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VINE VOICEon November 20, 2005
The worldwide success of Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" has prompted Warner Bros. to finally release Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" with an extra disc of special features...and this is an event worth cheering about!

A groundbreaking cinematic achievement (and one of the most expensive films ever produced, to that time), "Batman" was a tremendous gamble, and the story behind the ten-year struggle to bring it to the screen is fascinating! It is a tale of visionaries, beginning with Michael Uslan, a young student/Batman fan, who not only convinced his university to include comics in their curriculum, but, fired up by Richard Donner's "Superman", knew a Batman film could be just as powerful, and took the idea, with Batman creator Bob Kane's blessing, to Hollywood; of Peter Gruber and Jon Peters, who listened to Uslan, after every studio had passed on it, saw the potential, and decided to gamble; of Sam Hamm, who had a "Batman" script in his head, praying to get the chance to write it; and, most importantly, of Tim Burton, whose dark, quirky sensibilities made him THE director to film it, despite only two feature films to his credit.

This remarkable story, with archival footage and new interviews, is the highlight of disc two, but there is much, much more! Did you know that Robin was scripted to make an appearance in the first film? That Sean Young, not Kim Basinger, had been cast as Vicki Vale? That the Batmobile, designed by Oscar-winner Anton Furst, could actually do 95 mph (and that Tim Burton drove it, once?) That the room where disfigured Jack Nicholson received his unsuccessful plastic surgery was actually a studio prop room? Each chapter is a revelation!

Not that there aren't a few disappointments in the presentation; there is no chapter with deleted scenes (although a few moments are shown that never made it into the finished film...a little girl, seeing Batman, asks, in all seriousness, "Is it Halloween?", which causes him to pause, and grin); the 'History' of Batman, despite a wealth of photos and clips from the comics, serials, and graphic novels, does not offer a single visual from the campy 60s TV series (whether this was a refusal by 20th Century Fox, who produced the series, to permit their use, or an attempt to distance the movie from the "ZAP! BAM! POW!" silliness is not explained). Also, the brief appearance of screen legend Jack Palance, as 'Boss Grissom', is largely ignored, other than in Tim Burton's audio commentary, which is surprising. Still, many of the cast share their memories (Billy Dee Williams still expresses disappointment that he didn't get to play 'Two-Face'; Robert Wuhl, regret that after they rewrote his death scene to allow his character to survive, he never appeared in another film in the franchise).

I guess what I'm saying, is...chuck your old copy of "Batman", and replace it with THIS one!

You'll be glad you did!
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on October 18, 1999
This film proved to the world that comic book films could be much more than action-packed carnage festivals. This film (and the first sequel "Batman Returns") have so much more to it than that. "Batman" is a gripping and very moving exploration of the psyche; it peers into the souls of not only the Dark Knight, but also those of the people whose lives he changes with his presence. The film is brilliantly acted by its perfectly-chosen cast, which includes Jack Nicholson (the Joker), Michael Keaton (the Batman), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Micheal Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), and Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox). Tim Burton makes perfect use of his wonderful directorial talents, Anton Furst designs a gothic, beautiful Gotham City, and Danny Elfman's classic musical score further help make this a unique, thought-provoking, and very powerful modern classic, a masterpiece of film noir and grand opera. "Batman Returns shares these wonderful qualities, but, sadly, Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin" lose all of that depth and meaning, and become little more than standard mindless action. But, we'll always have Burton's dark vision of a haunted and brooding Batman.
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on April 23, 2013
Tim Burton's 1989 classic is a must-see for Batman fans.
the blu-ray steelbook is a must-have for enthusiasts.

i can still remember going to see this movie in a jam-packed theater.
a true blockbuster, it was the top-grossing film in North America that year.
great acting, great story, great soundtrack, great movie.

Michael Keaton's Batman is dark, brooding, and tormented. i loved Keaton in Beetlejuice but didn't think he could pull this role off until i saw it for myself. Jack Nicholson was unforgettable as the Joker. Nicholson's joker is maniacal magic. not as dark as Ledger's (The Dark Night), but much more fun. Kim Bassinger is Vicki Vale, whose affections are pursued by both Batman and the Joker.

