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Batman Forever (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

As we close the book on the Tim Burton-helmed Batman era, we set sights on Joel Schumacher’s turn at “bat”. Batman Forever proved the biggest opening weekend and highest grossing live action film of 1995 (Only Toy Story earned more money). It was a pretty stunning bounce back for the caped crusader as it reinvented itself and continued its box office glory, proving it to be THE franchise of the decade. Batman was clearly the James Bond/Star Wars/Indiana Jones of the 1990s. The film is arriving with the rest of the “bat pack” on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray June 4th with a brand new restoration, Atmos track and the terrific extras from the 2005 DVD special editions.

Film 

Batman (Val Kilmer) faces off against two foes: the schizophrenic, horribly scarred former District Attorney Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), and the Riddler (Jim Carrey), a disgruntled ex-Wayne Enterprises inventor seeking revenge against his former employer by unleashing his brain-sucking weapon on Gotham City’s residents. As the caped crusader also deals with tortured memories of his parents’ murder, he has a new romance, with psychologist Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman).

Tim Burton was all set and doing pre-production of a third Batman film. But Warner Bros felt best to listen to box office dollars and public reaction to Batman Returns and opted to move in a different direction with Batman 3. While credited as a producer, Burton’s label was more of a prestigious “thank you” than being hands on with any of Batman Forever. Exiting with him was Batman himself, Michael Keaton. Young me was too keen on this news and felt pretty indifferent on Val Kilmer taking over the role. Much of what was planned/hoped for changed when the Schumacher reign took over. Before it was even a term, Batman was looking for a “soft reboot” for the franchise as a response to Batman returns.

Schumacher’s film opts to be a much more family friendly affair. Burton’s were adult films that kids could enjoy and Batman Forever moreso introduced a kids film that adults wouldn’t hate themselves for their kids dragging them to see it. Forever isn’t super kiddie, its aged out that way a little more, but in terms of what played in 1995, it felt sort of the aesthetic of a live action version of a template put on display by animation set and copied profusely years later by Shrek. Warner Bros didn’t want a split, they didn’t want something divisive or a cult classic, they aimed to please as many as possible. Gone was the artists getting his and the box office receipts pleasing shareholders for a win-win, it was time the suits took over and tried to reach the biggest audience possible. And Batman Forever truly succeeded financially while also scoring good marks at the time (Rotten Tomatoes’ critic reviews appear to be more retroactive than in the 1995 present).

Warner Bros wanted to recapture Batmania and to do so they clearly went younger and sexier all around.  Billy Dee Williams had been established as Harvey Dent in the first Burton film, but when it came time to cash in on Two-Face they opted to drop him and replace him with fresh Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones. Robin Williams was always a frontrunner for the Riddler, but this Jim Carrey is the hot new comedic actor in town. Chris O’Donnell is our hot young rising star as is Nicole Kidman. Its a surprise they still kept Michael Gough and Pat Hingle in their place and didn’t try to “upgrade” them as well. Drew Barrymore was on somewhat of comeback/talked about figure at the time and they even slipped her into a small role. It went beyond this of course, as the soundtrack is a vomit splatter of musical genres and hot artists “in that moment”. Slap on that McDonald’s tie in and spruce up the toy line, trading cards and we are all set.

The insanity of it all is this slate wipe worked out like gangbusters. The movie played huge. I even owned the damn soundtrack. Everyone can recite U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” and Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” by heart. Batman was back in a big way. People went pretty nuts for this movie back in 1995. Looking back, its very flawed and honestly doesn’t have too much separation from its much derided follow up Batman & Robin. But, this happens when Batman is a product and not a personal piece of filmmaking. Its a quick hit bit of fun. I’ll argue while the film doesn’t work now as well as it didn’t in 1995, its not completely soulless or void of good material. And most of all, it provides an exciting big budget superhero escape fantasy that has all its money on the screen and delivers on the core level that honors your money spent on a ticket.

