Batman Begins (2005/HD-DVD)
A- Sound: A- Extras: B Film: B
Note: This film has now been issued in
the Blu-ray format and you can read about that at this link:
it about Batman that allows the character to endure and transmute just enough
to reflect the times? How has he stayed
one of the most evergreen characters in worldwide pop culture history? And how after so many other action stars,
characters, technologies and other popular superheroes does The Caped Crusader
stay an all-time favorite? Well, it
starts with Bob Kane and how he was influenced by The Shadow and Leonardo Da
Vinci (his flying machine specifically; a “Da Vinci” code that is not hard to
figure out if you compare the sketches to early Kane art) and because Kane
construction of a superhero world makes him a key architect of the most
successful of all comic book genres.
with shaky Columbia Pictures, to the Pop Mania of the 20th Century
Fox live action show (plus one-off theatrical film) of the 1960s and endless
cartoons, he is as recognized as any of the other icons of Pop culture before
anyone even knew who Andy Warhol was.
The four Tim Burton-produced films set off another round of Batmania
after Frank Miller’s landmark Dark Knight Returns graphic novel
changed the comic business forever. But
an honest underlying darkness was built into the character by Kane way back in
the earliest issues of Detective Comics and Kane’s influences extended to
Horror cinema and even German Expressionist cinema. It was only recently, then, that comics and
cinema caught up with him.
back Batman after the last round died with the day-glo colors of the George
Clooney incarnation, Memento
director Christopher Nolan finally landed the job after the usual long line of
able talents did not stay attached to the revival. With that film really being a great mystery
film in reverse, a point I made years ago, he was as good a choice as Warner
and DC Comics could have hoped for. The
resulting film, Batman Begins (2005)
gets back to the more adult detective side of the character as well as a mature
adult world take that totally dispenses of even the darkest of sardonic humor
from the Burton films.
Burton period cast comic actors of one sort or another in the role, the makers
settled on Christian Bale as the millionaire orphan Bruce Wayne and the film
traces his origins, his return to Gotham City to find it in decline and making
the key decision of what someone with his wealth and power will do about
it. Along his side helping him is Alfred
Pennyworth (a perfect fit for Michael Caine) and as part of Wayne Industries,
there is Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) plus the new commissioner of police James
Gordon (well underplayed by Gary Oldman) who feels the whole system is corrupt
in a way that he wonders if he can do any good.
follows his origins, involvement with the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson)
& Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), dealings with local gangster (Tom Wilkinson)
and how one Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) may be using and abusing
psychology. There is also Rachel (Katie
Holmes), a now-young lady from his childhood and figuring out how to put all
the facts and deepest truths together. There
is all this smart background and story, yet the film is also an action picture
and except for some minor story issues, it works very, very well. Finally doing away with grandiose villains
was a risk, but one that works so far as well.
1989 Burton Batman arrived, there
was disappointment on several levels.
Though Nicholson was inarguably good as The Joker, some thought the film
too dark or horrifying in its time and some of it still is, others thought it
had a choppy script, others wondered what happened to the consideration of
children and many never did get used to Michael Keaton in the role, no matter
how good he was. Some wanted it to be
more widescreen like the older Superman
films, feeling it was too claustrophobic and VHS-safe. There were also those who thought the film
was not dark enough and was trying to negate the politics of Miller’s book, but
Batman Begins (without a specific kind
of agenda) is realistic in a way that trashes the current dangerous trend of
self-censorship. Its hard look at Gotham
City is a hard look at the American underside without bashing the U.S. itself
and has a heart and soul no previous incarnation of the character has offered.
office was strong, but what was most impressive about the film outside of how
effective it was concerned the strong critical response and how many people who
thought they would not like it really enjoyed the film. Why?
Because it respected the intelligence of its audience in a way many
“art” films, prestige pictures and event films had not, as well as a way
general media does not. It also speaks
of an individualistic viewpoint, something sadly missing from any kind of
filmmaking these days. Bale is really
good in the role and even Holmes role breaks a few limits female characters
usually have in this genre when they are not Wonder Woman, Sue Storm, Batgirl,
Supergirl or Isis.
instincts are as impressive as his choices.
This is one of the best cast films in the genre to date and it is not
just all action or all talk, but a really good balance of all. Without going out of his way to be friendly,
you get an implied long list of reasons to side with Wayne and the emergence of
Batman has never been more convincing.