Prince's soundtrack is awesome. the score (Danny Elfman) is well done. the costumes are great and the set design won an Oscar. plus...all of Batman's "wonderful toys".

great special features (unchanged from the 20th anniversary release):

+ Commentary by Director Tim Burton
+ On the Set with Bob Kane
+ Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman - The Comic Book Saga as Reinvented and Reintrepeted over Seven Decades
+ Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Parts 1-3
+ The Road to Gotham City
+ The Gathering Storm
+ The Legend Reborn
+ Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery (6 Featurettes) - 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 / Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman
+ 3 Prince Music Videos: Batdance, Partyman and Scandalous
+ Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries
+ Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence
+ Theatrical Trailer
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on July 9, 2012
Now near 25 years removed from its production, Tim Burton's original Batman has slowly lost faded into the background of the modern superhero film landscape. As newer - and admittedly wonderful - superhero movies such as The Dark Knight and The Avengers continue to dazzle and amaze audiences with spectacular special effects and genre-bending writing, the more people seem to forget the much more modest and serene Batman film. Which, I believe, is a grave mistake. For while it may not have had the technological advancements at the time to provide stunning effects and epic storytelling, Tim Burton's directorial effort in Batman is, without question, one of most talented and intelligent efforts ever made in film itself - let alone in the superhero genre.

I'll forgo any plot description as I'm sure it's quite well known by this point and more importantly because the plot acts merely as a sandbox for much more brilliant achievements in acting, directing and cinematography.

The first I'll touch upon is the cinematography. The beautifully rendered gothic landscape that Anton Furst creates in the sets and scenery of Batman is immediately evident upon first viewing of the film. But what is probably much less evident to most viewers, is just how much Burton and his production team borrowed from German Expressionism and the silent filmmaking of first three decades of the 20th century. As someone who's seen a fair share of silent films - and more importantly - films from that small window in the 1930s were sound was a new and somewhat mysterious concept for filmmakers, it's slowly become apparent to me that advent of sound has led to a deterioration of visual storytelling and acting. In short, sound has made today's filmmakers lazy. Instead of having to show their story, the subtleties of their dramas and characters, they can simply say it, and depends with a lot of visual setup and style.

It is that silent film element that really makes Burton's Batman exceptional, and really unlike any other film made since the silent era. With Batman, Burton opens up the playbooks of Fritz Lang and Todd Browning and FW Mernau and instead of telling his story through dialogue or explicitly stated plot points, instead hones in on a myriad of visual elements to express the true nature and grandeur of Batman as a character.

The first way in which he does this is to always show Batman from an outsider's perspective (generally, Vicki's perspective). This creates and element of mystery and darkness to Batman that harkens back more to characters like Dracula and the Phantom of the opera than it does Superman or Spider-Man. Again, taking a page not just from Batman's own roots as a creature of gothic horror, but also from the early cinematic works of Dracula and the Phantom. Burton even uses lighting to highlight and display Batman's subtle eye or facial movements - a trick derived quite directly from 1931's Dracula.

The second method derives directly from Michael Keaton's own performance. Few seem to realize it upon first viewing, but Keaton turns in probably the most subtle and brilliant acting performances of any comic book movie before or since. In compliment to Burton's visual storytelling, Keaton mirrors the silent style of filmmaking by conveying the majority of his character's emotions through both facial expressions and emoting through the eyes. He rarely says much in the film - and his version of Bruce Wayne is characterized as an aloof and somehow emotionally immature man who is often overshadowed by the bombastic nature of Jack Nicholson's inspired performance as the Joker.

But upon closer inspection, it's really Keaton who steals the show in Batman by portraying the character as both wholly sympathetic and always latently psychotic. This juxtaposition of emotional reliability and psychosis is metaphorical tightrope that is near-impossible traverse - in fact, even in the original source materials, most writers struggle to convey a proper amount of emotional resonance in their characterization of Wayne. Yet, astonishingly, Keaton manages to blend these to aspects together with incredible ease; he wears the persona of Bruce Wayne like a second skin, and purely through whispers and off glances both makes the viewer feel for Bruce Wayne, and remain ever terrified of Batman.

Outside of these two most notable aspects, Burton (and Keaton, as through the happenstance of a writers' strike, ended up rewriting much of the script and dialogue with Burton on-set) weaves in numerous subtle character arcs and story beats that seem simple - and perhaps even poorly done at first glance - but through subsequent viewings can be deemed extremely intricate and expertly executed exposition. From Bruce Wayne's reclusive and awkward demeanor reflecting Burton's own thoughts on genius, obsession, and emotional pain - to the simply brilliant relationship built between Michael Gough's Alfred and Bruce - Burton continuously weaves a simple narrative bursting with psychological meaning and emotion.

