Our reviews of Batman: Special Edition (published October 18th, 2005), Batman: 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-Ray) (published May 18th, 2009), and Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology (Blu-Ray) (published March 10th, 2009) are also available.
The day was June 23rd 1989 and the most eagerly awaited genre film since Return of the Jedi was getting ready to take the box office by storm. Love it or hate it, Tim Burton's Batman was the "must see" movie of the summer.
We all know the story. Industrialist Bruce Wayne, who as a child watched his parents gunned down, leads a double life. By day bumbling and aloof bachelor at large. By night, he becomes Gotham City's dark knight—The Batman.
When I sat down to watch this disc, it was the first time I had seen the whole film in almost seven or eight years. Coming back to Batman, the biggest thing that I disliked about it the first time, to my mind, is now one of it's biggest assests. I am talking about the pace of the film. Burton is dealing with two very big characters and he wisely allows these characters time to breath and find their voice. It was a gutsy move and looking back I think it pays off. I was also struck by how well Batman holds up today. The design of the film has a retro kind of feel that gives it a quality of timelessness. Batman looks as though it could have been made yesterday or twenty years ago. In and of itself, that is a very impressive thing.
For all of the negative fan press Burton's selection of Michael Keaton got, he really was an inspired choice. Brooding, kinetic, edgy and self-effacing, Keaton mixes all of those traits together to form a complex character that gives the film it's backbone.
To counter Keaton's dark knight Burton used his masterstroke in casting. Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier AKA The Joker. For every moment Keaton underplays, Nicholson goes right over the top. It is a performance that is operatic in scope and Nicholson sings it for all it's worth.
A lot of criticism was leveled at the screenplay for the way it changed The Joker's origin. Screenwriter's Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren took Batman's origin and mirrored it onto the Joker's. In effect, The Joker, as a young man started the chain of events that created Batman. Years later Batman pushes things forward and creates The Joker. I think this choice makes sense and I think it works. It gives these characters and their background weight and a sense of purpose.
Of the supporting cast only Michael Gough really shines. His Alfred is warm and strong. A true father figure and partner for Wayne/Batman. Kim Basinger looks great but really has very little to do outside of screaming her lungs out. Also featured are Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance.
Besides Keaton and Nicholson the real stars of the show are Production Designer Anton Furst and Composer Danny Elfman. Furst makes Gotham City a living breathing character in it's own right and Elfman's score gives the film a sense of dramatic thrust.
Batman was one of Warner's first DVD's and it looks great. Colors are very natural looking and all of those nighttime blacks and shadows where the action takes place, are razor sharp in detail.
Soundwise, I was expecting more bells and whistles from the 5.1 mix. But what is there is quite good. Surrounds and bass are not really used that much with most of the action coming from the front speakers. I must admit though, I got chills when I heard Elfman's Batman theme pumping out of my sound system.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only real disappointment of the disc is its lack of extras. This is a movie that begs for a Matrix like treatment on DVD. Perhaps with Warner revisiting some of their early DVD releases, the powers that be will gives us the special edition this movies deserves. The disc does have production notes, cast and crew listings and biographies. Slim pickings.
If you liked Batman, you probably already own this disc. If you are just getting into DVD, this is a good one to pick up. The disc boasts strong picture and sound. Add into that Warner's pricing structure and this is a good disc to own.
Tim Burton is released on his own recognizance to go out and make his version of Planet of the Apes and Warner is asked to come back and revisit Batman with some Special Edition material. Thanks very much. Case Dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Production Notes
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