BATMAN: THE MOTION PICTURE ANTHOLOGY 1989-1997 - Blu-ray review

...the four-disc package is fun in high-def picture and sound, and given the movies involved, heck, three out of four ain't bad.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

"You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"
--Jack Nicholson, "Batman"

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, John and Josh comment on the four films in the set, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.

For "Batman" fans, it couldn't have come soon enough: "Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997" in high-definition Blu-ray. The set contains Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992), both with Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader; Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever" (1995), with Val Kilmer taking over the lead role; and Schumacher's disappointing "Batman & Robin" (1997), starring a curiously bland George Clooney, which temporarily stalled the franchise until Christopher Nolan rescued it about eight years later.

BATMAN
Reviewed by John J. Puccio

When I was a kid in the early Fifties I'd read the occasional Bob Kane "Batman" comic book, preferring the dark look of the superhero and his exploits to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's more sanitized "Superman" of the day. In the Sixties I generally hated the corny "Batman" TV series that trivialized the "Batman" idea and made everyone and everything in the stories the objects of ridicule.

Then I heard good things about Tim Burton's 1989 motion picture, "Batman," and my wife and I stood in line on opening day. It didn't disappoint us. Sure, Nicholson's Joker was over-the-top, but for the most part, the characters were back where they belonged, in serious film noir. Not that the series wouldn't slip back into schlock, but this one provided all the right ingredients its fans had always hoped for.

There are any number of reasons why "Batman" works so well, not the least of which was Burton's decision to make it as dark and realistic as possible, while still maintaining a comic-book sensibility. It isn't an easy task to convince anybody but the most die-hard superhero fan that a crime-fighter in a bat suit could really be swinging from one building to the next in a fictional Gotham City. But Burton manages the feat by making us believe in the characters, believe in their ambitions, and believe in their plights. He helps us suspend our disbelief by creating a noirish atmosphere reminiscent of the best Hollywood films of the forties and fifties and the best graphic novels of the eighties and beyond: dark, shadowy rooms; dark, rain-swept streets; dark, smoke-filled alleys. Even Wayne Manor has a dark, brooding aspect to it.

Next, there's the matter of Michael Keaton in the starring role. Michael Keaton? When I first read he was playing the part, I could hardly find it credible. I thought it was a joke. After all, wasn't he the fellow from "Night Shift," "Mr. Mom," "Johnny Dangerously," and "Beetlejuice," all comedic roles? Was this to be another farce, like the old television show? Why not Don Rickles as Batman? Made as much sense. Then I watched the movie and found Keaton almost perfect. No, he didn't fit my mental picture of Bruce Wayne; not enough muscle and not a firm enough jaw. I mean, the only part of Batman's face we see beneath the mask is the square jaw, so I expected someone more rugged--someone more like Adam West. Yet Keaton brings to the role far more than a superhero's physique. He is a genuinely complex and tortured soul beneath the cape, a character whose motivations are always in question, if never disparaged. In short, Keaton proves a far better dramatic actor than anyone might have thought, and it is his portrayal as much as anything else in the movie that makes us accept the "Batman" universe as a part of the everyday.

Countering Keaton's Batman is superstar Jack Nicholson as the psycho nut case Jack Napier, The Joker. "So much to do, and so little time." Because of his status in the Hollywood hierarchy, Nicholson received top billing, an odd circumstance given the movie's title but an understandable one considering Nicholson's marketability. Needless to say, Nicholson plays his character as broadly as possible and, depending on your point of view, either steals the show or ruins it. Like most viewers, I've always rather liked Nicholson's creation, the flip side of Bruce Wayne, both masked, one good, the other evil; even if I think Burton gives Nicholson too much screen time, which takes away from the otherwise semi-realistic tone of the picture. "Do I look like I'm joking?" Then, too, it's The Joker and his shenanigans that almost sink the movie in the last half hour of bedlam, as things get more and more exaggerated. "Batman" fans live with it.