I'm certain most would call it absurd to refer to Burton's Batman as one of the best films ever made - and in truth, it does indeed lack some of the emotional or dramatic punch that a lot of the other great films of history do have - but when analyzed with a keen and disconcerting eye, the amount of intelligence and detail weaved into the execution of Batman far exceeds most of the directorial efforts in the history of American film. And, without question, Batman should be seen at least a few times by anyone interested in the classic silent and European methods of the early days of filmmaking, and - along with Blade Runner and Burton's followup, Batman Returns - should be considered one of the best tributes to that sophisticated and timeless style.
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VINE VOICEon June 10, 2009
The film:

Disclosure - Batman was the first movie that really knocked my socks off as a kid. I saw it several times in the theater, and it ignited a decade long love of comic books for me (that ended when I moved out on my own and didn't have the money any more). So reviewing this film is an exercise in taming my nostalgia.

It is a very good movie. It's got some very good performances, especially Keaton and Nicholson. The story overall is strong, intertwining the origins of the two principals. It gets a bit flabby in pacing at the end, and about 10 minutes could have been cut. The ending is easily the worst bit, as Batman suddenly becomes rather homicidal, in contradiction to well-established characterization in 50 years of prior stories. Some of the effects work doesn't stand up very well today, with obvious model shots and some pretty bad animation which would now be done by CGI. Actually, what strikes me now is how "low budget" it seems at times, if you're looking for it anyway (and the vision is generally so powerful that you might not - but then I've seen this film a good 20 times).

Overall, the fractured vision of Tim Burton and designer Anton Furst, married to a tenuous grip on reality (which was completely gone by the sequel, unfortunately), makes this compelling viewing. It's not as good perhaps as the new Nolan movies. But it's a classic. It inaugurated the boom of comic book movies that we are still enjoying/suffering through today. Kids 8 to 80 should enjoy this film. It's well worth owning as a home video.

The Blu-Ray:

This video transfer is very faithful to the original film. Which is to say, it's drab, dark, monochromatic, and not at all the kind of thing you want to demo your shiny new HDTV with.

Don't get me wrong. This looks better than the previous two DVD editions. When a scene is lit reasonably well, you can see pretty good detail in hair, facial wrinkles, and wet pavement. But the overall dynamic range of the image, from dark to light, is pretty flat. This is a very dim-looking movie. The audio is a competent Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channels mix.

Extras are comprehensive, but they are all in SD, and they are all recycled from the previous 2 disc collector's edition. There are LOADS of cast interviews, production featurettes, and one large documentary which is a 70 minute cut from the one that spanned all four "original" movies. All told I would guess there are about 3 hours of featurettes, most of which are pretty worthwhile for Batman fans. Irritatingly, most of them do not have a "play all" option. So you're forced to navigate a large menu full of small type and try to remember what you've already seen. Argh.

Burton's commentary is very entertaining. He only trails off one or two times in the 2 hours of the film. He starts to repeat himself a bit by the last half hour, but overall it is very engaging, loaded with information, and has plenty of honest opinion from the director.

***********

If you own the 2 disc collector's edition on DVD, I'm not going to say this is a strong recommendation. It's just not that much of an upgrade. All of the extras are the same, and the transfer isn't one of those revelatory HD experiences.

If you don't already own it, and you're looking to expand your comic book film collection, then definitely go ahead and pick this up. It laid the groundwork for all the films we've gotten since. It's easily the best of the original 4 Batman movies.
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on March 12, 2011
The first big budget Batman film with Michael Keaton was a very well done film and, if you don't own a copy, by all means the blu ray is worth picking up. The movie has held up well since its 1989 release --- but this blu ray release of it was very obviously a rush job. The video transfer is alright and looks nice and sharp - but the sound mix is abysmal...the sound mix here does NOT take advantage of a 5.1 speaker set-up. 99% of the sound is right out of your front right and left speakers. Don't come in expecting a nice surround sound to pull you in - you're going to be sorely disappointed. Additionally, there's not really a main menu...no chapter selection option, no set-up options for sound or video optimizations. Go to the menu and you pretty much are given options for the additional special features. Overall, this is just an 'okay' version of this film (the sound quality is really a big let down), and given the quality of today's home theater setups - is a bit of a disappointment. However, having said that - it's a great film, and if you don't have a copy - this is still your best bet.
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on May 21, 2013
very short and sweet.
i'm surprised no one has posted any photos of the steelbook. so i've uploaded them here to amazon. as you can tell there is no inside art, just the batman logo on the front and batman himself on the back of the steelbook.
the extras are really amazing on this. so many extras from the concept to making the film, to cast and crew interviews both old and new. its really chock full of extras. the original batman trailer is included, and technically there isnt really a menu for the bluray. the movie will start up automatically at the beginning of the movie, if you want to go to the extras just hit the pop up menu button or the top menu button on your bluray remote. that will bring you to an entire page with all the extras listed right there. a great movie so i highly recommend this steel book to anyone!
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on October 18, 2005
The original 'Batman' film holds, for all Bat-fans, a sacred title as the one true (and certainly best) film in the original saga. The mere fact that it grossed hundreds of millions of dollars and shattered box office records is a testament to its validity as a cinematic tour de force. Facts and figures aside, the original "Batman" film revolutionized the way that films were made in regards to scale, merchandising, and certainly publicity. The fueling monster of Warner Brothers garnered record deals with Prince for soundtrack options and locked away square merchandising deals for an infinite amount of Batman paraphernalia. Its near-$40 million budget (unheard of for 1989) was immediately returned in its opening weekend gross, all fueled by the massive media and publicity frenzy woven around this landmark blockbuster film. To that end, it is no surprise that Warner Brothers finally released a worthy DVD complement to the effort that went into the original production of their film. And thus begins the review of the newly-released 2-disc Special Edition of Tim Burton's "Batman"...

