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In recent years, superhero movies have become a regular staple at the multiplex- sometimes scoring an artistic success, sometimes scoring a commercial success… sometimes both. The two eldest comic book superheroes Superman and Batman have seen their share of cinematic triumphs and failures. Richard Donner created magic, with Superman in 1978, but the franchise tanked when it was taken out of his capable hands. When director Tim Burton tackled bringing Batman to the screen in 1989, he perfectly brought to life a comic book world in dazzling visual terms that fleshed of the dual nature of the characters that inhabited this realm. Burton’s two Batman films, while both brilliant, remained constrained at something of a comic book level, something that was exacerbated to a much more campy level by Joel Schumacher’s handling of the two sequels that followed Burton’s films- much to the detriment of the franchise.

After Joel Schumacher all but buried The Caped Crusader with his campy comic book capers, less than a decade later, Warner Bros. green-lighted a reinvented Batman franchise that takes the character in a completely new and completely fresh direction. Discarding everything from the previous four movies, co-writer/director Christopher Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer take a more naturalistic tact to the material with BATMAN BEGINS, thus bringing Bob Kane’s comic book characters into the real world for the very first time. BATMAN BEGINS was able to achieve this goal largely because real world technology had advanced to the point that Batman’s arsenal of gadgets finally seemed entirely plausible, as do as do the weapons and schemes of his nemeses. Grounding the Batman mythos in as much reality as possible certainly reinvigorated this movie franchise, and made BATMAN BEGINS the best summer movie of 2005.

As the title implies, BATMAN BEGINS focuses on the origins of The Caped Crusader; looking at the psychology that drove billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to don his cape and cowl, thus creating an alter ego from a feared creature of the night. The film also looks at the how Bruce Wayne utilized his resources as a billionaire industrialist to assemble the devices that made Batman’s legendary crime fighting possible. BATMAN BEGINS follows the internal and external journeys of Bruce Wayne as he goes on a quest to fight injustice, after his parents are murdered, as well as fending off the demons that plague subconscious. After his seven-year journey of discovery, Bruce Wayne returns to a crime ravaged Gotham City where he sets out to bring the metropolis back from the brink- by becoming The Dark Knight. To say anymore about the plot would spoil the movie’s surprises.

In addition to Christian Bale, who is excellent as a younger version of Bruce Wayne, the cast of BATMAN BEGINS also features Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and confidante Alfred Pennyworth, Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard, the man who helped set Bruce Wayne on his path towards becoming Batman, Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, Gary Oldman as police detective Jim Gordon, Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane, who heads Arkham Asylum, Tom Wilkinson as crime boss Carmine Falcone, Morgan Freeman as Wayne Industries R&D wizard Lucius Fox and Rutger Hauer as Earle, the corporate head of Wayne Industries.

Warner Home Video has made BATMAN BEGINS available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p presentation is utterly fantastic and everything that one should expect from a recent blockbuster title. Image clarity and detail are truly first rate; the picture rally pops, in addition to delivering excellent dimensionality. Fine details such as fabric textures, individual hairs and even fine lines in the actors skin are beautifully rendered. Colors have good saturation, but maintain a highly realistic quality. Flesh tones are sometime a little too warm, but otherwise appealing. Blacks are totally inky, whites are pure, plus the picture sports smooth contrast and excellent shadow detail. The elements from which BATMAN BEGINS have been mastered are free from flaws. There is very little apparent grain in the image in well-lit sequences, but one will notice more where the lighting is less carefully controlled. Overall, an excellent film-like presentation that leaves standard definition in a haze.

BATMAN BEGINS is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. The lossless format makes the great sounding 5.1 soundtrack from the DVD even greater. BATMAN BEGINS has a big, highly aggressive, action movie sound design, which utilizes of all the outlying channels to deliver clear and precise sound effects placement. Throughout the course of film, sound effects come at the viewer from everywhere, plus they effortlessly zip around the soundstage. Additionally, the track also excels at creating natural acoustic spaces. The bass channel adds both percussive power and all the required rumble for whatever the track requires. Dialogue is warmly natural and always easy to understand. English, French Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as, as well as the supplemental materials. The In-Movie Experience is a video augmented commentary with director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer, as well as other cast members who are featured in interview clips (requires a Profile 1.1 player). The Dark Knight IMAX Prologue offers the opening sequence for the upcoming sequel in hi-def and it looks amazing (made me want to run out opening weekend to see the sequel).

Many other supplements have been ported over from the DVD release of the film. MTV's Tankman Begins, a movie spoof that finds The Caped Crusader chauffeuring Jimmy Fallon to an MTV award ceremony. Featurettes include the following: Batman: The Journey Begins (fourteen minutes) features members of the production team discussing the inception of the film and bringing it to the screen. Shaping Mind And Body (thirteen minutes) features actor Christian Bale, as well as the fight coordinators, who discus the fighting style created for this incarnation of The Dark Knight. Gotham City Rises (thirteen minutes) focuses on the design and creation of the metropolis that our central character calls home. Cape And Cowl (eight minutes) focuses on wardrobe; i.e. the Batsuit worn in the film. Batman: The Tumbler (fourteen minutes) looks at The Caped Crusader’s new ride. Path To Discovery (fourteen minutes) looks at Bruce Wayne’s personal journey that lead him back home to the city where The Batman is greatly needed. Saving Gotham City (thirteen minutes) examines some of the special effects work of the film’s climax. Genesis Of The Bat (thirteen minutes) looks at origins of the character and remaining faithful to the mythos and stylings of the comic books.

Other short programs running under three minutes each include Reflections On Writing Batman Begins, Digital Batman and Batman Begins Stunts. A series of detailed Confidential Files on allies, enemies & equipment, plus an Art Gallery and a Theatrical Trailer close out the disc based supplemental features.

As I’ve stated previously, BATMAN BEGINS is a brilliant re-invention of the movie franchise. Writer/director Christopher Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer have wiped the slate clean and made way for Batman to begin anew on the silver screen. By virtue of its higher resolution, the high definition Blu-ray release blows away the DVD- as if that is any surprise. Anyway, the Blu-ray release of BATMAN BEGINS comes absolutely recommended.



Batman Begins [Blu-ray] (2005)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2008 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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