My BluRay Shelf: Batman Gone Blu
How do the seven live-action Batman movies on BluRay stack up, best to worst?
Out of the seven live-action "Batman" movies I've got in my house, there's only one I consider age-appropriate for Toshi right now, and he watches it every single chance he gets.
That's an interesting ratio... six to one. The character is something a kid gets innately the first time they're introduced to it. "This is Batman." "Okay. Cool." That's how simple their relationship to the character is. But in terms of Batman movies, they've tried a number of different takes on the material now, and all of it is available from Warner Home Video on BluRay at this point, with one exception.
Warner Bros. has shown a pretty aggressive attitude towards getting some of their big-ticket catalog titles out on BluRay quickly, so it's not surprising there's already a slim box set that includes "Batman" (1989), "Batman Returns" (1992), "Batman Fever" (1995), and "Batman In Rubber" (1997).
[more after the jump]
They've done absolutely sterling work on the new transfers, maybe to the detriment of the films. Tim Burton's first attempt at the character was a huge financial hit, but even when it came out, it looked... shabby, unfinished. More like it was abandoned because of a release date, put onscreen in whatever shape it was in. BluRay exposes every technical seam, all the spit and band-aids that were just barely holding it together when they just printed the film dark and hoped the composites held. Since the shock of the new (a big part of the first movie's impact was timing) is gone now, the script for the film falls under more scrutiny, and it's a shambles. Transparently poor.
Thanks to the clarity of BluRay, you can actually hear Tim Burton bending over for Jack Nicholson, who so blatantly is directing himself to the broadest possible effect in moment after moment. Keep in mind... at the time, Nicholson was at the height of his iconic worth. He was never a bigger movie star than when he played the Joker. It was the Nicholson Show. His moment to take a bow, and Burton's film just stops dead when Nicholson's on, letting him do whatever he wants. every second of it precious.
As a record of a cultural phenomenon, this BluRay edition is absolutely the best presentation of the film since it was first rushed to video in the fall of 1989, shattering the sell-through window permanently. It's got a really healthy selection of documentary features and extras and the Prince music videos and commentary by Burton. And in terms of sound and picture, this is remarkable clean-up work. The 1080p transfer really is like looking into a window onto those Anton Furst sets. So... is this the one I let him watch?
APPROPRIATE FOR TOSHI: No.
APPROPRIATE FOR DADDY: Not really.
"Batman Returns" (1992)
You can tell Burton had complete control over "Batman Returns," which is no doubt the reason it was his last "Batman" film as director.
I still thin it's one of the most interesting attempts yet to explore the pathology of the Batman/Bruce Wayne character, and with the exception of "The Dark Knight," it's the tightest script in terms of theme. As you watch it, just keep in mind that Gotham is just a stand-in for the inside of Bruce Wayne's head, where all of the facets of his personality are battling it out for dominence.
The Penguin is the side of him that feels abandoned by his parents, afraid he's a freak as a result, and angry at Gotham for letting them die in the first place. Catwoman is the side of him that gets off on wearing the rubber costume and kicking the shit out of people. Even Max Shreck represents the billionaire scumbag character that Bruce Wayne plays in public to make sure no one thinks he's Batman. That script, Bo Welch's inspired production design, and a cast that has the "wackjob" turned up to 11 adds up to the perfect marriage of Burton's style and the iconographic toybox of Batman.
As with the '89 film, the "Batman Returns" disc features a commentary from Tim Burton, some short making-of featurettes, and a deep documentary gallery.
APPROPRIATE FOR TOSHI: Not yet.
APPROPRIATE FOR DADDY: Absolutely.
"Batman Forever" (1995)
I would imagine that both of the Joel Schumacher Batman films do have fans. I've just never met one personally. I think both of them are wretched in different ways. "Batman Forever" suffers from the over-casting of two of the most egregious over-actors of the '90s. It's hard to declare a winner in the "so horrible I can't look away" sweepstakes, but I'm going to give it to Tommy Lee Jones, who seems to believe that his whole job is yell every line and hop around and go "BOOGEDY BOOGEDY!" right into the camera as much as possible. It's a maddeningly strange approach to Two-Face. At least Jim Carrey seems to realize that he's playing a bad guy.
And can we all agree? Val Kilmer? Worst Batman in film history? Or at the very least, the worst Warner Bros. big-budget Batman? He seems to be looking for the exit in every scene, but I'm not surprised he can't find it buried under all the goddamn neon.
Again... great extras for the Blu-Ray. Identical in design and depth to the first two films. I don't have the heart to sit through it all.
APPROPRIATE FOR TOSHI: Absolutely not.
APPROPRIATE FOR DADDY: Never again.