THE PACKAGE:

Coordinated beautifully with the DVD release of "Batman Begins", the original "Batman" and subsequent Batman DVDs look fantastic. Each DVD case features a brand new metallic type font of the title with the short list of the casts running just above it. The "Batman" cover features the glistening Batman logo in its full glory (not clipped at the wings like previous VHS and DVD formats.) A textured metallic frame also surrounds the front face. A comprehensive list of the special features on disc 2 of the collection appears on the back cover with several brief descriptions of each segment's content. The discs themselves are fantastically laid out, each featuring newly-formed collage art from the film. Disc 2 displays the classic image of Batman violently gripping the Joker's suit jacket in the film's climax in Gotham Cathedral. One drawback of this particular edition is that it does not feature an inlet, booklet, or leaflet of any kind in its inside cover. Where many viewers like the guide to the film's chapters, I feel that this mistake is easily forgivable once we are compensated by the discs' features.

THE LOOK AND SOUND:

The widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio captures practically everything Burton shot in '89. Dolby 5.1 and DTS Surround ensure that every unique sound effect in the film is heard perfectly. Essentially, the transfer is just as affective as the previous bare-bones "Batman" DVD release with the only notable changes being a slightly thinner 16:9 ration instead of the previous 1.85:1 and the inclusion of the new DTS Surround Sound factor. The digital transfer crystallizes every single visual effect and brings Gotham City into its full glory during every sweeping master shot.

THE EXTRAS:

This is where the true magic lies in this edition. Five extra gallery features translate to over 20 featurettes ranging from 5 to 35 minutes in length. The gem of them all is a marvelous half-hour documentary on the evolution of the Batman lore from its inception in 1939 to its reinvention for film in 1989 and beyond. "Legends of the Dark Knight - The History of Batman" features many prominent comic book icons such as Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, and Bob Kane himself, all creating fantastic insight into the psyche and appeal of the Caped Crusader. Also featured are several extremely relevant Batman writers and artists who are responsible for thrusting the Dark Knight into a more contemporary context for several generations. Among them are Dennis O'Neil, Neal Adams, and THE Frank Miller. A strongpoint of the documentary is its choice to focus predominantly on the evolution of the CHARACTER of Batman as opposed to getting bogged down into discussing the 40's serials, the 60's television series catastrophe, and even the later films themselves. Narrated by Mr. Mark Hamill, the documentary delves deep into the psychology of the Batman and his affect on America and vice versa.

Shadows of the Bat - The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight", a three-part documentary showing the process to get Batman onto the big screen, is the second best feature of the second disc. The first 2 segments focus on pre-production for "Batman" with the last installment focusing on the principal photography and after effects of the film. The most remarkable thing about this documentary is that it features dozens of interviews with integral members of the cast and crew. Tim Burton is at the helm, giving the bulk of the information. Following closely behind are Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams, Pat Hingle, Michael Gough, Robert Wuhl, and even Mr. Jack Nicholson himself! Notorious for his privacy, Nicholson graciously supplies dozens of glorious minutes explaining his role in the process and even the psychosis of the Joker. The only one drawback to the documentary is the fact that Michael Keaton's interview is recycled footage from an old "Batman Return" behind-the-scenes program that ran on television in the early 90's. All other cast and crew interviews are brand new!

