Batman (1989)

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Released 7-Oct-1998

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 121:10 (Case: 133)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Tim Burton
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Jack Nicholson
Michael Keaton
Kim Basinger
Robert Wuhl
Pat Hingle
Billy Dee Williams
Michael Gough
Jack Palance
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Danny Elfman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Arabic
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The 1960s television show sucks, and it is a travesty of everything that Batman represents. This is almost certainly the first thing you will be thinking during this film if you're anything like me. Caesar Romero hasn't got a patch on Jack Nicholson, and Adam West utterly pales in comparison to Michael Keaton (don't even get me started on the different qualities of the dialogue). Batman is, and always has been, about a man who makes up for his emotional deprivations by making himself the anonymous hero of a city darkened by crime and architecture. It is not about toy boys prancing around in bad costumes and repeating some of the worst dialogue ever written by human hands. If there is one thing that Tim Burton managed to get across in his direction of this 1989 adaptation of the comic books, then that is most certainly it. The faithfulness of this film to the classic comics and their atmosphere is what sets this film apart from the pathetic television series of the 1960s. Another factor that makes this film what it is would definitely have to be the casting choices, which still fly in the face of the film's critics more than a decade later. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) are well represented as opposite sides of a coin, and The Joker (Jack Nicholson) is lent a powerful human element in the story by his origins in the film as Jack Napier, one of the most powerful criminals in Gotham City. However, where director Tim Burton really takes the old television show and uses it for toilet paper is in the stark feel of the sets and the power of Danny Elfman's score.

    It has been suggested by some people that Batman is a lesser film than Batman Returns, and the exact opposite has been suggested by others. A number of reasons have been cited for both sides of the argument, most of them revolving around screenwriting and cast issues. Personally, I really believe that both films are equally good, but because I am sitting on the fence of this debate, I will outline the points of the two films in the same style as we use here on Michael D's site to compare the Region 4 version of a given title with its Region 1 counterpart.

    Batman misses out on;

    Batman Returns misses out on;     Perhaps I am a somewhat more forgiving man when it comes to both films, but I still believe that while the first of these two films has a far better story, the story of the second film is better executed by the actors. However, some of the dialogue in the second film really makes me groan and roll my eyes, a fact which is not helped by the shallower state of the other characters. Overall, if you enjoy the comic books, and if you enjoy Batman Returns, then you will enjoy Batman a great deal.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I used to believe that Warner Brothers didn't quite deserve their rather bad reputation in the transfer quality stakes. After viewing this film, a film which made them about the same kind of return against their investment as Columbia Tristar made with Terminator 2, I have to say that the reputation is justified. The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement. A somewhat disinterested investigation failed to turn up any evidence of a Pan & Scan version of this film, but since all televisions will soon be in the ratio of 1.78:1, I will be very glad to see the extinction of Pan & Scan transfers. From the beginning of the transfer, we see much evidence that this is an early Warner Brothers transfer, as the picture quality leaves a lot to be desired, especially early on in the film. Sharpness was not a concern at any point in the main presentation, although there were occasional moments, particularly in the darkest sequences such as in the Batcave, when it was only marginally better than the VHS version. Shadow detail was miles better than the VHS version, although it also serves as the biggest giveaway that this was one of the last major blockbusters from before the digital age. All the important details can be made out quite easily, but other details are a blur. The biggest sign of DVD's superiority to VHS within this transfer is the complete absence of low-level noise. In a nutshell, the VHS version was a noise-riddled mess while this DVD version is remarkably clean.

    Colour saturation was muted from the beginning of the transfer to the end, and this is a deliberate artistic choice on the part of the director. In terms of colour saturation, this DVD is no different from the original theatrical exhibition. Even the purple and greens of Jack Nicholson's costumes were very muted and drab, reflecting the most recent (at the time) designs of his character. This brings me to a very important detail: Nicholson's dyed green hair in one particular scene has several hundred obvious shades of colour, whereas the VHS version was simply a big green mess. MPEG artefacts were mostly absent from the presentation, in spite of the fact that the transfer rate is less than five megabits per second most of the time. Anyway, now that I am done outlining all the areas where this transfer impresses me, it's time to get into the biggest letdown. Film-to-video artefacts were prevalent throughout the film, especially in the first twenty-five minutes, which are critical to one's enjoyment. Telecine wobble plagues the opening credits and doesn't let up until after the infamous fall into the vat, at which point aliasing makes itself visible from time to time. Although the wobble is quite mild compared to such titles as Dune, it is noticeable enough to make the viewer want to look away. Film artefacts were also quite prevalent, with several black, white, and even blue marks appearing from time to time on the picture, although they were never present to a particularly distracting extent.

