InsidePulse DVD Review – Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology

Image Courtesy of

If there ever was a comic book hero who has been used and abused for many years it would be Batman. Springing from Detective Comics, Batman and his alter-ego (Bruce Wayne) would fight crime in a variety of forms. From his initial inception as a vigilante, to the insertion of campy humor in the Adam West era of the 1960s, Batman was never given the big screen treatment until 1989’s Batman.

Disc one – Batman

Director :

Tim Burton

Cast :

Michael Keaton……….Batman/Bruce Wayne
Jack Nicholson……….Joker/Jack Napier
Kim Basinger……….Vicki Vale
Robert Wuhl……….Alexander Knox
Pat Hingle……….Commissioner Gordon
Michael Gough……….Alfred
Billy Dee Williams……….Harvey Dent

With the bar raised in terms of quality with Conan the Barbarian and the original Superman, comic book and other fantasy-based movies had a lot to live up to at the end of the 1980s. Whether or not the genre could exist in a commercially successful way on the big screen was one thing, but what made Batman such a marvel for its time was that no one realized the genre could look *that* good.

Michael Keaton would step into the role of the caped crusader and his billionaire lifestyle in a world devised by one of Hollywood’s most imaginative directors, Tim Burton. Batman is essentially an origin story; Bruce Wayne goes from being a happy child to an orphan due to the deaths of his parents by a criminal. Raised as a ward of his butler Alfred (), Wayne inherits his family’s legacy (Wayne Enterprises) and gobs of money. Not content to watch as his hometown of Gotham descends into a criminal’s paradise, Wayne dons the cowl and wages a one-man war against the criminal underworld. Facing off against the first of many colorful villains in The Joker (Jack Nicholson), Batman remained as the pinnacle of comic book movies until the recent rash of greatness over the past decade.

Why was Batman such a revelation at the end of the 1980s? Bruce Wayne was sort of the comic book version of James Bond; he had cool gadgets, hot women (in this case, Kim Basinger), and a great enemy to go with a solid story. And when it debuted, it was a revelation and perhaps the best of the genre to come out. But Batman hasn’t aged as well as his DC counterpart’s first film did nor as well as the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name.

For starters, Keaton was a good Batman but a poor Bruce Wayne. Wayne is intended to be a dashing ladies man and the terror of the scum of society; Keaton revels underneath the cowl and yet is very ordinary as a billionaire playboy. He looks and acts like someone who built their wealth as a financial consultant and salesman, not the son of money.

The plot still resonates on the same sort of level as it did 16 years ago, but what still makes Batman a movie that can be viewed repeatedly is Jack Nicholson as Keaton’s nemesis. Nicholson is so deliciously over the top evil, so easy to dislike, that cheering for a blander Batman isn’t hard.

Score : 7 / 10

Also includes Commentary by Director Tim Burton and the original Theatrical Trailer.

Disc two – Batman Special Features

On the Set with Bob Kane follows the creator of the character as he is on the set of the Burton-directed film. An archival featurette from around the time of the original’s release, this runs around three minutes and is a fluff piece.

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman is a historical perspective about the caped crusader, tracing his entire history in a broad manner. With origins and inspirations from standards such as Shadow and Zorro, Stan “The Man” Lee, Bob Kane, comic book geek Kevin Smith of Clerks fame and various Batman writers and historians (including Frank Miller) are shown in both current and archival interviews talking about the origins and introduction of the caped crusader. Running around 40 minutes, this portion follows the Dark Knight from his inception in the 1940s though his more campy moments in the 1960s, ending in the revamp of Batman by Frank Miller with Year One and the graphic novels that really darkened the atmosphere of the character as well as the subsequent off-shoots of the series (like Robin’s comic book, et al).

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight is a three part featurette series that moves from the challenge it took to get the film made (including the numerous script changes, influences because of the original Superman, et al), moves to the challenges of adapting Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson to their roles (as well as trying to appease everyone with the dark version of the film and avoiding the pratfalls of the 60s television show) and finishes with the cast and crew reminiscing on the various stresses of the production over the 70 combined minutes they run.

Beyond Batman is a collection of shorter featurettes about the scenery and gadgets that make up the world of Batman. It’s interesting to see how much of Burton’s creativity was being let rampant as well as him letting the creative staff develop the world for him to work in.

