REVIEW: Batman and Batman Returns
Suddenly thirty years ago doesn’t seem that long back, especially as so much from that era is being resurrected, repurposed, and remembered. This month we celebrate the anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman and Warner Home Entertainment is offering up all four films from that period in spiffy new 4K UHD editions (a box set collection will be out in September). We will look at those DVDs divided in half, the two Burton films now and tomorrow the pair from director Joel Schumacher.
It’s been argued that this film made super-heroes palatable to Hollywood once more, although it can be said it took until 2008 before that became a reality. What we did get was this film coming after mainstream media began recognizing comic books had “grown up”. In 1989, we already had Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen, etc. set the table and get people to pay attention.
The first Batman feature film languished in production hell since the rights were granted to producers Mike Uslan and Benjamin Melniker in 1980. It took Miller and the press to get Hollywood off their collective asses to get the film made. The brilliant stroke was turning it over to visual stylist Burton, coming off the visually spectacular Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. He, in turn, brought on Anton Furst to make certain Gotham City was as much a character as the guy in the cape and cowl.
Casting was the final element with Burton recognizing that Michael Keaton could bring the gravitas to Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. Pairing him against Jack Nicholson’s Joker made certain we’d be sitting up and paying attention.
It was super-hero noir in the best possible way as Danny Elfman’s haunting score reminded us that this was a dark world that needed a hero. The Sam Hamm script was serviceable with only a few questionable plot points but it was secondary to the visual feast.
With this smash success, Burton was quickly resigned for a sequel and here he upped both the ante and weirdness factor. Danny DeVito’s Penguin was malicious, grotesque, and a far cry from the Joker while Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was a wonder. Unfortunately, the script made a lot less sense and callbacks to plot points from the ABC television series marred the effort. Had it been a Bat and Cat story, it would probably have been stronger.
The box office was good, but not as great as expected. The darker tone, in the wake of the billions earned in bat-licensing since 1989, scared Warner Brothers. As a result, they turned the franchise over to Schumacher with directions to lighten things up. The results speak for themselves.
As with other rereleases, Warner has done a superb job with the new edition. The 2160 high definition images are excellent, well matched with the Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Each film is released in a combo pack with a restored Blu-ray edition, making it superior to the 2009 Anthology Collection. Unfortunately, there are zero new extras just imported ones from that previous boxset. If you want the upgraded picture and sound, then these are for you.
Here, the upgraded images allow you to revel in Gotham’s darkness, with the colors popping for emphasis. Yes, it’s a dark place matching a dark story featuring a guy in mostly black so here, we can see the details with a clarity that makes you appreciate Furst’s designs and Cinematographer Roger Pratt’s work all the more. Similarly, when we get to the Joker and his colorful takeover of Gotham in the latter half, the colors pop in dazzling detail.
Cinematographer Stefan Czapsky has even more darkness to work with in the sequel since so much of the Penguin’s antics occur at night plus Catwoman being in the shadows as well. Again, the restoration is superior and you pick up on the grit, grim, and ghoulish aspects of the city and its protector. When we do go into the light, such as the scenes between Keaton and Pfeiffer in Wayne Manor, the color is warm and saturated.
Again, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack brilliantly captures every sound effect and musical note with crisp clarity.
The special features ported over from the last Batman Blu-ray include Audio Commentary: Director Tim Burton; On the Set with Bob Kane; Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman; Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight; Batman: The Heroes; Batman: The Villains; Beyond Batman; Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence; Music Videos; and Theatrical Trailer.
The Batman Returns special features include Audio Commentary: Director Tim Burton; The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin; Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 4 – Dark Side of the Knight; Batman Returns: The Heroes; Batman Returns: The Villains; Beyond Batman; “Face to Face” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Theatrical Trailer.