Batman 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. Although a few minor issues cropped up at times, most of the time this new transfer looked very good.
Sharpness created only modest concerns. On a few brief occasions, wide shots came across as slightly ill-defined. Those remained minor and without much negative impact. The movie usually appeared crisp and distinctive. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and I also detected no edge enhancement. Source flaws were minor. Occasional specks popped up, but I’d estimate not more than 10 throughout the course of the film. Otherwise it was clean and without problems.
Colors worked well. Given the flick’s darkness, it didn’t enjoy a dynamic palette; most of the more prominent hues emanated from the Joker’s wardrobe and accessories. The movie depicted those with fine fidelity and dimensionality, and all tones came across as accurate and full. Blacks were dense and firm, while low light shots – of which we found many – seemed smooth and appropriately opaque. This transfer fell just short of excellence and was consistently satisfying.
For this new special edition, Batman boasts both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I thought the DTS mix added a little more pep to the proceedings and was slightly richer and more dynamic. However, the improvements were minor and I didn’t think there was a tremendous difference. Because of that, I gave both tracks the same “B+” grade.
For a flick from 1989, the audio worked well. The soundfield largely stayed anchored to the front channels, and there I heard a nice array of music and effects. Danny Elfman’s operatic score showed fine stereo separation across the forward speakers, and the surrounds added some reinforcement to those elements.
Effects provided a good spectrum through the front channels; elements blended together nicely and they panned cleanly and smoothly. Surround usage was good for these aspects of the track. I detected no split-surround elements, but the rears kicked in with a strong level of reinforcement during the action sequences, and these complemented these scenes well.
Audio quality has some concerns, but it generally seemed to be positive. Dialogue stayed acceptably natural and distinct. I detected no concerns related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects showed a little distortion during shots with gunfire or explosions, but they generally came across as accurate and realistic. For those elements, bass response was occasionally boomy, but the low-end packed a solid punch.
Music also appeared to be nicely robust and bright. Elfman’s score demonstrated fine power and range, and Prince’s songs also were fairly clear and broad. Ultimately, the soundtrack for Batman showed its age at times but I found it to offer a surprisingly robust and involving experience for a somewhat older movie.
How did the picture and audio of this DVD compare to those of the original DVD? In general, the audio remained about the same. The DTS mix created a marginally more dynamic setting but I didn’t think the new disc’s audio was a marked improvement on the old disc’s track.
On the other hand, the visuals were a completely different matter. The new transfer offered a radical improvement on the somewhat murky and messy original disc. It cleaned up defects and presented tighter definition and stronger blacks. The 2005 Batman gave us a much more appealing picture.
I’ve wanted a special edition of Batman for years. In fact, when I first got into laserdiscs in 1991, I even sent a letter to Criterion – almost the sole purveyor of special releases at the time – with a request for them to handle the movie.
That never happened, but finally this DVD gives me a special edition for Batman. On Disc One, we get the film’s trailer along with an audio commentary from director Tim Burton. He presents a running, screen-specific affair, though clearly some editing occurred to tighten up his remarks.
Fans know that Burton often needs tightening. Many folks viewed the prospect of a Burton commentary with some apprehension, as his prior tracks have been awfully hit or miss. Burton’s Batman discussion drags at times, but it usually fleshes out the material pretty well.
Burton starts with notes about the design of the opening credits and then moves through other issues. He talks about casting and characters, the flick’s tone and connections to the comics, sets and shooting in Pinewood Studios, music, pressures and his physical state at the time, and reactions to the film.
As expected, Burton goes silent on occasion, a tendency that increases as the movie progresses. He also periodically repeats himself. Despite these flaws, the commentary usually works well. Maybe I like it because I’ve waited 14 years to hear it, but when I try to view it objectively, I still think it offers a pretty informative look at the production. Burton will never be a great commentator, but he’s improved a lot over the years.
As we move to DVD Two, we open with a 40-minute and 27-second documentary called Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman. Narrated by Mark Hamill, it offers archival materials and interviews. We discover chats with writer Harlan Ellison, filmmaker Kevin Smith, writer/historians Mark Cotta Vaz and Les Daniels, writer/producers Paul Dini, Jeph Loeb and Michael E. Uslan, Batman creator Bob Kane and wife Elizabeth Sanders Kane, writer/artists Frank Miller and Mike Mignola, comic book king Stan Lee, editor/writer Denny O’Neil, DC Comics editorial VP Dan DiDio, writer Geoff Johns, DC Comics president/publisher Paul Levitz, former DC Comics president/editor Jenette Kahn, producers Eric Radomski and Paul Timm, and artists Brian Bolland and Alex Ross.
“Legends” looks at the origins of comic books and superheroes as well as how Batman came to be. We hear about creator Bob Kane’s work and that of others who followed him, facets of the character and others involved in the series, Batman in other media like movies, radio and TV, and changes and evolution in all these areas over the years.
It’s those elements that work the best. The introduction to the characters seems a little perfunctory, but once we get into the problems experienced in the comics industry during the Fifties, the show really gets good. The program digs into those issues well along with the changes made to the series in the comics over the years. It’s especially good to hear folks like O’Neil and Miller discuss what they wanted to do when they worked on Batman, and I like the notes about specific Bat-stories. This all adds up to a nice synopsis of Batman’s history.