Music videos by Prince: Batdance, Partyman and Scandalous show the full of 80s regalia, making it interesting to see Prince’s music videos all these years later in the sort of campy atmosphere of the time.

The Heroes and The Villains: Profile Galleries showcase the main characters, good and bad, of the film. While more time is devoted to the main characters, it is interesting to see archival and new footage of Basinger, Williams, and others as they discuss the film then and now. Running around 30 minutes in total, it’s a combination of fluff and retrospective in one featurette.

Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence is an alternate introduction with the animated series voice staff in which Robin would’ve been introduced in the film. While the decision was made to save the introduction of the Boy Wonder until later on, it’s an alternate look (albeit in storyboard form only) at how he would’ve been introduced in Batman.

Score : 10 / 10

Disc three – Batman Returns

Director :

Tim Burton

Cast :

Michael Keaton……….Batman/Bruce Wayne
Danny DeVito……….Penguin
Michelle Pfeiffer……….Catwoman/Selina Kyle
Christopher Walken……….Max Shreck
Michael Gough……….Alfred
Michael Murphy……….Mayor
Cristi Conaway……….Ice Princess
Andrew Bryniarski……….Chip
Pat Hingle……….Commissioner Gordon

Michael Keaton and Tim Burton would return one more time for Batman Returns, following the escapades of the caped crusader. While not nearly as financially or critically successful as the first, Batman Returns was largely successful and would inspire the sequels that followed. While no one could’ve forecasted the depths that Batman would plunge following this, the seeds for the ruination of the franchise that would allow Christian Bale to resurrect it are firmly planted in the sequel.

This time around there’s two new villains for the Bat: Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and The Penguin (Danny Devito). The Penguin is running a crime syndicate in private while running for the Mayor’s position in public. It’s a sort of repeat of the first and a staple of the franchise, as there always seems to be a villain with evil intentions in some sort of far-fetched plot to take over Gotham City. It’s not as orderly or interesting as the first movie but it’s still passable. Burton seems to be taking a page out of the James Bond playback by repeating the sort of structure and plot tones that Batman had, but he gives it a bit more uniqueness than the sort of cookie cutter Bond movies can be carved out of. Burton’s direction and flair would be tested, as he tries to put a different spin on the story while staying true to its root. He succeeds for the most part, but the failings of the future of the franchise would come with the one true weakness of Batman Returns: villains who are so over the top awesome that Batman is an almost an afterthought.

In what would become synonymous with the franchise, his villain counterpart would overshadow Keaton, as Devito just owns the role of The Penguin. While not nearly as striking as Nicholson (who would own the role of best Batman villain until the third movie of the franchise), Devito takes the Penguin in a bit darker route than Nicholson’s Joker took. It’s an interesting take on the character, as Devito shows a bit more of a darker sort of character than his usual comedy antics. He clearly outshines his counterpart in the same manner that Nicholson did, as Devito displays a comfort level in The Penguin that Keaton still doesn’t have with the caped crusader.

Keaton is a bit more comfortable in the role of Bruce Wayne this time around, but the role still isn’t right for him. He has his niche as Batman; when he dons the cowl Keaton owns the role.

Score : 6 / 10

Also includes Commentary by Director Tim Burton and the original Theatrical Trailer.

Disc four – Batman Returns Special Features

The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin is a fluff piece hosted by Robert Urich about the film. Released around the time of the film, it runs around 22 minutes and is a fluff piece about the film.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight continues where Batman left off as they explain why they did the sequel. Burton didn’t want to just make another Batman, he wanted to take the action in a different way. There’s a feel that he wanted to make a Tim Burton film, not a comic book movie. It’s a 30 minute retrospective in the same manner as before, as they assemble the cast and crew to talk at length about the movie and everything therein.

Beyond Batman follows the same path of the first film, as this documentary gallery focuses on the scenery and gadgetry of Batman Returns. They discuss about the slight changes they made to Gotham, but the primary focus is on how they designed the villains (as well as The Penguin’s army of penguins). Tossed in for good measure are a pair of featurettes that focus on the music and visual effects.

The Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries showcase the main characters, good and bad, of the film. Much like the one from the first film this is a combination of fluff and retrospective in one featurette.

