When Batman Begins found its way onto DVD back in 2005, I’d just begun writing DVD reviews. I briefly considered using portions of my review then for this new Blu-ray edition but I was so astonished by my complete lack of dialogue for the film that I opted to completely redraft film review, as well as the special features discussion. Were it any other movie I don’t know if I would have chosen to do such a thing; since the film was released on DVD, however, it is one of few films that I’ve watched again after reviewing and I will continue to do so many more times. Batman Begins isn’t just a great Batman and superhero movie…it’s just a great movie. Period.
In 2005, director Christopher Nolan infused the dormant Batman franchise into something both comic book fans and audiences had been waiting for: a serious Batman film that not only gave us the most origin-accurate portrayal of Batman yet, but also a deep and remarkable film that wrapped up audiences in Batman’s origins and the tragedy that Bruce Wayne suffered as a kid. It wasn’t a thing like the last Batman film to adorn the big screen and critics and fans alike were blown away by Nolan’s vision, combined with screenwriter David S. Goyer and backed up by an all-star cast of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Katie Holmes.
While I haven’t watched Batman Begins so many times that I know every piece of dialogue, I have watched it again more than any other film after reviewing it. I should explain that a bit, I suppose; I’ve reviewed hundreds of titles now but only a few have I gone back and watched again after reviewing them. It takes a lot for me to work up the desire to watch a film, purely for enjoyment, after analyzing the hell out of it for a review. Certain films stand up to the test and I’ve gone back to watch them again, sometimes immediately after (Hot Fuzz, In Bruges, 3:10 to Yuma and 300 come to mind), but so many have simply found their way onto my shelves to collect dust for a few more years before I work up the desire.
Perhaps it’s my love of Batman to begin with; after all, I’ve grown up with the character. Since I could remember I was a DC fan, but it was never for Superman or Wonder Woman or Flash or Green Lantern, it was only Batman. I scoffed at the idea of even watching another animated series or buying any other action figures (although I would later get into the X-Men and Spider-Man series…but not in the ways I got into Batman) and for years I thought of only the Bat. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve Batman and while I only got to see Batman & Robin in theaters (which, at the time, I loved. I think it had more to do with seeing Batman on the big screen than anything, however. At least I hope that’s what it was), I eagerly awaited whatever animated show or products that came out of the toy companies.
It was tough waiting for Batman Begins to finally arrive in theaters. A lot of hype surrounded it, simply because of how long it’d been since the last time Batman adorned the silver screen. I ate up every piece of footage released for the film I could, which I would later find to be a mistake. While I was happier than could be after seeing the film, I felt like I’d already seen all of it, or at least the key parts, from viewing so much footage of it. I opted to watch only the trailers for The Dark Knight this time around, so hopefully I’ll be less familiar with what I’m seeing by the time I sit down to watch that one.
There is so much to love about Batman Begins, whether it’s the tight script written by Nolan and Goyer or the performances by the robust cast in the film. I was surprised by how many big names were cast in this film, and even more surprised that Freeman and Caine were in such secondary roles; high profile, but still secondary. Still, it’s the actors that help really sell this film and there isn’t enough praise in the world that I could throw at them for helping revive my favorite hero from production hell.
Everything about the film, from the costume, to the origins of Batman and even the gritty and brown washed city of Gotham, I was immediately wrapped up in the world and didn’t want to let go, even after I’d left the theater. Perhaps that’s what’s kept me so wrapped up in the film and is the reason why I keep going back. Whatever the reason, I find myself getting caught up in the world all over again for reasons I can’t fully explain. Simply put its Batman at his best and there’s little more I could ask for than that.
The villains in the film weren’t what you expected from a Batman origin story. Since the rumors of a fifth Batman movie began floating around in 1998, the hints of using Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul had floated around, but I never imagined that they’d carry on through multiple scripts, possible castings and a multitude of directors before settling on Nolan and Crew. The fear angle of Scarecrow fit perfectly into Nolan’s vision for Batman and while the film didn’t introduce the audience to any of Batman’s more popular villains, it did fit two of the lesser know villains quite well. I was worried that having two villains in the film would create too much chaos on the screen, but their relationship is handled very well, escalating from the fact that we never actually see Crane or Ra’s actually meet with one another.
Crane himself is played brilliantly by Cillian Murphy who has an absolutely chilling look about him all by myself. His role in the film with the Scarecrow mask is brief, but whenever he breaks it out the scene immediately has tensions rise and almost always ends in some horrible way for those involved. His scene with Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) in jail was absolutely fantastic watch, between the fear toxic effects visually as well as what his voice, distorted and evil, sounded like to Falcone. His role was brief in the film, but Murphy left a huge impact on the viewer, simply from his creepy stare and smile alone.
