Warner Home Video presents
Batman Returns: Special Edition (1992)
Bruce: You've got kind of a dark side, don't you?
Selina: No darker than yours, Bruce.- Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer
Stars: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito
Other Stars: Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy
Director: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (violence, sexuality)
Run Time: 02h:06m:19s
Release Date: 2005-10-18
DVD ReviewBatman Begins is most definitely a better movie, but Batman Returns, director Tim Burton's second stab at the franchise, will likely always be my favorite of the Batman series. An unsettling, often sad story of dichotic characters and shattered souls, it drips with Burton milieu, and certainly plays like another of his fractured fairy tales. It makes perfect sense that it follows Edward Scissorhands is his filmography—both are, in a sense, about the inner-workings of misunderstood, disturbed freaks (Burton's favorite kind of people).
Like Burton's Batman before it, Returns isn't much concerned with the motivations of Bruce Wayne, whom, it appears, does little more than sit silently in his darkened mansion waiting for the Bat Signal to light up. The stars of the show are the villains, who provide the perfect canvas for Burton to paint another unsettling picture of sad, misunderstood, and tortured souls. He crams in two origins stories, explaining how mousey secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) was pushed out a window, left for dead, and brought back to life as the slinky, sexy, surprisingly able seamstress Catwoman; and how a deformed baby left to rot in the sewers by his blue blood parents was raised by penguins to become the sociopathic Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito).
While Catwoman prowls the streets as a vigilante, Cobblepot emerges from the sewers with a plan to reclaim his birthright. With the help of devilish businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), incidentally the most outright evil of the trio, motivated by greed rather than pain, the Penguin plans to run for mayor, with the destruction of Batman as his primary platform. The Cat and the Bird team up to frame the Caped Crusader, while out of the latex, Bruce Wayne romances the striking, confident Selina Kyle at a masquerade ball (at which they are the only two not wearing masks). I'm thinking this might get a little awkward.
Once the villains are established, there's not really a whole lot of room in Returns for a story. The setup and the mayoral plot lead straight into an abrupt finale, featuring the most adorable weapons of mass destruction of all time, penguins with rockets strapped to their backs. That's never bothered me, though, because this is really a Tim Burton movie, not a Batman movie, and Burton at his best always focuses on style, emotion, and psychological motivation more than plot. He goes all out with the visuals this time, turning Gotham City into a bizarre amalgam of German Expressionism and Cold War-era Soviet grandeur. The script, from Daniel Waters (Heathers), offers a nice mix of humor (Penguin's grotesque manners, Catwoman's acid tongue) and pathos, and the action set pieces are bigger and more imaginative than those found in 1989's Batman, in particular a chase sequence involving an out-of-control Batmobile (the car has developed a few new features, too... where does he get those wonderful toys?).
I'm one of the seeming few who dislikes Jack Nicholson's take on the Joker ("Hi, I'm crazy Jack Nicholson, in clown makeup!"), but Pfeiffer and DeVito both perfectly embody their iconic characters. Pfeiffer, in particular, gives probably the best performance of anyone in the history of the Batman franchise—her transformation from a stuttering, meek secretary into the lithe, playfully dangerous villainess is pretty remarkable, and even when she's over-the-top (giving herself a tongue bath?), she's totally committed to the character in a way that somehow lends reality to the caricature. Plus, she fits quite well into that S&M cat outfit, certainly one of the most striking, yet simple, costumes ever created. DeVito, buried under mounds of latex, plumbs the depths of his id to create the thoroughly nasty Penguin, and from his phlegm-coated voice to his frantic, beady eyes, he's every bit Burton's version of the character (and a far cry from Burgess Merideth's dapper, monocled, gentlemanly take).
