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Warner Home Video presents
Batman Begins HD-DVD (2005)

"You must become more than just a man in the mind of your opponent."
- Ducard (Liam Neeson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 10, 2006

Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman
Other Stars: Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements
Run Time: 02h:19m:54s
Release Date: October 10, 2006
UPC: 012569809246
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There have been numerous efforts at bringing the Batman to film, with varying degrees of success, beginning with the 1943 serial through the campy television show of the 1960s to the grim deco visions of Tim Burton to the garish and creepy return to high camp under the hand of Joel Schumacher. But none of these have taken a gritty, realistic approach to the character, even though that has long been de rigeur in the comic books. But Christopher Nolan definitely does it right, and the result is an action masterpiece of epic scope that finally does justice to the darkness of the character.

As the title suggests, the focus is on the formative years and how billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) came to dress up in a bat suit to fight crime in Gotham City. After the murder of his parents, Bruce is at sea, filled with rage and directionless. Plunging into fights with thugs at random, he catches the eye of Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), to be recruited for the League of Shadows headed by Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). Told that they desire to fight crime and injustice, Bruce hones his skills to a fine edge, but when he learns Ra's al Ghul intends to fight injustice in Gotham City by means of extermination he rebels and returns to his birthright. Back at Wayne Manor, faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) has protected the family holdings, so Bruce comes back to substantial wealth and the news that Wayne Enterprises is to go public. But the applied sciences department of the company, headed by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), contains the paraphernalia to create a one-man army, which will stand the fledgling Batman in good stead as he has to face not only mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and the corrupt Gotham police force, but mad psychiatrist Jonathan Crane and his fear-mongering alter ego the Scarecrow. And in the background, the plan of Ra's al Ghul moves forward....

Based in large part on Frank Miller's seminal Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween, the story is faithful to the comic traditions while keeping an intense and realistic tone to the onscreen action. There's plenty of martial arts action that's not of the typical whoosh silliness but feels like up-close and brutal street fighting combined with flawless technique. At the same time, the quick cutting and unusual camera angles give one the vivid sensation of being part of the fight, just sensing motion but seldom able to clearly get one's bearings. The result is some of the most realistic comic-book action ever to hit the screen, especially when combined with a script that reinforces the internal logic of the story. It's particularly effective in the linking of the three main villains, who are acting in what appears to be separate ways but turn out to actually be more nuanced and interconnected in plausible fashion. The evil is not cartoonish, but textured and layered, with real substance behind it.

The casting is impeccable for the most part; Bale is a fine brooding and driven Bruce Wayne and delivers the trademark Batman rasp with aplomb; he carries a barely-concealed rage that projects the issues behind the cowl. Caine is charming and avuncular as Alfred, a suitable character for his world-worn face. Liam Neeson falls into the familiar role of Jedi Master again, but it's not as if he didn't do that well the first time around. Gary Oldman, as the honest cop Sgt. James Gordon, is a particularly fine portrayal, nailing the Batman: Year One Gordon 100% from the mixed attitude of fear and bemusement at his new ally right down to the look of the character. Oldman seldom gets to play a hero, but he once again turns in a first-rate performance. Murphy's Dr. Crane is a perfect combination of geeky gawkiness and dangerous insanity that works 100%. The Scarecrow here doesn't have the operatic quality of Burton's Batman villains, but the effects work for his fear gas is truly terrifying, with abundant visions of bats, maggots and flame. The weak link is Katie Holmes, who is easily ten years too young to be playing assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes, Bruce's childhood friend and brief romantic interest.

A CGI-enhanced Chicago makes for a nice substitute Gotham, perpetually rain-drenched and grey. The effects work is quite well realized, and a surprising amount of the material on screen is shot live and not created in CGI; the result is highly credible and forcefully immediate. There's a particularly fine car chase as the police pursue the Batmobile through the city streets. The city makes the story in these films, for only in the diseased world of Gotham can the Batman and his rogues gallery truly be at home. But the film also makes a point of balancing Bruce/Batman's quest for revenge with an understanding that justice is more than that. Through ample use of flashbacks and intercutting the world of the Batman comes to a vivid life.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The compressionists worked overtime on Batman Begins for HD DVD, and the results show off spectacularly. There's a ton of shadow detail, as well as deep, deep blacks, and zero artifacting or posterization is visible. The fight on the ice lake is beautiful, and the nighttime cityscapes of Gotham are just gorgeous. The daylight scenes are suffused in a warm gold, and the picture springs off the screen in one of the most filmlike transfers yet. The HD DVD experience just keeps getting better and better.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Action pictures benefit from a big pounding soundtrack and this is no exception. There's a nice enveloping soundstage and plenty of low bass response, especially in explosions and in the rumblings beneath Arkham Asylum. Where the original disc was like a punch in the gut, this one pounds like a sledgehammer. The score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard comes across with good presence and range as well. The disc comes with both DD+ 5.1 and lossless TrueHD 5.1 tracks, so there's an excellent reason to upgrade your HD DVD player to firmware 2.0, which enables the 5.1 version of TrueHD.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
8 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. In-Movie Experience
  2. Tankman Begins
  3. Poster gallery
Extras Review: The sole HD-exclusive extra is an In-Movie Experience, which has been eagerly awaited since the sampling figures large in Warner's HD DVD promo materials. It doesn't disappoint, fulfilling the role of a commentary with most of the major cast and crew taking part, plus providing plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards,comics art and otherinteresting materials. There are some gaps, and the total runtime of the IME is a bit over an hour; the right arrow moves one to the next bit (even though the arrow indicator doesn't appear onscreen for some reason).

Most of the extras from the Deluxe Edition are here (other than the comic book). These include the highly entertaining MTV Movie Awards satire, Tankman Begins, featuring Jimmy Fallon and a guest appearance from Napoleon Dynamite. There's also an anamorphic theatrical trailer. A series of eight EPK featurettes total nearly two hours. These are pretty well done, and focus on the writing of the script, Bale's training and the fight choreography, designing the city and the new Batmobile, the costume, filming the finale and Bruce's time in the Himalayas. One of the featurettes is also devoted to Batman's history in the comics and some of the influences on the film, with comparison frames. The Confidential files give additional background on the allies, enemies and hardware of the Batman, and there's a gallery of a multitude of US, international and apparently unused poster designs. It's a solid presentation of supporting material that ratchets the B+ grade of the deluxe edition up to a convincing A with the addition of the IME.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Batman Begins leaps to the forefront as one of the best comics adaptations ever; it's a thrill ride with an epic feel that just doesn't stop. The HD presentation raises the bar even higher on the new format.


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