batmananthbluI am a huge superhero fan reading comic books since I was very young to remember. The day has finally come for the release of the original ‘Batman Anthology’ on Blu-ray in spectacular high definition. Many might be too young to remember the 1989 motion picture debut of ‘Batman’ and only think that 2005’s ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ were the only films in existence. The ‘Batman Anthology’ includes the first four films to be released from 1989 – 1997. Those four films included in the package are, ‘Batman’, ‘Batman Returns’, ‘Batman Forever’, and ‘Batman & Robin’. While some of these films do not hold up well anymore in 2009, for fans they are still worth viewing, especially both ‘Batman’ and ‘Batman Returns’.

Batman
The original, the classic, the all-time favorite that still hold’s a place in many fans hearts is the 1989 release of Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. Those familiar with Tim Burton’s style of filmmaking, he uses a dark/gothic style in his films that is rather unique. Some of the elements that he has used in his style of filmmaking up to this point are used in the original ‘Batman’, but with some limitations. With a whole new look to Batman dressed in a totally black rubber suit but keeping the iconic Batman emblem the same, fans were in for a darker version of The Dark Knight. The film was a huge success at the box office with a total worldwide gross of $411 million dollars. Considering the budget was only in the $35 million range, this was a right direction.

batman1989Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton) is a rich billionaire that has revenge on his mind for the death of his parents. On the trail to find the murderer of his parents and stopping crime, he meets Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) whom becomes his love interest. As Vale tries to unearth the identity of Batman, she is also charmed by the big black bat. Then enter his arch nemesis The Joker (Jack Nicholson) into the picture, via a freak accident he pretty much loses his face to chemicals which gets reconstructed via plastic surgery. This is when he begins his reign of terror as a high profile criminal surpassing any of his earlier crimes.

Once word was out that Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, fans were ready to take Tim Burton’s head on a platter. But little would they know that he turned out to be one of the best choices to don the mantel. As Bruce Wayne, Keaton does an excellent job portraying the billionaire playboy. Then he did a remarkable job as Batman, which many didn’t think he would due that good of a job. Jack Nicholson also does a great job with his role of The Joker. The one thing with Nicholson is that this role was perfect for him as he didn’t have to act very hard to pull the persona of The Joker off. Now 20 years later when I look back at Nicholson’s Joker, he reminds me of the old 60’s television show Joker played by Cesar Romero.

At one point, Batman 1989 was my favorite of the anthology, but a few factors after watching this film really do not make this as great as it once was. At times I felt like the film was too slow paced in certain areas. After having viewed all 6 ‘Batman’ films, it becomes even more evident. It seems with Burton like we do rush into things with the story as this could have been an even better film with more history of the character.
Movie Content: 4/5

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Special Features

  • Audio Commentary With Director Tim Burton
  • Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman
  • On the Set with Bob Kane
  • Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Featurettes (The Road to Gotham City, The Gathering Storm, The Legend Reborn)
  • Beyond Batman
  • Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Batman Featurette (Building the Batmobile, Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman, Designing the Batsuit, From Jack to The Joker, Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman)
  • Batman: The Heroes Gallery
  • Prince Batman Videos (Batdance, Partyman, Scandalous)
  • Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence
  • Digital Copy

batmanreturnsBatman Returns

Upon viewing ‘Batman Returns’ again, this is my favorite of all the films in the anthology. Tim Burton was allowed more creative freedom with the story, pacing, and the overall look of the film. At this point we see Tim Burton’s style at 150% throughout the film which really fit well based off of the villains that were used for the film. If you thought that ‘Batman’ 1989 was dark, well ‘Batman Returns’ is an even darker film which turned off many in Hollywood. Twenty years later, Hollywood would learn that this was the right direction for the character. But in 1992, the audiences were not ready yet for a darker, edgier ‘Batman’ film. ‘Batman Returns’ had a total worldwide gross of $266 million dollars at the box office with an $80 million dollar budget. Due to the style of the film it detracted many from going to the theaters.

With a returning Michael Keaton as Batman, audiences were a bit more comfortable with him in the role. Burton goes much deeper into the mind of Bruce Wayne, but also the villains Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and The Penguin (Danny DeVito) we learn are just as messed up mentally driven characters as Bruce. This is where ‘Batman Returns’ succeeds as Burton shows the psyche of Bruce that there is something wrong with a rich man dressing up in a costume to fight crime. Both Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito play their roles very well. Burton received tons of flak for casting both Pfeiffer and DeVito like they did in the first film with Michael Keaton. Again he proves fans and critics wrong with their excellent performances as they pull us into their own world. You actually really connect with both characters. Then add the wonderful Christopher Walken (Maximillian ‘Max’ Shreck) into the mix as an important character that creates some of the controversy which allows us to delve into the villains minds.

