All four discs come in special two disc editions that are loaded with bells and whistles. The packaging is elaborate and easy to sift through.
With the only Batman hree clunkers in the collection (even with all the extras) is a bit of a costly pill to swallow.
It’s a bit weird reviewing Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 mainly because the first Batman had such an effect on me as a young boy. First of all, I had been one of those who at first doubted whether Michael Keaton could pull it off. Then, the more I thought about it and realized who and what Batman was, it made sense that Keaton would be the caped crusader. Truthfully, I think that this is the best of the four Batman films and that the others that make up this anthology Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are all pretty bad.
I hate to lump Tim Burton’s second offering (Batman Returns) in with the last three, but I just find that movie to be too over the top. Danny DeVito’s portrayal of The Penguin is almost hard to watch and I honestly feel like Tim Burton is going through the motions here. I think Batman Forever had a fresher style and design to it courtesy of Joel Schumacher, but I honestly don’t remember anything being that memorable about it other than I thought Val Kilmer as Batman was a good choice, and Nicole Kidman seemed very comfortable in a role that was a lot more “campier” than many of the others she had done. As for Batman & Robin, Clooney didn’t seem comfortable in the Batsuit when I saw the previews for this film, and that didn’t bode well for this movie. In the fourth film, I think the best performance comes courtesy of Uma Thurman in the role of Poison Ivy. She seems like the one performer who has adequately channeled the spirit of the comic for the film medium.
Commentary tracks by director Tim Burton on Batman and Batman Returns . Commentary Tracks by director Joel Schumacher on Batman Forever and Batman & Robin; On the Set with Bob Kane
While I love listening to Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher dish on their “process,” I actually listened to these commentary tracks in a bit of a different way than normal. I went right to the Batman & Robin commentary simply because I wanted to see how Schumacher was going to explain himself out of this movie. Then I worked my way back with the rest of the tracks. To my surprise, Schumacher didn’t really apologize like I had thought he would (does a director ever really know when they’ve taken a misstep?). He just talked about the usual things, explained what he was trying to do and that at the end of the day when the battles come down to him vs. the big wigs, the wigs often won out. As for Tim Burton, I love the fun carefree attitude he takes toward these “big” movies. This is someone who I don’t think would back away from anything, and I think it’s evident if you look at all his films. The impression that I got from the commentary on both Batman and Batman Returns is that he knew the fanbase, he knew the expectations and he just told the story as he saw fit. Hence, this is why his first Batman movie is by far the best one.
Lastly, “On the Set With Bob Kane” is a nice piece because it looks at the guy who created Batman in 1939. His life was devoted to this character. In fact, this is probably why Batman still endures. One look at Kane’s resume on IMDB, and one can see that this person never stopped coming up with ideas for his creation. I think it says a lot that he took a character and followed it for the rest of his life. It’s really examines the whole idea of an artist taking his creation and letting the world at large adopt it.
Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman; The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin
“Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman” is an in-depth look at all the changes the Batman story has gone through over almost 70 years. It looks at the genesis of the characters, what they represent and how over time that representation has changed depending on our times and what the world is going through. This is a very insightful and well put together piece, and of all the extra features this was probably my favorite. I really find it interesting how certain people like Frank Miller and others have come to interpret the caped crusader over the years. I say this because I think that their interpretation really says a lot about them as people. “The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin” is focused on the making of Batman Returns. You know, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why people think that this is such a good movie? Obviously, this take was NOT the focus of this featurette. Actually, it was a look back at how this film was made and what the players tried to bring to it. While I am a sucker for Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito, not even their insights in this Anthology can change my opinion of this movie.
Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever?; Shadows of the Bat
In the documentary “Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever?,” it doesn’t really address the fact that after Batman Forever, there wasn’t a decent (not a good or even passable) version of Batman until almost 10 years later. What this featurette does focus on is what Schumacher and the cast of of Batman Forever brought to the table to change up this film. With a style and tone so altogether different from that of Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher it seems almost had no choice in taking the films in the direction he did. Also, the executives in charge knew what they were getting so maybe things would have been better served to have Burton return for Batman & Robin? “Shadows of the Bat” looks at the evolution of the Dark Knight through the movies. This 6 part piece is broken up into the following sections: “The Road to Gotham City,” “The Gathering Storm,” “The Legend Reborn,” “The Dark Side of the Knight,” “Reinventing a Hero” and “Batman Unbound.” As someone who has never really followed Batman, except in the movies beginning with the 4 in this collection, I appreciated this historical look at how the Dark Knight became who he became in the lore of cinema. While I don’t know that this is as groundbreaking as everyone seems to think it is, I also understand how important all the incarnations of this character are to the fans.