I could go on about everyone of the actors, but I’ll limit myself to just a few more. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon was nothing short of something that seemed to be ripped directly from the comics and I can only imagine what kind of contributions he’ll make to future installments. The moment he and Batman share on top of the GCPD at the end of the film is a perfect descriptor for their relationship: “I never said thank you.” “And you never will.” Those two lines of dialogue are an absolutely perfect summation of Gordon and Batman’s relationships.
On top of Oldman are Caine and Freeman who are as pitch perfect as you’d expect as Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox. The two even manage to get a scene together in Wayne Manor where we get a brief idea that they’ve been friends for quite awhile. Caine’s compassionate Alfred manages to make Bruce laugh and feel comforted at the same time, while Freeman’s Fox proves to be an invaluable friend to Wayne as well as confidant. Without those two actors behind the characters, I honestly question how believable they would have been.
As for Neeson as the role of Ra’s…due to the “twist” of the film it came as a bit of a surprise, but in the back of my head I wondered why Ra’s part was so brief in the film. It’s obvious in retrospect but was a nice switch up to throw at the audience. It also played into the dual identity aspect that Bruce would later taken on with Batman; something he learned from his mentor and didn’t even notice. Christian Bale as Batman is…well, I don’t know how much discussion is required on that. He makes an absolutely fantastic Bruce Wayne and Batman, something several actors who have stepped into the shoes weren’t able to pull off (in particular with the Schumacher films, I always felt the actors under the cowl either worked as one or the other and never both). The only thing that still bothers me about Bale is his voice for Batman…the primeval growl he infuses his questions and exclamations with just doesn’t work for me all the time.
Moving onto other elements of the film that I actually didn’t like (yes, there were a few) we get into areas of the Batmobile. Not it’s not that I don’t like the tumbler, it was the chase sequence. The constant police chatter got to be a big too goofy for me and actually seemed out of place in the film. It helped lighten what would otherwise be a depressing scene with Holmes character possibly dieing, but as dark as the rest of the movie was, I doubt the lack of a little bit of police officers who were way out of their league talking to one another was really required in the quantity we received.
Another element that irked me at first was Batman “letting” Ra’s die. I realize now that it was more about Ra’s making the choice whether to save himself or not and while most interpretation of Batman would have him saving the villain, almost always, I slowly began to warm up to the idea that this particular rendition of the Dark Knight would possibly let someone die…especially when they caused as much havoc as Ra’s did. It’s not a perfect excuse for the scene, but it sits better with me now than it did when I left the theater the first time.
Visual effects for the film were as astonishing as one would expect from a modern day action film and never once did they feel fake. At times Gotham City, constructed in a massive set in London, felt a bit boxed in but I don’t know if that’s how I always felt about it or just how I feel about it now having seen the extras that told me that the city was, in fact, built inside of a warehouse. Either way there are times when it doesn’t feel like a real city and other times it feels perfectly fine. It’s a hard feeling to describe, it’s just something your eyes pick up and realize that something isn’t playing right. Still, it’s minor, and every other effect in the film looks absolutely perfect. Perhaps down the line we’ll see some wonky CGI, but for now the film is crisp and clean in the CGI department…mostly due to Nolan’s insistence on filming the stunts and the like for real, rather than relying on computers. Great for viewers, sucks for Warner’s pocket book.
Just one more comment (I swear!) about the film and that is…the score. I’ve grown to love the score for Batman Begins so much and it’s even to the point now where I can pick out which music cues aren’t included on the soundtrack release as I watch the film. It’s really some of the more unique music styles I’ve heard and it fits Batman’s world perfectly. While the use of the music in other films trailers irks me (I forget what I’ve heard it in, but I do recall watching a trailer and immediately dismissing the film because it was using music from Batman Begins. I probably reviewed it already and called it crap, I honestly don’t remember), it’s a wonderful array of music for Batman’s world.
So…how do I feel about Batman Begins? Well, as should be obvious from my four pages and near 2000 words written above…I love it. I can’t get enough of it and will continue to recommend it to individuals, regardless of how awesome or horrible The Dark Knight sequel turns out to be. As I stated in the very first paragraph: it’s not that this movie is Batman and that I grew up with him that makes this movie great. Sure that helps, but that isn’t what keeps me glued to the TV when this film is on. As a die-hard Bat-fan, I’m more critical of the character than most and everything bout Batman Begins is just top notch (except for that police chatter). No matter which way you cut it, Batman Begins is, quite simply, a fantastic film, superhero or not. Must See.
Well now that that incredibly long review is out of the way (seriously, did any of you actually read that? I know I would’ve given up about halfway through), we can focus on the main reason this review is being published: the recently released Blu-ray edition of Batman Begins. Those of you who purchased this film on the HD-DVD format will find nothing new here; everything seems to be a direct clone, so don’t expect any spiffy new extras here. But if you’re like me and didn’t adopt the HD-DVD format (I almost did. Good thing I avoided that disaster), you’ll find the in-movie experience for the film an invaluable addition as it substitutes the lack of commentary with a slew of behind-the-scenes footage and information. The film itself arrives in a standard Blu-ray case without any inserts (aside from a piece of paper telling you to update your player) and disc art mimics the cover art. Menus are simple and easy to navigate with the pop-up feature. As with all Warner Blu-ray’s I’ve run into the film auto-starts, so be sure to have the pause button ready if you aren’t ready to view the film right as it loads up.
