Batman Begins

Batman Begins (2005)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Katie Holmes
Extras: MTV Spoof, Featurettes, 72-page Comic Book, Photo Gallery, Trailer

I freely admit that I was extremely hesitant to check out "Batman Begins, " the latest feature film in a franchise that had turned utterly unwatchable with its last two entries. While I had heard a number of good comments about the film I still wasn't eager to view it – until I started actually viewing it that is. And to take it away right form the start, next to "Batman Returns," Batman Begins" is the quite simply best Batman film ever made.

In "Batman Begins" we go back all the way to the origins of the Dark Knight, witnessing how Bruce Wayne turned into Batman, the avenger, the legend, the icon. After witnessing his parent's murder at the hands of a street urchin, Bruce Wayne is devastated, as any little boy would. Blaming himself for the incident, he never really gets over it and anger rages within him that never ceases to run out of fuel. As an adult he is determined to kill the man who murdered his parents when he is allowed freedom on parole – but someone else is faster that him, preventing him from becoming a cold-blooded murderer himself.

He retreats and tries to learn about evil, tries to find out what makes people evil and how he could work to prevent it, fight it. He becomes a member of a secret group of Ninjas hiding in the Himalayas where he is training his body and his mind, preparing to one day put it all to use to fight crime. But his plans are destroyed when it turns out that the Ninjas themselves are corrupt and serve an evil purpose. In response Bruce Wayne kills them and returns to Gotham City. Trying to create an icon he begins to create "Batman," a crime fighter clouded in a shroud of secrecy to intervene where the corrupt city officials don't.

And soon Gotham's underworld begins to feel the power and determination of the Bat as Batman begins relentlessly rooting out evil, one criminal at a time.

"Batman Begins" has much less of a comic book feel than nay of the previous Batman movies. It is a very dark and serious film that is never giving you the impression that something is happening that is completely overdrawn, out of this world or supernatural. The film remembers that the Batman from the comic books is a crime fighter, a forensic specialist and detective foremost. He is a gadgeteer without super powers but the brains between his ears. Using his family wealth and his company's research to create weapons, gadgets and technologies that are unique and powerful, solely serving his purpose.

Director Christopher Nolan managed to create a film here that lets you forget the comic book roots of the material altogether. The look of the film, the acting, the production design, all of it is played absolutely straight and convincing, making it a fantastic film that is firmly rooted in science and humanity. The cast of "Batman Begins" is simply amazing. Christian Bale is the new Batman and boy, does he deliver. I always thought Michael Keaton was the perfect actor for the part but after seeing Bale perform, I admit that I think he is actually the better choice. His performance has depth, emotion, energy and a hint of unpredictability that tremendously adds to the mystique of Batman. Then there is Michael Caine as Alfred, one of the story's cornerstones, being in essence Batman's assistant. But wait until you see Gary Oldman as Inspector Gordon, giving the part his all once again. The list continues on with Liam Neeson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, and Morgan Freeman, all of them playing major parts in the film, and playing them to the hilt.

The transfer of the film is simply meticulous. Not a hint of a blemish can be found in the transfer, rendering an image that is incredibly detailed and sharp without edge-enhancement. Presented in its original widescreen format, the anamorphic transfer also offers up amazingly rich colors that are never over-saturated nonetheless. I found it interesting that the film replaced the cool blue look of Tim Burton's approach with much warmer brown and orange tones instead to great effect – giving the film an entirely different look. Black levels are deep and solid, rendering deep shadows without losing detail, and firmly rooting the image visually. Highlights are balanced and never bleed. The compression is flawless, helping to turn "Batman Begins" into a reference transfer.

The audio on the release is equally impressive with its 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track that is aggressive and highly dynamic. Surround usage is constant and makes best use of the sound stage as noises and effects come in from all directions. Dialogue is balanced and always understandable, firmly rooted in the front. The bass extension of the film is wonderfully rich with very low basses that are sure to shake your foundation. The high end of the spectrum is also perfectly reproduced and without distortion. Another interesting aspect of Batman Begins" is the music – or the lack thereof. Instead of fanfares on every corner of the film, Christopher Nolan decided to underplay music a lot in this film, giving the music that is there, so much more effect. Gone is Danny Elfman's driving Batman theme, gone are the full-blown orchestral pieces. Instead you will get to hear ethnic themes and much more subtle cues that guide the story and the characters. I found the scoring of "Batman Begins" a remarkable experience in itself.

Warner is truly celebrating this film with a 2-disc Special edition that is filled with extras, such as "MTV's Tankman Begins," a spoof short film on the movie, found on the first disc.

On the second DVD you will find the real meat of the extras. A selection of featurettes gives you a closer and more intimate look at the movie's production. Looking a Christian Bale's preparation for the film and his transformation into Batman is a great piece, as is the featurette on the movie's concept design. Also look out for a segment on the new Batmobile, the film's special effects, and more. also included is a photo gallery with production stills as well as a look at the weapons and gadgets and the movie's theatrical trailer.

Also included is a 72-page comic book featuring three Batman stories, including the first Batman story, which inspired the movie, of course.

"Batman Begins" is quite a ride and such a great film that it makes you forget about the abominable last two Batman movies. Warner has managed to successfully revive one of their most beloved franchises and I am eager to see if Nolan will go ahead to do more Batman films. I, for one, would sure love to see some more. The way he manages to strip off the overdrawn caricature from the comic book pages and turn the characters into real people, is mesmerizing. Take the Screcrow for example, a figure that could have been turned into yet another special effects orgy or larger-than-life cartoon character. Instead Nolan made him a stylized real live person, which makes him even scarier.

I cannot applaud "Batman Begins" enough. It is a fantastic and emotional film that you simply have to see. You owe it to yourself.