The movie's supporting cast do their part as well. Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, the photographer on Batman's trail and the eventual love interest for Bruce Wayne, is sexy and convincing. Robert Wuhl as Alexander Knox, a reporter out to unmask the flying bat, is appropriately cheeky and lightens the mood of the proceedings. Pat Hingle and Billy Dee Williams look good in their roles as Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Dent, but they go largely unused in the film. Jack Palance as crime boss Carl Grissom is on screen for only a few minutes, but he is the only actor to come close to upstaging Nicholson. And Michael Gough as Alfred the butler is the perfect gentleman's gentleman.

We can be thankful for Burton's "Batman" for reinvigorating the idea of the superhero on the big screen and encouraging the series of "Batman" films that followed. Everyone will have his or her favorite "Batman" movies, to be sure, and for me they are the original "Batman" and the newer Nolan films, albeit for different reasons. Their commonalities, though, are what count: their dark tone and their strict adherence to the rules of the worlds they create.

Burton's ingenuity, Keaton's and Nicholson's star turns, and the excellent supporting cast would go for naught, however, if it weren't for Anton Furst's production design and Peter Young's set decoration, which combined for an Academy Award; Roger Pratt's cinematography; and Danny Elfman's original music (but maybe not Prince's song contributions). One look at and one listen to this movie's opening sequence alone, and you know it's "Batman," a unique work of considerable influence and imagination. Silly touches aside, like the overambitious Batmobile and Batplane, this movie is the yardstick by which we have measured all subsequent "Batman" movies.

Extras:
Disappointingly, the bonus materials on all these Blu-ray discs come in standard definition only. Ah, well, it's still good to have them at all, everything from the two-disc Special Editions, packed onto four dual-layered BD50s. First up on "Batman," we find an audio commentary by director Tim Burton. Although Burton will never win any awards as a public speaker, his remarks are candid and enlightening in a sometimes halting, purely improvisatory way. Equally important, when he has nothing to say, he has the good sense to say nothing, something that doesn't seem to stop many other, more-loquacious commentators.

Next, we get "Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman," a forty-minute documentary that takes us all the way back to the 1930s and is as much a history of the comic-book form as it is of "Batman." After that comes "On the Set with Bob Kane," two minutes of comments by the creator of "Batman." It's basically a short promo, but it's fun hearing from Kane, who died in 1998. Then, there's a series of three featurettes called "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight," recounting the production of the "Batman" movies. They include "The Road to Gotham City," seventeen minutes; "The Gathering Storm," twenty-one minutes; and "The Legend Reborn," thirty minutes.

Following that, we have "Beyond Batman," another gallery of short featurettes, six of them in all, taking us behind the scenes. These include "Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Batman," ten minutes; "Building the Batmobile," nine minutes; "Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman," six minutes; "Designing the Batsuit," seven minutes; "From Jack to The Joker," ten minutes; and "Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman," seven minutes. Then, there are two more galleries: "Batman: The Heroes," including short chapters of one-to-five minutes on Batman, Vicki Vale, Alexander Knox, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent; and "Batman: The Villains," profiling The Joker and his henchman, Bob the goon.

Finally, there are three music videos by Prince: "Batdance," "Partyman," and "Scandalous," four-to-five minutes each; "Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence," a four-minute animated segment; and a theatrical trailer.

"Batman" also comes with a digital copy disc, compatible with iTunes and Windows Media devices. And all the discs include a scene selections menu; English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. A fancy slipcover-type box houses the five discs (remember the bonus digital copy), each of them enclosed in a slim-line Blu-ray case, with the digital copy packed in the same case with "Batman."

John's film rating for "Batman": 8/10

BATMAN RETURNS
Reviewed by Josh Lambert

You have to love Tim Burton; his talent for eerie films is amazing and immediately reminds me why I love them so much. From the moment his movies begin, Burton draws you in with morbid curiosity; and 1992's "Batman Returns" is no different.

Supported by Danny Elfman's brilliant music, Tim Burton's famous visuals are dark and foreboding in the opening shots of this sequel. There's a shriek from a woman giving birth in a grandiose mansion, as the doctors and nurses run from the room. We're never shown, but it's assumed that the cause is a hideously deformed baby. The rich parents are distraught and throw baby and basket into an icy river to rid them of the atrocity that is their child. The basket then takes a dismal journey through the tunnels of the Gotham sewer system and finally arrives among a family of penguins living therein.

