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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Action > Adventure > Drama > Comedy > Batman 4K (1989)/Batman Returns 4K (1992)/Batman Forever 4K (1995)/Batman & Robin 4K (1997/all Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray Sets)

Batman 4K (1989)/Batman Returns 4K (1992)/Batman Forever 4K (1995)/Batman & Robin 4K (1997/all Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray Sets)



4K Ultra HD Picture: B+ (1989: B) Picture: B- Sound: B/B+/B+/B+ Extras: C+/B-/B-/C- Films: C+/B-/B-/D



After two movie serials, several animated TV shows, the classic 1960s TV series and the feature film that was made between the first two seasons of that show, Warner Bros. finally decided to relaunch a Batman that would be its own and not like the iconic, comical TV show made by another studio. Ironically, the first film would do everything it could to not be that series, only for the last of the four films to be sillier than anything the Adam West show could have imagined. Now issued on 4K Ultra HD discs following the Christopher Nolan Trilogy, these four films have aged in odd ways and we'll get into specifics with each film.



The first Tim Burton film is still one of the most extremely promoted feature films of all time, a hit that split critics and fans alike for all kinds of reasons. Looking now at Batman 4K (1989) long after all the hype and the more recent trilogy, it has not aged well, complaints that it was very angry and violent have a degree of validity that still rings true and its remarkable how it has been forgotten (despite the talent involved) in a new era of superhero genre films. Michael Keaton's take on Batman and Bruce Wayne does hold up and is fine, while despite the scenery-chewing, Jack Nicholson's Joker remains appropriately creepy and out of control, et al. There is still no doubt one of the greatest actors of all time knew exactly what he was doing.


One of the unspoken heroes of this film and this series is Anton Furst, the late Production Designer who created the look of this film as much as anyone, while the film still thinks of newspapers as if they were in the 1930s and TV as if it were still the 1960s (lots of dated analog television) in a strange sense of glee that carried over to the sequels and to Batman: The Animated Series, whose better episodes are at least the equal of the best of anything among these four films.


Poor points include fight scenes where Keaton (and stunt men) in the Batman suit are obviously having limits moving around, dated animation for the shields on the Batmobile since they decided not to actually build them, obvious strings in more than a few battle scenes involving people and model work that will shock some, generic gangsters, generic fighters and the awkward, off pace of the film also remains. On the better side include Michael Gough as a better Alfred The Butler than you might remember, the money and detail in The Joker's wardrobe you cannot see unless you see it in 4K (or saw it in 70mm or a better 35mm print back in the day), Kim Basinger more striking than you might remember, Billy Dee Williams a better Harvey Dent than anyone remembers and some solid set decoration that also holds up to go with the production design.


Thus, the film remains the mixed bag it always was and while it will always have very loyal fans, it will also have those who felt it was one of the biggest disappointments in big screen blockbuster history. It also has tech issues we'll address below, but if you have not seen it in a while, expect the unexpected because some of this plays more like a package deal than an ambitious commercial narrative film. It's also striking the opposite approach it has to superhero films versus the 1978 Superman film.



Burton, Keaton and company were back for a sequel that managed to be darker in many ways. Batman Returns 4K (1992) was actually the first film ever released theatrically with Dolby Digital sound so the studio and Dolby Labs were determined that this would be as much a sonic demo as DTS was in its debut with the first Jurassic Park (reviewed on 4K elsewhere on this site) and since there were no dinosaurs, they went all out to match the wild visuals with all kinds of sounds.


Danny DeVito shows up as a gross, revisionist Penguin who no longer loves money and wants to rob every bank in town, but has a near-horror movie backstory (Moses angle notwithstanding) and goes as over-the-top as Nicholson did in the previous film. They try something different, but its results are not perfect and Christopher Walker shows up as a corporate villain a little too reminiscent of his Zorin character from the James Bond film A View To A Kill (1985), but holds his own. Then Michele Pfeiffer (replacing a pregnant Annette Benning) shows up as Catwoman and she both steals the film, makes the film and as it gets darker than its predecessor, pushes the film past its predecessor.


With more money, better effects and a better pace, the film has more energy, though it also has some moments that do not work, especially when repeating now-cliched parts of the first film, including some fight scenes. The same Batmobile is back and it is OK, but it has dated a bit and we also get more chemistry among the cast. You can appreciate more in the 4K version and see how much of this holds up.



The companies involved in toy tie-ins and other tie-ins (food included) felt Returns was too dark and not 'consumer friendly' enough, while Keaton saw the big bucks the two films made and asked for more money and a percentage. Warner said no to him and more dark-for-the-time sequels, so Burton and Keaton left, though the supporting cast mostly stayed. Joel Schumacher became the new director (Burton was still a producer) and Val Kilmer became the next caped crusader. Batman Forever 4K (1995) decided not to totally reject the 1960s series, with a few nods to it throughout and the use of color was markedly increased.


This time, Tommy Lee Jones (replacing Billy Dee Williams) would be Harvey 'Two Face' Dent and Jim Carrey (taking the role from Robin Williams, who held out too long) became The Riddler and eventually team up, but not before we get a new Robin (Chris O'Donnell) in the midst of Face's obsession to destroy Batman at the very beginning. Smart psychoanalyst and writer Dr. Meridian Chase (Nicole Kidman really pushing the sexiness) gets involved early and


Though it is a stage-bound as the first two films, the new cast has the energy to make this work enough with some surprisingly good moments that hold up and others that have not dated as well. There are some odd intertextual references to the 1960s series, but it also has some of what some fans were expecting from the first two films, so it was a bigger hit than anyone wanted to admit at the time. Cheers to the cast for giving it their best, worthy of the last two films, but there were issues behind the scenes, so this would be a one-off affair, just like the follow up for its lead actor.