"Batman and Robin" (1997)
This film is so awful it makes me retroactively regret Arnold Schwarzenegger's entire acting career. You know how you know he's incredibly strong? Because he didn't die of embarassment from playing Mr. Freeze. Clooney, on the other hand, appears to totally get the joke, and he's a better fit as Batman than Kilmer could ever hope to be. But overloading the film with Bane and Poison Ivy and Batgirl and Robin and Alfred and Mr. Freeze and all of them needing lots of exposition, it's like a seven-hour movie. It's intolerably long. It mystifies me how the more money they spent on these, the worse looking they got.
Again, an impressive array of extra features is included, and I admit, I'm impressed at the care that Warner took even with the films that are less liked. Gives me hope that I'll get a nice "Beyond Thunderdome" when they put out that new bundle of "Mad Max" BluRays next year.
APPROPRIATE FOR TOSHI: No.
APPROPRIATE FOR DADDY: Are you kidding?
APPROPRIATE FOR ANYONE: Unimaginable.
"Batman Begins" (2005)
I dig it. I like it about as much as I like "Batman Returns," so I guess I like it when Batman does something.
Looking at this film, it's slick and smart and fairly lean, all things considered, and that's the best thing it does... it keeps it simple. It hustles through the familiar, lays out just enough new, and establishes a reality that Nolan can now, hopefully, sustain in this series. I think the reason Bale works as Batman and Bruce Wayne is because he's not a normal movie star. Christian Bale, as an actor, in terms of the choices he's made and makes, seems resolutely uninterested in whether or not you like him. That is not the way a movie star approaches things. Bale works in this role precisely because he's not a movie star. He plays him human. He plays him honest. He's willing to play Batman as sincerely broken, and even weak. He's never really given a compelling task in this first film... he begins, sure, but that's about it. The film certainly lives up to its name in that respect. I'll admit... I haven't rewatched this more than twice since it came out theatrically, but I played four sequences on BluRay and was very pleased with the transfer overall, and with the extras that are included.
APPROPRIATE FOR TOSHI: No. Not even close.
APPROPRIATE FOR DADDY: Sure.
"The Dark Knight" (2008)
I've written enough about this movie at this point that I feel sort of written out, but I'll add this: the BluRay is one of the very best demo discs I have for my system. If I want to show someone how well-calibrated my office screen is, this is one of the titles I'll use. The bank robbery in the beginning. The Tokyo fugitve-napping. The nighttime chase with the Batpod. A little Harvey Dent. Excellent disc, befitting an excellent movie.
APPROPRIATE FOR TOSHI: Not by a long shot.
APPROPRIATE FOR DADDY: Absolutely.
And since none of the Warner Bros. films are age-appropriate for Toshi, that only leaves one alternative...
"Batman The Movie" (1966)
Until Fox and, evidently, everyone else involved in the original show in any way, can work out whatever rights issues are keeping the TV show off of DVD and BluRay, the only way you can get your fix if you're a fan of the show produced by William Dozier, William P. D'Angelo, and Howie Horwitz is through the Fox BluRay release of the 1966 big-screen version of the series. It's campy, it's silly, and it's actually sort of wonderful. There's a real innocence about the way everything's played, and the rogue's gallery here isn't overstuffed the way it feels in the miserable Schumacher films. Instead, you want to see more interplay between Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin and Lee Meriwether. Leslie Martinson may have only directed a few episodes of the series, but he absolutely got it right with this movie. It's bright and colorful and poppy and preposterous. And on BluRay, it's eye-candy of the highest order. The primary colors practically pop off the screen in the film.
And extra features? Ummmm... try a commentary track by Ward and West. And it's as good as you hope it'll be, too. They're both still loads of fun to listen to, and their chemistry is intact. There's a piece on the making of a Batmobile and a behind-the-scenes mini-documentary, but the commentary is the real bonus here.
APPROPRIATE FOR TOSHI: Anytime.
APPROPRIATE FOR DADDY: Anytime. Hence, new favorite Batman movie.
Can't believe it's been 20 years this week since the first Burton film hit theaters. If I told you the full story of just how hyped up and crazy I was for that movie in the six months before it came out, you wouldn't believe me. I was out of my mind for it. I forget exactly how it happened... keep in mind, this was the pre-Internet days, and I lived in Tallahassee, Florida, not exactly a crossroads of culture... but I got hold of the Sam Hamm script in November of 1988, and I read it, and I lost my mind. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed to take the idea of Batman seriously, and that just blew me away. And for the second half of my freshman year in college, I was just mental to see the movie, counting down to June 23. I can't believe it's really been 20 years, especially looking at these amazing transfers.
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