Face to Face Music Video by Siouxsie and the Banshees

Score : 8.5 / 10

Disc five – Batman Forever

Director :

Joel Schumacher

Cast :

Val Kilmer……….Batman/Bruce Wayne
Tommy Lee Jones……….Harvey Two-Face/Harvey Dent
Jim Carrey……….Riddler/Edward Nygma
Nicole Kidman……….Dr. Chase Meridian
Chris O’Donnell……….Robin/Dick Grayson
Michael Gough……….Alfred Pennyworth
Pat Hingle……….Commissioner Gordon

A recurring theme in the first two films of the Batman franchise was its great villains and the mediocre caped crusader who brought them to justice. Batman Forever was the film that was supposed to change this, as a new director (Joel Schumacher) and a new direction was brought in to continue on Tim Burton’s work. This time around, Bruce Wayne would have someone a bit more debonair and dashing to put the cowl on: Val Kilmer.

Kilmer had been on the fast track to being a permanent resident of the A-List, and Batman Forever was intended to be the vehicle by which this was made possible. And as Bruce Wayne, Kilmer was easily the best of the four actors who have played the character. A good-looking, youthful guy, Kilmer is the sort of playboy Bruce Wayne was originally imagined to be. He looks and acts the part of Wayne with a smoothness that his predecessor lacked, and yet Keaton’s strength (being underneath the helmet) turned into Kilmer’s weakness as Batman really wasn’t quite as intimidating as he had been in the franchise. Complete with a new bat-suit, as Schumacher added nipples, Kilmer wasn’t quite the Batman he is intended to be.

But once again his villains and their eccentricities overshadow the Bat. This go around had Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as The Riddler. Carrey was at this point still one of the funniest men in Hollywood and his manner of facial expression-based comedy still hadn’t grown dull, and his manic take on The Riddler is perhaps his best performance as a comedian. Jones shockingly hams it up as well, doing his best to keep up with the scenery chewing Riddler.

In the midst of this there’s the usual plot by the villains to take over Gotham by some manner, a beautiful woman to play Wayne’s love interest (Nicole Kidman), Alfred (Michael Gough), and the same sort of gadgetry that makes Batman what he is.

At this point, Batman as a franchise was falling into the sort of territory that the end of the James Bond franchise is currently stuck in; it was still entertaining, for sure, but it wasn’t anything new or adventurous. Chalk it up to a cast that most directors would kill to have now; Carrey draws the best out of Jones, easily making them the best combination of villains in the franchise that bring up the lack of quality in the plot to a passable level.

Score : 5 / 10

Also includes Commentary by Director Joel Schumacher and the original Theatrical Trailer.

Disc six – Batman Forever Special Features

Additional Scenes are a first in this anthology; the first two films were without them. They are unfinished and don’t have any visual effects either, which gives them more of an amateurish look in comparison to the final product. They really don’t add much to the film, either.

Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever? is a fluff piece hosted by Chris O’Donnell from around the time of the film’s release. Running around 23 minutes, this is a piece designed to introduce Schumacher’s stamp on the film as well as a new Batman in Kilmer.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight follows the first two films as we get to see the reasoning behind a second sequel. With Burton and Keaton bailing out after two movies, Schumacher and gang decided to go away from the sort of darkness of the first in two and in to a bit more of the style of the 1950s Batman with a new look and new energy. The producers and crew talk about how Schumacher basically transitioned the franchise from more of a psychological thriller type into more of an action type. The featurette follows the patterns of the first as well, as they talk about why each actor was chosen and how each thought & felt about their roles. Most interesting is Carrey’s participation in the film; this was him when he ascended to the top of comedy, so the sort of manic energy that made him a star is evident.

Beyond Batman follows the same path of the first two films, as this documentary gallery focuses on the scenery and gadgetry of Batman Forever. This is more or less a way to introduce a whole new cast to the franchise as well as a whole new Gotham, to go with a featurette each on the score and visual effects.

Kiss from a Rose Music Video by Seal

The Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries showcase the main characters, good and bad, of the film. Much like the one from the first two films, this is a combination of fluff and retrospective in one featurette.

Score : 8 / 10

Disc seven – Batman & Robin

Director :

Joel Schumacher

Cast :

Arnold Schwarzenegger……….Mr. Freeze/Dr. Victor Fries
George Clooney……….Batman/Bruce Wayne
Chris O’Donnell……….Robin/Dick Grayson
Uma Thurman……….Poison Ivy/Dr. Pamela Isley
Alicia Silverstone……….Batgirl/Barbara Wilson
Michael Gough……….Alfred Pennyworth

If Batman Forever felt forced and repetitive, Batman & Robin is a cinematic atrocity. The bottom of the barrel moment in the franchise, Schumacher and the cast involved have wisely divested themselves away from the stench that still accompanies the fourth film of the franchise.