A short piece entitled On the Set with Bob Kane lasts two minutes, 25 seconds. This 1989 featurette indeed shows some clips of Kane during the movie shoot as he chats about his character. Look at this largely as a promotional piece, though, as it exists to tout the flick and lacks much depth.
Next comes Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Parts 1-3. (Chapters 4-6 will follow on the three subsequent Bat-DVDs.) When viewed together via the “Play All” option, these run a total of 71 minutes and 35 seconds. They offer the usual behind the scenes materials, movie clips, and interviews. We get comments from Burton, Uslan, Lee, Kane, Dini, Miller, Elizabeth Sanders Kane, Kahn, Besman, Smith, Dini, producers Mark Canton and Peter Guber, executive producer Benjamin Melniker, Superman story consultant Tom Mankiewicz, screenwriter Sam Hamm, VP of Production Michael Besman, casting director Marion Dougherty, co-producer Chris Kenny, 2nd unit director Peter MacDonald, director of photography Roger Pratt, composer Danny Elfman, and actors Robert Wuhl, Michael Keaton, Billy Dee Williams, Kim Basinger, Jack Nicholson, Sean Young, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, and Tracey Walter.
The program covers the very long path Batman took back to the big screen and related issues, the project’s tone and various proposals, Burton’s arrival on the flick and its subsequent development. From there we go through work on the script, casting, shooting in England and Burton’s style on the set, various pressures, aspects of different sequences and changes along the way, the music, the movie’s marketing and promotion, and its reception and legacy.
As a teen comics fan in the early Eighties, I remember all the talk about a new Batman movie, so I really like the parts about the flick’s long development; it’s cool to know what was going on behind the scenes while we geeks waited anxiously. We also get a great look at various controversies, especially in regard to Keaton’s casting; the program doesn’t pull punches and pretend that everyone involved thought this was a great thing. I like that we learn of Hamm’s opposition to making the Joker the killer of Bruce’s parents, and many candid notes appear.
The presence of so many important participants acts as a real plus, too. I was very happily surprised to see Nicholson here, and it’s exceedingly cool that original Vicki Vale Sean Young pops up here too. And she provides a rather negative spin as she chats about what a bad effect leaving the movie had on her career. The show ends with an extended glimpse of all the hype around the flick and related elements.
If I had to pick a flaw, it’d be a lack of concentration on the film’s actual creation. We don’t get much of a look at the production itself. However, the rest of it’s excellent. I hope the other three chapters of this piece are as good as parts 1-3, for this is a consistently involving and compelling documentary.
Under the banner of Profile Galleries, we get two collections. “The Heroes” looks at Batman, Vicki Vale, Alexander Knox, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent; it goes for 12 minutes, 25 seconds. “The Villains” examines “The Joker” and “Bob the Goon”; it takes up seven minutes, 12 seconds. In these quick features, we get notes from O’Neil, DiDio, Miller, Bolland, Ross, Uslan, Hamm, Burton, Smith, Basinger, Mignola, Wuhl, Nicholson, Dini, Hingle, Williams, Dougherty and Walter.
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. These are a fun complement to the longer programs and add nice material.
In a “documentary gallery” referred to as Beyond Batman, we find six featurettes. If we “Play All”, they fill a total of 50 minutes and 25 seconds. They include “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”, and “Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman”. We get remarks from Guber, Pratt, Burton, Kenny, Elfman, Williams, Basinger, Hamm, MacDonald, Nicholson, Mankiewicz, Walter, set decorator Peter Young, art director Terry Ackland-Snow, supervising art director Les Tomkins, art director Nigel Phelps, assistant costume designer Graham Churchyard, special effects supervisor John Evans, costume effects supervisor Vin Burnham, Batsuit wrangler Day Murch, makeup designer Nick Dudman, and orchestrator Steve Bartek.
As you might guess from the featurette titles, these cover the film’s look and visual design, conceptualizing and putting together the Batmobile and its use in the film, physical props and elements, ideas and execution of the Batsuit, Nicholson’s take on the Joker and his makeup/costume, and the flick’s score. They help eliminate my complaints that “Shadows” doesn’t discuss much about the film’s production. They dig into their subjects with terrific detail and offer lots of solid information about the nuts and bolts of the movie. These fill out the production nicely and are a lot of fun to watch.
Three Prince Music Videos appear. We find clips for “Batdance”, “Partyman” and “Scandalous”. Most videos for songs from movies do little more than intersperse cheesy lip-synch shots with clips from the film, but these are substantially more creative. Actually, “Scandalous” is a little dull, as it just focuses on a gyrating Prince, but the other two are a lot of fun. And not a single movie snippet appears!
Although the DVD includes no actual deleted scenes, we do see The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence. This tells us that the filmmakers briefly planned a quick intro to Robin. We see a four-minute storyreel that shows this scene. I’m glad they dropped it, as I don’t think it’d have fit the final film well, but it’s sure fun to see. By the way, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill from the Batman animated series do their voices here, which adds a nice touch.
After 16 years, I continue to love Batman. No, it doesn’t have the same hold over me it maintained when it first appeared, but I continue to be very fond of it, and I think it’s one of the best action films ever made. The DVD presents very good picture and sound along with a terrific roster of extras that flesh out the production exceedingly well.
I definitely recommend this new 2-DVD release for all folks with an interest in Batman. It greatly improves upon the picture quality of the old disc, and it adds a surfeit of great supplements. It’s a fine re-release that’s well worth the money.