Batman Begins: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)

“Does it come in black?”

As if you don’t know. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, The Prestige), an orphaned, vengeance-fueled billionaire playboy believes that deeply corrupt Gotham City is in desperate need of a costumed vigilante to unleash brutal street justice on the criminal vermin that plague the streets. On his way to forging the identity of the Batman, Bruce trains under a legendary martial artist (Liam Neeson), gains access to high-tech weapons from a brilliant inventor (Morgan Freeman), makes an alliance with the lone decent cop (Gary Oldman), heeds the folksy wisdom of his butler (Michael Caine), and endures the preening condescension of a plucky district attorney (Katie Holmes).

As I write this, my anticipation level for The Dark Knight can easily be labeled as “frothing.” My forthcoming detonation of fanboy pleasure for the sequel is directly attributable to the magnificence of this, Christopher Nolan’s genius reboot of the one-time flagging Batman franchise, which as we all know had been reduced to a neon-fetishist laughingstock, where the “darkest” the films would get was when the cameras zoomed in on Batman’s eyeliner.

While I wouldn’t consider myself a comic book aficionado, back in the day I did my share of funny book reading, and devoted much time to the tales of the Dark Knight. After Tim Burton’s entertaining but off-the-mark feature film, and the resulting downhill trajectory the franchise took after that, I was fairly sure the Batman ship had sailed for Warner Bros.

Well, we all know what happened after that. The studio handed the controls over to Christopher Nolan, he opted to restart the franchise, grounded the mythology in dark realism, explored Bruce’s motivation, and basically put together the greatest comic book movie ever made.

Batman Begins is easily one of my favorite films in the last ten years; the kind of movie-going experience that pinned me to the seat in the theatre and earned more rewatch time than any other disc in my home DVD collection.

Is it a perfect movie? No. Are there big flaws? Sure. The circular dialogue is distracting, the “fear”-drenched script borders on the overwrought, and the gigantic action sequence on the end pushes the suspension of disbelief real hard (How did Batman not hit any of the support girders whilst flying through the air?), but those criticisms wilt under the sheer awesomeness of everything else. Nolan and his incredible assemblage of star power have crafted a story that compels from Frame One on. Even the first forty minutes, which is all Bruce Wayne, his angst, bulk purchasing, and trial-and-error rooftop hopping is terrific and just as engaging as the stuff with Batman punching bad guys in the eye sockets.

Not that Batman maiming his enemies isn’t great, because it is. The action sequences are both large-scale (the Batmobile chase is great in all of its collateral-damage inflicting glory) and intimate (a bit too intimate sometimes, as Nolan zooms in tight and edits ferociously during the smackdowns).

So, fantastic movie, which would get perfect ACTING and STORY scores if not for Katie Holmes’s weak link performance, cutesy dialogue, and ridiculous finale, but whatever. Batman Begins is the Batman movie we’ve all been waiting for — that is until we see what else Nolan and his crew have cooked up for the sequels.

On Blu-ray, the capsule review is this: Read the HD DVD review and substitute “Blu-ray.” The technical merits and on-disc bonus materials are essentially the same. Sporting a 2.4:1 1080p transfer that looks just as impressive as its dead-format counterpart, this new iteration boasts strong detailing and robust color work. Batman Begins, as you can presume, is a dark film, but the black tones are aggressive and the enhanced resolution ensures the on-screen action remains sharp. The visuals stand out when the venues shift to sweeping Chicago cityscapes and Iceland landscapes. CGI use is limited, but looks great. The 5.1 Dolby True HD (and English and French 5.1 mixes) is clean and active and Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s moody score especially pounds. Overall, this is a top-shelf high-def release.

Extras: This series of the featurettes have made the rounds on both the DVD special edition and the HD DVD —

“Batman: The Journey Begins” (Extensive making-of documentary)
“Shaping Mind and Body” (Christian Bale’s role preparation)
“Gotham City Rises” (Production design)
“Cape and Cowl” (Costuming)
“Batman — The Tumbler” (Batmobile featurette)
“Path to Discovery” (Filming in Iceland)
“Saving Gotham City” (Monorail chase)
“Genesis of the Bat” (Comic book influences)
“Reflections on Writing Batman Begins” (David Goyer interview)
“Digital Batman” (Visual effects)
“Batman Begins Confidential Files” (Mythology expansion)

— also presented in the “In-Movie Experience,” with the documentaries rearranged into a picture-in-picture presentation. I’ve been hard on the PIP options I’ve seen in Blu-ray releases, but this one is easily the best; seamless and easy to navigate.

There is one new Extra of note: The IMAX prologue for The Dark Knight. It’s an extended bank robbery sequence; it’s sublime and looks fantastic in high-def.

Finally, a look into the printed bonus materials that separate the “Gift Set” from the regular edition. The most useful is almost certainly the $7.50 movie coupon for The Dark Knight. Also included is a comic adaptation of the aforementioned bank robbery sequence, a storyboard collection of, um, the aforementioned bank robbery sequence and five postcards. These additions are interesting but, sans the movie cash, not compelling enough for a significant bump in retail.

Not guilty. Now about that escalation…

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