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Batman: 30th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

I don’t even know if I need one hand to count the amount of films to give me as much excited being released on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray as Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. With the 30th anniversary dropping next month, I had been hoping dearly that the film would get the chance (As well as its sequels-even you, Batman & Robin) to be remastered and shine on the format. The Blu-ray releases had left much to be desired in terms of picture/audio quality (The extras are home video perfection). Alas, we will be dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight to all 4 films in this canon when they arrive on June 4th.

Film 

Having witnessed his parents’ brutal murder as a child, millionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) fights crime in Gotham City disguised as Batman, a costumed hero who strikes fear into the hearts of villains. But when a deformed madman who calls himself “The Joker” (Jack Nicholson) seizes control of Gotham’s criminal underworld, Batman must face his most ruthless nemesis ever while protecting both his identity and his love interest, reporter Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger).

1989’s Batman changed my life. That is not a hyperbolic statement. It is the catalyst that shaped my interests, knowledge, skills and was the big bang that made me who I became today.  You are reading this today because of Tim Burton’s film. I was born in 1982, I didn’t get to experience Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters or Gremlins on the big screen. My parents had taken me to an ET re-release but memories from it are pretty foggy. Batman, I remember even the gross taste of the iced tea I had at my friend’s house later that day. Who I was with, the exact theater I saw it in, the guy coming down the aisle that shout “Start the damn movie!” and then amazed the reel started IMMEDIATELY after he said that with NO TRAILERS (Thanks shouting guy!). Its such a staple moment in my life. I had never seen something so gigantic, so larger than life, something I invested so hard in while watching.

Yes, I’ve begun this review with a very personal touch. Not only myself, but a generation of us were impacted by this film. I wore down my VHS. I remember the Looney Toons ad trying to sell Warner Bros merch and the Diet Coke commercial with Alfred that played before the film on that tape. I had the Batman converse shoes that were uncomfortable but I soldiered on til I could show them off at school at the start of 2nd grade. Batman spearheaded a summer of 1989 at the movies that really made movies an important part of my life. I got to see Indiana Jones, the Ghostbusters, James Bond, Star Trek and more  (Later in the year we’d get Back To The Future Part II!!!) on the big screen 30 years ago. The year I was born was a HELLUVA summer at the movies I never was able to experience, but this felt like the next wave for me. I was 7 years old and this was one of the years that would guide my path.

The film has aged wonderfully for me over the years as well. It’s grown and I’ve appreciated it in new facets from childhood to adulthood. Growing up it was an effective “adult film” that I was able to see. Many of my classmates were jealous of me at the time because their parents wouldn’t allow them to see it. I found it a more serious and dark film, rising above that “comic books are for kids” level and taking the genre seriously so people could see what a fantastic world those collections of paper provided. Later on, I’d appreciate at how darkly humorous and goofy the film could be. That it actually did embrace those comic book tendencies and even had some of the 1960s television show flourish that we all somehow acted like it didn’t back then.

Unlike the majority of superhero films of today, Batman radiates with personality and feels a crafted vision primarily coming from its director. From Gothic Hammer-like surroundings of Wayne Manor and even the bombastic Prince soundtrack that pumps into many scenes, there is and has never been anything quite like it. While Batman Returns would compliment this film, that one is even its own beast alongside this film. Its the perfect swirl/marriage of a director to the source material. Liberties are taken with the source but, its in the best interest of the film that’s being told and the story that Burton is taking from it. One of the best things from this movie is that it stands alone and doesn’t worry about what’s to come next or keeping itself open for future installments. Of course it still is, but it never worried about more than the story at hand first. While many hands were involved in bringing this to life, it is much more a Tim Burton film than it is overly cautious corporate decision-making.

As I mentioned before, every time I return to Batman as my years pass on, there are different things I’ve noticed. From taking appreciating the flair and visual wonder of the film to taking note that the movie is really told to us through Vicki Vale’s perspective, its been exciting pretty much every time. During this viewing, I was actually taken with how terrific it just is as a film itself, beyond an adaptation or kids thing brought to life. It foregoes being an origin story, filling in the cracks as Vicki Vale discovers Bruce Wayne’s past along the way. Now, yes, Batman has been a part of the public conscious since way before this film arrived in 1989. But if you look at it for a moment, you could walk into this film not knowing a damn thing about the caped crusader, his world, his origin or any of that and be completely swept away. They actually treat Bruce Wayne/Batman as more of a mystery than they do the Joker. Someone could actually find themselves somewhat surprised that he IS Batman. Its obvious that he’s involved. The movie slowly creeps through its acts bringing them every so carefully together to share a frame.

