[box cover]

Batman: Special Edition

Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997

  • Batman
  • Batman Returns
  • Batman Forever
  • Batman & Robin
  • Tim Burton's Batman was 1989's biggest blockbuster (topping the summer's sequel-happy endeavors like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters 2, Star Trek V and Lethal Weapon 2), issuing forth three sequels of mixed merits before getting rebooted by Christopher Nolan. Unlike its competition, Batman was the first successful test tube progeny of Star Wars: The film did more business with its merchandising than it did it at theaters. It also was the first of the big-hype, little-staying-power pictures that proliferate summers today. And yet it also gave the studios the idea that it was OK to trust greenish directors with strong sensibilities to handle franchise films, knowing they would at least create passionate results — without Batman, would Sam Raimi have helmed the Spider-Man films or Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings? Burton's Batman drew inspiration from the original comic books, and the then-current re-imagining done by Frank Miller (with his "Dark Knight Returns" graphic novel), which gives the film a noir vibe and German Expressionist flavor. Batman (Michael Keaton) has recently announced himself as a vigilante figure in Gotham City, but the police don't know what to do with him, while the only people who seems to care are intrepid reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and fashion photographer-turned-serious photojournalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger). While rousting Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), Batman is stopped by the cops and accidentally drops Jack into a vat of chemicals that transform him into The Joker. Batman's alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, starts dating Vicki Vale, but he gives mixed signals, while the Joker also begins to try and woo Vale as he plots the downfall of Gotham.

    When Batman arrived in 1989, Tim Burton was coming off two hit films that proved him to be a talented iconoclast, and his entry into summer-blockbuster territory didn't raise eyebrows (especially since he followed it with 1990's deeply personal Edward Scissorhands). But, in the intervening years, Burton has shown that he's not above hackwork, and today Batman appears to be one of his less-personal efforts. And perhaps that's not entirely fair to the film; it succeeds with its impressive look and feel (Burton was helped immeasurably by production designer Anton Furst), and its grit is well measured when not dampered by Burton's juvenile obsession with the creepy side of clowns. And yet Burton (on his third picture) doesn't seem to get a handle on directing actors (perhaps he was lost in the sheer scale of it all), leaving most of the performers appearing as if they're in different movies: Nicholson is so over the top that he loses all sense of malice. As such, the elementary shadings of duality (of Wayne/Batman, Naiper/Joker, and most importantly Joker/Batman) never really figure into the structure. Burton picks his moments, and some sequence do come together — such as when Naiper meets his downfall — but Batman is left with a third act of jet planes and fisticuffs and no emotional resonance, which simply dies on screen. It mostly works, and it's an easy film to root for. But better Batman entries were to come.

    *          *          *

    Warner Brothers presents their two-disc Batman: Special Edition with a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on Disc One include a commentary by Tim Burton and the film's theatrical trailer (though not the teaser). Disc Two offers the comic book history "Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman" featuring interviews with such comic book artists as Kevin Smith and Frank Miller (40 min.), "On Set with Bob Kane" (3 min.), the feature-length "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Parts 1-3" (72 min.), which includes new interviews with Nicholson, Basinger, Burton, Wuhl, and many others. "Batman: The Heroes" offers comments on the good guys (13 min.), while "Batman: The Villains" covers their antagonists (7 min.), and "Beyond Batman" (51 min.) explores the technical side of the production. "Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence" offers a glimpse at what would have been the Boy Wonder's first appearance in the series (4 min.). The disc is rounded out with three Prince music videos, which probably deserve some sort of defense. (The quick version: Though not to be mistaken as an overlooked masterpiece, Prince's soundtrack was lambasted for having little to do with the film. It's a very weak tie-in, but the music itself isn't that bad. It is still Prince.) Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
    —DSH



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