1989 is a year I remember well for many reasons I’m sure, but nothing of much importance happened to me because, let’s face it, I was only ten. One of the memories that I can recall without hesitation is going to the theater with my Dad and watching Michael Keaton don the cape and cowl for the first time. Sure I’d seen Adam West do it before and animated versions of Bruce Wayne throw it on, but not in this fashion. A brand new suit with a cool edgy look and one of the greatest actors in history playing one of the most iconic comic book heroes of all time. It was a tremendous success even with the slight changes to the costume or history of Batman. Even die-hard fans weren’t very upset. (But it was the pre-Internet age, so who knows?) After a successful first outing, the series would diminish to absurd levels. Actors would hang up the utility belt while others would fasten it around their waist. New enemies would make appearances after old ones got killed off or vanquished to the Arkham Asylum. And the dignity of the Batsuit departed while nipples and giant codpieces seem to mutate onto it.
The city of Gotham is dark and brooding but is trying to make a name for itself after bringing justice to the forefront and making it a city that’s safe for the citizens once again. Crime bosses have their teeth sunk into many of Gotham’s politicians as well as their police force and the wealthy so making it a place safe for all won’t be an easy task. Criminals run rampant and the people of Gotham are scared to even go for an evening stroll due to the huge threat of being robbed, or kidnapped, or possibly even killed. The police force that isn’t on crime boss Carl Grissom’s (Jack Palance) payroll is doing all they can, but they can’t even attempt to keep up with all the wrongdoings going on. Thank God they have help that lurks in the shadows and calls himself, the Batman.
Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is a very high-class millionaire that owns a lot of stock in Gotham and has been well known for his parents and their untimely death at the hands of Grissom’s right-hand man, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson). Wanting to make sure that life is secure and safe for all of Gotham after what happened to him as a child, Wayne takes on the persona of Batman and fights crime anonymously and without appreciation. He may have finally met his match, though, after an unfortunate accident sends Napier plunging into a vat of acid that turns him into the infamous and insidious Joker. Grissom is gone and insanity lines the lines the streets of Gotham as the Joker and his men look to take over and make it a city with a smile. Batman does not give up easily though and will do whatever it takes to take down the man destroying Gotham and also killed his parents.
Michael Keaton will certainly go down in the minds and hearts of millions of people as the one and only Batman, even though he wasn’t the first person to put on the suit. I’ll admit that Keaton plays the role fantastically and the only person to come close to challenging him for the title of best “Batman” is Christian Bale, but they’re in kind of completely different films. Keaton knew that Bruce Wayne and Batman needed to be identified as two different characters so as that people would not even think of the two of them together, and he accomplished this feat very well. Most notably by using two entirely different voices. Picking the right person for roles is what makes Tim Burton’s Batman so good and able to stand the test of time because for almost twenty years, Jack Nicholson was looked at as the only person to be the Joker. But then Heath Ledger’s performance came along and blew ol’ Jack’s Joker right out of the water. Still, the chemistry between Nicholson and Keaton is perfect and makes for a dark and morbid film mood which is what Burton was going for.
It wasn’t necessarily known back in 1989 that the Caped Crusader would turn into a franchise of films or who would continue to put on the cape and cowl to play him, but this was a great start. Twenty years have gone by and while some things in Batman may seem outdated, that certainly doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. Great performances make the comic book come to life. Phenomenal sets, cityscapes, and backgrounds make the demented mind of Burton visibly evident so that we can see exactly what is going on in his mind. And a brilliant script delivers lines we will keep on repeating for decades to come. “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” “I’m Batman!”
Audio Commentary – Director Tim Burton sits alone for this commentary track which is an absolute joy to listen to. Burton goes into great detail about anything and everything that comes along with his Gotham and the Batman he directed on its crime-ridden streets. One of the best things about this track is that Burton will never sit there in silence longer then a second or two as he always has something to say no matter what is happening on screen. This really is a great way to watch the film a second time through.
