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Case Number 10168

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Batman Begins (HD DVD)

Warner Bros. // 2005 // 141 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // October 16th, 2006

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All Rise...

It's not about who Judge Ryan Keefer is underneath the costume, but what he does that defines him. Which begs a different question; why is he wearing a costume?

Editor's Note

Our review of Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition, published October 18th, 2005, is also available.

The Charge

"People need dramatic examples to shake them out of empathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed, but as a symbol, as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting."

Opening Statement

The Batman franchise is as close to a bankable franchise as you can get. Put more to the point, for several years, the Batman franchise was an easy blockbuster success, regardless of who filled the cape and cowl. Like anything else though, Hollywood squeezed more than enough creative vitality out of it, to the point where Batman and Robin was so laughable that many feared it would sink the franchise past the point of any salvation.

Enter Christopher Nolan, the auteur of some talked-about projects like Memento and Insomnia, and to the debate of some, not well-suited for this possible Herculean effort. Nolan employed writer David Goyer (Blade, Dark City) to fashion a story based on the Frank Miller comic books that presented Bruce Wayne as a darker figure in Gotham City. As the title character, Christian Bale (American Psycho) was still showing the wounds from his parents' murder when he was a child. The film wound up becoming a critical and popular success, with over $370 million made during its theatrical run. And this title was awaited by many to determine the prospects for the HD DVD format. How are said prospects?

Facts of the Case

Inspired by Miller's work, the film begins as a young Bruce Wayne watches as his parents are brutally gunned down during a robbery. After leaving school, he decides to explore ways of training himself to avenge their deaths. After a fight in a Mongolian prison, he encounters Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson, Kingdom of Heaven, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), who entices him with an offer of more rigorous, structured training, that would eventually entail membership in the League of Shadows.

After an incident where Wayne "renounces" the final phase of training, he returns to Gotham and becomes reacquainted with the family housekeeper Alfred (Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules) and his childhood friend Rachel (Katie Holmes, Thank You For Smoking). He also takes the wisdom and training learned and puts it into practice in Gotham, fighting crime, turning the criminals into fearful animals, and empowering Gotham's citizens to take their city back.

The Evidence

Take a look at the "Popular Reviews" part of this Web site, specifically the "Top Review Debuts" section. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Glad to see you back. As it's clear to you by now, people love the Batman theatrical films. And even if this movie underachieved, I'd be a little bit scared to tell you so. But as it stands, Batman Begins achieves what the rare comic book film hopes to accomplish; it makes the emotional journey for clarity as important as the battles that the alter ego faces.

Now, I say this with a minimal amount of comic-book supporter/jock-sniffing fanboy emotion, and some of what I say may be echoing what Chief Justice Mike Jackson said in his excellent review of the film when it first came out on DVD, but it's safe to say that Batman Begins does supplant Spider-Man 2 as the best comic book film to come out in the modern era. Bale portrays Wayne as one who is seething with vengeance and is a strong person, but is also somewhat vulnerable to influential figures. In Ducard and Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai), he responds to their basic philosophy almost immediately, as the League of Shadows helps to give power back to the people who have the desire to see criminals get deserved justice. Where the fraction lies is when the League of Shadows doles out punishment a little more judgmentally then Wayne would prefer, at the end of the film, you also realize that Wayne and the enemy he faces share a lot of the same intentions. Nolan and Goyer also take great patience in showing how Wayne transforms himself into the figure that most people in Gotham fear, without making him "over the top invincible." Wayne isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, as he comes home to Wayne Manor with numerous bruises and scratches that Alfred has to patch up, and he finds himself overcome in the occasional crowd. However, with the help of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman, in a role that makes Desmond Llewelyn younger, cooler and blacker by comparison), Wayne takes the cape, suit and car to 21st century levels that are all welcome arrivals, along with the gadgets people have come to know and love.

