Plot: What’s it about?
Watching “Batman Begins” really made me rediscover what it’s like to see movies based on comic books are all about – dark and scary and fun. Of the recent films that have been made from comics, only a few have stood out to me as being truly good and entertaining. I can’t get enough of the “X-Men” movies, “Spider-Man” is a bit overrated in my book and until I saw “Batman Begins”, that was about it. Sure “Fantastic Four” was interesting, but we’re running out of mainstream heroes to portray on the silver screen. Nicholas Cage as “Ghost Rider”, “Iron Man”? Ok…let’s get back to the basics here: Batman and Superman! Yeah, baby! The DC comics heroes preceded the Marvel Universe (for those that don’t know, there were two major comic book publishers in “the day” DC who had Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. and Marvel who had “Spiderman”, “Fantastic Four”, “Hulk” and “X-Men” among others). Tim Burton’s vision of Batman was one that was, understandably, dark and it was critically and commercially successful when it hit theaters in 1989. I was as surprised as anyone when I heard that they were starting the series over; then again it made sense as Joel Schumacher had made somewhat of a mockery of the franchise with “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin” though I did enjoy “Batman Forever” namely due to Jim Carrey and Nicole Kidman.
But that was then and this is now.
Director Christopher Nolan, most noted for his direction on “Memento” and “Insomnia” has crafted something that I didn’t think possible, a remake that’s a lot more interesting and deep than Tim Burton’s vision. I don’t want to take anything away from the original “Batman”, because I love it and to see Jack Nicholson ham it up as the Joker is one of life’s little pleasures. To sum it up (for me) “Batman Begins” seemed to deliver a lot more of the “Why” than the “Wow”.
We get a lot more of the history of the Wayne family, the story of their murder is pretty much the same, but we see the motivation of Bruce (Christian Bale) and his hell hath no fury attitude to avenge his parents’ death. We meet Bruce as he’s in a prison camp, only to be released by the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). Ducard offers Bruce training and the means to fight evil through less obvious methods. In somewhat of a “Matrix” setting, Bruce learns the ways of his master, only to rescind at the last minute when he’s asked to kill a man. It’s then that he heads back to Gotham City to get back to his life. His childhood friend is now an Assistant District Attorney (Katie Holmes) and loyal servant Alfred (Michael Caine) is still keeping Wayne Manor running. It’s explained earlier in the movie of Bruce’s fear of bats, and after voyaging into a mysterious cave (below Wayne Manor), he conquers his fear and we all know what he doesn’t – this is literally the bat cave.
Bruce tries to re-connect with his older life but manages to make a mockery of himself by masquerading as a drunken millionaire playboy. This is only a rouse, however, so that he can dedicate his time and efforts into becoming Batman. Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, an employee of the company who has been relegated to working on top secret projects that aren’t ever used. Bruce, though, finds plenty of use for these little toys and anyone who knows “Batman” knows it’s all about the gadgets! Naturally there wouldn’t be much of a movie if there were no super-villain and we meet one of the more unique ones here with the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). The Scarecrow is actually Dr. Jonathan Crane, a menacing person who’s employed by Ducard. Their plot is to poison the water supply of Gotham City and have the city wipe itself out – thus “cleansing” the world.
I found “Batman Begins” to be a superior remake over Tim Burton’s visually stunning “Batman” – I liked both, but prefer this one. Christian Bale seems to play the troubled Bruce Wayne a bit better; I get the sense that there’s really something going on behind his persona. There will, no doubt, be endless debate on which is the better movie, but Warner seems to think that this has potential to be another franchise. And with “Superman” on the horizon, it could be a new Golden Age for DC Comic book characters at the box office. Highly recommnended.
Video: How does it look?
“Batman Begins” is arguably the biggest “A” title to come to the new HD DVD format, so Warner has a lot riding on this one. First off, I will say that the standard DVD looked pretty darn good, but after viewing a few dozen HD DVD titles, I know what the format is capable of and as such – was expecting big things from “Batman Begins”. Thankfully I wasn’t let down as this 2.40:1 HD transfer literally makes the film jump off the screen. As any fan of the “Batman” movies knows, they’re dark – sometimes really dark. Black levels are right on target and even where the standard DVD faltered, this one holds true. Colors are very true to form and the details (the little things) really stand out in some of the scenes. I really couldn’t find anything to fault this new HD transfer here and quite simply, it’s one of the finest images I’ve seen on disc. Like pretty much everything in HD DVD, they take something good and make it much, much better.
Audio: How does it sound?
In addition to the outstanding video quality, this is one of the select titles that features a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. And now that our HD DVD players are actually capable of reproducing these soundtracks, it’s quite the plesant experience for sure. The best way I can describe the TrueHD track is that it’s like the difference between hearing Dolby Surround and a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. There’s just a lot more there and you’re getting pure, uncompressed sound. Dialogue is rich and full while the surrounds are almost constantly humming in nearly every scene. There are so many instances in which this soundtrack takes control, I lost count but let’s just say that this is a perfect title to show off your audio system with.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This HD DVD version contains everything that the two-disc special edition had, plus a bit more (and more on the “more” a little later). We start off with a bevy of featurettes, ranging from costume design to the look of the new Batmobile. There’s a 15 minute featurette aptly titled “Batman: The Journey Begins” in which we see how the movie came to be as well as the casting involved. The other featurettes are: “Cape and Cowl”; “Visual Effects”; “The Tumbler”; “Gotham Rises”; “Saving Gotham City”; and “Genesis of the Bat”. Each of this range in time from a few minutes to around fifteen or so, though I found “Cape and Cowl” the most interesting of the bunch, but I’m sure opinions will differ. There are several art galleries also included. Also included in the set is a 72 page comic book that features the first appearance of the “Bat-Man”, so if you’re really curious to see the roots, this is the best place to look. Now comes the exclusive HD DVD content – yep, the “In Movie Experience”. Only a handful of movies have this feature and it’s pretty interesting and does, actually, add a lot to the film. It’s a commentary of sorts, but it also intertwines behind the scenes footage, snippets of other featurettes and various this and that about the movie. Best of all, you can watch the movie and have this playing in a window so you get to view the movie and learn about it at the same time. It’s like a commentary with a whole lot more. Suffice it to say that this is probably the biggest title released on HD DVD to date and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.