Batman (1989) - Two-Disc Special Edition

Genre(s): Action / Adventure
Warner Brothers || PG13 - 126 minutes - $26.99 || October 18, 2005
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2005-10-22


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Tim Burton
Writer(s): Bob Kane (characters), Sam Hamm (story), Sam Hamm (screenplay) and Warren Skaaren (screenplay)
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance


Theatrical Release Date: June 23, 1989


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:

    Disc 1:
  • Director's Commentary
  • Theatrical Trailer


  • Disc 2:
  • Legends of the Dark Knight: History of Batman
  • On the Set with Bob Kane
  • Shadows of the Bat: Parts 1-3
  • The Heroes and Villains Profile Galleries
  • Beyond Batman Documentary Galleries
  • The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence
  • 3 Music Videos


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Widescreen (1.85)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

Normally I don't talk about personal experiences in my reviews, but I feel this is the appropriate time to do so. Like many out there, Tim Burton's Batman has always had a place in my movie heart. It was 1989, I was 8 years old when, while on vacation to the Oregon coast with my family, my favorite comic book character was coming to life on the big screen. Luckily there was a theater in town (a classic one to boot) where my parents took me to what was not only a movie experience, but also my very first PG-13 film which, though not on the same level, but something a kid will remember feeling a bit special, almost as if getting beyond some invisible velvet rope.

Point is, I always felt that Batman was a great movie. A great, iconic character matching up with the most vicious villain of any of the comics (DC or Marvel), a film with a wonderful, fantastical look and just something that I always felt like I loved; that is, until Batman Begins. After buying the Anthology set (along with Begins), I decided to pop in Batman as I hadn't seen it in a couple years (during which I had already seen Begins 4 times). To my surprise -- or perhaps chagrin --, I found Batman to be merely a good movie that pales in comparison to the latest vision.

I think what happened was after seeing what Nolan, Goyer and company did with the character of Wayne/Batman, it made Burton's version just that, a Tim Burton film. OK, I guess I can accept that... but oddly enough, my opinion on Jack Nicholson's Joker also seemed to be off. Was there anything wrong with him? Not really. My problem with his Joker stemmed from the fact that he was the focal point while our hero was a distant second to a script that gave him little to work with. Again, though, this movie has been around for 16 years... what happened? Batman Begins. So the question now is, is that fair? Shouldn't I just look at these as two different films? I should, but I truly cannot. I know there are a ton of people out there that feel Batman '89 is better than Batman Begins, and there are plenty who like both equally and then there are those (like me) who have changed their minds.

While I will always remember going to see the movie early in my youth, I just cannot say that it's that great of film any longer. Is it still good? Sure. While I have my reservations about the Joker, Nicholson does give a good performance worthy of rememberence. But it is a new era in the world of Batman. Just as he has had plenty of reinventions in the comic, so has he in this new franchise.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

After Warner Brothers finally decided to re-release other classics in their vast library (such as Shawshank Redemption, Bullitt and Heat), they finally got around to the Batman movies (and I'd include Batman & Robin in that, not as a classic, but as a historical movie to remind future generations how truly bad a movie can get). First in line is Tim Burton's Batman that, despite no new interviews with the Dark Knight himself, Michael Keaton, it has everything else any Bat-fan would want or need.

The first disc contains the feature film, a theatrical trailer (which is pretty low-tech, IMO, by today's standards) and a commentary track from Tim Burton. Even though this is not the most entertaining tracks I've listened to, Burton certainly has a lot of things to say and, outside the occasional lapse, uses up the two plus hours. Some of his comments are obvious such as casting Nicholson as The Joker, but other things like what he wanted to accomplish with really his first major film were interesting. This track reminded me of Taylor Hackford's commentary for Ray, with a plethera of info but both would've benefited with a co-commentator. [FYI: It was rumored that there was supposed to a "special guest" with Burton (maybe Keaton), apparently that's all it was, a rumor.]

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman is an in-depth look at, well, the history of Batman as a comic book character. This features interviews with past "Batman" comic book writers/artists, those involved with the movie as well as Kevin Smith and "The Man" himself, Stan Lee who had sort of an odd-couple relationship with Batman creator Bob Kane (demonstrated by Kane always taunting Lee about having one of his characters getting a box office winning movie whereas, at that time, Spider-Man wasn't in development). Although his clips were short, you could see that Lee had admoration and respect for Kane, which is cool to see from two rivals.

Segway into, On the Set with Bob Kane which is a featurette made (I assume for TV) back in 1988, in which Kane walks around the Batman set for a bit. It's fairly short, running under 3-minutes, but any kind of footage of a man who had so much to do with where comics are today, is always good.

Shadows of the Bat is an extensive featurette (running over 70-minutes) split into three parts: "The Road to Gotham City", "The Gathering Storm", and "The Legend Reborn" which covers the beginning stages of trying to get Batman to the big screen and the troubles faced doing so. After some wheeling and dealing, an agreement finally came through, but dangling on the edge of oblivion. Over the course of 10 years, Batman was finally looking like it would get to the big screen. These featurettes goes through the approach Tim Burton and writer Sam Hamm wanted to take with the movie, the inclusion (or not as was the case) of Robin, the casting and the negative publicity when Michael Keaton (known more for a goofy actor) as Bruce Wayne/Batman. But with Nicholson's signing as The Joker, it brought the project some credibility. Throughout this, I was glad to see that, although Keaton's stuff was old, Nicholson did a new interview for this DVD, and truly seemed to have enjoyed his time making the movie (and not just kissing some butt). This section includes a good amount of behind-the-scenes footage, including a little with Burton working on the editing. People involved with the filming reflect on the experience, especially the hype before its release which was wild (and a reminder of the days of Star Wars).

