BATMAN BEGINS Blu-ray Review

     July 7, 2008

Reviewed by Andre Dellamorte

Tie-in marketing… when is it ever bad? When HD-DVD and Blu-Ray hit the marketplace, some Warner Brothers titles were HD-exclusive. Such as Batman Begins. And so with the release of The Dark Knight, we get the film on Blu-Ray. Well, first things first, the new transfer is a decided improvement over the first DVD release, with the 1080 progressive picture give the film greater resolution and depth. The film appears rust colored throughout, and now that’s much sharper, and less muddy. It makes a world of difference, and the soundtrack, presented in both 5.1 and TrueHD is an immersive experience. The film has never looked better, and it’s a pretty impressive presentation.

The film stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, the son of Gotham city, whose father and mother are killed by a thug while master Wayne is a young boy. He is raised by his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), but when he gets to be of age, he plans on killing his parent’s killer. Unfortunately for him, the town’s crime boss Carmine Falconi (Tom Wilkinson) has the exact same plan. With nothing left to live for, he runs off to China where he becomes the disciple of on Ras Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and is trained by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). But when it insisted that he kill a guilty man, Wayne realizes he believes in justice and then leaves to come home.

This experience focuses his life, so he decides to dedicate himself to crime stopping. But to do so, he must create his symbol. He recognizes the power of illusion, and masks, and so he chooses the thing that frightened him most as a child – the bat, and goes after a drug shipment to Falcone, but even with Falcone in jail, it seems that he has a master too, and Dr. Johnathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) gets Falcone into his mental ward, whilst also wishing the death of Wayne’s semi-love interest Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes, the weakest link). On Batman’s side is also Detective Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), who believes that Batman is an agent of good, and Lucius fox (Morgan Freeman), who works for Wayne Industries, which is being run by a dick (Rutger Hauer).

The film is all set –up, and it’s nicely handled. It’s mostly interested in laying the groundwork for who the character is and it gets that pretty much right. That’s the good. The bad is that the third act is something of a mess and Wayne’s final scene with the final bad guy involves Batman basically creating a moral loophole for himself that allows him to break the very behavior he swears he stands for. Basically, it’s just like the first Spider-Man film in that what it gets right, it gets perfect, but as it comes down the stretch you see that there’s not a lot of gas left in the tank, and so it falls a bit apart. Or, that is to say, it really does have third act problems, though it’s more that the drug freakout stuff is neat in principle but grows to be wearisome. But this is the problem of the majority of super-hero movies, they all end with characters having to get into fistfights with villains, and the fights themselves have obvious conclusions. It’s good on one hand that Batman’s fighting second-tier bad guys (The Scarecrow? Okay) because it makes it easier to view this whole thing as a warm-up. A very expensive warm-up.

Chris Nolan does a good job across the board (except with the action, which is frenetic without creating great velocity), but there’s way too many jokes to my liking – it’s not that the film doesn’t need some levity, but the cutaways to random characters, and the “I’ve got to get me one of those!” (about the Batmobile) strike as a little too Fozzie Bear. It would be easy to blame this on Warner Brothers (for trying to keep it a little lighter) or on David Goyer, but perhaps we will know more once The Dark Knight hits if this was forced upon the film or if it. But, for some reason, this film really hits the sweet spot of a lot of fanboys, and that’s fair, it’s the first film that gets pretty much everything right about the character. But that fanbase has become ravenous, and are ripping people’s arms out just to beat themselves over the head with how excited they are about the new one. Or it seems that way. I hope the new film lives up to the hype, but that’s the fun in waiting. Also, it must be said, Batman turns off his lights and then the cops don’t see him. What the fuck is that shit?

The Blu-Ray edition is carries over all the same featurettes and extras from the first release, which had (on SD) one of the most over-elaborate menus ever, and pissed off a number of people – including Ebert and Roeper. There’s no commentary but there is the In-Movie Experience, which offers video pod interviews with Nolan, and the cast and crew, I rather enjoyed it. The rest of the bonuses are found on both the SD and Hi-Def versions, and were also available on the two disc SE. The Featurettes: “Batman: The Journey Begins” (14 min.), “Path to Discovery” (15 min.), “Saving Gotham City” (13 min.) “Shaping Mind and Body” (14 min.), “Gotham City Rises” (13 min.) “Cape and Cowl” (8 min), “Batman: The Tumbler” (14 min.), a Still Gallery, and “Confidential Files,” which offers tidbits on the characters. Factoids, if you will.

Taken as a whole these featurettes give you a solid behind the scenes look at the making of the film, and how some of the decisions were made. What’s most interesting is how this film and the work every here has done wipes the memories of all other Batmen out of your head. It’s an impressive feat to forget the bat-nipples and Adam West running around with a bomb. The stories about how they had to shoot a couple days early so they could get the ice-field (and that whole sequence) is the highlight of both the movie, and the behind the scenes footage. What a location. “Tankman Begins,” The MTV movie award parody with Jimmy Fallon, Andy Dick, and Jon Heder is also included, and features a number of dumb jokes. For those looking for more HD content, there’s the Teaser Trailer and The Dark Knight IMAX Prologue. If you saw I Am Legend in IMAX, you might have seen these six minutes, and they – no shit – kick ass. It suggests that The Dark Knight will likely join the pantheon of Cemetery Man, Hulk, and Spider-Man 2 as one of the better comic book films. At least that’s what Frosty thinks. And he’s seen it.

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