I had mentioned in one of the earlier reviews that I’m all for a director’s own interpretation of a character, even if it strays pretty far from the source material. With Batman Forever’s villains, I wouldn’t call them an interpretation moreso than someone just saw a picture of one of them and said “Okay, do that!” while also trying to latch into Burton’s world without his complete understanding of it. Its fine that we catch up with Harvey Dent already having been Two-Face for a while and that he looks like someone had 90s fashion diarrhea to produce his costume. Unfortunately any sort of depth to the situation or showcasing of he and Batman’s relationship is only there through throwaway ADR’d lines and a brief news clip. Bruce Wayne also seems to have moved on from it as well. Jones also clearly doesn’t have any understanding of the character and was advised to “Just do Jack Nicholson, but BIGGER!” He also gets caught up in his co-star Carrey’s antics and tries to constantly battle for dominance of the frame when they are together. Speaking of Jim Carrey, the film clearly didn’t want The Riddler. They just wanted Jim Carrey to do his thing. As we’ve seen over the years and even during this peak period of him, he does have fantastic range even in his comedy, but Schumacher and company apparently just want him to reproduce Ace Venture with green spandex. I know many have praised and adore this “all-in” performance of his, but I’ve honestly never been a fan.

Much of the good for the film comes in the writing of Bruce Wayne and Kilmer’s casual and intrusive performance. His performance truly bridges a sort of gap in styles between Batman Returns and Batman Forever. Kilmer pulls from Keaton and the lore set by Burton and carefully adds his own touches that favor the film. He allows the others to go bigger and does his best to ground the scenes. The Bruce Wayne arc at its core is a fantastic narrative to compliment the first two films as he’s a bit in anguish to decided between Bruce Wayne and Batman, convincing himself he can’t have both and to force the Wayne side of things to be the one he chooses. Deleted scenes even explore things like trying to turn the page from his parents death to look forward more. The villains hog up screen time and big gag moments, but Forever truly cares about the caped crusader’s story.

At the end of the day, Batman Forever is decent entertainment. In 1995, I’d have told you this movie was pretty damn awesome. I still appreciate it, but the cracks in it grow bigger for me in the years since with every rewatch. While the film has a very pronounced and colorful display for Gotham, this time around I actually found most of it to be boringly filmed as I struggled to grab some solid screenshots with multiple characters in frame for this review. There is much a paint by numbers approach to how Schumacher shoots every dialogue scene in the movie, once in a while tossing in a Dutch angle for good measure. It has a loud, screaming presence and constantly moves at a breakneck pace. As an adult I much more enjoy scenes when it settles down as Bruce reflects or shares in discussion with Alfred or Chase Meridian. Speaking of Chase Meridian, WHOOOO boy did my Nicole Kidman crush start here. I dug her go getter attitude and she looks jaw-droppingly beautiful. This movie is a clear step down from the previous films, but it holds on and isn’t a total disaster. In fact, this is the first live action Batman movie I showed my son when I found him getting into the character. And it really is a terrific entry point for the super young without worry. In that regard, being able to share that with him at a very young age,  I’m pretty grateful for this film still.

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 Forever debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with yet another stunning visual transfer. This one certainly brings about a more loud and lively appearance than the previous two films. Rife with color and glow, this one zaps your eyes with a stunning, stinging color wheel that feels the equivalent of a vomited rainbow. Its truly gorgeous and the frames are sharp and crisp with just loads of detail coming through. Every bit of texture on clothing or grain of sand/gravel is discernible no matter the heavily infused color filter used on the shot. The downside is that some of the CGI used in the film, mainly for some big scale Gotham City shots star to show their age and lacking in detail from a conception point of view. Used heavily early on, its almost jarring later on when Bruce Wayne pulls up park at Chase Meridian’s office and its a natural location set. Another outstanding display of a catalog title on the format as Warner Bros goes 3/3 on this series and we can only assume the next film will round out a perfect trip around the bases.

Depth:  Once again there is a strong depth of field on display. The foreground and background spacing, especially with all the strong colored backlighting, looks as 3 dimensional as a 1990s movie could possibly provide. The wild camera spins and twists during action sequences have a bolstered sense of confidence and move smoothly around the action.  No sort of motion distortions occur at all in this transfer.

Black Levels: Blacks once again are quite impressive here, even if they aren’t as dynamic to the film as Burton utilized them. Here they seem to be a catalyst in pumping up and enhancing the glow of the colors in the film. No details are hidden and in fact, the black really do help to resonate a lot of the color in the scenes especially face paint on the black light gang members during a skirmish with Dick Grayson as he joyrides the Batmobile through the seedy underbelly of Gotham City.