Next in line are The Heroes and Villains Profile Galleries that, on the surface, sounds like a bunch of production stills and some on-screen text. Instead, each of the major characters are quickly analyzed by the previous interviewees. Here, Batman, Vicki Vale, Alexander Knoxe, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, The Joker and Bob the Goon (Tracey Walter, hired by friend Nicholson). The Batman and Joker profiles are covered the most (around 5 minutes each). The rest I consider to be fluff, but still fun.

Like "Shadows of the Bat", Beyond Batman features 7 documentaries which can be viewed separately or all together (50:23):

"Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Gotham" (10:16) goes into some nice detail on Tim Burton's vision of Gotham and that he didn't want the city to have any real time period to it (though it does borrow from the 30s/40s) - Burton wanted Gotham to be a "parallel version of New York." Gotham itself is a mixture of different cultures as well as the art deco and such. We get to see the sets during the time, built on the giant Pinewood Studios lot. Also included is some shortcut trivia, namely the cathedral, which never existed and the interior consisted only the minimal elements.

"Building the Batmobile" (9:15) is a lot like the same featurette shown on the Batman Begins DVD. The art director and others recount how they made Batman's vehicle. We also get to see sketches and photos of the skeleton of the car where the designers admit they hadn't figured how to make an entrance for it. Also revealed was the Batmobile could get up to 75 miles per hour. There's some good detail here, talking about everything from installing the gadgets to the front headlights (which were originally white and then painted yellow at the request of Burton).

"Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman" (5:53) obviously talks about Batman's arsenal of weapons (and The Joker's for that matter) and how they were created. Again, there's more interview material as well as footage from the film. We get to hear from the special effects supervisor (who made Batman's nifty toys, which he had to make sure could fit on the utility belt).

"Designing the Batsuit" (6:49) is another interesting featurette/documentary that explains Batman's costume and its purpose. Burton always wanted the suit to be black since keeping it in-line with the comic book (blue and grey) would've been dumb (I'm interpreting here). This is fairly detailed with some concept drawings of the suit and the process of making it. This is so complete; they even talk about how they came up with the cape and its textures (batskin). Funny enough, there's an interview with the "batsuit wrangler"... Oh, and bats boots? Yep, they're Nikes.

"From Jack to Joker" (10:30) is one of the better mini-documentaries of the bunch, mainly because I find Nicholson to be an interesting person and to hear him talk even more about his time playing The Joker was fun. But going beyond just that, they also show how much work had to go into putting on Nicholson's Joker makeup (and his flesh color over the white stuff). There's a scene in the mob boardroom where he rubs a handkerchief on his forehead which wipes off the flesh color and reveals his true movie white face. I always thought there was some white stuff on the cloth... It seems much more complicated than I thought.

For all you Danny Elfman fans, there's the "Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman" (6:55) in which Elfman talks about how he came up with what is now an infamous score that is instantly recognizable. His inspiration for the score came while walking around the set of Gotham at night. For me, this wasn't as interesting as the rest, but still a must as that score is one of the best in history (maybe right up there with Star Wars).

Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence (4:15) came about when, early in the writing process, Warner Brothers was thinking of including Dick Grayson in a small role. According to the storyboard, The Flying Graysons are performing and get caught in the middle. I had somewhat of a hard time following, somehow Batman manages to get on a horse (since it was established in early drafts that he rode one) and Grayson helps out. All I can say, thank God they chose not to as it really came across as something Joel Schumacher would do. Interestingly, the storyboards use sound effects, music and the voice talents of Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamil (Joker) to play it out.

Lastly are three Prince music videos which were popular back then, but sure as hell have not aged too well. Since it is Prince, these are not your typical videos.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

Even though Batman was released over 16 years ago, Warner Brothers, a studio not known for including DTS mixes, did just that. While I appreciate it and indeed it sounds fine, there were times it was too much and reached the limits on my speakers. So, to test the Dolby 5.1 mix, it was too soft so there really wasn't a perfect medium. When it comes to the dialogue or minor action sequences, the DTS sounds great so no big deal.

More impressive is the picture restoration, which is a huge improvement over the previous barebones release. I thought Burton's unique vision/style comes through the screen nicely. Don't know if this changed from before, but the picture is presented in the anamorphic widescreen format as well.



.::OVERALL::.

This two-disc special edition should easily satisfy both fans and non-fans alike. Could it have been better? When it came to the commentary, probably, but that is a minor quibble for what is a great job from Warner Brothers, easily making up for their craptacular previous release. When it comes to featurettes/documentaries, they are top-notch features giving a broad look at the filming of what would be the start of a fascinating franchise (even the sequel, Batman Returns, had a different vibe despite being directed by Burton as well).