Batman Begins arrives in a VC-1 encoded 1080p 2.4:1 transfer that looks wonderful. There’s a lot of detail to be seen, especially during scenes where the actors are sweating…the detail that shows up on their faces is quite astounding. Having said that the majority of the film is pitch black, so there isn’t a whole lot to attempt to make out at times, but regardless the picture is nice and isn’t going to hinder your enjoyment of it in the least. The included Dolby TrueHD track absolutely smashes the original 5.1 track (which is also included here). I had attempted to show off the Batmobile sequence to someone and wondered why the subwoofer was so subdued compared to when I watched it and realized that the film defaults to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track rather than the TrueHD. Once I flicked that on, the room came alive with vibrations; I was surprised how much different the two tracks were. Between Ra’s mountain home exploding, the Batmobile chase and the final act involving the train, the subwoofer rarely had a moment to sleep. I knew it when I bought the subwoofer, but it’s made for a much larger room than what it’s sitting in, so when it gets really active I end up feeling the reverb from the walls into the back of my head. Not that I’m complaining; between the surrounds and the subwoofer, this film is astonishing to watch for those two elements alone.
The extras included on this disc are identical to past releases aside from the inclusion of The Dark Knight IMAX prologue (6:36). This is presented in 1080p, but I didn’t watch all of it; once I realized I was actually watching the opening to the film I held back. I’m sure it’s fantastic, but it’s something I’d rather save for the theater. Moving onto the other extras we have the “In-Movie Experience” which is ported over from the HD-DVD release. With a lot of other Blu-ray releases sporting this same type of extra now this doesn’t quite feel as “fresh” as I’m sure it did back on HD-DVD, but it’s still a nice extra to have. The comments aren’t constant, which is a bit of a bummer, but it does feature all-new interviews with cast and crew as well as behind-the-scenes footage not scene previously, so it’s worth checking out at least. I still would have preferred a good ol’ fashioned commentary, but this will do for this film at least, I guess. Here’s hoping Nolan gets on top of a commentary for The Dark Knight sooner rather than later.
Moving onto the rest of the extras we have an area designated “additional footage” which I wondered about at first, as I didn’t recall these from the original two-disc DVD edition until I realized these were the easter eggs from said previous set. I got to say, I really don’t miss that stupid comic book menu system for the second Batman Begins DVD. That really bothered me and I was never sure if I saw all of the extras or not because of it. The three easter eggs are “Reflections on Writing” (1:57), “Digital Batman” (1:06) and “Batman Begins Stunts” (2:29). Plenty of cool comments here in these short extras, plus we get to see the Tumbler testing its strength out.
First up in the normal special features area is “Tankman Begins” (6:12), the MTV parody that now makes the Batmobile chase sequence hard to watch. I don’t really like Jimmy Fallon but I have a weak spot for toilet humor so I was reluctantly roped into laughing at this. For the rest of the extras we get usual behind-the-scenes footage, divided into sections. First up is “The Journey Begins” (14:16), where we see the early stages of the film from concept to the casting of Bale. “Shaping Mind and Body” (12:49) shows Bale getting into the Batsuit, while “GOTHAM CITY Rises” (12:48) talks about the sets of the film, including the city, Batcave, Wayne Manor and more.
“Cape and Cowl” (8:18) shows off the new Batsuit while “Batman – The Tumbler” (13:49) gives us a full look at the newest Batmobile. Both of these get to show off some awesome early concept art of both the suit and Batmobile, so those curious how the two elements of Batman’s world looked like early on need look no further. “Path to Discovery” (14:13) shows off what it was like the first week of shooting in Iceland, while “Saving Gotham City” (13:01) shows the construction of the miniatures and CGI used for the monorail sequences in the film.
Our final featurette, “Genesis of the Bat” (14:53), which talks about the various incarnations of Batman that influenced the film, wraps up the set and leaves us with only a still image gallery as well as a set of “confidential files” that showcase elements of characters not seen in the film.
Overall Batman Begins on Blu-ray is clearly the ultimate edition of the film, both in terms of technical specifications but also in the special features department. Be sure to set some time aside for the extras included here as well; I recall being disappointed with the selection before, but found myself rather surprised at how long these extras were on this set this time around. Maybe it was just that old DVD menu system. Man did that thing suck.
In any case, even if you own the previous DVD editions, this one comes Recommended. Those who don’t own the film at all but are currently rocking the tech to watch this film in its full glory will find this one to be a Must Own.
Batman Begins is now available on Blu-ray.