On The Set With Bob Kane – Batman’s creator talks about coming up with the man himself and also how Burton’s film makes the character look. This is a pretty cool little feature even though it is way too short. (2:33)
Legends Of The Dark Knight: The History Of Batman – Delve deep into the world of Batman as some of you may never have before. Learn about his roots as well as the different changes he has undergone throughout time. Some of the famous comic book artists that have also drawn the Caped Crusader give their insight here and show pieces of their work as well. This is another nicely put together feature that was given plenty of time to explain and go through everything they needed to put out there. Well done.(40:30)
Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Parts 1-3 – The first three sections of this six-part series discuss Burton’s film, the great cast he brought together, the tremendous sets, and everything that went into making it. It essentially is a very deep “making of” featurette that gives interviews, behind the scenes footage, and even historical facts and such about Batman that were incorporated or left out. I love this and think more comic book film releases need a special feature like this so that even non-fans of the comic books can know more about what they just watched. Learn about how the script was written all the way up to the marketing campaigns used to promote the film.
The three parts included here are: “The Road To Gotham City,” “The Gathering Storm,” and “The Legend Reborn.” (71:43)
Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery – Going even further into the “making of” process of everything is this six part mini-series including: “Visualizing Gotham,” “Building The Batmobile,” “Those Wonderful Toys,” “Designing The Bat-Suit,” “From Jack To The Joker,” and “Nocturnal Overtures.” Everything you ever wanted to know about Jack Nicholson as the Joker, the new batsuit, the musical soundtrack of the film, the gadgets and props, the brand new batmobile, and the city of Gotham itself is discussed here. It’s kind of basic as far as “making of” pieces go, but it’s still a lot of fun. (44:00)
Prince Music Videos – “Batdance,” “Partyman,” and “Scandalous”
The Heroes And The Villains Profile Galleries – These are some pretty cool video profiles on different characters in the film including Bruce Wayne, Vicki Vale, the Joker, Bob The Goon, Alexander Knox, Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Gordon.
Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence – This featurette is a short storyboard sequence showing how Burton had originally written Robin into the film but cut him long before it was completed. (4:24)
Gotham has become a bit more relaxed since the insane Joker took a flying leap off a bell tower and ended up laughing himself to death, but that doesn’t mean all the scum in the city is gone. Long ago a young baby was thrown away by his parents for being different and forced to live a life underground and raised by penguins. Decades later that little baby would emerge from the sewers and reveal himself to be Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) but better known as the Penguin and he would go on to become a beloved member of the community. His heartfelt story of being tossed away by his parents (his father played by Paul Reubens aka Pee-Wee Herman), finding out who he really is, and making something out of his life touched the hearts of everyone in the city building him into some type of celebrity. There is one person that doubts his sincerity though and it’s no surprise because Bruce Wayne isn’t fooled very easily.
Bruce Wayne aka Batman knows that the Penguin is up to more than becoming a great public figure, and he aims to reveal his true intentions to everyone. Penguin won’t have to do it all alone though because it seems as if those that are tossed away by others like to stick together. Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a lowly secretary for a wealthy schmuck named Max Schreck (Christopher Walken) and she has suddenly become expendable so he tosses her out a high story window. The cat lover survives the fall and comes up with the plan to become Catwoman and align herself with the Penguin so that they can take over Gotham and make it theirs. Soon their intentions are revealed and while many have problems with their schemes, only one is willing to do something about it and that’s the Batman.
Picking up right where he left off, Michael Keaton continued his dominance as Batman and delivered yet another masterful performance. Not only did he have to play two roles but he also had to play two roles with conflicts in his relationship with Selina/Catwoman and whether love could even happen between them. Michelle Pfeiffer is not one of my more favorite actresses but I even have to admit that she did a great job as Catwoman and made that leather outfit look damn hot. Danny DeVito is the Penguin without a doubt and I don’t know if anyone can ever step under that top hat and take the crown away from him because he was awesome. Throwing in Christopher Walken for good measure as Schreck made the film even better because you just can’t go wrong where Walken is involved.