Kilmer and Schumacher did not gel too well on the film and despite the money it made, so when Kilmer signed on to a revival of The Saint, Schumacher had zero objections and had to find yet another Batman. The solution was George Clooney, or so all thought. Clooney does his best, but not even Batman could overcome an extremely silly script meant to push toys and tie-ins, forgetting the characters. Batman & Robin 4K (1997) was rightly a huge bomb with Arnold Schwarzenegger (towards the end of his big box office run, replacing Patrick Stewart, who Paramount would not allow out of his Star Trek work to do the film).


With color lighting and bad jokes all over the place, Kilmer may not have been good as The Saint, but it was not the glaring disaster this was, so he dodged a bullet (as did Stewart) and even Uma Thurman could only repeat some of Pfeiffer's Catwoman as Poison Ivy, but again, it is primarily the fault of the condescending script and formula the series decided on as if comic fans were all pre-teens who would accept and buy anything. How times change.


The music and fights were tired by this time and very often, I cannot tell what anyone was thinking here when they were making this mess, who were they making it for and looking at it now, the lack of ambition or energy is more obvious than ever. Adam West and Burt Ward suddenly looked like they were ready for a Robert Altman film. It is actually painful to watch this as much as it was when it arrived, but much worse now because it is a package deal in its own way and goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Alicia Silverstone's Batgirl is a revised version that falls flat quickly, the script is childish (Robin is acting much younger than he did in the last film!) and this film killed the franchise for a while (with several revivals falling through before Nolan picked things up) so watch this one at your own peril.



All the films were shot in the flat 35mm format and all four 4K editions are presented in 2160p HEVC/H.265, 1.85 X 1 HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced Ultra High Definition image playback, all shot on Kodak negative film stocks. The sequels used film with refined grain, but the first film is very grainy, some of it being Kodak film intentionally picked by Burton and company for its look, but it still looks a bit grainier than I remembered and I wondered if maybe some of it did not age in the vault like it was supposed to. Otherwise, the 4K sequels look good, but expect a little softness in some shots.


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on all four films are a little softer than I expected and look like older transfers, despite having the new sound mixes, so one can only take them so seriously. Better off with the 4K versions.


All four films have been upgraded to Dolby Atmos 11.1 (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for older systems) lossless sound, with all three sequels originally being 5.1 digital sound releases, but Batman 1989 was only issued in older Dolby A-type analog noise reduction and 4.1 sound for its 70mm blow-up prints (what few ere apparently made) with 6-track magnetic sound, but the better SR (Spectral Recording) system had just been introduced and too bad the film did not use that instead. The result is that the film has not aged well sonically from Danny Elfman's mixed score to Prince's songs, which in fairness to him are usually background music.


Fortunately, the sequels take advantage of better sonics and hold up well in their expansion. They may not be perfect or as state of the art as the better 12-track films now, but they hold up enough and were worth upgrading.


Extras include feature length audio commentary tracks on every single disc, meaning each film duplicates its audio commentary twice, but that is it for extras on the 4K versions. Now for the extras on each film:


Batman (1989) includes a Tim Burton commentary, On The Set with Batman creator Bob Kane, Legend Of The Dark Knight: The History Of Batman, Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Parts 1, 2 & 3, Beyond Batman documentary gallery, 3 Music Videos of the 5 songs Prince made for the film, The Heroes & Villains Profile Gallery, Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence and an Original Theatrical Trailer.


Batman Returns includes another Tim Burton commentary, The Bat, The Cat & The Penguin making of featurette, Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Part 4, Beyond Batman documentary gallery, Siouxie & The Banshee's ''Face To Face'' music video, The Heroes & Villains Profile Gallery and an Original Theatrical Trailer.


Batman Forever includes Joel Schumacher audio commentary, Riddle Me This: Why Is Batman Forever?, additional scenes, Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Part 5, Beyond Batman documentary gallery, Seal's ''Kiss From A Rose'' music video, The Heroes & Villains Profile Gallery and an Original Theatrical Trailer. (The animated U2 music video is NOT here).


and Batman & Robin includes another Joel Schumacher audio commentary, Shadows Of The Bat: The Cinematic Saga Of The Dark Knight Part 6, Addition Scene: Alfred's Lost Love, Beyond Batman documentary gallery, 3 music videos, The Heroes & Villains Profile Gallery and an Original Theatrical Trailer.


The films arrive as singles for the summer in June, then the box set follows in September to add to the big celebration of the 80th Anniversary of Batman's first appearance, In Detective Comics issue number 27. This series had enough going in each film for people to still talk about each film, including all the negative downsides, but it is certain that they changed blockbuster filmmaking for better and worse. Three actors in four films just made this Batman too interchangeable (just add armor suit?) and reflects thinking of masculinity at the time in all kinds of ways. They may not be great overall, but they also serve as a time capsule of a Hollywood that is already gone. Warner did well to get them onto the 4K format.



- Nicholas Sheffo


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