Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989 - 1997 Blu-ray Review
By James Harvey
Fans clamored for it and, when it came out in October of 2005, the Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989 - 1997 DVD box set was a massive hit. Accumulating both fan and critic praise, the set gave us the near perfect presentation for these recent live-action Batman movies. With in-depth documentaries, deleted scenes, great audio/video and so much more, almost everything a Bat-fan could want was included. And now, almost four years later and knee-deep into the new high-definition format Blu-ray, Warner Home Video is releasing this set again, but this time for the hi-def crowd. So, it this a worthy upgrade, or are you better off keeping the DVD box-set release from a few years ago? Well, hang tight and we'll get to that right after the synopsis.
Synopsis: This year the Bat goes Blu! Batman features Batman (Michael Keaton) vs. The Joker (Jack Nicholson) in the amazing first extravaganza! With Kim Basinger. Up next, Batman Returns features The Bat (Michael Keaton), the Cat (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Penguin (Danny DeVito). And Christopher Walken, too! After that we get Batman Forever! Riddle me this: The Dark Knight (Val Kilmer) bat-battles Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Riddler (Jim Carrey). With Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnell. Finally, in Batman & Robin will Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) put the world on ice? George Clooney wears the hero's cape. Also with Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone. All four box office hits are now on Blu-Ray for the very first time with Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997!
For this type of review, the main draw is, undoubtedly, the set itself. Fans want to know whether or not this new Blu-ray collection is worth picking up. However, I feel that I must briefly content on the main features included here. We all know that this series, no matter how flawed it was, started off very strong before experiencing a sharp dip in quality. While the quality of each movie is debatable, as is the stance of which movies actually stay true to the lore of the character of Batman, it's hard to deny that as the series progressed it became more and more outlandish. Still, you can't deny the impact these movies have had on the many different interpretations of Batman. For example, because of Batman, we got Batman: The Animated Series, which in itself spawned a complex universe of superheroes from there. These movies brought up exciting comics, big events, and amazing cartoons. Now, these movies aren't the sole reason, but they kept the Batman in the public eye for nearly a decade before the series took a break after Batman & Robin. Now, that's an incredibly simplified look at the Batman movie franchise up until 1997, and I could spend pages discussing what they did right and what they did dreadfully wrong, and they did a lot wrong, but this is more about the set itself than the movies. Besides, the synopsis above should give a pretty good idea on how this franchise managed to move from one end of the spectrum to the other.
For the most part, fans have already made up their mind on these movies. Personally, for the most part, I enjoy these movies, despite their flaws. And, as a Batman fan, I could nitpick for hours on each of these movies, especially the ghoulish Batman Returns or the flamboyant Batman & Robin, but there's a good chance you've already heard all the arguments, so I'll spare you. But what matters is how important these films are and how, without them, we would have never gotten Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, the severely under-appreciated Superman Returns, and a plethora of other comic book movies. And for that reason, and many more, these films deserve their recognition, and Warner Home Video is doing these films right with this great box set.
In an attempt to get to the real meat and bones of this review, let's wrap up this incredibly brief and stunted look at the four Batman-films included. For all their flaws and missteps, these films breathed life into Batman in a way fans would never forget. If you want a history lesson in the cinematic adventures of The Dark Knight, and have already seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, then I suggest you re-acquaint yourself with these four-color adventures. While each Batman fan may have a favorite movie in this collection, or may not even like every movie included here, I honestly believe this package is worth owning as a whole. Not only does the entire package include an interesting look at how the a movie franchise can work (and eventually crumble), but it also presents different interpretations of Batman that, at the same time, are all perfectly valid. Personally, Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology comes Highly Recommended for both the casual and die-hard Batman fans. Not only are these movies now available in beautiful Blu-ray, but each film, no matter how terrible or flawed one may be, all have their own unique pros and cons that, personally, are really worth checking out.
Now, I assume the majority of readers skipped that admittedly biased and incredibly brief summation of the main features to get to the good stuff - the Blu-ray discs. Personally, I don't blame you. The majority of fans already own the previous DVD releases of these films and already know what to expect from the main features. For those wondering on whether or not to plunk down some hard-earned cash for the Blu-rays, well, read on!
The packaging it identical to the previous release, with the grave exception that it's much slimmer than the DVD release. The collection is maybe a third of the width and about three-quarters the height. It's compact to say the least, and you'll definitely save a lot of shelf-space if you opt to upgrade to this new collection. The package art is also slightly different, with each slim-case Blu-ray case housed inside using the logo art for each of the releases instead of the theatrical poster art. Personally, I like it. Each variation of the log found within, even if the colors look to be a little overdone, look really sharp. So, basically, if you've picked up the previous DVD release of Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology then you know to expect.