I tend to forget about all of the other excellent actors that are in the films as well. Not only do we have the pleasure of seeing Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer in "Batman Returns," we're also entertained by the likes of Danny DeVito (the Penguin), and Christopher Walken (Max Shreck).

"Batman Returns" is just as dark as the first "Batman" film, and almost as entertaining. While I do like Burton's films, he has made some mistakes along the way. I'd first like to say that seeing Pfeiffer in the "Catwoman" suit might be worth the price of the disc alone. However, her performance while in the suit does comes across as over the top. The conversion from mild-mannered, nerdy secretary Selina Kyle to the full blown Catwoman made no sense at all. Pfeiffer's character is pushed out the window of her office skyscraper by her boss, Max Shreck. She bounces around a few hanging banners on her way down and then finally hits the ground, where she lets out a final breath. Moments later, cats come rushing in from every direction to lick, bite, and generally walk all over her. A few seconds pass, a few twitches, and Selina's eyes open wide. She's then back home, starts destroying her apartment and, subsequently, a black rain coat, which she then quickly turns into her "Cat Suit," and, like magic, you've got an Easy-Bake "Catwoman" (ding!). For some odd reason as well, Catwoman uses backwards summersaults as a mode of locomotion. It's cute the first time, but it quickly grows tiresome the second time around. Luckily, I think Catwoman only does this twice in the film, which, as I mentioned, is once too many. In fairness to Burton, however, he probably didn't have the time needed to properly build the Catwoman character in a two-hour movie.

However, Burton did a decent job developing the "Penguin" character, played by Danny DeVito. In the audio commentary, Burton mentions having DeVito in mind for the "Penguin" character from the beginning. I have to say, when I think of as insidious, as disgusting, and as beguiling a character as Burton's vision is of the "Penguin," DeVito would be the last person I'd think of. However, after revisiting the film, I don't believe Burton could have chosen a better actor. I've seen most of DeVito's work over his acting career, and this man has got range. From the black spit and drool leaking from his mouth throughout "Batman Returns" to his scarfing down a fish, DeVito surprises one throughout the film. Burton also mentions in the commentary that DeVito did this for real, and it was not a cutaway while he pretends he's eating the fresh fish. While DeVito is basically just eating sushi, it's one thing to eat a prepared and pleasant-looking tuna roll, but it's quite another to be ravenously tearing into a scaly, silvery fish, with its dead eyes looking back at you.

I think I'd have to say Michael Keaton is my favorite actor as Batman, with Christian Bale and Val Kilmer following up. Keaton was able to properly portray the duality within Batman and not just play the cool, dark side that everyone loves to see. That ideal is more true to the Batman character in my opinion. If you carefully watch Keaton in either the first "Batman" or "Batman Returns," you see him as the dark, tough, and angry Batman that we've all grown to love in the Batsuit. But when Keaton is portraying Bruce Wayne, there's a subtle innocence about him that makes him seem like a very kind and caring person. None of the other actors that have played the Batman character to date have brought that level of detail to the screen. If the "Batman" legacy continues on the screen, it would be nice to see Keaton return to the role.

Christopher Walken is always fun to watch in any role. He brings a sort of chaos, or madness, and unpredictability to every character I can remember seeing him play. Here, Walken is the unscrupulous, power-hungry, billionaire "Max Shreck" (which was the real name of the actor who played Count Orlok in the 1922 classic, "Nosferatu"). This Shreck has an agenda to build a massive power plant under the guise that the new plant will prepare Gotham City for an inevitable power need in future growth. In reality the proposed plant will draw from Gotham's overabundance of power and store it for Shreck's own purposes. Shrek attempts to manipulate anyone who can make his plans come to fruition. Joining forces with the "Penguin" and some dirty politicians, and even vying for the support of one Bruce Wayne, Shreck won't stop until he's accomplished his goal. I find it funny in the movie that Walken, someone who is so adept at projecting insanity, control through fear, and chaotic behavior in his acting, is afraid of penguins and other small animals. Burton also mentions in the audio commentary that while working with the various penguins and monkeys on set, Walken was "freaking out a little," even in the shots kept in the film.