The Batman and Joker dynamic in the film always continues to amaze me in the film on continuous viewings as well. I’ve always been in approval of the slight change to Batman’s origin in having Jack Napier be the man who pulled the trigger on the Wayne’s. They were making 1 film here and it was fitting of the big and grand story they were trying to tell. It helped craft their yin in yang which is incredibly fascinating. One, a public out in the open figure who’s big moment turns him to hiding in secrecy and lurking in the shadow. The other comes from the shadows and bursts out in the open a grand and colorful fashion. And in a way they both actually clean up the crime and corruption in Gotham, though one for a noble cause and the other so he can be the one pushing the destruct button. Burton has put together a film so deep and layered, but with an insane amount of surface level enjoyment that it can be viewed countless  times without ever tiring.

My passion for 1989’s Batman is even stronger today than it was then. Back then it taught me so much. Tim Burton, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson became titans for me, Kim Basinger was a massive crush and the most beautiful woman on the planet. My comic book collecting jumped to another level, I taped every episode of the 1960s series on reruns from the various channels that began airing them again. I abused the soundtrack. Batmania struck me hard. Its hard to explain how crazy it was, and it was like this Avenger thing now in a way, but much different and less rushed. We talked about it for years and it dominated the box office over a good period of time. It was still playing in theaters through the end of the year (Will Avengers even be there in August?). Its a different climate and different times, for sure. Now we have multiple cinematic takes on Batman with more to come and are far removed from the days with JUST Batman and Superman getting movies made about them. Some for better, some for worse, but none of them will have had the massive impact as Burton’s film did on me, but I’m more than thrilled that these films are doing that for a newer generation and that the comic book films are delivering those larger than life popcorn matinees still to this day.

Video 

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD disc. They both come from the same source/restoration.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail: Batman arrives on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray as a native 4K title. It utilizes every aspect of the restoration process and transfer to the highest degree imaginable. Looking at the film is a complete revelation and quickly earns top honors as one of the best catalog titles on the format (Spoiler, so does the audio). Detail is swarming in this crisp, textured picture that showcases so much character and personality in this film on a purely visual level. The Batman costume shows so much more, as you see how much more rugged and rough it is with smudges and a much more roughly formed cowl. I saw the film on 35mm a few years ago and marveled at how it felt like the first time again and looked much different than my Blu-ray and this 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray up’d that ante easily.

Depth:  Tim Burton’s film really breathes here in this new format. While its a very dark and gothic film, the camera movements now showcase a more distance background and confident movements. Watching the Batmobile rocket through fallen leaves is a freeing and more multi-dimensional experience than before. The Bat-Cave is a more visually dynamic an solemn place than it originally appeared. You feel a gasp of imagining a fall from the stairs or the platform. The interior of the church where Batman trips into the pews is more more vast and haunting.

Black Levels: Darkness is so beautiful in this new transfer. From making out little scuffs and marks on Batman’s costume to just the illustrious gorgeous set design of Burton’s imagination, the darkness consumes, but leaves a trail of wonderful saturation in shadow and detail in its wake. This film is a piece or art in itself, the way its been designed and shot. Its been displayed perfectly here to impressive levels.

Color Reproduction: This film may have the best contrast between black levels and colors I have seen on the format. And its a much more colorful film than you’d imagine. Everything about the Joker jumps right of the screen and is oozing with richness. Purple, teal, orange…its absolutely magnificent. There is also the purple gas in the museum sequence that takes on a life of its own and seriously wow’d me in just its appearance and the way its captured in the movie more than ever before. In addition to that same showstopping “Partyman” sequence, the paint being splashed around just jumps right at you off the screen looking absolutely lovely. There are some strong neon building signs that soar and explosions and fire lift right up off the screen.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. They look far more flush and less pale than before. The detail on Nicholson’s face to see makeup strokes and texture is phenomenal. His goons and street thugs characters now show signs of wear, blemishing and scarring. They’re a much more ugly bunch than ever seen before. Kim Basinger’s many different facial make-up looks are now almost like different pieces of art from scene to scene.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 2.0 Dolby Digital, German 2.0 Dolby Digital, Italian 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, Chinese 2.0 Dolby Digital, Czech 2.0 Dolby Digital, Hungarian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Thai 2.0 Dolby Digital.

