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Tim Burton
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall
Writing Credits:
Bob Kane (Batman characters), Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

In gloomy Gotham City the caped crusader must engage in a battle-to-the-death with the villainous Joker - a madman orchestrating a wave of crime and murder that has paralyzed the town. During the course of the struggle, Batman learns the truth about his own mysterious past, and the role played by the Joker in shaping his life when he was a boy.

Box Office:
$35 million.
Opening Weekend
$40.489 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$251.188 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Castilian Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Latin Monaural
German Dolby Surround 2.0
Italian Dolby Surround 2.0
Portuguese Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 5/19/2009

• Audio Commentary with Director Tim Burton
• “On the Set with Bob Kane” Featurette
• “Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman” Documentary
• “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” Parts 1-3
• “Beyond Batman” Documentary Gallery
• Prince Music Videos
• Profile Galleries
• Storyboard Sequence
• Trailer
• Digital Copy
• Hardcover Book


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Batman [Blu-Ray] (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 8, 2009)

1989’s Batman came out while I attended college. Actually, it arrived over summer break, so when we went back to school in the fall, I asked my friends' opinions of it. I really loved it and had become quite enamored of all things Bat-related during those few months, so I was curious to know what others thought.

One friend, who we'll call "Mike" - since that's his name - absolutely hated it. His statement, and I quote, was that Batman was "like a nightmare" because of its unrelenting darkness.

Another friend, who we'll call "Biff" - although his real name's Hyun - also disliked Batman, but for alternate reasons. He knew little about Bat- history and had mainly gained exposure to the series through Frank Miller's amazing mid-1980s graphic novel series The Dark Knight Returns. Since that series featured a really brutal Batman, Biff thought the 1989 movie version seemed way too mild. A nightmare? Not nightmarish enough, according to him!

In a nutshell, I think those two opinions neatly sum up the dichotomy that surrounds the first two Batman films directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. Lots of people think that Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns were too dark and disturbing and would have preferred lighter fare such as the old TV series from the 1960s. These people somewhat got their wish with the brighter - and much less compelling - Joel Schumacher entries, 1995’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Lots of other people, however, believe that the movies have not even remotely lived up to the grittiness and drama of the comics; in their minds, a Batman who's not R-rated probably can't live up to the original spirit.

As for me, I'm somewhere in the middle. Scratch that; saying that I'm in the middle implies that I have some sympathies with the "it’s a nightmare" crowd, which I don't. I don't want to see a warm and fuzzy Batman, so I think they're way off base. My sentiments come a lot closer to those of the other half of the equation, but I can never quite decide how much I agree with them.

I always loved comic books when I was a kid, but during my earliest years I stuck with very light fare such as the Archie series. I read the occasional superhero book but something about them struck me as too serious and "adult," so I preferred these more comedic offerings.

In 1981, I found some of the old superhero magazines I had collected and gave them another shot. Lo and behold, I found myself quite entertained by them and I almost instantly delved deeply into the world of Marvel and DC comics. While I read virtually everything I could get - when I become interested in something, I rarely go halfway - it quickly became clear that Batman and Spiderman were my favorites. Interestingly, both characters possessed similar backgrounds in that they entered into their lives of crime-fighting due to the murders of close relatives. However, the execution of their duties varied radically, since Batman tended to be rather serious and grim while the web-swinger always tossed out delightful bon mots as he bopped the baddies.

Ironically, both those characters were the subjects of much speculation throughout the 1980s as to their fates as big-screen stars. Spiderman finally hit the silver screen in 2002, but obviously the Batman issue got resolved long before that. By the time Batman arrived in 1989, my days as a serious comic book fan were long gone. Oh, I still checked them out on occasion, such as when I read The Dark Knight Returns back in 1986, but they were pretty much gone as a factor in my life.

Batman changed that to a degree. No, I didn't really delve into all the books like I had earlier in the decade, but I certainly became much more interested in Bats himself and I picked up quite a few comic anthologies to get me back into the swing of things. When the movie came out on videotape late in 1989, I darned near wore out the thing.