This time around I actually found Gotham City to be absolutely beautiful and stunning. This is where Burton’s expertise with his artistically talents shine. It makes the world of Gotham City come to life making the original’s Gotham City comes off subpar. If there is anything negative that I can say about this film is that The Penguin didn’t come off as a gangster type which was depicted in the comics. Instead of the creepy little penguins, building up his cohorts could have been a better choice. I still believe that if Burton was given reign to come back for the third and fourth entry, those films would not have been not as good. Tim Burton was on to something by ‘Batman Returns’ and it is a shame that this was a missed opportunity for the following sequels.
Movie Content: 4.5/5

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Special Features

  • The Bat, The Cat and The Penguin
  • Shadows of the Bat Pt. 4: Dark Side of the Knight
  • Batman: The Heroes
  • Batman: The Villains
  • Beyond Batman
  • Gotham City Revisited: The production design of Batman Returns
  • Sleek, Sexy and Sinister: The costumes of Batman Returns
  • Making up the Penguin
  • Assembling the Arctic Army
  • Bats, Mattes and Dark Nights: The Visual Effects of Batman Returns
  • Inside the Elfman Studios: The Music of Batman Returns
  • Face to Face” music video by Siouxsie and the Banshees

batmanforeverBatman Forever
This is when the ‘Batman’ franchise takes a turn for the worst with both Tim Burton not directing and Michael Keaton not interested anymore in the role. The studio inserted Joel Schumacher in the director’s chair and Val Kilmer to don the bat suit. Both decisions still have me scratching my head to this day, but the point is that Hollywood wanted a lighter film overall than what Burton had presented with the first two films. Even worse than Schumacher and Kilmer, is that the bat suit received an upgrade with nipples. Talk about a total slap in the face by doing something this off the wall. ‘Batman Forever’ would go on to be a success at the box office with a worldwide total gross of $336 million dollars with a $100 million dollar budget.

The film is hurt by the over-the-top wackiness of both villains Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey). It feels like both actors are here to outdo each other in the wackiness department. They take both characters to new heights in terms of destroying two of Batman’s greatest villains in the comic book world. It comes down to Schumacher and the studio bringing this franchise to a direction that was similar to the original ‘Batman’ television series of the 1960’s. At times you try to figure out if Tommy Lee Jones thinks that he is playing The Joker instead of Two-Face.

I have rambled on about the villains and how they were misused and miscast, but nothing takes the cake of Val Kilmer as Batman/Bruce Wayne. From the moment that he enters his initial scene, Kilmer comes off as lifeless and robotic. It makes you wonder if he thought that he was taking a role for a different film altogether. It makes you not even care for this version of Batman hoping that this Batman, Two-Face, and The Riddler are never seen again. Then add Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian who has a thing for the big black bat. It becomes a shame as Kidman doesn’t get much screen time in a very forgettable role.
Movie Content: 2.5/5

batman-forever

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by the Director Joel Schumacher
  • Riddler Me This: Why is Batman Forever
  • Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, Pt. 5: Reinventing a Hero
  • Out of the Shadows
  • The Many Faces of Gotham City
  • Batman: The Heroes
  • Batman: The Villains
  • Knight Moves: The Stunts of Batman Forever
  • Imaging Forever: The Visual Effects of Batman Forever
  • Scoring Forever: The Music of Batman Forever
  • Music Video – “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer

batmanrobin1Batman & Robin
In probably the worst film of the entire ‘Batman’ franchise, this caused a lot of fans to go haywire wanting Schumacher’s head on a silver platter. If we thought that ‘Batman Forever’ had become an over bloated mess, this film takes the cake proving that Hollywood had reared its ugly head. Whenever I see this film or even think about it, I think of ‘Pizza Hut’ and ‘Taco Bell’ commercials, which is what this film had turned into for Hollywood. The film made a worldwide total gross of $238 million dollars with a $125 million dollar budget. I wouldn’t say that these numbers are that great considering the increase in budget and this being the lowest grossing film in the franchise.

This is a mess of a movie starting with such an over bloated cast that it hurts the film tremendously. There are way too many ongoing story arcs between the heroes and villains that the viewer just gets pulled in way too many directions. We have Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), and Bane (Jeep Swenson) as the villains. It’s Thurman that steals the show. Thurman has a great performance as Ivy making her character feel like she was taken from the comic book. While Schwarzenegger was an ok Freeze, I felt like he was hitting his one liners as if it was the T-1000 in a ‘Batman’ movie. I scratch my head as to how Bane was used in this film. I guess the writers of the film never read the comic books on how Bane came about and how he was the one to break Batman’s back, yet he is used as a complete lackey for Poison Ivy.