Before I watched it again, I think I might have counted "Batman Returns" as one of my least favorite of the series, but I tended to forget just how good Tim Burton really can be. "Batman Returns" is well paced, and it has a cast of well-known, quality actors. The sets, too, are amazing for a few reasons. You have the gargantuan settings that are meant for a lot of action or a lot of scenes shot in them, and then there are the miniatures for wide-angle shots of a fictitious city or area. Even today, Burton is one of the few directors who hasn't given in almost entirely to CGI. "Batman Returns" has some amazing panoramic shots and some very dramatic dark-and-light contrasts throughout the film, in standard Tim Burton fashion. There is plenty of action in "Batman Returns," as there is in every one of the films in this series. Maybe the special effects for the explosions are a little lacking or weak in comparison to what we're used to seeing on screen these days. This doesn't necessarily detract from the film per se, but it was a little distracting. I had a few minor complaints about some of the sound effects throughout the film, too, but nothing worth going into detail about.

I also liked Burton's use of animals in the film. I'm not sure what it is about seeing a flock of penguins running along the street with candy-cane striped missiles strapped to their backs, but I was laughing my butt off! Burton may not have meant it to be that funny, as the missiles were supposed to foretell Gotham's impending doom, but it was funny nonetheless. I really enjoyed watching this film again, and I wouldn't have a problem watching it in the future.

Extras:
First up on the "Batman Returns" Blu-ray disc is "The Bat, The Cat and The Penguin," hosted by Robert Urich and is chockful of in-depth interviews with the cast and some of the crew of the film, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at scene preparation and the cast joking around. I enjoyed this feature.

Next is "Shadows of the Bat Pt. 4: Dark Side of the Knight," focusing on Tim Burton's vision of the film and its effects. Next we have "Batman: The Heroes," a deeper look into the heroes of "Batman Returns," with comments from avid (and famous) fans of the comic books, cartoon series, and movies.

After that is "Batman: The Villains," featuring interviews with actor Danny DeVito, executive producer Michael E. Uslan, director Tim Burton, stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, and many more. Then "Batman: The Heroes," with background information on the Penguin, Catwoman, and Max Shreck characters. The Max Shreck character in particular (played by Walken) was interesting to look into deeper. One juicy tidbit we find out is that not only does Walken unnerve people in the movies, but initially Burton didn't want to cast Walken because he was afraid him!

The "Beyond Batman" segment has a myriad of features within it, most of which you'll get the gist of from their titles: "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"; and finally "Inside the Elfman Studios: The Music of Batman Returns." Wrapping up this slew of bonus items is a "Face to Face" music video by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Josh's film rating for "Batman Returns": 7/10

BATMAN FOREVER
Reviewed by John J. Puccio

In 1995 Joel Schumacher ("Falling Down," "A Time to Kill," "The Client," "The Phantom of the Opera") took over the directing chores from Tim Burton, and Val Kilmer assumed the cape from Michael Keaton. "Batman Forever" took on a decidedly different tone, less dark and gloomy than Burton's movies, lighter, more action-oriented, and more "family-friendly," as they say; yet one may miss Burton's playfully macabre humor. Batman's original creator, Bob Kane, once said that Kilmer was his favorite Batman, the actor taking the role quite seriously, perhaps more seriously than Schumacher took the movie.

One of the beauties of Burton's first "Batman" film was its focus. It had only one villain, The Joker, for Batman to fight and a minor love interest with Vicki Vale. Then, as the series continued, the movies involved ever more characters: "Batman Returns" had The Penguin, Catwoman, and Max Shreck. And "Batman Forever" takes things a step further with Two-Face, The Riddler, Robin, and Dr. Chase Meridian. The sheer numbers are too much for the plot to handle and muddle the story line's forward momentum.

"Batman Forever" is louder and gaudier than Burton's films, so be prepared. Schumacher is very big on colored lights, and everything in the film seems lit with neon. Let's just say the director leaves no doubt that this is a comic-book adventure in the most "comic" sense.