Okay, everyone wants to know how this thing looks and sounds on HD, and I've got to tell you that it delivers, and if there is any title that would inspire anyone to shell out at least $500 on one of the next generation players, this would be it. Blacks are rich and deep throughout, sometimes the image is three-dimensional in some scenes (like when Alfred is alone with Bruce in the mansion for the first time after his parents' murder), and in other scenes, it's just flat out vivid and crystal clear. The audio is available with a Dolby TrueHD option, and that is another revelation. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score really gets a chance to open up and immerse the viewer in the layered and sometimes subtle music during the film. The floor-shaking effects of the Batmobile may not be felt immediately in the proving grounds, but during the chase scene, make sure your dental work is well-secured, it will rattle from your gums and any housepets you have will flinch in fear. The bat swarms are a chance for the surround speakers to enjoy some more subtle work, as some of the bats can clearly be heard during the opening scenes when a young Bruce falls and breaks his arm. This will be one that I pop into my player if I want to anger the neighbors at 6 in the morning.

The extras are holdovers from the two-disc Special Edition of the film, with some exceptions. The Warner In Movie Experience (exclusive to the HD DVD) returns for another outing. But it's a mite bit disappointing, and I risk blasphemy by comparing it to Troy for a second. The IME for both titles are relatively the same (Begins may be a little more active), but because there were so few extras to begin with on the Troy disc, that IME was a revelation. This one covers location ideas, some of the preliminary discussions for what was to be accomplished for the film, and some rehearsal/practice footage of the fight scenes and stunts. Interview footage with the main cast players abounds as well. But again, this one feels eerily similar to Troy, and a lot of what's learned here feels a little bit redundant, all the more so after seeing all the extras on this disc. The featurettes cover the pre-production of the film (including Bale's weight extremes from The Machinist to his initial time on set), along with the tasks of getting Bale in "superhero" shape. The fight style used in the movie is discussed, and there is ample practice footage to boot. The production design and visual effects for the film are next. And on films like this, the origins of the comic are discussed, as writers like Denny O'Neil and others talk about what they wanted to do with the character while he was under their creative control at DC. The filmmakers provide a different aspect by showing their inspirations for the film and how they wanted to explain some of the characters and arguably this may be the better featurette of the half dozen that are on here. There are also looks at the new outfit and the new Batmobile (and come on, the tumbler is pretty friggin' cool, with it's "Lamborghini meets Humvee" vibe as described in the piece), along with a look at the miniatures and sets used for some of the larger shots in the film, with the philosophy of using visual effects only as a last resort (kind of makes you ask why other directors aren't using that philosophy). The rather pointless Jimmy Fallon/MTV Movie Awards sketch is included, along with the requisite stills galleries and a trailer.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Whether you like it or not, the IME that runs during the film, along with the approximately two hours of featurettes, just comes up as a little bit scarce in the extras department. When it comes to the overall DVD package, throw in a commentary with Nolan, or some deleted scenes, something. Oh wait, that will be coming out in Batman Begins 1.5, to be conveniently released shortly before the sequel.

Closing Statement

Batman Begins is the first of a growing collection of crown jewels in the next-generation video format. The picture and sound are stellar. The extras may be a little scarce, but do add to how fun the picture is. Nolan should be credited for setting this well-loved cinema character back on track.

The Verdict

Come on. Not guilty!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 100
Audio: 100
Extras: 54
Acting: 94
Story: 92
Judgment: 98

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 141 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Genres:
• Action
• Blockbusters
• Drama
• Superheroes

Distinguishing Marks

• In Movie Experience with Cast and Crew Members
• "Batman: The Journey Begins" Featurette
• "Shaping Mind and Body" Featurette
• "Gotham City Rises" Featurette
• "Cape and Cowl" Featurette
• "Batman: The Tumbler" Featurette
• "Path to Discovery" Featurette
• "Saving Gotham City" Featurette
• "Genesis of the Bat" Featurette
• "Tankman Begins" MTV Movie Awards Spoof
• Additional IME Footage: "Reflections on Writing Batman Begins", "Digital Batman" and "Batman Begins Stunts"
• "Confidential Files" and Stills Gallery
• Trailer








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