These documentaries look at the the world of Batman. The designs of the cars, the outfits the character’s wear, the gadgets Batman utilizes, etc... . They are spread out over all the discs, but easy to find because of how the discs are housed. The documentaries we have here are “Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Batman,” “Building the Batmobile, ”Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman,” “Designing the Batsuit,” “From Jack to the Joker,” “Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman,” “Gotham City Revisited: The Production Design of Batman Returns,” “Making up the Penguin,” ”Assembling the Arctic Army,” “Bats, Mattes and Dark Nights: The Visual Effects of Batman,” “Out of the Shadows: The Production Design of Batman Forever,” “The Many Faces of Gotham City,” “Knight Moves: The Stunts of Batman Forever,” “Imaging Forever: The Visual Effects of Batman Forever,” “Scoring Forever: The Music of Batman Forever,” “The Heroes and The Villains Profile Galleries,” “Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin,” “Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin,” “Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin,” “Frozen Freaks and Femme Fatales: The Makeup of Batman & Robin,” “Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence” and “Freeze Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin”
Going through all of these featurettes here would tend to get a bit redundant so I would like to just talk about some of my favorites. “From Jack to the Joker” was really interesting because I am such a big fan of Jack Nicholson. Also, I always wondered how they got that smile on his face, and how they made his make-up look how it looked. “Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman” was especially interesting just because I have gotten into composing the music for my own films (namely on my animated movie 1985-1986). I just love hearing how these guys come up with the ideas that they employ for these movies. Also, getting to see how they work and test things is also interesting. In my opinion, even though the tone of the movies changed over the years, I don’t think the music did as the style of the films went from dark to more campy. Lastly, “Building the Batmobile” took us into the designing of this famous car. I have always been in awe of the way it looked, and seeing it from a conceptual standpoint brought to mind many things I had never thought about. Especially, the cars overall design and how it would have to be created in such a way to maximize Batman’s response time to trouble.
This part of the DVD collection gives us music videos by Prince, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Smashing Pumpkins, Jewel, R. Kelly, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Seal. Of all these songs that are shown here (and I don’t really think that this part of the DVD was that necessary), the only song I seem to remember at all is “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal. I honestly, don’t really know what to say about these videos. They don’t really do anything for me and as I am not a big watcher of music videos none of them really grabbed me. Still, they look good and I am sure that there will be people who purchase this Anthology that will find it cool to have these songs in the music video format.
2.35:1 - Aspect Ratio. What is interesting about this 4 movie set is that one can actually chart the evolution of Batman going from a dark to light franchise. I mean this in every respect. From tone, style and performances. When I saw the first Batman, I was genuinely scared of The Joker. Even though it was basically Jack Nicholson playing up his celebrity persona, it was still scary. I was somewhat afraid of The Penguin, but the villains in the other movies did nothing for me. Yet, even though I may not care for any of the other Batman films after the first one, I do appreciate the influence of Schumacher’s directorial style especially in Batman Forever. While I think it was a good idea, cinematically, to move away from the darker tone of the first films, the danger (and what eventually happened) is that you go too far toward the other side of the spectrum.
These disks have new digital transfers with both 5.1 Dolby and DTS Surround sound. There are subtitles available on these discs in English, Spanish and French. Okay, this is a DVD set for people with home theater systems. Watching this movie on my 9” TV (I finally measured it and realized that it wasn’t a 13”) this was never more apparent. The fact that I was working with one speaker was also not helping matters. The sound varies throughout all these discs only because there are so many extra materials. Also, with 8 discs of content I can sort of forgive this set for not having all the audio leveled the same way. I also disagree with those who claim that the first Batman does not hold up over time. On an audio and video front this movie is still dazzling. In fact, even Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, while I think technically inferior to the early films, are not hindered on these fronts. If anything, they are a bit more enhanced simply because of the technical evolutions from 1989 to 2005.
Employing the classic Batman logo this set looks great. All of the disks come housed in a separate amaray case for each movie. The artwork for all the DVDs is the same as it was when these movies were released in theaters. The back of the main case that houses all the DVDs gives us a tiny description of all the movies and an extras listing. The back of each individual Batman case has pictures from each film, a listing of the extras that pertain to those discs, a cast list and technical specs. While this packaging may not be of the digipack variety, it is been made in a sensible way so as to easily negotiate around all the discs. Also, since they have grouped all the movies together in a solidly made vinyl, cardboard case, this set will not take up that much space in your collection.
On the whole, I don’t really know how much I can recommend this collection, especially when I think you only need one of these movies. Also, this seems like the kind of anthology that is going to set one back around $50-60 and I don't think all the special features are really worth the asking price. If nothing else, Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 is a good exercise in why sequels probably are not a good idea. I am sure that there are executives that feel that movies of this nature are above this, simply because as a comic it is naturally serialized. The big difference here is that comics are comics and movies are movies. Comics in a series seem to come from the same person or the same group of people. Movies oftentimes don’t. Okay, I know there are only two directors here but you get my point.
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 is something that the collectors and fans might find that they need. Personally, I think that you could put this collection together yourself on separate DVDs and you wouldn’t miss much (plus, you’d probably save some money). As for the casual fan? I keep saying it but all you really need is the first Batman.