Batman Returns is probably a love-it or hate-it affair; upon its initial release, most critics blasted it as meandering and humorless. It's certainly not as kinetic as the first film, or as colorful as Joel Schumacher's sequels, but to me, Batman has always been about pain and inner torment, and that's where Burton is right at home.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Batman Returns looked decent enough when first released on DVD, but the image, though anamorphic, didn't age very well. This new re-master corrects the problem. The 13-year-old film looks like it was shot yesterday, with excellent detail, strong colors and deep blacks. There is still a bit of grain, particularly in scenes that used a lot of compositing and special effects (note the opening titles), but nowhere near what you'll see on the previous disc, and this time around, there's no artifacting or significant digital noise to mar the picture.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Presented in nearly identical DTS and DD 5.1 mixes, Batman Returns sounds great on this new DVD. The surrounds are very active throughout, and present effects with good front-to-back imaging, while the front soundstage handles the bunt of the mix with clear dialogue and good stereo separation. Danny Elfman's score sounds rich and full, and LFE adds oomph to the mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Tim Burton
Packaging: Amaray Double
- Siouxsie and the Banshees music video, Face to Face
Disc 1 features the theatrical trailer (no teasers, though), and a typically low-key commentary from director Tim Burton. He's never been one of my favorite speakers, DVD-wise, because he seems to have so little enthusiasm for discussing his work. There are a few good nuggets of information here, but the most interesting trivia is found on the bonus disc.
Over on Disc 2, you'll find The Cat, the Bat, and the Penguin (21m:52s), an original 1992 promo piece (hosted by the late Robert Ulrich, because...), which I vividly remember watching in the run up to the film's release. It's actually a good look at the making of the movie, with entertaining interviews with Keaton, Pfeiffer, and DeVito analyzing their rather absurd characters. It's far less fluffy than the typical modern HBO-style piece, and worth a look for its unusual rapid-fire MTV editing style. Sample quote: "Michelle was doing the weirdest things in this movie... A couple hours to put this costume on, now, come and use this whip. Here, put this bird in your mouth."
Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 4—Dark Side of the Night (30m:15s) is a really wonderful look back at the film, and sheds new light on its eccentricities. Screenwriter Sam Hamm reveals that Burton didn't want to come back for the sequel until Warner Bros. basically gave him carte blanche to turn Returns into "a Tim Burton movie," and all that implies. That explains, in a nutshell, why it's the darkest and weirdest of the first four movies, and probably also why it's my favorite (the lack of a Prince soundtrack helps quite a bit, too). Burton talks about how he became excited at the prospect of re-writing the Penguin's origin to give him a strong psychological motivation, also explaining why the movies focused more on the villains than on the Bat (basically writing off the most prevalent complaint about his two Batman films). The only bad thing about it, really, is the use of vintage interviews with Keaton and Pfeiffer (though I'm pretty sure DeVito's are new). Producer Denise Di Novi also talks about the challenge of re-casting Catwoman after the original choice, Annette Benning, became pregnant and dropped out, as "every actress between 20 and 45" wanted the role, including Sean Young, who had originally been cast as the love interest in the first Batman before she injured herself. She appeared on the Warner lot dressed as a cat in a bid to be cast, and she actually appears in an interview here, without embarrassment.
The Villains (11m:17s) consists of short profiles of the villains (Penguin, Catwoman, and Shreck), featuring interviews with comic book types like Alex Ross, Mike Mingola, Kevin Smith, Paul Dini, and Bruce Timm (the casting director reveals that Burton originally didn't want to cast Walken as Shreck because he was afraid of him). A similar piece on The Heroes (7m:02s) focuses on Alfred (Michael Gough appears in a new interview) and, of course, Superman.
Beyond Batman (01h:05m:35s) is a production documentary made up of six featurettes that mix new interviews with on-set footage and other elements. Pieces include: Gotham City Revisited: The Production Design of Batman Returns (11m:24s); Sleek, Sexy, and Sinister: The Costumes of Batman Returns (13m:28s), in which we learn Batman's suit was designed to look like an Oscar);
Rounding out the collection is a music video for the song Face to Face, by Siouxsie and the Banshees, a New Wave band no one has thought about since 1992 (including, I'd wager, former members of the band Siouxsie and the Banshees). The video is actually pretty cool and hardly dated at all, save for some goofy makeup and neon clothes.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsThe most melancholy, macabre, and divisive of the series, Batman Returns is a Tim Burton movie first and a tale of the Dark Knight second. That works for me—until Batman Begins, this was my favorite of the series, a moody, darkly funny, visually stunning take on the Caped Crusader with two memorable villains. The DVD re-release is certainly worth the double-dip, with vastly improved picture and sound and an excellent collection of bonus material.
Joel Cunningham 2005-10-17