And that really holds up for what you'll find on the inside, too, in terms of content. The bonus content on this Blu-ray release is exactly like the content found on the DVD release. The bonus features for Batman include a Commentary by Director Tim Burton, "On the set with Bob Kane" featurette, the "Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman” documentary, the “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” documentary, "Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery, Prince Music Videos, The Heroes and the Villains Profile Galleries, the Batman "The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence" featurette, and the Theatrical Trailer. For Batman Returns we get another Commentary by Director Tim Burton, the “The Bat, The Cat and The Penguin” Featurette, the “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” documentary, Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery, Siouxsie and the Banshees "Face to Face" Music Video, The Heroes and the Villains Profile Galleries, and the Theatrical Trailer. Then, with Batman Forever, we get Commentary by Director Joel Schumacher, Additional Scenes, the “Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever?” featurette, another installment of the “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” documentary, Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery, Seal "Kiss From a Rose" Music Video, The Heroes and the Villains Profile Galleries, and the Theatrical Trailer. Finally, for Batman & Robin, the bonus content includes Commentary by Director Joel Schumacher, the final “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight” documentary installments, "Alfred's Lost Love" addition scene, Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery, Four Music Videos, The Heroes and the Villains Profile Galleries, and the Theatrical Trailer.
As you can see by the bonus material listed above, it's the same content as the original Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology DVD release, right down to the music videos. While I won't rehash my thoughts on the bonus content from my previous review of the DVD release, I would like to just make a special note of a couple of features. The commentaries are definitely required listening for this collection. Whether it's Burton's insightful breakdown on his creation of Batman's world or Schumacher's revealing commentary for Batman & Robin, these really are great listens. Also, the multi-part "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight" documentaries, spread out over all four movies, are required viewings for a history of Batman's cinematic adventures up to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I hope, one day, that the two (and soon to be three) Christopher Nolan-directed installments get documentaries are thorough and fascinating as these. Not only are these worth watching, but I am sure fans will watch them again and again, especially on these Blu-ray releases. Those are definitely toppers for the bonus features. Sure, I'd like a complete Theatrical Trailer collection and the awesome Diet Coke commercial found only on the original Batman VHS release, as well as the U2 music video for Batman Forever, but the extras here are still amazingly complete. Plus, with further home video releases on the way, including the Batman: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release, I'm sure we'll see more content soon.
Also of note, the only additional bonus feature for this set is the inclusion of a Digital Copy of Batman, which can be found on the fifth disc of the set. Aside from that, each disc contains both the main feature and the bonus feature, meaning each movie and the respective bonus material gets just one disc. As with all of Warner Home Video releases, the movie starts up automatically.
Now, to me, the big selling point of this collection is, without a doubt, the new audio and video transfer for all four movies. Each movie looks amazing compared to their previous DVD release. Even Batman, which is easily the weakest looking of the four, looks great. Sure, some grain and imperfections are noticeable, but the image is also noticeably clearer. Same with Batman Returns. Again, not a perfect picture, but the video looks impressive compared to the previous releases. Once you get to Batman Forever, the black levels appear more solid and the colors are really eye-popping. The film looks smooth and detailed, resulting in an impressive new look for all of these films. Infact, after watching Batman Forever for a second time, particularly the climax of the movie, the image looked really stunning and the detail, whether it was on the water as Two-Face's hand slipped slowly below the surf, or the flashing colors all looked impressive. But, seriously, the quality is so impressive so see, and these movie have never looked better. Batman & Robin is naturally the best looking out of all the movies and, amazingly, the superb video transfer is enough to encourage me to watch this movie again. Yes, the transfer is that good.
And, yeah, the audio is pretty amazing, too! Each disc comes with the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, as well as a host of other languages available in Dolby or stereo. The majestic scores, at least for the Batman and Batman Returns, as well as the bombastic special effects of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin sound as crystal clear as can be, with dialogue never suffering. Even for the latter two installments, in which dialogue was known to be swallowed up by the sometimes erratic score, sounds better than expected. The audio mix tosses you right into the movie and, with one such as the special effects-heavy Batman & Robin, it really adds to the overall experience. Consider that these films range from 11 - 20 years old, their audio mixes really are impressive.
Personally, I would recommend the upgrade. If you have the home theater system, the Blu-ray player, and the hi-def television, then go for it. It really, really is worth it. Comparing both releases side by side, using the same system and the same player, the Blu-rays definitely do looked better than the upscaled DVDs. The Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology has never looked this good and, frankly, if this new release can get me to watch Batman & Robin and not turn it off half-way through, then this release is doing something right. The movies and extras are exactly as you remember them from the original DVD release of this collection, but the audio and video has been spruced up and, boy, does it look amazing. The audio and video improvements alone are worth recommending the new Blu-ray release of Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology, and the fact that Warner Home Video brings over all the original supplemental material from the original DVD release and tosses in a Digital Copy is a nice bonus for fans. I know some may find it hard to justify picking up this new box set, but, again, the audio and video improvements are really remarkable with the movies looking absolutely stunning. For fans looking to upgrade, and those questioning whether to or not, Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology comes Highly Recommended.
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology is now available to own on Blu-ray. The DVD edition of this collection is also available to own.