Batman Returns (1992)

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Released 10-May-1999

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 121:19 (Case: 126)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Tim Burton
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Michael Keaton
Rebecca De Mornay
Danny DeVito
Michelle Pfeiffer
Christopher Walken
Michael Gough
Pat Hingle
Michael Murphy
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Danny Elfman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian 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
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
Spanish
Portuguese
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    What can I say, except that Batman Returns was the last good film to be made starring Batman for the time being, despite some very cheesy dialogue. Not that this is any major achievement, given that the only other film which has the same qualities as the comic books is the original film in the franchise, predictably titled Batman. The second instalment is considered by some to be better than the original (and vice versa by others), but it really depends on whether you favour action over character development, or whether you find the combination of Catwoman and The Penguin more favourable than the combination of The Joker and Jack Nicholson's superior acting.

    The fact that this film was rated M when the original was rated PG might lead you to believe that the action is more intense in this film, but it is really about the same. The only real difference between the two films is the choice of villain, or villains in this case. Batman Returns begins with a sequence shot in a mansion where the lady of the house has just given birth. Sadly, she has given birth to a monstrosity of such severity that the decision is made to cast the baby into the streams running out of the sewers of Gotham City. The baby floats in a small carriage through the sewers until it is happened upon by a clan of penguins, although what a clan of penguins would be doing in a sewer is really quite hard to imagine.

    Anyway, from there, we fast forward thirty-three years to the Gotham City of the present, where Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is hatching a plan to build one more power plant than Gotham City actually needs. As it turns out, his secretary, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), discovers that the power plant is really designed to drain power away from the city for Shreck's evil purposes. In a rather unwise move, Selina takes her suspicions to Max, who responds by throwing her out of a window and leaving her to die several stories down on the cold ground of the city. Naturally, while she is there, she is tended to by a mob of stray cats, who inspire her to adopt the persona of the Catwoman.

    Meanwhile, the Penguin (Danny DeVito) is determined to discover his roots and bring Gotham City under his control at the same time. In order to do so, he enlists the reluctant aid of Shreck, who acts as his political aide. With Batman (Michael Keaton) being an ever-increasing thorn in each of the three criminals' sides, they attempt to frame him for the murder of a popular celebrity. This is where the story hits its weak point, as this is an unnecessary detail which could have been excised in favour of stronger development of the romantic tensions between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

    However, we all know that Batman will surely defeat his enemies and wander off into a solitary existence with his butler, Alfred (Michael Gough). It is how he gets there, and maintains a healthy alliance with Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), that makes the meat in this sandwich. However, a Batman film without Jack Nicholson is somewhat crippled because of the audience's expectations. Christopher Walken, Danny DeVito, and Michelle Pfeiffer put in a valiant effort to make up for the lack of a great villain, but none of them are able to convincingly portray their characters with the sort of psychotic edge which made Nicholson's Joker so compelling to watch. Christopher Walken's portrayal of a crooked tycoon is convincing enough, but it lacks the extreme edge which was the order of the day in the first film.

    Danny DeVito's role as The Penguin is not convincing due to a slight lack of character development that makes his motives and actions unconvincing a lot of the time. Michelle Pfeiffer is hard to take seriously as The Catwoman simply because she goes from a nerdy secretary to a psychotic criminal in one very improbable leap. In this film, the emphasis is on action rather than character or story development, and it shows. Still, as soon as Tim Burton stepped off the director's chair and some moron in Warner Brothers decided to resurrect Robin in spite of the fact that he was given the chop by popular vote among the comic book readers, it was all downhill.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The bitrate of this transfer is in the middle of the road, presumably to allow the compression of just over two hours worth of film to one layer, and it shows from time to time. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. The packaging states that this is a 1.85:1 transfer, but 1.78:1 is a reasonable approximation.

    Sharpness is not particularly good at any point in this transfer, although I believe that this has a lot to do with the director's methods in the shooting of the film. Shadow detail is good enough to make out the important details in most sequences, and this is again a reflection on the photographic techniques used in the film. The first sequence of the film contains some moments of rather poor shadow detail, but this also appears to have been a deliberate artistic choice as it is the only instance where the detail plummets to this depth. There was no low-level noise.

