BATMAN: TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (DVD)

BATMAN: TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (DVD)
3.5 Stars
Year Released: 1989
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
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Both Tim Burton’s “Batman” and Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” hit some false notes, but both films still manage to capture, as Jack Nicholson puts it in the special features on this release, the right flavor. The 1989 version of the Dark Knight unfortunately puts him in what appears to be a suit of armor, thus limiting the fight scenes to a series of stiff moves, and it doesn’t get Commissioner Gordon right, but it’s still a valiant effort.

Certainly, back then, good superhero movies were very, very few and far between. We had 1979’s classic “Superman,” followed by a sequel that could have been better if the Salkinds weren’t such assholes, but that series quickly went downhill. By 1989, fans were literally going berserk waiting for “Batman” to finally hit the big screen. Sadly, as we all know, that series was pummeled into submission too, but for one magical summer, we went along for the ride.

The fanboys freaked out when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, but, even though I shared their original concern, I think it worked out in the end. Michael Keaton certainly doesn’t have the look of a square-jawed playboy who appears as a rich bum to the world but who could put you in the ICU within five seconds, but he still works in the role. Like many comedic actors, he has a certain vulnerability to him that fits serious roles, and he just works as a brooding Bruce Wayne. I can’t really explain why; he just doesn’t bother me, certainly not as much as Val Kilmer and George Clooney do in the role.

Nicholson, of course, was born to play the Joker, and he eats up the scenery every time he shows up onscreen, as he should. Unfortunately, I think Burton misunderstood what makes Batman work when he decided that the Joker should be the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, rather than Joe Chill. Chill, of course, was just another criminal who slinked back into the shadows after committing his crime. Unable to bring his parents’ killer to justice, Bruce Wayne finds a surrogate in every bad guy he tangles with; thus, he can never find closure and can never stop being Batman.

The other thing the fanboys got worked up about—Vicki Vale finding her way into the Batcave—was, yes, something Alfred would have never done in a billion years. As screenwriter Sam Hamm says in the bonus features: That would be Alfred’s last day working for Bruce Wayne. And it’s too bad the film never delves into Alfred’s extensive medical knowledge, which he uses to nurse Bruce Wayne back to health after Batman gets into nasty fights. Then again, since Burton seemed to take the Dark Knight thing literally, I guess this Batman doesn’t suffer all the broken bones that his comic book counterpart endures regularly.

But given how Hollywood works, I’m just glad this film wasn’t a fall-down travesty, especially if the wrong people had gotten involved and someone decided to follow the tone of the 60s TV show. So while it could have been better in some spots, the potential was always there for it to be really, really awful. I can live with this movie’s shortcomings, simply because I think it gets so much else right.

And this two-disc Special Edition is certainly a home run, as far as DVDs go. The smorgasbord of bonus features starts with a Tim Burton commentary, which imparts oodles of information. He may be low-key speaker, but he has plenty to say, and most of it is gold, rather than the “Oh, here’s where Vicki Vale is shown into the Batcave” kind of expository stuff found on many commentaries. Good track.

Over on disc two, we have a pair of excellent documentaries. The first one, “Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman,” digs deep for a wonderful retrospective of the character’s history, starting with Detective Comics #27, which was published in 1939. I hope everyone out there knows that Batman creator Bob Kane set out to create a dark, mysterious character, not a campy goofball; if you didn’t know that before, you’ll have it drilled into your head by this documentary.

We hear not only from the usual suspects at DC Comics but also comic-book-fanboy-turned-filmmaker Kevin Smith (who financed “Clerks” by selling his comic book collection, a fact not covered in this documentary but one which I felt compelled to share), the principal creators involved in this film, archival stuff with Bob Kane, and more. A classic documentary.

Next up is “Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight,” which tackles the making-of duties. I learned a lot of stuff here, especially about the movie’s early difficulties getting made. I guess I’m not cynical enough, because I’m always amazed when I hear about something like “Batman” taking 10 years to reach theaters. Given the success of “Superman,” this should have been a slam dunk in the early 80s, but go figure. Hollywood is insane.

This documentary also delves into the film’s huge success at the box office, which makes me wonder what the bonus materials for the other “Batman” films, also receiving new two-disc editions, contain. Does anyone acknowledge what an utterly unwatchable piece of shit “Batman & Robin” is? Does Schumacher fess up to trashing the series, starting with the forgettable “Batman Forever”? Does George Clooney show up and say “Yeah, that was a bad career move on my part”? I have zero interest in reviewing those DVDs, so I have no clue what they contain. I mean, I really don’t want to know, but I admit a smidge of curiosity.

A third documentary, “Beyond Batman,” is broken into six segments that delve into production design, the Batmobile’s creation, the film’s props and gadgets, the music, and Batman and the Joker’s costumes. While “Shadows of the Bat” has lots of behind-the-scenes footage, this one has even more, with specific emphasis on the more technical stuff. I always appreciate documentaries about special effects, production design, etc., and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Moving on, we get a neat storyboard sequence showcasing a cut scene that would have introduced Robin. Warner Bros. ponied up the cash to include sound effects, as well as voice acting (Mark Hamill is scary good as the Joker, a part he also played in the “Batman” animated series; he deserves more work in animation), to flesh out the sequence and show us what could have been. Considering that they could have just slapped in the storyboards and called it a day, I have to give them kudos for making the effort here.

We also get heroes and villains profile galleries, which are micro-featurettes that focus on individual characters for a few minutes at a time. It isn’t bad stuff, although I don’t know why it wasn’t simply incorporated into the making-of. There are also three music videos of the songs Prince did for the film, if you care. Oh, and we get a tiny thing called “On the Set with Bob Kane,” a promotional piece shot back in the day. It’s neat to watch, but it’s over almost as soon as begins.

Unfortunately, the film’s trailers weren’t included in this release, which is a shame considering how much attention the teaser trailer receives in the “Shadows of the Bat” documentary. Long before the “Star Wars” prequels started the phenomenon, people were buying tickets to movies they didn’t care about just so they could see the “Batman” trailer. It would have been nice to actually see the damn thing.



Posted on October 31, 2005 in Reviews by
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