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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Action > Adventure > Martial Arts > Gangster > Batman Begins (HD-DVD)

Batman Begins (2005/HD-DVD)


Picture: 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:





What is 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.


Starting 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.


To bring 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.


After the 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.


The film 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.


When the 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.


Box 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.


Nolan’s 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.



The 1080p 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.


The 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.


Then 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 playback.


In the 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.


Then 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


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