Thursday, June 20, 2019

BATMAN (1989), BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN FOREVER (1995), and BATMAN & ROBIN (1997) (4K ULTRA HD Review)


BATMAN (1989)
BATMAN RETURNS (1992) 
BATMAN FOREVER (1995) 
BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
4K ULTRA HD + Blu-ray + Digital  

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of DC's notorious crime fighting caped crusader Warner Bros. have released the four late-80's/90's iterations of the films on stunning 4K UltraHD Combo Packs. Full disclosure, these like many of the films reviewed on the site were provided to us by Warner Bros. for the purpose of this review, but this has had no effect on the content of the review which  you will find below. 
BATMAN (1989) 

Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 126 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD, 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Tim Burton's Batman (1989) is a film wrapped up in lot of nostalgic warmth for me, it was my first teen-date movie, and is what I consider my generation first real superhero movie. Sure, I grew up with Superman (1978) on TV and loved it a bunch, it's still the best superhero movie ever, but Batman was the first experience watching a blockbuster superhero movie at the cinema. I was an avid reader of Marvel comics but wasn't yet a DC reader, so I didn't have a lot of expectations other than what I had gleaned from the Batman '66 live-action series and the Super Friends cartoons, both of which were a bit on the goofy side of superhero stuff. Burton's film sets the story in a very noir-looking Gotham drenched in Gothic shadows and grand architecture. Initially I found the casting of Burton's Beetlejuice star Michael Keaton as the caped crusader a bit puzzling but he won me over, as did Jack Nicholson in in the role of The Joker, he was clearly riffing on Cesar Romero's version from Batman '66, but also bringing his own brand of patented Nicholson lunacy to the proceedings, in a role that in hindsight is a bit sillier than I initially remembered, but delightful just the same. The supporting cast is phenomenal as well, including Michael Gough (Horror of Dracula) as the loyal Wayne Manor butler Alfred and Jack Palance (Without Warning) as a jealous gangster. Batman '89 is still a top five superhero film for me, a bit cornier than I remember, but the noir visuals and dark knight imagery is still a winning combination, even if the rubber Batman suit looks super-restrictive watching it now, it's never looked better on home video.  

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Tim Burton.
- On the Set with Bob Kane (3 min) 
- Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman (41 min) 
- Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight (72 min) 
- Batman: The Heroes (10 min) 
- Batman: The Villains (10 min) 
- Beyond Batman (51 min) 
- Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence (4 min) 
- Music Videos (14 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min)

BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 126 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy

Tim Burton returned to his noir-inspired Gotham for the sequel with Keaton returning as the cowled crime-fighter, and introducing a pair of new villains by way of Danny DeVito's Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer's purr-fectly cast Catwoman, wearing a seductive hand-stitched leather catsuit that was titillating top to bottom in my teens, and she's still that cat's meow today! Plus we have Christopher Walken (The Prophecy) as the political bad-guy Max Shreck who is out for some corruption in the public works department of Gotham. Pfeiffer (Into the Night) plays well against Keaton as both civilians and nemesis in the film. Truth be told on certain days I love this film more than the first film, I absolutely love DeVito's Penguin, he's so over-the-top demented, gnawing on noses and chowing down on raw fish, controlling a mad circus of murderous carnies hellbent on killing the first born sons of Gotham city, it's fun stuff. Pfeiffer is terrific as the leather-clad Catwoman, she's sexy, sultry and so darn tasty in the role. The film is quite a bit of fun, and very dark for a kids film with some strange sexual energy as well.   

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Tim Burton.
- The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin (22 min) 
- Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 4 - Dark Side of the Knight (30 min) 
- Batman Returns: The Heroes (7 min) 
- Batman Returns: The Villains (11 min) 
- Beyond Batman (66 min) 
- Music Video: "Face to Face" by Siouxsie and the Banshees (4 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 



BATMAN FOREVER (1995) 


Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 121 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnell

It turns out that Batman Returns was a bit of a box office bomb for Warner Bros. so director Tim Burton was out and Michael Keaton left with him, and what we get is a very commercial and colorful take on Batman with director Joel Schumacnher (Falling Down) and star Val Kilmer (The Doors) in the role of Wayne/Batman, a brooding bore of a performance. A corny and toy-friendly slice of comic book movie making that for me was an awful experience in the cinema. Funnyman Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as villains The Riddler and Two-Face were woefully miscast, plus we have Chris O'Donnell cast as sidekick Robin. The whole damn thing was a toy tie with the inclusion of multiple armor-changes for Batman, plus a steady stream of commercial toys tie-ins so they could merchandise stuff like the Batmobile, the Batsub, the Batwing and the Batboat to kids. I guess if you were looking for kid-friendly fare for the family this might fit the bill, but personally it was anathema to what I was looking for, I loved the noir-looking Gotham of the Tim Burton films, and this was far removed from that darkness, a bit too flashy and flamboyant for my tastes.    