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Thai

Dynamics: And if the video transfer on Batman wasn’t enough, the Dolby Atmos audio is equally revelatory. Something that must be noted up front about this track; it has been re-imagined from the original mix of the film. Gunshots, explosions and some other sound effects have been re-done to increase effectiveness. Before you kick and squeal about being pure, give it a chance first. Noteworthy, many of the original foley effects in Batman were borrowed from other movies, so it wasn’t too original to begin with. Once you hear this movie actually get to breathe for the first time since it hit the theater back in 1989, I hope you’ll be convinced. There are even nuances in Elfman’s score that come to the surface here, like a gothic organ more prominent in the score. Said new effects sounds really give the film more power and sizzle. The chemical plant shootout is fricking loud and you almost want to duck for cover to dodge bullets. Many of the explosions feel like they’ll lift you from your seat. Batman has once again become an experience and this track may just be the one you reach for when you want to show off your home theater setup to your friends.

Height: Oh boy do we have some fun here. With thing like the Bat-Wing, hot air balloons, swooping Batman and a giant bell falling from above we get great powerful movements and contributions from the ceiling. In addition, smaller nuances, like the Joker’s boom box blasting “Partyman” echoing off the walls and ceiling of the museum add some realism. The ceiling speakers are utilized in expected ways, but also impress in some surprising and welcome areas.

Low Frequency Extension: This movie now punches very hard. Literally, punches land a good pow, but gunsots, richocets, explosions, vehicles roaring by, engines rev’ing, spalshes and much more really pound and jolt you in your seat adding an almost “ride-like” quality to the film.

Surround Sound Presentation: As hinted at in the ceiling speaker, this Atmos track is having an absolute blast with opening up the film and giving it a whole new life for fans and modern audiences. The rolling sound travel is thunderous and wow’ing here as it moves around the room in any given direction. Every environment is fulling rendered here, whether it be random bat chirping in the cave or someone’s digits clacking keys on a typewriter in the newsroom. Each speaker makes significant contributions in the most natural sense, never feeling forced, only fully realizing and engulfing you in the sequence.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are very crisp, clear and really feel warm and cozy with how present and in the room they are. Nicholson purrs like a cat as Keaton’s softer approach is picked up very distinctly. Distortions, such as a televised voice, megaphone or walkie-talkie interpretations really impress. I’m not sure if those were remixed for this, but they sound a fresh and clear as ever.

Extras 

Batman: 30th Anniversary Edition comes with the remastered Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. Aside from the commentary, all bonus materials are found the on the standard Blu-ray disc. No new features have been added to this edition, all of them have appeared on the previous release for the film.

4K Ultra-HD

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Tim Burton

Blu-ray

On the Set With Bob Kane (SD, 2:34)

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman (SD, 40:39)

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight (SD, 1:11:45) – Pt. 1-The Road to Gotham City, Pt. 2-The Gathering Storm, Pt. 3-The Legend Reborn.

Batman: The Heroes (SD, 12:40) – Batman, Vicki Vale, Alexander Knox, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent

Batman: The Villains (SD, 7:23) – The Joker, Bob the Goon

Beyond Batman (SD, 50:41) – Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Batman, Building the Batmobile, Those Wonderful Toys: The Props & Gadgets of Batman, Designing the Batsuit, From Jack to the Joker, Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman

Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence (SD, 4:25)

Music Videos (SD, 15:18) – “Batdance” by Prince, “Partyman” by Prince, “Scandalous” by Prince

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:44)

Summary 

Tim Burton’s Batman is one of the seminal films in my life and to this day still my favorite comic book or superhero film ever made. I continue to find new appreciation for it in different areas and this new 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray from Warner Bros certainly opens up the doors for even more possibilities in that realm. You’ll be astonished and floored with the new presentation in both the visual and audible spectrum. The extras are carried over and are as perfect as they were back in 2005. The 1989 film is as ever a triumphant film then as it is a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray title in 2019. This is a MUST HAVE for anyone.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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