    One thing I want to comment on is the absence of RSDL formatting. This transfer would have benefited enormously from RSDL formatting, which would have allowed a higher bitrate. However, there also appears to be a problem with the source material, which certainly doesn't appear to be of the best quality. Perhaps a special edition is in order.

Audio

    The audio transfer is of a better quality than the video transfer, and it is just barely enough to make up for the video problems. However, the audio transfer is also quite limited in terms of the options present. There is only one soundtrack on this disc, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I believe that the film was originally recorded in Dolby Stereo, and it would have been nice to have this option included on the disc. It also would have been nice to see this film dubbed in Spanish or Japanese. However, when I think about the age of the film and the limited options that were available all those years ago, the audio transfer is much better than what I was expecting. The dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand at all times, especially with Jack Nicholson's tendency to recite his dialogue with the intensity of a manic cocaine addict. There were a few words here and there which were hard to make out, and most of them came from Michael Keaton, although this is again reflective of the original theatrical presentation. Audio sync was not a DVD-related problem at any time during the film as long as one didn't watch it on a Pioneer player, but there was the occasional case of what appeared to be sloppy ADR work. The scene in which Commissioner Gordon addresses the police officers through a megaphone is very notorious for this, with Gordon moving to hand the megaphone back to his lieutenant before he has finished speaking.

    The variably consistent music contained in this film is a combination of score music by Danny Elfman and typically formulaic pop songs by Prince. According to my memory, and that of several other people I have spoken to about it, this was the last time that Prince composed any music that was even vaguely worthy of listening to. Danny Elfman thoroughly upstages him at every turn, anyway, which is no surprise given the difference in resources available to each composer. The score music was comprised of very energetic and driving thematic material in a minor scale, lending a certain kind of power to the soundtrack that complemented the on-screen action very nicely. The surprising thing is that Prince's shoddily composed songs were used to accompany the more pedestrian parts of the film such as the anniversary parade, while Danny Elfman's work accompanied the more active parts of the film, most notably the battles in the Axis Chemical plant and the Gotham City cathedral. The only way you could improve the score music in this film is by getting John Williams to re-record it.

    The surround channels had little to do during this film, which reflects the Dolby Stereo source material. Apart from one or two moments during action scenes, they remained silent. In the overall context of the film, the surrounds were used moderately in a non-spectacular fashion. For all the suggestions to the contrary in places other than the final sequence in the cathedral, they may as well have been silent. The subwoofer made up for this by putting a nice bottom end on the special effects, and it enhanced the film very well.

Extras

    There are almost no extras on this disc. The cover states that this film runs for 133 minutes, which is twelve minutes longer than the real running time. Another interesting thing to note from the cover is that Kim Basinger's name is outlined, rather than the film's title, in the credits. I'd like to know who on Earth is in charge of cover layouts at Warner Brothers, because a monkey could do his job.

Menu

    The main menu is plain, and very unpleasant to look at. The scene selection menu is all but useless, offering access to nine out of thirty-one chapters.

Cast & Crew Biographies / Production Notes / Film Flash

    Interlace flicker and horridly small printing make all of these extras virtually unreadable, even by my standards. If you have less than 20/20 eyesight, don't even bother trying.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    For all intents and purposes, the two versions of this film are identical, except for the use of the NTSC format in Region 1. However, the Region 1 version is a flipper with a Pan & Scan monstrosity on one side. The only way I'd even consider importing it is if the telecine wobble in the first quarter of the film is absent. Can anyone confirm this? If so, feel free to email me.

Summary

    Batman gets the same reaction out of me as Bram Stoker's Dracula or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: "at last they've got it right!" It is, however, presented on a mediocre DVD which you should rent before buying to make sure you'll be happy to keep watching it.

    The video quality is a major disappointment, and unacceptable given how much money this film made Warner Brothers eleven years ago.

    The audio quality is good, but not great. If ever there was a soundtrack that cries out for re-recording, this is a good candidate.

    Given that even RSDL formatting was left out of this extras package, it is less than nothing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Thursday, March 23, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDGrundig GDV-100D/Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsong CS-823AMF (80cm)/Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersPanasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer

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