Probably the weirdest part of my brief Bat-obsession is that to this day I cannot really explain why I enjoyed the movie so much. When I first saw it, I found it oddly unsatisfying but I still couldn't stop thinking about it. Obviously, further viewings convinced me that I really loved it, but I never could adequately explain to myself the reason for this affection.

As such, I won't even attempt such explorations here, but I will discuss how I feel about it 20 years later. I still like the movie very much, though I still don't completely know why. It's clearly a flawed film, one that sometimes seemed fairly awkward and stilted. Much of the action seems grafted on almost as an afterthought, and Batman (Keaton) plays too small a role in the proceedings; Burton clearly identified more with the Joker (Jack Nicholson) and apportioned screen time as such.

Actually, that split isn't quite as bad as it initially seems. Part of the reason Jack Nicholson's Joker appears to dominate screen time is because Keaton's time is split between shots of him as Batman and as Bruce Wayne. This makes it seem that he's not around very much. Mainly, however, Batman appears to be fairly absent from his own film because of the nature of the performances from both Nicholson and Keaton.

Much furor accompanied Keaton's selection as Batman, all of which I thought was unfair. If you see the film and he stinks, that's fine, but I disliked the prejudging that occurred. In the end, Keaton did pretty well in the role, but it seemed that the pressures might have gotten to him to some degree. In Batman, he appeared mannered and forced much of the time, as though he tried too hard and thought too much about his performance. He certainly succeeded better at the role in Batman than would successors Val Kilmer in Batman Forever (Batman as smooth ladies man) or George Clooney in Batman and Robin (Batman as affectionate daddy) but not nearly as well as he would in Batman Returns.

Nicholson's domination of the film also occurs because he's darned good as the Joker. Granted, Jack's Jack; he basically plays a variation of himself in the role. Nonetheless, the part fit and he provided a consistently fascinating and entertaining presence.

He contributed some mighty odd acting choices along the way, virtually all of which worked. For example, check out the scene in which he's just murdered his old boss and he spies a newspaper headline that reads "Winged Freak Terrorizes Gotham", which was a reference to Batman; Joker ominously utters "'Terrorizes?' Wait'll they get a load of me!" All that's well and good, but as a commentary on the stereotypical menace of the scene, Jack added a little "oooooo" like you'd hear in sixth grade when someone got in trouble, then finished it with the completely nonsensical but brilliant "Oop! Oop!” and laughed. On the page, it's a nothing scene, but through Nicholson's performance it became one of the best parts of the film.

However, I do have one major quibble with Joker's role in Batman. Bruce Wayne became Batman because of a quest for justice/vengeance spurred by the murder of his parents when he was a kid. In the original comic book version, an anonymous crook named Joe Chill killed the elder Waynes, but in the film, Joker - or Jack Napier, as he was known then - was the one who did the deed.

Bob Kane, Batman's creator, said around the time of the film's release that if he'd thought that far ahead, he would have made Joker the killer of the Waynes, but I don't buy that. I don't like the neat little way that the movie tied up the origins of Batman, and I think his pathology seemed much more meaningful without that extreme coincidence; the randomness of their murder in the comics appeared much scarier and more resonant to me. For the record, when he kills the Waynes, Napier’s accomplice was allegedly supposed to be Chill, but the movie’s Joe didn't fire a shot.

The rest of the acting in Batman seemed to be vaguely competent but unspectacular. Michael Gough embodied Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred well, but he, like Keaton, wouldn't truly fill out the role until its first sequel. Jack Palance did an okay turn as crime boss Carl Grissom, but he was largely forgettable. The same went for Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon and Billy Dee Williams as DA Harvey Dent. Robert Wuhl provided a little comic relief in his almost-completely expository character as reporter Alexander Knox.