Batman Returns isn’t exactly a sequel to the first film but more of a follow-up. Storylines weren’t really continued and the only true running theme is Batman is the savior of Gotham, but that’s sort of the point anyway. Being almost a totally separate film in its own right, Batman Returns could stand one its own and be just as good. We’ve got additional characters, a new storyline, and a hero that has its actor return and keep a few things the same. It’s dark and morbid making it feel like a Batman comic book and not like something aimed just at children but fans of all ages. There is still a good bit of comedy thrown in for good measure, but it never goes too far and makes things seem childish or stupid. I love this film and will watch it for years to come with a smile on my face, but one that fades as the end draws nigh with each viewing. That smile fades because I know what is to come after Batman Returns and I can’t say it thrills me.
Audio Commentary – Burton is once again sitting solo on the commentary track again, and it’s good again but not as good as the track for Batman. Burton reveals tons of details and information about the shoot, but he just seems so dismal and down throughout. You can hear in the tone of his voice that he appears to be really less then thrilled to be doing this commentary track. As bad off as he sounds though, he doesn’t let it affect his ability to keep on talking.
The Bat, The Cat, And The Penguin: Making Of Featurette – This feature goes into a rather generic “making of” segment that just talks about putting Batman together with his new enemies. Not bad, but nothing too great either. (22:30)
Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Part 4 – In the fourth segment of our anthology long featurette, we learn what Tim Burton and the crew went through while trying to figure out the proper actors and actresses to play the new and old roles among many other things. We see more about the different shots we get in Gotham City this time around complete with snow. Burton goes into how he wanted the sequel to not only continue the first story a bit but also have the ability to stand alone. By this point, we’ve only gotten four of the six parts but I would love to have a disc that would allow me to watch the whole feature one part after another. (30:19)
Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery – Here we get the gigantic “making of” featurette for Batman Returns that is split up into six more parts: “Gotham City Revisited,” “Sleek, Sexy, And Sinister,” “Making Up The Penguin,” ” Assembling The Arctic Army,” “Bats, Mattes, And Dark Knights,” and “Inside The Elfman Studio.” Once more you can’t get any more detailed then what you get here because it touches on everything from the music to the make-up to the costumes and more. (42:00)
Siouxise And The Banshees “Face To Face” Music Video
The Heroes And The Villains Profile Galleries – Video profiles on Batman, Catwoman, Max Shreck, the Penguin, and Alfred.
Now this is when things started to go downhill and not even slightly, but in a quick way. First of all we had a change in main role as Val Kilmer stepped in for Michael Keaton as Batman, and while it wasn’t a horrible choice, it was still a downgrade. Kilmer wasn’t bad as Batman, but I found him to be not that convincing as Bruce Wayne because it just didn’t appear as if he knew what he was doing as the millionaire playboy. Anyway, that wasn’t the biggest problem by far. That distinct honor is given to the dark and foreboding mood being taken away from the world of Gotham and replacing it with blacklights and glow-in-the-dark retardation. So much more can be blamed for the eventual downfall of the Batman film franchise, but this is where it all began.
Batman has two new enemies in Gotham City this time around in the form of acid-splashed attorney Harvey Dent (Tommy Lee Jones) that is now known as Two-Face and the disgruntled former employee of Wayne Enterprises, Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) who would rather be known as the Riddler. Going solo they are dangerous, but as a team the two are stronger, almost unstoppable. Batman steps in to save the people of Gotham again, but his two enemies almost prove to be too much for him because their physical strength and incredible intelligence keep them one step ahead of him. Batman is going to need some help and he may have found it in the most unlikely source…a young acrobat from the circus that is dead set on revenge after he lost his family due to the evil actions of Two Face.
So I’ve already kind of given you the gist of what is wrong with the film although there is obviously more, but I’m not going to say that it’s awful because it’s not. I had been waiting for villains like Two-Face and especially the Riddler to make their appearances ever since 1989 and then when they finally did, I was let down. Jim Carrey is a bit over the top even though he is a fond favorite of mine. Tommy Lee Jones is a brilliant actor as well and would have made a great Two-Face but not in the seizure-inducing half-pink suit he was given to wear here. It’s hard to justify much in this film because it is entertaining, but it’s not good. The script has issues and at time is quite laughable, but that is probably because they intentionally put in more humor then seriousness due to the inclusion of Carrey and that certainly hurt things.
