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Batman Returns (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Quite possibly one of the my most personally anticipated sequels of all time, Batman Returns, continues our spin here on this look at the new 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray releases of the 89-97 Batman series. Like the previous film, both the 4K Ultra-HD and standard Blu-ray discs have been given a nice new transfer and restoration to go along with a new Dolby Atmos track. The extras for the film have been ported over from the 2005 Special Edition DVD releases, making it pretty much the definitive Batman Returns package. You can upgrade it and the others when they arrive on shelves June 4th.

Film 

The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with wicked shock-headed businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to topple the Batman (Michael Keaton) once and for all. But when Shreck’s timid assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), finds out, and Shreck tries to kill her, she is transformed into the sexy Catwoman. She teams up with the Penguin and Shreck to destroy Batman, but sparks fly unexpectedly when she confronts the caped crusader.

In 1992, the world wasn’t ready for Batman Returns. Three long years had passed since Tim Burton’s first venture with the Dark Knight became a box office juggernaut and sent a wave of Batmania across the globe. The sequel was inevitable. Burton and Michael Keaton returning were a must, but what villain would be challenging the caped crusader and who would play them. Rumors flew rampant in the pre-internet era and public fancasting may have been birthed here with this film. I remember hearing of Madonna as Catwoman or the well known Robin Williams as The Riddler rumors. The Danny DeVito as Penguin I believe was one and it came true. Catwoman would join him as we went “Woah, TWO villains!” and Annette Bening was cast, later replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer. I also remember the production being shrouded in total secrecy as well.

Summer of 1992 saw the sequel launch a big release in theaters, which then saw a pretty significant drop. Batman Returns was a pretty divisive film for the general public to consume. It was a darker, twisted, more gothic, more graphic, gory and perverted film than those more conservative times were able to handle. Gone were the days of Julie Newmar and Adam West’s playful flirting, enter the S&M inspired Catwoman suit with hip rubbing and facial licking. Much of the disdain came from adults taking kids to the theater. One might wonder how the reception might’ve been had it just been “Mom and Dad’s date night movie with a sitter” instead. In the time between Batman and Batman Returns, I believe many parents felt okay with taking their kids to see “the new Batman movie” having maybe been a little shy the first time around and instead they got slapped with “the new Tim Burton film” instead.

Between two tales of Gotham, Tim Burton made what is arguably the most original film of his career; Edward Scissorhands. In a career full of adaptations made in his own unique vision, Scissorhands was a film that Burton crafted from scratch and showed us a free reign of his style and influences. With the goodwill of the success of 1989’s Batman, he was able to make that film and then be trusted to do what he wants with Batman Returns. Low and behold, Batman Returns feels more like a sequel to Edward Scissorhands than it does 1989’s Batman.

Three years have passed, but Gotham has had itself a bit of a makeover. Wayne Manor has a more Hammer/Corman-Poe haunted castle in the hills vibe. The rooms inside are much more open and flourished with a unique gothic 60s-suburbia feel to them. Gotham itself feels a little more contained and smaller. We see a little more of the seedy outskirts. Bruce Wayne’s attire and style has even changed from the previous film as he opts for more ascot-like scarves (Sure, its winter, but the last movie was very much fall). Comparing it to the previous Batman film, you feel quite a shift. Comparing it to the previous Tim Burton film, there is almost no real shift. With 1989’s Batman you had Burton adhering to getting things right in almost a 50/50 split with his vision. Batman Returns sees 100% Batman through the eyes of Tim Burton or what has been referred to over the years as “full Burton”.

Returns is indeed a visual masterpiece, but it goes beyond that as Burton continues to explore the world of Gotham city and the dynamic of who are Batman and Bruce Wayne. One might argue that in this film Tim Burton has decided he’s not interested in Batman or has told his story, instead finding more interest in the villains of the film. Yes, Batman doesn’t show up for a long while, and its even longer for there to be a true Bruce Wayne scene in the film. But, Wayne has taken a progressive step in this movie. He’s only interested and wants to be Batman. He’s even more reclusive and his obsession with Batman was led his relationship with Vicki Vale astray. However, through the rogues gallery chosen for this film, he truly gets a mirror turned on him and is able to see what could or could have become.

While Keaton’s screentime and Batman’s involvement may seem like its not as involved to some, the villains are showcasing the importance here. Oswald Cobblepot is the anti-Bruce Wayne. Whereas was lost his parents and was raised in their wealth and power with his boredom and ineffectual caring of that aspect of his life preferring his parents be alive, Penguin was tossed aside by wealth and power. He is fueled by regaining it and strives for the power and respect. Catwoman (In an AMAZING performance from Michelle Pfeiffer) represents one struck by a fatal tragedy and taking it upon herself to become a vigilante to stake revenge on those who commit crimes like those against her. Granted, her ways and methods are far more deadly and dangerous than Batman’s. Lastly there is Max Shreck who is sort of the anti-Thomas Wayne, showing the type of man his father had set out not to be and a caution tale that if Bruce doesn’t act upon and take responsibility in his Wayne legacy, men like him could take over and control the city.

There is a lot to take in with Batman Returns. Its one of the most personal and stylistic superhero films ever made. Time and distance has proven kind to it, and a generation that was supposedly traumatized by it has embraced and cherished it. While we have a consistent splurge of quality superhero films year in and year out there has never been one quite like Batman Returns. Still today, a film like that would be a gamble. Even so, we could benefit from more Batman Returns films whether they are good or bad. In my old age, I actually want that type of film more than a straight adaptation “done right”. Importantly, as a sequel its a different as you can get from its predecessor and tells a completely original tale, not just “another adventure with Batman in Gotham”. Films of this ilk are far more interesting to me in my old age as they aren’t so safe and I enjoy/respect a director’s personal vision whether I’d agree with it or not. As both a Tim Burton film and a Batman film, Batman Returns is a masterpiece of its own right and complete unique vision rarely found in its genre.

