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"Batman (1989): Special Edition"
Review by Zach Demeter "Bird Boy"

In 1989, Batman was one of the biggest movies of that decade. People ate up the tons of press and publicity and merchandising from this new and dark take on Batman, forming huge lines. With Jack Nicholson as perhaps one of the best renditions of The Joker, the film enchanted all those who viewed it.

It’s almost strange to watch this film now, post-Batman Begins. You can still see the charm it holds, but on one hand you keep comparing it (and, really, all the films from 1989-1997) to Batman Begins and it’s difficult to not draw the comparisons. Once you can ignore that however, you become just as entertained as you once were before Nolan and Bale took over the universe.

But, let’s completely ignore the existence of Batman Begins. Let’s talk about what makes this film great, not only for its time, but also the present. On top of that, we can do it while watching it in a way it’s never been presented before: in glorious DVD clarity and 5.1 (and DTS, if you have a receiver that supports it) surround sound.

The Film
From the very start of Batman, Danny Elfman’s classic theme resounds and vibrates throughout the room and we’re taken on a “ride” around the bat-insignia. A petty robbery later, we get our first glimpse of Batman. His words are few in his first appearance but it’s capped off with the two words people would quote (and continue to quote) years later: “I’m Batman.”

Tim Burton’s Batman was one of the darkest versions of the Dark Knight (his follow-up, Batman Returns, would darken the universe even more). To this day, people speak the praises of Burton’s original vision, with Keaton being to many the definitive Batman and Nicholson being the definitive Joker.

I’m not going to ramble on too long on the film; by now, you’ve undoubtedly seen it many times over. You’re not here to hear praise about the film; you’re here to see if this two-disc special edition of the 1989 classic is worth it.

So is it worth it? I think a resounding “Hell Yes!” is in order. The original DVD release was one of the first DVDs WB released. Snapper case and flipper disc included, the DVD held a poor transfer of the film with simple audio and with the theatrical trailer being the only special feature. The video quality was horrendous, especially when you started viewing it on higher-definition sets; even without that, however, you still could see the massive amount of grain. Better than VHS, yes, but not anywhere near what you expect from a DVD.

They’ve fixed that completely. The video quality on this movie is gorgeous. There is grain, what with it being filmed almost twenty years ago and on simple film, no less, but the transfer still is pretty damn gorgeous looking. Blacks are true blacks, colors, what there are of them, are sharp and vibrant. Very little edge enhancement on this film shows up and it’s just an overall beautiful transfer. I really can’t stress how great it is to see this film in such clarity after seeing muddy VHS and DVD for so many years.

Audio is incredible as well. It’s clear and crisp and with two audio tracks (5.1 or DTS) to choose from, you can experience the movie in a way you were never able to before. If the new digital video transfer won’t bring you in, then the audio certainly will.

This isn’t enough for such a film, however. Presentation is one thing, but DVDs are known for extras such as behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and commentaries. It delivers on all of those in spades; for a film so old, you wouldn’t expect so much.

The first disc contains the movie, a theatrical trailer and commentary. Some will complain that there is only one trailer, while there were undoubtedly many, as well as TV spots. I agree, but in the end trailers are just footage from the movie; you rarely see much else, except maybe some random footage that didn’t make the cut. It would have been nice if they included the trailers, but I’m not going to cry over it too much.

Tim Burton provides a very interesting commentary over the film. One excellent thing about it is the amount of information he’s able to recall, almost all of which is never repeated on the second discs featurettes. This is an amazing feat, considering how much footage there is to see.

From on-set stories to production tales, Burton retells all he can in the two-hour film’s commentary. I definitely recommend listening to it, as it’s a lot of fun and very interesting to listen to.

The second disc contains many featurettes, character bios and music videos. Things get pretty intensely deep here and it’s all a lot of fun to watch. Despite knowing I’d have to review all of these features, I didn’t want them to end; they covered enough to leave me satisfied, but maybe a few deleted scenes (assuming any are even around still to put on) would’ve left me completely happy. Nonetheless, what we get here is amazing and there is plenty of it.

Disc Two starts out with “Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman.” This featurette (over forty minutes long) catalogues the escapades of the Dark Knight from his incarnation in 1939 up to Batman and a little of Batman: The Animated Series. We hear from Bob Kane, head honchos at DC Comics, writers and artists of the Dark Knight throughout the years, Kevin Smith, Mike Mignola, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Frank Miller, Alex Ross and many, many others. It’s a really good featurette for any Bat-fan to watch and to hear the praises of our favorite hero sung.

The second bit on the disc is “On the Set with Bob Kane.” This is just as it says, with Bob Kane walking around one of the sets of Batman. He describes where the idea of Batman came from and how happy he was to see the film being made. It is very short in length, but it’s great to see and hear from the creator of the Batman.

“Beyond Batman” is nearly an hour in length and goes through the pre-visualization of the film, its sets, casting, gadgets and props, the Batmobile, the costumes / make-up applications and the music for the film. It’s all divided into sub-categories and gives a great look into what went on during the movie. In addition, it’s all backed up with cast interviews and amazing amount of archival behind-the-scenes footage.

“Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight (Parts 1-3)” showcases the main development of the movie. It is kind of like the later batch of documentaries in “Beyond Batman,” but all of the information is different and condensed into a smaller featurette. As interesting as the more in-depth stuff in “Beyond Batman,” this is a must-watch for fans of the movie.

“Heroes and Villains” profile galleries detail the individual characters in the films, ranging from Batman to Alfred and Joker to Bob the Goon. All the casts are present for these profiles, whether from newly shot footage or from old footage from Batman or Batman Returns interviews.

“The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence” was something that was originally written and boarded for the movie but never made it into the final cut. It’s presented here in animated fashion, with Kevin Conroy, Jason Hillhouse and Mark Hamill providing the voices for Batman, Dick Grayson and Joker respectively. It’s a fun little scene and we get to hear Hamill do a nice and long maniacal laugh at the end.

Three music videos by Prince round out the second disc, all in glorious 1989 sound and video; watch them for nostalgia, but then never watch them again. “Batdance”? Scary…

If you’re a fan of the film, then buy this release. It’s worth it just for the transfer and audio, but with the over four hours of special features (including commentary), you get a lot of goodness to keep you occupied long after the film has ended.

Batman (1989): Special Edition will be in stores on Tuesday, October 18th, 2005.

Bonus Video


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