Also on the special features menu is a "Beyond Batman" documentary gallery, housing 6 separate featurettes with subjects ranging from the production design of the film; to the creation of the batsuit, batmobile, and bat-gadgets; as well as the transformation of Jack Nicholson into the Joker among others. Each of these video bits, averaging around 13 minutes, expounds on the finer aspects of the production of the film. Truly an aspiring filmmakers dream, these featurettes hone in on what happens behind the camera in the art, sound, and script departments. The structural and architectural analysis of the design of Gotham City is especially fascinating to witness!

Rounding out the second disc are three music videos by Prince, a lost Robin storyboard sequence, and a short clip of Bob Kane reflecting on his creation on the set of the original film. Short character bios contain more interviews that delve into specific characters in both the `heroes' and `villains' categories. When the ads stress "18 Hours of New Extras", the aren't joking around!

In summation, the 2-disc Special Edition of "Batman" is a landmark DVD release of a great film. Each featurette reveals great insight into the lore of the Batman as well as the production of the first film. Thankfully, very little of the interview clips are repeated throughout different documentaries, giving each special feature a refreshingly unique feel. This DVD is a must-have for any Batman fan. The information is so comprehensive that you're guaranteed to walk away having learned something new you didn't know before. This DVD is the benchmark to which all other Special Edition DVDs should be measured!
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on September 11, 2004
If you want to look at a superhero adaptation done right look no further than this movie or the latest Spiderman movies. After watching the last two Batman flicks, I had kind of written the series off, but watching this on TV the other night I realized that I had forgotten how good this was. Michael Keaton was perfect as Batman, if you think about it Bruce Wayne is not the most tightly wrapped guy out there, he dresses up as a giant flying rodent and runs around at night in Gotham City beating up on criminals, and Keaton captured this essence perfectly. Kim Basinger was great as Vicki Vale and Jack Nicholson was awesome as the Joker. indeed I'd have to say that this is the last good performance that Nicholson did, after this movie he phoned everything in and cashed in on his Jack Nicholson act.

In addition to a well-written script (the only contrived part being the fact that the Joker had killed Bruce Wayne's parents years before) the sets for this movie were totally cool and like nothing else we had seen at the time. Tim Burton was still a young and fresh director and Danny Elfman scores hadn't become tiring. If this movie looks a bit stale now it's only because so many other movies have imitated it and because Burton and Elfman have become one-trick ponies. However when you look at it as the leader of a cinematic vanguard of action movies you realize how good it is.
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on September 23, 2009
Now that the hype of The Dark Knight has died down, it's time to remember the original Tim Burton film. Now I know I previously praised that film but the original is undoubtedly the best. Michael Keaton is my favorite of all the movie incarnations. Kilmer was OK and Clooney was just a joke. Bale does a good job and I commend him on actually using two different voices for Bruce and Batman but not in this manner. Sounds like he has lung cancer or something. Now Keaton does use a different voice; he subtly lowers his voice. And when Bale is in his Bruce Wayne persona, he acts to hard to through people off. When Keaton was cast as Batman, there was a public outcry as people couldn't picture him as Batman. Isn't that how it's supposed to be? You shouldn't suspect him at all. The suit in this film is way better than in the films to follow (except Returns as that was pretty much the same suit with minor alterations). It's classic Batman. Keaton handles the action well and the quiet moments are standout (there aren't really any quiet moments [except in Returns] in any of the sequels). Kim Basinger is good as Vicki, noting that she's essentially a knockoff of Lois Lane back in the 50s. And she's a much better actress than Holmes/Gyllenhal (or however you spell her name) in the newer films. They look like clueless teens who somehow ended up in a big superhero film. And Nicholson is my favorite modern live-action Joker. Not to knock Heath Ledger, he was good too, but the way Nicholson played him is actually the way the Joker should be played; a psychopathic clown who commits his crimes with a flair for the theatrical. If he's gonna kill ya, he's gonna do it in style. Billy Dee Williams should've had more screen time as Harvey Dent and he was contracted to play Two-Face but he was paid out and we got...over-the-top Tommy Lee Jones. Michael Gough's Alfred is good but I prefer the Michael Caine version as he's more involved with things. Pat Hingle's Commissioner Gordon is hardly in the film to really critique so Gary Oldman's version is better. Danny Elfman delivers with the music, providing a theme for Batman that rivals John Williams' Superman, but the actual person conducting the orchestra is none other than Shirley Walker, the woman who would provide the music for Batman: The Animated Series and most of its subsequent spin-offs.
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