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Joel Schumacher
- Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever? (23 min) 
- Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 5 - Reinventing a Hero (29 min)
- Batman Forever: The Heroes (10 min)  
- Batman Forever: The Villains (7 min) 
- Beyond Batman (46 min)
- Deleted Scenes (14 min))  Ever End?
- Music Video “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal (4 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (4 min)



BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)

Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 124 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Elle Macpherson

As much as I loathed Batman Forever I was still not prepared for what a Batman '66 sort of camp-fest Batman & Robin would be. Val Kilmer was out and rising star George Clooney was in as Wayne/Batman. O'Donnell is back as moody sidekick Robin while Alicia Silverstone appears as an upstart Batgirl. Villains this time around are Mr. Freeze played with eye-rolling puns from Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), a ridiculous vampy turn as Poison Ivy from Uma Thurman (Kill Bill), and a largely forgettable and cartoon-y version of the murderous lucha libre wrestler Bane. More so than Batman Forever this version of Batman really embraces the silliness of the cartoons and the '66 love-action TV series, with Batman and Robin sky-surfing and ice-skating along giant icicle provide by Mr. Freeze's  freeze-ray. Again, another bad-film aimed at merchandising action figures and toys to the kiddies, a film so bad it sort of murdered the Batman franchise for the better part of a decade, until it was resurrected by Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) with a darker, gritter take on the series. 

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Joel Schumacher
- Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 6 - Batman Unbound (27 min)
- Batman & Robin: The Heroes (9 min) 
- Batman & Robin: The Villains (8 min) 
- Beyond Batman (51 min) 
- Deleted Scene: Alfred’s Lost Love (1 min)
- Music Videos (14 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 

Audio/Video: All four of the Batman films arrive on 4K UltraHD from Warner Bros. with stunning 2160p HDR enhanced presentations, all framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratios. The first two films have the most inherent grain to them, and I think they look wonderful, with lush and vibrant presentations throughout. The HDR enhanced blacks are deep and inky while the reds, yellows and greens are brilliantly eye-popping, with the signature purples of The Joker's suit having quite a presence. Generally skin tones look warmer than I recall them appearing on the previous Blu-rays. The first pair of films have that wonderful Gotham-noir looks about them, while the neon colors of the Schumacher much-cornier films are absolutely luminescent, regardless of how you feel about them as films the technical presentation here is fantastic. The level of fine detail and texture on display throughout the series is absolutely stunning, I was noticing nooks and crannies of the individual costuming and sets that I'd never picked-up on before, and the Joker make-up in the first film has never looked so luminescent.

Audio on the 4K UltraHD and Blu-rays discs includes both Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD mixes, it's a potent stuff, the film springs to life with the Atmos mix. The score from Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthall have some serious depth and kind fidelity throughout, with my preference going to the iconic scores from Elfman. Gunshots are piercing, the sounds of the Gotham cityscape and more subtle atmospherics are delightfully present and strong throughout. 

Onto the extras we get all the vintage extras from the various special editions of the films that have been released. The commentaries from the directors appear on the UHD discs with all of the other extras appearing on the accompanying Blu-rays, which also include the remastered versions of the films, but without the added benefit of the increased resolution and the wider color spectrum of the HDR enhancement, but they're still quite a noticeable upgrade over the previous Blu-ray releases. 

Each film arrives on 2-disc UltraHD/Blu-ray in a sleek-looking black 4K keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the same design as the slipcover. I don't love the style they've gone with here but it has a pleasing uniformity about it I guess. Inside you will find a Movie Anywhere digital code for the 4K digital copy film.  

Following the release of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy on 4K it's wonderful to see these earlier films get the 4K upgrade. The benefit of the increased resolution, Atmos audio and deep HDR enhanced color spectrum make these the definitive versions of the film, they're all stunning looking, even if I only really enjoy the pair of Tim Burton directed films. Right now the remastered Blu-ray is only available as part of this combo pack, and on September 17th Warner Bros. will be releasing all four films as part of the Batman 4-Film Collection on UHD, as well as a Best Buy Exclusive Steelbook set with exclusive artwork, for those of you who like to have the box sets on your shelf. 

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