Audio Commentary – Well, Burton is out of the picture and director Joel Schumacher has stepped in to fill the big chair and also take over for the commentary on the disc. Schumacher seems overly impressed by the work he did on the film even after all this time, but you can tell that he was/is not happy with the way fans took to the changes and chances he attempted in it. He goes on about the characters, the film shoot itself, and even touches upon the different lighting techniques he used to make Gotham a much brighter, but not sunnier, city. I’m glad he went into that because I honestly never understood it.
Additional Scenes – Even though these scenes are shown without any music at all, I find them to be very good and could have possibly allowed the film to save face a tad if they had been left in. Usually I am not too fond of deleted scenes and find them to often have been cut from the finished film for a reason, but my mind sees these a tad differently. Had some of these been left in, they would have greatly altered the mood of Batman Forever making it much darker and giving it a much more somber tone that would have let it fit in with the first two films of the franchise much better. (13:58)
Riddle Me This: What Is Batman Forever? – Some standard behind the scenes footage here that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn’t horrible by any means of the imagination, but it just felt kind of lackluster and cheap. (23:25)
Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Part 5 – So the film itself may not have been overly ideal, but this portion of the documentary touches on just that. Everything from the shift in moods, the redesigning of Gotham, the new lighting, and the brand new cast is discussed here and it is another wonderful piece in the mini-series. (28:29)
Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery – Now it’s Batman Forever‘s turn to show us all the “making of” stuff you could want and more with: “Out Of The Shadows,” “The Many Faces Of Gotham City,” “Knight Moves,” “Imaging Forever,” and “Scoring Forever.” (44:00)
Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” Music Video
The Heroes And The Villains Profile Galleries – Video profiles of Batman, Robin, the Riddler, Two-Face, and Dr. Chase Meridian.
Batman & Robin
And you thought things couldn’t get any worse? Having Kilmer step into Keaton’s shoes was one thing, but now we have George Clooney jumping headfirst into the batsuit. Oh I’m sorry; I mean the batsuit that now has nipples and a gigantic codpiece to match Robin’s. Clooney is a great actor but by far the worst Batman ever because if the people of Gotham couldn’t tell Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person then they are nothing but total retards. Throw in Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman in their worst roles ever and you’ve got two idiotic and corny villains ready to challenge the Dynamic Duo. As if that wasn’t bad enough though, Alicia Silverstone throws her useless self into the mix and becomes Batgirl in a comic book blasphemy that surely made a bunch of people’s heads explode.
Mr. Freeze is turning the city into one giant block of ice with his genius as a former scientist and doesn’t care that Batman and Robin are trying to stop him. Meanwhile, the duo are fighting amongst themselves because Bats feels as if Robin has more to learn and Bird Boy wants more freedom because he feels he is as good as Batman. Making matters worse is the tree-hugging villainess known as Poison Ivy who teams with Freeze to take over Gotham and make it their own. Things are going to get downright chilly, but there may not even be a team of good guys to step up to the plate and warm it up.
There’s just so much going on in Batman & Robin that it allows for more things to go wrong and be extremely obvious to anyone watching it. Gotham City is still a world full of indiglo paint and random punk freaks but now two useless villains are running things and making life even more of a living hell for Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. My biggest complaint here is that the filmmakers did absolutely nothing to get me to care about what was going on in the film or any of the characters. By this point, even Batman has been made into a huge joke and they are all doing nothing but trying to make the environment and storyline hip and cool for today’s crowd. It comes off as stupid and almost unwatchable making Batman & Robin a huge annoyance and really bad joke.
Audio Commentary – Schumacher is back again for his second commentary and if he couldn’t figure out why fans didn’t take to Forever then consider him overly confused when they essentially crapped on Batman & Robin. Oddly enough, Schumacher even realizes how bad this film had gotten and doesn’t even stick around for the full duration, but does give some amusing insight while he is there. Nothing overly impressive or too informative, but he does fill in a few holes.
Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Part 6 – This finale to the six-part documentary may be the best part of all even though it is attached to the worst film in the franchise. The cast and crew give their opinions on Batman & Robin and let me just tell you that they don’t even begin to hold anything back. They’ll say a thing or two about what they liked about the shoot, but when it comes to throwing out their thoughts on why the film failed, they just let everything out. A great ending to a wonderful documentary spanning all four discs. (27:00)
Additional Scene: Alfred’s Lost Love
Beyond Batman Documentary Gallery – Our final disc also has the extended behind the scenes footage including: “Bigger, Bolder, Brighter,” “Maximum Overdrive,” “Dressed To Thrill,” “Frozen Freaks And Femme Fatales,” and “Freeze Frame.” (50:00)
Smashing Pumpkins’ “The End Is The Beginning Is The End” Music Video
Jewel’s “Foolish Games” Music Video
R. Kelly’s “Gotham City” Music Video
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Look Into My Eyes” Music Video
The Heroes And The Villains Profile Gallery – Video profiles on Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane.
All four films are shown in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen format and the visuals are pretty much hit or miss depending on which film you are watching. Batman and Batman Returns look fantastic with great colors (when they actually have some) while the darker scenes are brought through perfectly without ever being hard to see or too cast in shadows. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin have some really good moments with the looks of the Riddler’s machine of Mr. Freeze turning the city into ice, but not much else is anything to write home about.
The films are all heard in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and they don’t necessarily sound over-the-top great or bad whatsoever; they’re just kind of alright. I have this same anthology on DVD and I compared the films each to one another and didn’t really hear much difference. The music comes through great and the sound effects (explosions, gunshots, batarangs, etc…) echo around the room while the dialogue can be heard perfectly through the center speaker, but nothing is too awe-inspiring or wonderful. Meh, could have been so much better especially since being released on Blu-ray.
Special Features – All of the special features are discussed above as they are included with each individual film.
Digital Copy – Batman is the only film in this collection that comes with a digital copy.
It is rather difficult to me to come up with a reason not to buy this. Yeah it has a pretty high price tag, almost half of the films suck, and it is virtually the exact same thing as the Anthology on DVD but with slightly better audio and video…but it’s still the Blu-ray version of the Batman Anthology, man. Blu-ray is going to soon be our main method of watching films at home and that’s because it is well worth it. So what if it isn’t the best releases you’ve ever seen or heard; it’s still friggin’ Batman. Maybe it’s true that Forever and Robin are the reasons the overall score is down from being perfect, but you know damn well that you’ll still end up watching them from time to time. Things may have changed in the past couple of years with the origin stories so to speak coming out about our caped friend in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight but that is an entirely different era of the Caped Crusader that should not even be compared to the films in this collection. Here is where the start of the Batman feature films began and it’s so incredibly cool just to have it come home in Blu-ray.
Besides the fact that the featured attraction of this anthology are the films, one has to take into account the over eighteen hours of special features that deliver with every second. You’re going to learn a lot about Batman and his enemies that you likely never knew before. The featurettes are well put together and bring forth a lot of information to keep your attention and have you remain focused on how they came about with everything Batman. All the music videos are a nice touch too and that holds especially true for “Batdance” by Prince. The Batman Anthology may not have gotten a perfect score but there are reasons for that and not enough to have you refrain from purchasing it. If you don’t pick this up, then you my friends…need an enema.
Warner Home Video presents Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989 – 1997. Directed by: Tim Burton (Batman); Tim Burton (Batman Returns); Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever); Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin).
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance (Batman); Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy (Batman Returns); Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle (Batman Forever); George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Elle Macpherson (Batman & Robin).
Written by: Sam Hamm & Warren Skaaren (Batman); Daniel Waters (Batman Returns); Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman (Batman Forever); Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin).
Running time: 508 minutes on 5 discs. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: , 2009. Available at Amazon.com