Caine becomes the moral center of this world as much as he can and most
important, it avoids the big origins pitfall of most superhero films of late by
not being overly simple, dragged out or predictable. It is developed well and in the long run,
that makes the hero and the film all that much stronger. Batman
Begins may not be a perfect film, but it comes close and is at the least, a
superhero genre classic. We’ll see how
much of one when the sequels and other competing films arrive.
2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is amazing, was shot on film in the real
anamorphic Panavision 35mm, especially in its stunning rendering of Video Black
and grey scale, and rightly received an Academy Award/Oscar nomination for best
cinematography. After seeing thousands
of standard DVDs and 12” LaserDiscs with Video Black issues, the film simply
sets new standards for that and grey scale.
In the pivotal car chase where Rachel (Holmes) has been exposed to one of
the Scarecrow’s deadly toxins and there is little time to get back to the
Batcave to save her.
It is dark,
nighttime, the interior of The Batmobile is dark, Batman’s suit is black,
searchlights cut though the jet black and the race is on. In the DVD version, even being used as a demo
in some stores, the black is flat and like old white subtitles on an old
foreign film print disappearing into a white background, Batman’s cape and cowl
are absorbed by the background since DVD cannot handle the range of black. In this HD-DVD, Wally Pfister’s (A.S.C.) work
is much clearer, the kind of subtle and clever lighting it takes to allow
different shades of black to be distinguished.
At first, a comparison of the two formats look the same on the surface,
but once you see the depth, range and differences, you will never be able to
watch the standard DVD again. Nolan
showed a film print of Ridley Scott’s Blade
Runner (1982) before they went into production so the cast and crew knew
what he was aiming for. Only a very,
very small handful of films have succeeded in grasping and capturing that
look. This is one of them.
brighter scenes also look good, including the arctic swordplay that has subtle
shades of color here and there. Also,
this had been blown-up for IMAX presentation and you can just imagine from this
(if you missed those screenings) how this would look large. However, detail and clarity are the key and
this HD-DVD will be one of the hottest in either HD format (even if Warner does
a Blu-ray of it, people will want to compare it to this one anyhow) for a very,
very long time to come.
there is the soundtrack. Besides the
decent James Newton Howard score, which has some very interesting moments if
you listen closely in key scenes, the soundtrack is here in Dolby TrueHD 5.1
and even in lesser Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, there is no doubt that this is one
of the very best modern multi-channel film soundtracks made. The mix is constantly involving, has great
character and the sonics are the best of any action film on any 5-inch disc for
many years. One way to tell is the sound
of The Batmobile in action, but the film is never cheesy, goes for lame sonic
trickery and is so dynamic that it sets new standards for home theater sound
audiophile world, where there are multi-channel music formats DVD-Audio and
Super Audio CD (including those we have reviewed), there are some amazing
remixes from classic albums and the occasionally impressive and amazing current
music album. The most sonically
aggressive and dynamic of all have been the 5.1 mixes (and in both formats, as
fate would have it) have been from the Rock band Nine Inch Nails. Now, a feature film has come along that can
challenge it on those sonic levels and it is Batman Begins. To say the
combination of sound and picture is dynamite is an understatement, but it is
something that is not just watching the film, but experiencing it. Though we had not even played this on optimal
Dolby TrueHD equipment because it did not exist as of this posting, it did not
disappoint when we did, with what remains one of the best soundtrack mixes on
any film in home video formats to date.
there are the extras. Besides the (then)
HD-DVD exclusive In-Movie Experience feature of Nolan, Goyer and company
telling you about the film as you watch as an option, you get a stills gallery,
original theatrical trailer, Confidential
Files story points/facts section beyond the film’s script, Tankman Begins short spoof of the film,
pre-production Journey Begins piece
about how they once again brought the Caped Crusader to life, Shaping Mind & Body piece about
Bale’s work to become Batman/Bruce Wayne, Gotham
City Rises piece showing the building up of the new, darker version of
Wayne’s hometown, Saving Gotham City about
the amazing miniatures, CGI and other effects work that brought the monorail to
life, Cape & Cowl on the
development of the darkest and deadliest Batsuit yet, Batman – The Tumbler about the new Batmobile, Genesis Of The Bat about Batman’s character, a reflection on
writing the film with Goyer, Batman
Begins Stunts, Digital Batman
effects you “may have missed” and the first week of the Iceland shot dubbed Path To Discovery. This was a very ambitious production where
all the money is up on the screen and that is not easy.
Batman Begins is a winner, one of the best
relaunches in franchise history, one of the best films of the Superhero Action
genre and will only make you want to see The
Dark Knight sequel more and more.
- Nicholas Sheffo