Interesting, Kilmer's gestures and vocal inflections mimic those of Keaton, and I believe he said somewhere that it was on purpose, to give the character a continuity with the actor who came before him. Fair enough. Kilmer is quite good in the part, seemingly the only person in the movie who was taking it seriously. Which is pretty hard to do considering the preposterous caricatures of the villains.

Tommy Lee Jones cackles his way through the part of Harvey Dent, the once noble Gotham District Attorney now facially scarred and turned to the Dark Side as Two-Face. Regrettably, this fine actor does little else but cackle, and he's upstaged at every turn by the wild shenanigans of Jim Carrey, mugging it up as Dr. Edward Nygma (E. Nygma), alias The Riddler. Two-face has but a single goal in life--to kill Batman--but Nygma is a mad scientist bent on controlling the minds of everyone in the world using television set-top boxes. Together, these cartoon baddies chart Batman's demise and their own world domination. While poor Jones struggles to continue chortling, Carrey does his usual "Dumb & Dumber"-"Ace Ventura" schtick, and their act gets tired fast.

Add to this mix Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, Kidman another fine performer thrown away in the name of silly entertainment, and Chris O'Donnell as Dick Grayson, Robin the Batboy. About the only person who emerges unscathed is Michael Gough, reprising his role as Alfred, the faithful butler.

"Batman Forever" never reaches the depths of the ridiculous that the next of Schumacher's "Batman" films, "Batman & Robin," reached, but it's not in Burton's league, either. Even the Batmobile looks sillier than ever and should have been called the Clownmobile.

The fact is, Kilmer and Gough seem to be in an entirely different movie from the one Schumacher and the rest of the cast make. They play it straighter than everyone else and rescue the story from its own absurdity. The result is a film that could have been better, that Kilmer undoubtedly wanted to be better, but that the studio and the director insisted be something less. It's still OK, but it's nothing special.

Extras:
Like the other movies in this Blu-ray set, "Batman Forever" contains all of the extras found in the previous two-disc Special Edition. That means we get an audio commentary by the director, Joel Schumacher, followed by a series of other items, documentaries and featurettes.

These other items include "Riddler Me This: Why is Batman Forever," a behind-the-scenes affair; "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, Pt. 5: Reinventing a Hero," about re-energizing the "Batman" franchise; "Out of the Shadows," detailing some of the production design; "The Many Faces of Gotham City," on costumes and makeup; "Knight Moves: The Stunts of Batman Forever"; "Imaging Forever: The Visual Effects of Batman Forever"; and "Scoring Forever: The Music of Batman Forever."

In addition, we get a series of seven deleted scenes; a music video, "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal; a few brief comments on the heroes and villains of the piece; and a theatrical trailer.

John's film rating for "Batman Forever": 5/10

BATMAN & ROBIN
Reviewed by John J. Puccio

Holy breastplates, boys and girls! Are those nipples on the Batsuit?

Tim Burton resurrected the "Batman" movie franchise in 1989 after the corny TV series and movie of the 1960s had just about done it in. Burton had gone to the graphic novels of the Dark Knight, instilling his "Batman" films with an edgy, noirish tone that made fans happy and turned non-fans into believers. But then the three sequels that followed got progressively more campy, culminating in director Joel Schumacher's 1997 release "Batman & Robin," which effectively derailed the "Batman" express until Christopher Nolan went back to square one and started all over again to repair the damage.

What had started out with Burton as an attempt to inject some realism into the "Batman" project turned into a Las Vegas stage show with Schumacher. This was a shame and probably not entirely Schumacher's fault, as he had already done and would continue to do better things. But the series started to go south with his directing of "Batman Forever," and they reached rock bottom with "Batman & Robin."

Here's the thing: "Batman & Robin" has practically no story to it, just a succession of gaudy set pieces, most of them unrelated to anything coming before or after them, that generate about as much intensity as a circus sideshow. The movie plays at best like a carnival fun ride but without the thrills. It's just bright flashing lights covering a glut of glitzy scenery, props, costumes, and special effects. The movie begins to sink under its own weight during the opening titles and never recovers.

