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BATMAN BEGINS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman
Director:  Christopher Nolan
Audio:  Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  140 Minutes
Release Date: 
July 8, 2008

"What the hell are you?!"

"I'm Batman."

Film ****

What a year for film fans was 2005...we finally got to witness the beginnings of two classic icons.  Yes, a once promising Jedi Knight named Anakin Skywalker finally turned into Darth Vader, but he wasn't the only one donning the mask and cape this year.

Batman Begins not only shows the origin of the Dark Knight, but serves to both re-invigorate and re-imagine a movie franchise that had kind of imploded in on itself.  The films had been visually stunning, dark, and a sharp turn away from the campy approach of the 1960s TV series.  But we fans never really saw all that Batman could be.  Not until now.

Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan, the auteur behind the best movie of the new millennium Memento, might have seemed as strange a choice to helm a Batman movie as Tim Burton originally was.  But Warner Bros. always put the franchise in the hands of talent rather than those of the most nominal.  Burton and the subsequent directors each molded the Bob Crane characters and universe into their own vision.

But Nolan has all but stepped away from the established playbook entirely.  His Bruce Wayne wasn't a brooding, empty suit peppered with tics, but rather a complex, evolving character confronting his own demons and learning how to use his fear and guilt against those who most needed to feel fear and guilt.

It's amazing thinking back and realizing that in a Batman movie, we don't even SEE Batman for the first hour.  Even more amazing:  we don't miss him.  This is not a comic book movie where the origin story is just scenery and foreground.  It's a principal part of the evolution of a damaged man into a grim hero.  Batman may be a good guy, but at long last, with this film, he's as he's meant to be:  shadowy, dangerous, and even a little frightening.

Christian Bale is the best of the lot to date.  At long last, we have an actor who is as believable as Bruce Wayne as he is in the Bat suit.  The screenplay takes every leg of his journey seriously...the dialogue in and of itself is rich, textured and quotable, yet steeped in the honesty of the mythology.  Despite the fantastic aspects, Batman Begins is thoroughly believable.  That alone is a triumph.

We all pretty much know the tale of how young Bruce sees his parents killed by a street criminal (don't try to connect these events with the flashbacks of the first Batman movie; the slate has been wiped mercifully clean).  But it's a long route from scared child to costumed vigilante.  Bruce grows up obsessed with criminality and the nature of evil, even getting himself thrown into prison just to be able to fight with bad guys.

It's there he meets up with Henri Ducard (Neeson), a mentor-like figure who takes Bruce under his wing.  Recognizing Bruce has anger and drive but not discipline, he teaches his student to face his fears and channel his powers in ninja-like ways.  But his greatest lesson has yet to unfold.

Bruce's Gotham City is a place sick with crime.  Most of the cops and justice system are on the take.  The only decent souls seem to be Bruce's childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Holmes), who has become an assistant district attorney, and the weary cop Jim Gordon (Oldman), who wants to fight crime but feels more and more helpless in the onslaught of the criminal juggernaut.

Bruce begins to map out his ultimate plan to rid the city of it's most oppressive forces...with the help of his trusted butler Alfred (Caine) and the scientific mind behind Wayne Enterprises' product development Lucius Fox (Freeman), the Bat gets ready to fly.  But what he's about to stumble on is the most dastardly and surprising of all the franchise plots...a psychosis-inducing villain named Scarecrow is just the beginning.

Batman Begins has its own distinct look...gone are the increasingly campy uniforms with nipples and codpieces, replaced by a sleeker, all black design.  Gone are the science fiction looking backdrops of Gotham, replaced by a vision equally fantastic but more grounded in reality, and fully capable of serving the film's best action set pieces.  The Batmobile is no longer sleek and phallic, but more like a military tank packing a lot of power and heat.  When Batman dispatches of his foes, it isn't POW!  WHAM!  BIFF!, but in an almost horror-movie like predatory way.  In a word?  Cool.

I can't think of any franchise that reached its pinnacle with its fifth installment, but this one certainly did.  Batman Begins is the best of the bunch.  But even more than that, it might be A) the best superhero movie EVER, and B) the overall best film of 2005.  I'm not kidding...it really is THAT good.

Video ****

What was already outstanding in the video department becomes indescribable on Blu-ray.  I had a feeling this might be one of the best I'd seen in the format, and I wasn't disappointed.  The many dark sequences showcase the disc's technical capabilities, with stunning clarity and contrast, and is devoid of grain.  Gotham has never looked better.  All colors are beautifully rendered, and the striking balance of light against dark make this an instant go-to disc to show off your system.

Audio ****

The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is explosive and more alive than ever.  The action keeps full employ of all channels and extra kick from the 5.1, and when it gets loud, look out...watch your breakables.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and the music is exceptionally sharp as well.

Features ****

This Deluxe Edition disc is as loaded as Batman's utility belt! 

Everything you expect is here, all on one disc, thanks to Blu-ray technology.  There is an In-Movie setting which will let you watch the film with picture-in-picture technology for extra interview bits and behind the scenes footage.  There are looks at the movie's development, Christian Bale undergoing yet another of his remarkable physical transformations for a role, looks at the new Batmobile, the set designs, the miniatures, and the CGI effects.  There are featurettes on the writing  and the stunts as well.  You can check out the various incarnations of Batman and peruse the confidential files for more facts and story points.  There is also the trailer, a stills gallery, and an MTV Movie Awards spoof called "Tankman Begins"...you'll have to see it for yourself.  Rounding out is a 6 minute scene from The Dark Knight as it will appear in IMAX format...a true digital delight.  I can't wait!

Summary:

Movies don't come much more exhilarating than Batman Begins.  It's a well-written, well-acted, superbly directed character-driven take on a comic book favorite, who, after many incarnations on screens big and small, has finally gotten his due.  Consider this one of the best Blu-ray's on the market.

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