Color Reproduction: Where to freaking begin? Schumacher’s film is nothing but different touches of color. The backlighting handsomely radiate through the screen with a good deal of rich character to add to the backdrops. There are so many neon lights on display with glowing greens, blues and reds at almost every turn. Natural scenes feel almost odd and out of place at times in the film. The street gang fight with Dick Grayson, featuring an alley and gang doused in blacklight coloring really beams from your monitor, and with fine details shining through, its insanely impressive.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish in the film. Facial features like make-up, dried blood, stubble, wrinkles, brushing of black paint over the eyes are clear as day. Detail on Two-Face’s “good side” look pretty impressive and showcase much of the bumps, lumps, scarrings and such that make up the purple disfiguration that splits him down the middle.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Chinese 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 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 SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Thai

Dynamics: Batman Forever almost ups the ante in terms of excellence display with the Dolby Atmos format in the first two adventures with the Dark Knight. From the press of the play button, we are instantly treated to a home theater demo presentation, featuring a fully encompassing speaker check during the opening credits followed by a complete action sequence that features full usage of the room, different subwoofer intensities and so much more. The rest of the movie EASILY follows suit. This has great, crisp, well defined and layered effects to go with an incredibly thought out layout for every shot in the film to bring it to a fresh, new breathing life. Batman Forever is already a fantastic visual experience and its an even more tremendous one from an audio standpoint.

Height: The ceiling channels are plenty active from the start. You get a helicopter flying above, bullets ricocheting, glass shattering and falling, Batman swooping above, Ed Begley Jr falling to his doom, the Batmobile scaling a building and plenty more to delight the Atmos enthusiast in all of us.

Low Frequency Extension: Once again, Batman’s adventures include many a fire, explosions, destruction, roaring engine, pulsating machine guns, crashes, chopping helicopter blades, bumping club music and more. The subwoofer strikes with varying and effective levels of perfect intensity.

Surround Sound Presentation: Once again, a Batman movie invades your room and gives you 360 degrees of rollicking action and superhero hijinx. At the moment the credits begin, you are treated to just how much of a treat the experience is going to be. If you don’t remember, this movie features a Superman: The Movie-like credits sequence with the names of the actors charging toward the screen and swooping off in different directions before smashing across the front from side to side. Its a showcase of the rolling sound capabilities in the new mix right from the start. The rest of the film follows suit, and in addition creates wonderful unique ambient noises and sounds to fill out rooms in natural and welcome ways, giving the viewer full treatment.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals come in clear and crisp as always. There’s a warm presence to the vocals of Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman that truly shine through here. Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are over the top loud, but never peak or sting your ears as this mix manages to hammer it down to an effect display.

Extras 

Batman Forever 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 UHD

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Joel Schumacher

Blu-ray

Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever? (SD, 23:27)

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 5-Reinventing a Hero (SD, 28:32)

Batman Forever: The Heroes (SD, 9:38) – Batman, Robin, Dr. Chase Meridian

Batman Forever: The Villains (SD, 6:51) – The Riddler, Two-Face

Beyond Batman (SD, 45:50) – Out of the Shadows: The Production Design of Batman Forever, The Many Faces of Gotham City, Knight Moves: The Stunts of Batman Forever, Imagining Forever: The Visual Effects of Batman Forever, Scoring Forever: The Music of Batman Forever

Deleted Scenes (SD, 13:33) – Escape From Arkham, Two-Face’s Hate, Beauty and the Batman, Dick’s Pain, Bruce’s Dilemma, The Secret of the Batcave, Does it Ever End?

Music Video “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal (SD, 3:55)

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3:31)

Summary 

Batman Forever marks a change in direction (Literally, too) and significant step down from the Tim Burton films that make up the first half of this cinematic period for the character. Regardless of it being more popcorn than art, its still a piece of high end entertainment for its time even if it did play better in 1995 than it does in 2019. Playing spectacularly is this 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray presentation as both video and audio continue to soar in this series from Warner Bros. Bat-addicts and home theater enthusiasts alike should make sure to add this one to the collection.

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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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