George Clooney takes over from Val Kilmer and Michael Keaton as the new Batman, but top billing goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger as the villainous Mr. Freeze. Neither Clooney nor Schwarzenegger make the slightest impression. Clooney, who can usually be so charming on screen, is oddly nondescript, so laid back he nearly falls off the screen. He looks good, to be sure, but he's dreadfully miscast as a superhero. Think of asking a happy-go-lucky Cary Grant to play the part.

Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, overplays his role at every turn, hamming it up unconscionably. To be fair, the director undoubtedly told all the performers to play their parts as broadly as possible. Schumacher admits on the audio commentary that he was going for a purely comic-book effect, with comic-book characters, comic-book colors, comic-book camera angles, and comic-book dialogue. He was obviously emphasizing the word "comic" in all of this, although the result is more like theater of the absurd.

The plot is too preposterous to describe, and it develops not even the minutest shred of credibility. A scientist, Dr. Victor Fries, alias Mr. Freeze, finds himself beset by a tragic accident that renders him unable to endure heat, so he must maintain his body temperature at zero degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Meanwhile he keeps his dying wife in a cylinder of liquid while he tries to revive her through a procedure requiring a load of diamonds (don't ask), which he must steal. He accomplishes the thefts by freezing people into blocks of ice with a special flash-freeze gun. Simultaneously, another scientist, Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman), has a dreadful accident of her own that turns her from a nerdy research assistant into a sexy snake with the voice of a Mae West; she calls her new self Poison Ivy, and her lips are venomous. Her deal is wanting to destroy all animal life on the planet and start everything over. Needless to say, she and Freeze team up as a sort of Adam and Evil.

Batman's young friend Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell), alias Robin, assists him (Batman and Dick must never have sounded too good). O'Donnell is one of the few actors in the movie who seems to fit his role and acts accordingly. Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone), alias Batgirl, shows up as Alfred the butler's niece, a spirited young lady about Robin's age with a penchant for adventure. Unfortunately, Ms. Silverstone appears completely lost in the part, totally mystified by the whole movie. The solitary actor who is able to overcome the odds is Michael Gough, reprising his role as Alfred Pennyworth, a mainstay as always and the only person to bring a touch of humanity to the proceedings.

"Batman & Robin" is so lightweight it's in danger of flying off the screen on bat wings, yet there's no fun or excitement anywhere in it. It's all spectacle and no heart, with an overreliance not only on visual effects but on silly one-liners: "That's why Superman works alone," "The iceman cometh," "It's a hockey team from hell." Moreover, not even the special effects are convincing, most of the sets looking as phony as the plastic icicles we see hanging from the rafters. It looks as though Schumacher filmed every scene inside a cheap amusement park. The only shots I found at all intriguing were the matte paintings of Gotham City and a few of its buildings and roadways. That accounts for about a minute and a half of the movie's two-hour running time.

I can't imagine how much worse the "Batman" motion-picture series could have gotten if Christopher Nolan hadn't stepped in and decided to out-noir Burton. If Schumacher had tried to make "Batman Forever more family friendly, he made "Batman & Robin" positively prepubescent friendly. Schumacher's intention appears to have been to make something so awful, so corny, so campy, so preposterously bad, that audiences would simply laugh at it. Sorry; it doesn't work. Bad is bad.

Extras:
Things begin on "Batman & Robin" with the compulsory director's commentary, Mr. Schumacher sounding about as enthusiastic toward the affair as I would be; meaning, hardly. I found most of his remarks confined to the "I remember this scene being very difficult to shoot" variety, but at least he has the good sense to concede that he meant "Batman & Robin" as pure comic-book escapism.

Next, we find "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, Part 6: Batman Unbound." It's a twenty-seven-minute, behind-the-scenes documentary in which the actors and filmmakers are more candid than one usually finds in these things. For instance, Chris O'Donnell tells us that working on "Batman & Robin" was like "making a toy commercial." Apparently, studio brass wanted a movie that would sell toy action figures more than they wanted anything else. You'll also find out as much here as you ever wanted to know about nipples and codpieces.