Wisely abandoning the franchise, Val Kilmer would be replaced by someone who would prove himself to be uncomfortable as Batman and as Bruce Wayne: George Clooney. Sharing the mantle of carrying the movie with a returning Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson/Robin, Batman formula dictated that two actual stars would be brought in as villains for the former E.R: Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Uma would walk into the role of Poison Ivy and Schwarzenegger would reprise Dr. Freeze, two second-tier villains from the Batman DC Universe. Alicia Silverstone would also join this Titanic-sized waste of time as Batman’s lesser sidekick, Batgirl. With all these pieces in place, and Joel Schumacher getting a second turn as director, there was another great movie that could’ve happened. Instead, Batman & Robin is what audiences received.

There was the potential for a standout film; Schwarzenegger has made an outstanding villain and is a presence on the screen to be reckoned with. Thurman is also quite an accomplished actor, Silverstone is charismatic and the heroic duo (Clooney and O’Donnell) have a decent amount of chemistry together. There is the usual story of villainous intentions to take over/destroy Gotham; Batman movies have the same luxury of repeating themselves in terms of structure and plot like a Bond movie does. It’s Batman’s gig.

The problems start with the dialogue. It’s a screenwriter’s clinic on how to sneak as many lame, unoriginal and patently unfunny lines into a movie and try and get away with it. There certainly must be better uses of an actress like Thurman and a physical presence like the Austrian Oak than to saddle them with dialogue loaded with puns. It’s a screenwriter’s clinic on how to use play-on words in the worst possible situations.

Arnold has especially too much dialogue; he’s a physical presence who doesn’t say much. It’s his shtick and it works for him. He’s a man of action, whose sheer size should make him a villain worthy enough. Schumacher unwisely plays to his weaknesses, not his strengths, as one would expect Dr. Freeze to take an icicle and beat Batman to death than devise a crazy, half-brained scheme. Thurman merely looks bored; this is the sort of role beneath her and everyone around her knows it. And that seems to be the attitude towards Clooney as the title role.

Given second billing to Schwarzenegger, Clooney is out of his league as Bruce Wayne. He’s wholly unbelievable as the caped crusader. Clooney’s Wayne is more of a snake oil salesman, not a playboy, and as the caped crusader he’s just not credible.

Batman & Robin was the finishing touch on what was thought to be the cinematic grave of one of the biggest stars of D.C Comic universe.

Score : 3.5 / 10

Also includes Commentary by Director Joel Schumacher and the original Theatrical Trailer.

Disc eight – Batman & Robin Special Features

Additional scene “Alfred’s Lost Love” is a brief scene about 40 seconds that really doesn’t add much to the film. It’s also unfinished as well, giving it an amateurish feel.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight continues where the first three films concluded as Schumacher and gang talk about the reasoning behind a fourth Batman movie. The whole 25 minute featurette serves to be a large excuse-making vehicle to try and get around the fact that the movie was pretty bad. Schumacher even tries to make excuses for the nipples on the costume, which is rather amusing, but not as amusing as relating the story of Clooney telling the media that Val Kilmer’s codpiece was too small for him in part to the more sexualized costumes of the protagonists.

Beyond Batman follows the same path of the first three films, as this documentary gallery focuses on the scenery and gadgetry of Batman & Robin. Once again we are treated to “making of” featurettes involving costuming and the visual effects as well as a retrospective on the newer Batmobile featured in Batman & Robin.

Music Videos: The End is the Beginning is the End by the Smashing Pumpkins, Foolish Games by Jewel, Gotham City by R. Kelly, Look into My Eyes by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

The Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries showcase the main characters, good and bad, of the film. Much like the one from the first three films, this is a combination of fluff and retrospective in one featurette.

Score : 5 / 10

The Video

With new releases come improved video, as the Batman franchise has had the video re-mastered for a much improved look. Both Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s takes on Gotham come in much cleaner and clearer than in the previous DVD releases of it. With all of the extras attached, this is an added step that is much appreciated.

The Audio

With new releases come improved audio, as the Batman anthology sounds much better than it has before. Much care has been taken to make the score of each movie to a much higher level than on prior DVD releases.

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!