Combustible Celluloid

Batman: The 80th Anniversary

Holy High-Def!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

June 4, 2019—Eighty years ago Batman made his debut in Detective Comics #27, a ten-cent, four-color mag that is worth a cool million today. Perhaps just as significantly, Tim Burton's Batman (1989) is now thirty years old (released near Batman's fiftieth).

For this current anniversary, Warner Home Video has released the first four Batman films (not counting the 1966 comedy) in new 4K editions, packed with bonus, remastered Blu-rays — with Dolby Atmos soundtracks — and digital copies. They will be available separately ($41.99 SRP), and in a four-film box set ($90.00 SRP).

With new superhero movies coming out practically every other week today, it's hard to imagine a time in which a superhero movie was a risk. In 1989, the Superman franchise had already gone four films, with diminishing returns (and diminishing enthusiasm) each time out. Meanwhile, Batman was probably known by most folks for his campy, colorful 1960s TV series. But in 1986 Frank Miller published The Dark Knight Returns, which brought the hero back to his original dark, alley-prowling state (Neal Adams's stellar 1970s comic book work notwithstanding).

Burton decided to take the hero in this fresher, darker direction, and it proved to be a wise choice. The summer of 1989 was crowded with high-profile sequels, and a lot of hits, but Batman came in #1, and it even placed on a few lists of the ten best films of the year and won an Oscar for its set design. It's not without its problems, but it still looks great (and has an amazing cast), and Michael Keaton is still the best Batman. This disc, which looks and sounds incredible, includes a Burton commentary track and a ton of great extras (including three Prince music videos), all carried over from previous releases.

Batman Returns (1992) is even better, with Burton instilling even more of his singular, personal vision, as well as making the second of his unofficial Christmas trilogy (Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas completing the three). And it has Michelle Pfeiffer's unforgettable Catwoman. Similarly, the picture and sound on the Blu-ray is impeccable, and all the extras (another Burton commentary track, a Siouxsie and the Banshees music video, etc.) are all carried over from previous releases.

The series began to unravel with the third film, Batman Forever (1995), which kept Burton on as producer, but unfortunately brought on Joel Schumacher as director and Akiva Goldsman as screenwriter. For the record, I do like Schumacher, but there's no question that this material just wasn't a good fit for him. He instinctively took it back to the more colorful, campy arena, replacing Keaton, and bringing in a dull Robin to finish things off. But Jim Carrey's manic Riddler still makes this one worth seeing (not to mention Nicole Kidman at her most glamorous). The Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent, with a Schumacher commentary track, and bonuses from previous releases.

Finally there's Batman & Robin (1997), with more Schumacher, more Goldsman, and more camp (and more nipples). I wish there was something good to say about this one, except that it's probably not the worst movie ever made, and it does have a pretty good Smashing Pumpkins song on the soundtrack. This disc, too, is absolutely top-notch, and Schumacher's pink-and-green color scheme (!) truly pops. Schumacher provides a commentary track, and all the extras from previous releases are here. In any case, here we are, and there doesn't appear to be any end of Batman films, or Batman in general, in sight. And, as long as he inspires hope for the good at heart, that's a good thing.

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