The problems do not end there, as we have the returning Robin (Chris O’Donnell) which just detracts from the whole film as they spend most of the time fighting with each other. Then add Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) which was such an awful choice, I felt like this was an infomercial for promoting young good looking talent in a big name film. These two alone helped bring down the film and then on top of that add horrible storyline of Alfred being very ill which causes Batgirl to show up. The only good thing to come out of this film was Bruce Wayne/Batman (George Clooney). I think that George Clooney did a good job in playing both parts, but being surrounded by horrible partners, villains (only two), and storyline is enough. This film could have been successful if it was just Batman and Poison Ivy with no extra baggage added into the mix.
Movie Content: 1/5

batmanrobin

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with Director Joel Schumacher
  • Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, Part 6: Batman Unbound
  • Beyond Batman Featurettes (Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin, Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin, Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin, Frozen Freaks and Femme Fatales: The Makeup of Batman & Robin, Freeze Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin)
  • Deleted Scene – Alfred’s Lost Love
  • Music videos (The End Is the Beginning Is the End” by the Smashing Pumpkins, Foolish Games” by Jewel, Gotham City” by R. Kelly, Look into My Eyes by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony)

Print/Audio Quality

The print for each one of the films is presented in 1080p/VC-1 with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I will say that you will be impressed with this set as much as I was especially with both ‘Batman’ and ‘Batman Returns’ as both look good for their age, yet ‘Batman Returns’ has a stunning image due to its stylistic look.

The first film in the set, ‘Batman’ receives an upgrade from the previous DVD sets looking very stunning for its age. Colors are rather soft throughout the print with a lot of prevalent dark scenes. In the darker scenes is where I found the image to shine as blacks are deeper than expected. Looking back, the darker scenes could have used a tad bit more lighting which would have benefited here today, but Burton’s intention was for a darker film. Grain is intact and subtly presented never becoming a hindrance to the viewer. There are scenes where they look sharp presenting excellent details and then other scenes that have a flatter look. Overall, I am very pleased with the image quality.

‘Batman Returns’ has to be the most surprising out of all the films in the set. The image is absolutely stunning and I believe a lot of that has to do with the art style that Tim Burton chose for the film. Colors are vibrant providing a very bold look that makes this look like a visual masterpiece. This is where blacks are deeper and provide a very inky look. Gray tinted colors which Burton has a knack for in his live-action and animated films come off very engaging. The image quality is just screams sharpness and detail to the max. Out of all four films, I was absolutely amazed by the image quality of ‘Batman Returns’.

Things take a different turn with both Joel Schumacher films, ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman & Robin’ as he tries to take the comic book look and film to both films. Both films offer the most colorful looking transfers. Colors jump off the screen at times presenting a nice pop. Details are nice, but there are times where they have a hazy look in scenes that pan away which is in part due to the heavy color schemes. Blacks are also deep in both films. In ‘Batman & Robin’, Schumacher goes back to some of the darker scenery that was implemented by Burton in the original film. In some ways they work well and in others I did have a few issues with these scenes, especially in the beginning of the film with Mr. Freeze where the blue colors looked way to overblown.

Batman Print Quality: 4/5
Batman Returns Print Quality: 4.5/5
Batman Forever Print Quality: 4.5/5
Batman & Robin Print Quality: 4/5

batmobile

On the audio front each film’s audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes. The audio gets progressively better with each single release, where the original ‘Batman’ I was a little disappointed with but a lot of that has to do with the original sound design. The audio mix in ‘Batman’ sounds like it came from the 80’s with gunshots that sound like a tin can was hit, which is a staple of 70’s and 80’s films. Do not expect going in to get a complete aural experience or that the rears are going to amaze you. This is more of a front heavy experience which sounds better than the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Dialogue was clear with no issues.

‘Batman Returns’ receives the added benefit of technology in the audio department have received an upgrade. There is more depth to the action such as gunshots, explosions, and mayhem which allows for better activity from the surrounds and bass that could take advantage of the situation. Again dialogue is excellent with the much needed depth to provide clear and crisp audio that is well balanced with the effects in the soundfield.

If there is one thing that Joel Schumacher did right with both ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman & Robin’ is that he was able to match the great image quality with some superb audio. Where the audio is just right with ‘Batman Forever’ taking full advantage of the surrounds providing excellent dynamics, the same is presented with ‘Batman & Robin’ except much louder. I do not find louder to be better as it can at times sound a bit distorted in the soundfield. Again with the advancement of technology in the mid to late 90’s, it allowed for Schumacher to have better panning effects across the soundfield with just about every scene. Dialogue is clear in both films providing a well balanced track.

Batman Audio Quality: 3/5
Batman Returns Audio Quality: 4/5
Batman Forever Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Batman & Robin Audio Quality: 4/5

Special Features

There is nothing new here from all the special features as they are ported over from the DVD Anthology set that was previously released. All the special features are presented in standard definition which is a tad bit disappointing considering that this is a huge comic book franchise. On the flip side, the amount of special features per disc is excellent as there is enough bonus content here for a fan of Batman and the film franchise to soak their teeth wet and keep them busy for days if not an entire week. For the amount of content available per disc, I can forgive the lack of high definition content, but hopefully with a future release we do get HD special features.
Movie Content: 4/5

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The Final Word

‘Batman’ and ‘Batman Returns’ are the crown jewels of this set, with ‘Batman Forever’ offering up a halfway decent film. For fans of the original Quadrilogy, I highly recommend this Blu-ray box set due to the excellent image and audio quality which caught me by surprise. Then add all of the special features ported over from the DVD Anthology and this makes the Blu-ray set a nice upgrade.
Overall Package Rating: 4/5