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 Returns arrives on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with a brand new 4K transfer and restoration. Like its predecessor, the film looks absolutely gorgeous (Sorry cyan, er, cryin’ bros). This one features a bit clearer, less grained look than the other one. Everything here is so damn crisp and sharp, littered with even the most minute of details flourishing with a nifty little cold colored palette. Catwoman’s suit shows every bit of shine, smudge, strain and tear on it. The buildings of Gotham also display their aged wear to the texture of the concrete. Another incredibly impressive restoration long overdue from Warner Bros. If you were amazed with the previous film, that will continue on through here.

Depth:  While the film’s setting/city may feel a little more claustrophobic than last time, the airy-ness and spacing on display is quite impressive still. Camera movements are much more confident than every before, whether it be a sly pan across Selina Kyle’s apartment or her falling from the window of the Shreck building. There is a also a good separation of backdrop of middle ground city sets and foreground characters that has a more three dimensional look than ever before. Action scenes show no signs of having any sort of blur/jitter motion distortions present.

Black Levels: Natural blacks are again a highlight with this film, somehow even more dark than the previous one. It features different shades and shadow that truly form their own inky sense of beauty in the feature. No details are lost in these depths as hair follicles, surface texture, clothing fabric patterns and more still who through to the visual touch in the frame. No crushing witnessed during this viewing for the film as well.

Color Reproduction: Penguin and Catwoman’s Gotham color palette on display isn’t as boisterous as the Joker’s reign on the crime syndicate, but its a beautiful one in its own right. Selina’s apartment, Christmas decorations and some attire worn by characters are what provide most of the more pronounced colors in the frame. Penguin’s gang provides a circus color scheme that has a more faded but still bold look to everyone. The film does a tremendous job with whites and grays which could easily go unappreciated. HDR takes its shape with fire, sparks and things like the Shreck neon sign.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones er on the side of being colder (But feel like a bit of warmth has been infused in this transfer, especially fire-lit settings), consistent to the end of the film which helps add onto the December look/feel to the film. Facial features are pretty stunning and textures are rampant in any given distance on the frame. The work on Michelle Pfeiffer coming home after her drop through the window holds up in amusing fashion, making her look of a Hammer Horror queen of yesteryear. In addition, the Penguin’s look still appears quite lifelike with no make-up strings or whatnot showing.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

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

Dynamics: Batman Returns returns the wonderful display of the Atmos technology in its new presentation. I’m not certain as to whether or not any of the foley effects in this mix have been redone like the original. If they have, like the original, its still a fantastic experience. This is a fully immersive, rocking ride that really booms and sweeps across the room. Impressively, many of the quieter moments fill out and really engage as well. Selina’s apartment, Wayne Manor by fireside and the Penguin’s sewer layer all drape us in a wonderfully realized sense of ambiance with unique contributions evoking from each speaker. Its quite the treat and another masterful engagement from Warner Bros.

Height: There are plenty of things falling and swooping around from above that make great contributions to this mix. Debris from destruction, Selina falling to her doom, Batman gliding from above, echoes from the Penguins sewer caverns and more make great individual contributions as well as assistance in getting a sound from point A to point B across the room.

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer has a good, pounding impact that livens up the room and makes you feel the thunder. Car engines, crashing, explosions, gunfire, Selina hitting every single overhang on her way down to the pavement, whip cracking and more feature an array of different, expertly set intensities.

Surround Sound Presentation: Once again, we are treated to a fully immersive experience that really shines with Atmos’ rolling motion ingenuity. Little penguins will be randomly chirping from behind you or echoing from the ceiling above in the sewer layer. During an attack on Christmas tree lighting you can hear destruction from a perfect geographical location not on screen in relation to the focused action in frame.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, right down to the breathing and mouth sounds and actor may sputter when delivering their lines. Microphones, television speaking and other distortions sound quite wonderful and arrive with a good volume adjustment in the mix.

Extras 

Batman Returns 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 Tim Burton

Blu-ray

The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin (SD, 21:54)

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Pt. 4: The Dark Side of the Knight (SD, 30:19) 

Batman Returns: The Heroes (SD, 7:08) – Batman, Alfred

Batman Returns: The Villains (SD, 11:22) – The Penguin, Catwoman, Max Shreck

Beyond Batman (SD, 1:05:52) – Gotham City Revisited: The Production Design of Batman Returns, Sleek, Sexy and Sinister: The Costumes of Batman Returns, Making-up the Penguin, Assembling the Arctic Army, Bats, Mattes and Dark Knights: The Visual Effects of Batman Returns, Inside the Elfman Studios: The Music of Batman Returns.

Music Video “Face to Face” by Siouxse and the Banshees (SD, 4:21)

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:35)

Summary 

Batman Returns is it own marvel. Yes, its a sequel, but it truly stands alone as its own thing, proving a quite different individual. Looking back its both a unique high ground not really achieved anymore in its genre and a peak Tim Burton staple. The Bat, the Cat and the Penguin have been loving brought to the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format with an outstanding top of the line video and audio presentation, completed with its already perfect array of extras. A must have and instant upgrade for the one already in your 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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