Warner Bros. // 1989 // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 18th, 2009
Before there was the phenomenon of The Dark Knight there was the phenomenon of Jack Nicholson chewing scenery like a Craftsman riding mower. Now on Blu-ray!
Gotham City is dirty and crime-ridden and packed full of bizarre statues of men holding giant globes. But there is hope yet. There's a terrifying vigilante prowling the rooftops and he's got the criminals running scared. His name is Batman (Michael Keaton, Multiplicity) and he wears a stealthy, black rubber suit with a bright yellow badge on the front and he drives a car that came in first place in the Most Difficult to Parallel Park World Championships and he loves killing people. Loves it.
One night he drops a gangster named Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets) into a vat of Ecto Cooler, which turns him into the Joker, a maniacal mass murderer who's ultimate dream is to gas the Gotham populace to a Prince song. Aiding Batman in his quest to stop the Joker is Billy Dee Williams.
Granted, the Christopher Nolan Batman films have redefined what the character is capable of on the big screen, and when compared to those efforts, all the films that came before them, from this one on, fall woefully short. Yes, the breaks in canon and mythology that director Tim Burton implements are glaring in their audacity (the Joker's origin, his culpability in the Waynes' death, Batman's penchant for homicide). And, sure, the two Jacks (Nicholson and Palance) turn in a couple of the hammiest villain performances of all time.
But for all its shortcomings, Batman was and continues to be BIG-ASS FUN. Remember all that "Movie of the Decade" stuff from its 1989 theatrical run? Burton, Keaton, and company set the world on fire and no matter how it compares to the current, much-adored film treatments of Batman, give credit where it's due: It was this movie that gave Bats his groove back. Gone was the campiness that had defined the character's previous visual exploits, replaced with a gritty, dark interpretation that paved the way for homeboy's current credibility.
I've got a major nerd-love for this film, warts and all. Its visionary appeal is legendary, a nightmarish, gothic confluence of timelines, perfectly suit both Tim Burton's unique aesthetic and the alternate world that Batman inhabits. Plus...man, enough of this kind of talk. Here's why Batman is awesome and you know it:
1. Keaton. They guy didn't have the pretty boy looks of Clooney or the chiseled angst of Bale, but there can be no question as to his effectiveness in this role. To date, he also sports the best Batman voice, a fine mixture of gruffness and gravitas minus the gravel.
2. The Batmobile. What it lacks in maneuverability and practicality, the redesigned Batmobile was revolutionary in its sheer awesomeness. Come on the thing had shields! And hubcap grenades!
3. The cathedral. Why the city planners opted to build a gigantic church in the middle of Gotham that poses an obvious threat to low-flying aircraft and contains no elevator is beyond me, but who cares? Ramming bad guys' heads into the giant bells and tossing them to their deaths off the top ledges is cinematic nirvana!
4. Sword guy. Best fight of the movie: when Batman goes toe-to-toe with the dude dual-wielding the katanas and kicks him end over end. Least cool fight of the movie? Batman's showdown with the Joker, a one-sided, almost mean distribution of punishment that ends in the Joker having a gargoyle tied to his ankle. To this day, I still can't quite figure out the physics.
5. Bob the Goon. One of the best evil sidekicks of all time. His demise is probably the biggest laugh-getter of the flick.
The new 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is certainly a step over the standard DVD, but it's not a quantum leap of visual fidelity. The enhanced resolution does bring to life the startling imagery and the flamboyant colors of the Joker's makeup and the parade balloons and the vats of toxic waste really pop. While certainly the finest looking incarnation of the film, the Bat-Blu treatment falls shy of eye-popping. The sharp TrueHD 5.1 surround will bring Danny Elfman's legendary score and Prince's bodacious tunes to throbbing life.
Lots of extras, all recycled from the earlier Batman DVD special edition, but interesting nonetheless: Burton delivers a good commentary, though I don't think I've ever heard someone say "you know" so many times in a contiguous two hour block of time; the large batch of featurettes include a segmented version of the two-hour plus making-of documentary; a gallery of heroes and villains, another selection of short features ("Beyond Batman") looking at the production design, the Batmobile, the suit, the gadgets, the Joker makeup and the score; a large retrospective on Batman and the comic world; a ridiculous, deleted storyboard sequence featuring Robin's introduction; and, finally, four Prince music videos. All of this crammed onto one dual-layer Blu-ray disc, a testament the format's storage capabilities.
I didn't care for the packaging, a bulky "digibook" that will stick out in your display cabinet and doesn't sport enough interesting written content to justify its misshapenness.
The movie is dated and fans introduced into the feature film world of Bats through Nolan's project will likely scoff, but Batman still does it for me. The Blu-ray offers a modest upgrade in visual and audio quality.
I want you to tell all your friends: Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scene
* Music Videos