As far as the women in the cast go, the main star was Kim Basinger as photographer/love interest Vicki Vale. Her performance can be described as passable at best. Granted, Vicki didn't have a lot to do in this film other than scream and be rescued by Batman, but still, she offered little presence or zest to the movie. I feel a nearly irresistible urge to fast-forward every time she appears on screen. Still, she's frigging Olivier compared to Jerry Hall's turn as gangster moll Alicia. To call her performance wooden and stiff would insult trees. Maybe the producers cast her because they thought she'd bring Jagger to the set.

Tim Burton has been a sensational but erratic director throughout his career, and Batman may better display his various tendencies better than any other film. It certainly showed a unique and distinctive vision of the series and it made its mark with tremendous flair. However, I can't help but think that the pressures of creating a big-budget "event" movie after two small comedies - Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice - may have affected his work, because Batman consistently seemed vaguely unsure of itself. Overall, I still find it to be a very entertaining and provocative film as well as one I really love, but I can’t call it flawless by any stretch.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus A

Batman appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film didn’t come with issues, but it never looked better.

Sharpness created my only complaints. While most of the movie displayed good clarity and delineation, some wider elements could be a bit soft. These weren’t extreme, but they created mild distractions. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and I also detected no edge enhancement. Source flaws were minor. Virtually no examples of source flaws appeared, as the film remained clean at all times.

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 but was consistently satisfying.

For this Blu-ray Disc, Batman provides a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. 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 sound of this Blu-ray Batman compare with those of the 2005 special edition DVD? Both flicks offered virtually identical audio, but visuals showed improvements. I assumed that the Blu-ray would simply rehash the 2005 transfer, but instead it featured a new take on the material.

This became obvious to me largely due to the lack of source flaws. While the 2005 visuals didn’t suffer from many defects, I did notice a handful of specks, none of which reappeared here.

I noticed quite a few little tidbits that I’d never detected in the past. I think I know Batman well; I saw it multiple times on the big screen, and I’ve watched it on VHS, laserdisc or DVD probably 30 times over the decades. Nonetheless, I saw nuances and details that had escaped me over the last 20 years. These aren’t mind-blowing, but they indicate greater clarity in the visuals; I thought I’d seen everything Batman had to offer, so I was surprised to find so many “new” elements.

The Blu-ray also boasted slightly superior depiction of blacks. This was the first time that a home video Batman really got that side of things correct. Look at the shot in which we first see the Joker. Every other transfer revealed the Joker’s face too early; we could see his visage before we should. The Blu-ray ensured that the Joker’s face didn’t come out of the shadows until the correct moment.

All of these factors made the Blu-ray Batman the best one I’ve seen. I stuck it with the same “B+” that the 2005 DVD got largely because of the differences between the format. The Blu-ray looked a lot better, but that’s expected given its higher resolution. Also, the DVD was a low “B+”, while the Blu-ray offered a high “B+”; only the minor softness kept it from the “A-“ level.

All of the extras from the 2005 SE repeat here – with two bonuses I’ll mention later. We get 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 waited 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 disc 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.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find two more components, both of which are new to this Blu-ray release. On a separate disc, you’ll locate a Digital Copy of Batman. It allows you to easily transfer the flick to a portable device. I have no use for it, but I guess someone must dig it.

Finally, the Blu-ray release includes a hardcover book. This comes as part of the package; open up the disc’s casing and the book appears on the left half. It features a mix of components. It features excerpts of the 1989 Official Book of the Making of the Movie as well as parts of the comic book adaptation and the script. These are fun to see and add value to the package.

After 20 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 Blu-ray presents very good picture and sound along with a terrific roster of extras that flesh out the production exceedingly well.

I thought this Blu-ray offered the best home video incarnation of Batman, but I can’t say it blew away the 2005 Special Edition DVD. Oh, it certainly provided superior visuals, as I found myself impressed with all the details I’d not previously noticed in the film. However, audio remained the same, and the supplements were nearly identical; the Blu-ray adds a couple of minor components. If you’re a Batman diehard, go for the Blu-ray, but if you’re already happy with the 2005 DVD, you’ll probably remain fine with it.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of BATMAN

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main