved “Shadows” Parts 1-3 on the Batman DVD, and that was a tough act to follow. Part 4 lasts less than half as long as that piece, so it comes as no surprise that it’s not as good. This one seems a bit more superficial and doesn’t delve as deeply into the various issues. For instance, why do we get no information about Christopher Walken’s casting?
Relative disappointments aside, this is a pretty solid look at the different subjects. It covers the requisite topics well and offers an entertaining glance at them. I don’t think it investigates the film as richly as I’d like, but I think it works fine overall.
Under the banner of Profile Galleries, we get two collections. “The Heroes” looks at “Batman” and “Alfred”; it goes for six minutes, 55 seconds. “The Villains” examines “Catwoman”, “The Penguin” and “Max Shreck”; it takes up 11 minutes, eight seconds. In these quick features, we get notes from Burton, De Vito, Keaton, Waters, Dougherty, Pfeiffer, Kane, author Kim Newman, Batman: The Animated Series writer/producer Paul Dini, comic artist Alex Ross, DC Comics editorial VP Dan DiDio, actors Michael Gough and Christopher Walken, writer/artist Mike Mignola, filmmaker Kevin Smith, executive producer Michael Uslan, Teen Titans writer Geoff Johns, and Animated Series producer Bruce Timm.
These snippets look at the characters in the comics and delve into aspects of their portrayal in the flick. The pieces tend to be a little scattershot, but they offer quite a few good notes. Happily, the “Batman” entry doesn’t just repeat elements from the same section on the first DVD; it gets into different sides of things. These are a fun complement to the longer programs and add nice material. I especially like the abandoned story connection between Shreck and Penguin.
In a “documentary gallery” referred to as Beyond Batman, we find six featurettes. If we “Play All”, they fill a total of 65 minutes and 35 seconds. They include “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 Returns”, and “Inside the Elfman Studios: The Music of Batman Returns”. These include notes from Burton, Di Novi, Welch, Franco, Czapsky, Vogt, Ringwood, De Vito, Keaton, Pfeiffer, Winston, Gero, supervising art director Tom Duffield, costume effects supervisor Vin Burnham, Batsuit sculptor Steve Wang, costume effects Alli Eynon, Batsuit wrangler Day Murch, costume coordinator Randy Gardell, Penguin makeup designers Shane Mahan and Mark “Crash” McCreety, key makeup artist Ve Neill, hair supervisor Yolanda Toussieng, emperor penguin trainer Richard Hill, visual effects supervisor Michael Fink, makeup artist Brian Penikas, Boss Films visual effects supervisor John Bruno, Matte World Digital visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, orchestrator Steve Bartek and composer Danny Elfman.
A listing of topics covered will seem redundant given the titles, but here goes anyway. “Beyond” digs into the movie’s visual elements and redesigns from the first film, sets, costumes, the Penguin’s makeup, issues related to real and fake penguins, various forms of visual effects, and the score.
While “Shadows” left me with some disappointment, no problems emerge during “Beyond”. These featurettes go into the various topics with great detail, as they leave few questions unanswered (other than “what was up with Burton’s ever-present beret?). Instead, they investigate the subjects with candor to become consistently informative and interesting programs.
We finish with a music video for “Face to Face” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. I liked the three Prince videos on the Batman DVD because they were untraditional for the genre; they included no shots from the movie. That’s not the case here, but the video manages to integrate the film clips in a fairly seamless manner. It’s not a great song or video, but it’s better than average in both departments.
After 13 years, I continue to love Batman Returns. I think it’s definitely the best of the series, and it’s probably the finest superhero flick ever made. Returns provided an exciting and rich experience that hasn’t been topped. The DVD adds excellent picture and audio along with some pretty interesting extras.
As was the case with the special edition for the first film, this recommendation is easy. Whether or not you have the prior DVD, you should pick up the special edition version. It offers improved visuals and a nice set of extras to become a fine upgrade.