    The colour saturation was deliberately muted and dull during most of the film, although it was also larger than life during the night-time combat sequences. The DVD is an accurate reflection of the director's intentions with the film's theatrical presentation.

    MPEG artefacts were absent from the presentation, but one suspects they would have been rampant had the film been compressed just a little harder. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some minor aliasing on car grilles and windows, and I think I noticed one instance on Michelle Pfeiffer's costume. Film artefacts consisted of some occasional scratches and flecks on the negative, but there were a lot less of these than expected.

    English For The Hearing Impaired subtitles are present on this DVD, and they are quite faithful to the spoken dialogue.

Audio

    An interesting bit of trivia on the Dolby Digital website indicates that this was the first film to be presented in cinemas with Dolby Digital sound (as opposed to Dolby Stereo or whatever the standard was then), and it certainly benefits from having one of the best Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes I have heard in a while.

    The sound is presented in a choice of three languages, all of them encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1: English, French, and Italian. I've listened to both the English and Italian versions of the dialogue, and I found them both to be little different in terms of the quality of the sound mix and placement.

    The dialogue was consistently easy to understand at all times, in spite of the way in which Danny DeVito growls his lines and Michelle Pfeiffer speaks very softly throughout the film. Audio sync was never a problem.

    The score music was composed and conducted by Danny Elfman, a man who has worked quite frequently with director Tim Burton. One of the most major advantages this film has over its predecessor is that this time the score music is not hampered by cheesy pop numbers from a has-been pop icon. The music in this film was mainly used to support the on-screen action, and it does an excellent job of this at all times. The Batman theme in particular is a driving, moving piece of work that drives the film along in a highly supportive manner.

    If there is one place where this Dolby Digital 5.1 mix shines, it is in the surround presence. Ambient sounds of all descriptions can be heard making their way into the surround channels, and the sound of penguins marching around in the rear channels is truly an awesome sound to hear. The music and sounds of such things as metallic doors squeaking are also very well supported by the surround channels, with even the sound of babies crying a pleasant thing to behold in this mix.

    The subwoofer was called on to support a plethora of effects such as lightning strikes, engine roars, and the usual sounds of combat between Batman and his usual plethora of opponents. The difference between the Dolby Digital Batman Returns, and Batman (which was originally recorded in Dolby Stereo) is a truly dramatic one to behold.

Extras

   

Menu

    The menu is themed around the film, and is 16x9 Enhanced. In a rare display of consideration for DVD enthusiasts from Warner Brothers, the chapter selection menu allows you to access every individual chapter instead of only the first chapters in a series of groups.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies are provided for Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, and Tim Burton. The Cast menu that contains these biographies gives us the false impression that biographies for Pat Hingle and Michael Murphy are also present.

R4 vs R1

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

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Everyone knows how I feel about dual-sided DVDs, but it should be noted that I have similar feelings about Pan and Scan butcheries. Region 4 wins in this case, hands down, especially given that the picture quality is certainly not improved by the formatting on the Region 1 version.

Summary

    Batman Returns is another example of Tim Burton's obvious superiority to the majority of Hollywood directors, presented on a good DVD. In my opinion the plot deserved a lot more positive reviews than it received, even if it isn't quite as good as the original.

    The video quality is good, but nothing to get excited about. Aside from a moment where little can be made out during the opening credits that may have been a deliberate choice by the director, this is the best video transfer of the Batman franchise.

    The audio quality is superb, and easily the best of the Batman franchise. As a matter of fact, this is easily the best audio transfer that Warner Brothers have provided me with so far due to the excellent placement of sounds within the soundfield.

    The extras are non-existent, which is good if you want quality in spite of the limitations of a single-layer disc, or bad if you want things like theatrical trailers at the expense of video quality. Still, a director's commentary in mono wouldn't have been too much to ask for.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Sunday, March 19, 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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Comments (Add)
Every Inch Equal To It's Predecessor - DarkEye (This bio says: Death to DNR!)