Following the main documentary there is a gallery of featurettes called "Beyond Batman," whose titles are self-explanatory: "Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin," ten minutes; "Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin," ten minutes; "Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin," twelve minutes; "Frozen Freaks and Femme Fatales: The Makeup of Batman & Robin," nine minutes; and "Freeze Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin," nine minutes. These sections are not quite so frank as the main documentary, though; for example, director Schumacher says, "Overall, I thought every set was perfect for the film." OK, maybe he was being sarcastic, I don't know.

Lastly, we have an additional scene, "Alfred's Lost Love," that lasts less than a minute, and four music videos: "The End Is the Beginning Is the End" by the Smashing Pumpkins, five minutes; "Foolish Games" by Jewel, four minutes; "Gotham City" by R. Kelly, five minutes; and "Look into My Eyes" by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, five minutes.

John's film rating for "Batman & Robin": 3/10

Video for the Set:
Although Warner Bros. use dual-layer BD50s and VC-1 encodes to reproduce all four films in 1080p high definition, there is enough variation in the visual qualities of the movies to make differences quite noticeable. The earliest film, "Batman," comes off worst, although it isn't really that bad except in comparison with the others. There is a modicum of print grain in the darker scenes, and detail and delineation can run the course between sharp and polished on the one hand and dull, soft, and veiled on the other. Part of the problem is that Burton probably intended his film to look misty and dark, and it's certainly that, with a dull sheen over many of the sequences. But in brighter shots, the picture is crystal clear.

By the time the second film, "Batman Returns," rolled around, Burton must have either had a change of heart or better equipment and film stock to work with because the whole movie is far crisper in appearance. Definition is considerably sharper than in "Batman," with stronger colors shining through, despite the noirish tone.

Oddly, the picture quality of the third movie, "Batman Forever," reverts back to that of the first movie. Rather than being clear and precise, it's soft and misty. Yet Schumacher turns this around yet again, as least somewhat, in "Batman & Robin." Despite the fourth movie's overall darkness and extravagance of colors, things come out a little better than in the previous film, with sharper definition and a tad less haze. Still, there's a slightly washed-out look to some of the action scenes, which seem purposely shrouded in a thin layer of smoke or fog.

Audio for the Set:
On all four films, WB audio engineers provide both lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and regular, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Naturally, I listened in TrueHD, which improves, at least technically, from film to film. With "Batman" the audio is somewhat rough and edgy, with relatively little information in the surround channels beyond some musical ambience enhancement. Bass is also a mite restricted, and dynamic impact can vary from one action scene to the next. The sound can roar when it wants to, but it's a bit coarse and hard in the process.

Three years later, the use of multichannel audio had advanced, and "Batman Returns" shows the benefits of more pinpoint surround activity. Gunfire and explosions fly far and wide, with various planes, trains, and automobiles (plus an assortment of bats) following suit. There's a deeper and more sustained bass than on the first "Batman" film, too, and better dynamic contrasts.

With "Batman Forever," director Schumacher pulled out all the stops, making his soundtrack louder, more dynamic, and more robust than the previous two. It actually gets to be too much, and dialogue sometimes suffers, muffled behind the rafter-shaking bass and boomeranging bullets. Then, in Schumacher's "Batman & Robin" the sound is almost ear-splitting, even when you turn it down. There are good directional effects, to be sure, with the noises of thunder, motorcycles, running water, and freezing ice coming from all sides of the listening area, but the sound is so unrelenting in its ceaseless attacks on our eardrums that much of what we hear just seems unnecessary.

Parting Thoughts:
Obviously, the film values vary for the four movies in the set. I gave an 8/10 to the first "Batman" film, Josh gave a 7/10 to "Batman Returns," and then I gave a 5/10 to "Batman Forever." So far, so good. Too bad this series had to end with "Batman & Robin," which I gave a 3/10. OK, if you insist on viewing "Batman & Robin" only as high camp, you can add a few more points. In any case, the four-disc package is fun in high-def picture and sound, and given the movies involved, heck, three out of four ain't bad.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
8
Film Value
7