Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology on Blu-ray disc
After the success of Warner Brothers and Richard Donner's Superman it took another decade for the next logical DC comics title to hit the big screen. That's if you ignore the movie spawned by the 1960's TV series, which came even earlier and is easy to ignore.
In many ways it was worth the wait: Tim Burton's vision of the caped crusader is a good comic book film - though it (and the rest of this set) pales in comparison to Christopher Nolan's later takes on the subject, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
The "first" Batman go around covered here consisted of four movies of decreasing quality. The first two (the Tim Burton ones) are considered generally to be the best, though this reviewer really only liked the first one. But each has its moments and if you're a Batman fan you really should have this Blu-ray set in your library. Well, actually, if you love Batman you may be better served ignoring the last two...
Very briefly, here's what's in each film:
Batman (Michael Keaton) vs. The Joker (Jack Nicholson), with Nicholson chewing the scenery as only he can. With Kim Basinger as the love/lust interest.
Much as "Batman Begins" shows the origin of the Caped Crusader, this outing gives us the origin of The Joker (and a bit of Batman background). This probably isn't surprising since Nicholson also got top billing over Keaton.
One thing I noticed with this Blu-ray is that it has restored a Nicholson line that if I remember correctly had been truncated in earlier video versions. It's in the scene where Batman rescues Vicki Vale from the art gallery and The Joker marvels at Batman's gadgetry. Nicholson now says something like "Where does he get those wonderful toys?", which is how I remember him saying the line when I saw the movie in the theater originally. But in earlier video incarnations he merely said "Get those wonderful toys!", which changes the meaning completely from marveling at the Caped Crusader's wherewithal to ordering his people of hench to get the wonderful toys for him.
Not a big deal, perhaps, but it's nice to see the Blu-ray did it right.
Batman Returns sees Keaton and Burton return, but this time the villains are Danny De Vito as The Penguin, with Michelle Pfeiffer purrfecting her characterization of Catwoman.
In some ways it's a "bigger" movie than the first, but as with the Superman series, this first sequel also starts down the path toward lower quality. That said, it's way better than "Batman Forever" or "Batman and Robin", but it's still a pale shadow of the first film. De VIto's Penguin is a bizarre and evil character (kind of how Heath Ledger's Joker is, except that while Ledger sends shivers up your spin De Vito merely annoys. Pfeiffer's Catwoman is better, and adds a note of sexiness to another otherwise very dark outing, but she can't save the film.
Then we move to Joel Schumacher's attempts to keep the franchise afloat - the first of which (Batman Forever) was obviously successful. But he takes Batman down the comedic route and while that worked for the TV series, it didn't work as follow ups to a pair of serious movies.
Baddies this time are Jim Carrey as The Riddler, in a characterization that's more over the top than necessary, and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face - in a performance that made me want to check out The Dark Knight again so I could cleanse my palate with Aaron Eckhart's much more believable version.
Nicole Kidman is also on hand, though it's hard to tell why.
Of course you can't talk about this movie without mentioning Val Kilmer in the lead role. Kilmer's generally a good actor, but he's probably the worst Batman other than, perhaps, Adam West. Perhaps the problem with Kilmer and West was script-and-direction related, but whatever the reason, it just doesn't work credibly.
Batman Forever and Batman and Robin emphasize flash over script, which is a shame when it's perfectly feasible to have both (look at the newest outings).
Batman and Robin brings George Clooney into the lead role and he's probably the best thing about this awful movie. Again we have flash over substance, even down to redesigning the Caped Crusaders' costumes yet again, and though we have a Batgirl character this time around (Alicia Silverstone), she isn't perky or sexy - just annoying. And Chris O'Donnell as Robin doesn't really do a lot to endear himself to viewers either.
Then there's Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Arnold is more of an action star than thespian, and you'd think that would work well in an action movie. But it doesn't - and he spouts these dumb one liners that wear thin nearly as quickly as he begins to say them. Uma Thurman is pretty good as Poison Ivy, but she can't save this mess.
I couldn't help wishing that Christian Bale would come on screen, especially during the last two movies, and muscle the then-current Batman out of the way, donning the cape and cowl instead. Of course, he would've had to bring his own screenwriter and director with him...
Still, they're Batman movies and until Batman Begins came along it was all there was other than the camp TV series. But, that doesn't make them great!
It's a pretty good boxed set, though, if you ignore the movies themselves other than the first one. Each entry comes on its own Blu-ray disc and Warner Brothers has done them justice (more than justice, in some cases!)
All feature a 1080p widescreen picture (1.85:1) and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio and they're pretty good. Not anywhere close to the quality of Begins or Dark Knight, which are wonderful demo discs, but they're okay.
Colors of the Burton entries are muted, but the detail is good and you get a nice, film like image. The Schumacher movies are much brighter and flaws would be more visible, but Warners has actually done a pretty good job of cleaning up the images and they look a lot better than the DVD versions I saw a few years ago. Unfortunately, while Burton's movies are dark (though Batman returns looks a little better overall than Batman), the other two border on gaudy. Oh, the detail is there, and there's even a bit of that great "depth" a good Blu-ray can bring, but it makes the set look more like two sets of two films (which, I suppose it is, really) than a cohesive whole.
The audio gets better progressively as the series moves on and, unfortunately, as the movies get worse. It's probably an age and maybe an analog versus digital recording thing, but Batman sounds a bit flat and front-centered, whereas by the time we get to Batman and Robin the home theater is rocking. If only it were the other way around!
Warners has really piled on the extras, too, some of which is fluff and some of which is buff. Here's a listing of what you get:
Batman & Robin
The packaging it a bit of a pain in the butt - they'd have been better with a straightforward box than the top-opening multipiece thing they've inflicted on us, but it's easy enough to throw that away and just sit the individual Blu-ray discs on your shelf, where they'll take up less room.
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.