Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997 Review

Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology: 1989-1997 is best described as epic. Four Batman films in high-definition on separate discs packed with extra features - that's a nice package if ever there was one. This will be one of those reviews where less attention will be given to the movies themselves (as the last one came out over 10 years ago) and almost all of this review will be given to the extra features on each disc. Quite honestly, if you don't know the plots of these movies you really shouldn't be buying a Batman anthology.

Before I get into the Bonus Features of the individual Blu-ray discs, I think it'll be easier if I establish the standard features present on all of the discs. Unless otherwise mentioned, each disc features an audio commentary by the film's director (Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher), the film's theatrical trailer and an installment in "The Heroes and Villains Profile Gallery" (wherein each individual character is discussed by the director, the actor and/or a variety thereof.

Batman (1989)

Michael Keaton plays the caped crusader and faces off against the unforgettable performance of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Kim Basinger stars as Vicki Vale.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Music Videos:

"Batdance", "Partyman" and "Scandalous" by Prince

Batman: The Complete Robin Storyboard Sequence:

This storyboard sequence, put to music with voices and sound effects, gives us a look at the proposed introduction of Robin as was originally planned for the end of Batman. An interesting look at what could have been - made all the better by the fact that it has Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill resuming their roles as Batman and Joker. Awesome presentation.


On the Set with Bob Kane:

A super short feature, Bob Kane gives a nod of approval to the first major film incarnation of the Dark Knight to occur in years.

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman

Comic book bigwigs, aficionados and historians come together to sing praises for Bob Kane and his dark avenger. Among the featured guests are Kevin Smith, Frank Miller, Stan Lee and many others. This is quite a good and long featurette. Well worth your time.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Knight Part 1: The Road to Gotham City

Learn all about the key players in the development of Batman. The films that had to come before it, the incredible social steps taken and the inter-studio negotiations that made the pre-production process a miraculous feat.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Knight Part 2: The Gathering Storm

Tim Burton and various crew members discuss the publicity and vibe surrounding Batman during filming. From Tim Burton being the perfect man for the job to a vote of no-confidence in Michael Keaton by the Wall Street Journal.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Knight Part 3: The Legend Reborn

It turns out film making is an ever-evolving beast. Would you believe the script you start with won't necessarily perfectly mirror the final product? Yeah, it's true for Batman as well. Tim Burton, writer Sam Hamm and a collection of others discuss how Batman changed during filming. I think this was the only featurette where Jack Nicholson appeared too - nice to see him involved.

Production Featurettes:

"Visualizing Gotham: The Production Design of Batman", "Building the Batmobile", "Those Wonderful Toys: The Props and Gadgets of Batman", "Designing the Bat-Suit", "From Jack to the Joker" and "Nocturnal Overtures: The Music of Batman"

Batman Returns (1992)

Michael Keaton reprises the titular role and this time faces an entire gallery of evildoers: Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and even Christopher Walken as Maximilian Shreck.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Music Video:

"Face to Face" by Siouxsie and the Banshees


The Bat, The Cat and the Penguin

A Troy McClure-esque man guides us through profiles of the three main characters of Batman Returns: Batman, Catwoman and the Penguin. Each of the actors discuss their respective roles, what it was like to play the part and their experience on the set. Similarly, Tim Burton discusses what he remembers of the actors and how they struggled with their parts.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 4: Dark Side of the Knight

A wide variety of topics get covered here. Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito and various other crew members discuss the plans for characters, casting choices and so much more. It's a great documentary short and actually makes a really interesting point. Did you know Joel Schumacher was hired for the third and fourth Batman movies because Batman Returns was "too dark"? That's understandable, I suppose - until you consider the fact that Warner Brothers lured Tim Burton back to direct the sequel with the promise that Burton could direct the movie "his way". We all know what his way is. Kind of odd Warner Brothers was surprised by a dark Batman Returns.

Production Featurettes:

"Gotham City Revisited: The Production Design of Batman Returns", "Sleek, Sexy and Sinister: The Costume Design of Batman Returns", "Making Up the Penguin", "Assembling the Arctic Army", "Bats, Mattes and Dark Nights: The Visual Effects of Batman Returns" and "Inside the Elfman Studio: The Music of Batman Returns".

Batman Forever (1995)

The dual villain pattern continues with the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Harvey "Two Face" Dent (Tommy Lee Jones). Val Kilmer steps in as Batman, Chris O'Donnell signs on as Robin and Nicole Kidman brings the romance.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Music Video:

"Kiss from a Rose" by Seal

Additional Scenes:

There are about seven additional scenes, and I'd give you a summary of each but I can't get past the juvenile part of myself that can't believe they named one of them "Dick's pain".


Riddle Me This: Why is Batman Forever?

Chris O'Donnell hosts this behind-the-scenes examination of how Batman films have changed from Tim Burton's gothic playground to a more playful Batman atmosphere. Cast and crew are interviewed and the trends of Batman generations are given a cursory glance. You can say this featurette either benefits or suffers from being made at the same time as the film. On the plus side, all of the cast is present to talk about the film and their characters and yet at the same time, because of that, you know that you're only getting a pro-publicity spin. Unless you're talking to Val Kilmer. Even fresh off the set the man has backhanded compliments for the Batman filming process.

Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 5: Reinventing a Hero

I actually learned something about the film from this segment of the recurring featurette of the anthology. I remember seeing it when I was maybe 12 or 13 and it never occurred to me that Batman Forever was "unwanted". But if you trust the cast and crew that was exactly the case. When work began on Batman Forever there was a strong feeling of "unnecessary" pervading not only the publicity but the merchandising as well. What a surprise it was then that Batman Forever went on to set the opening box office record of its time.

Production Featurettes:

"Out of the Shadows: The Production Design of Batman Forever", "The Many Faces of Gotham City", "Knight Moves: The Stunts of Batman Forever", "Imaging Forever: The Visual Effects of Batman Forever" and "Scoring Forever: The Music of Batman Forever".

Batman & Robin (1997)

Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) square off against Batman (George Clooney), Robin (Chris O'Donnell) and newcomer Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone).

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Music Videos:

"The End is the Beginning is the End" by The Smashing Pumpkins

"Foolish Games" by Jewel (what?!? I know, right?)

"Gotham City" by R. Kelly

"Look Into My Eyes" by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Additional Scene:

Alfred's Lost Love - Nothing really special here, not that revealing of anything.


Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Night Part 6: Batman Unbound

I never thought I'd want to quote Chris O'Donnell, but he says it best here, "it felt like I was making a really long toy commercial". The cast and crew nail this message home. Joel Schumacher even comes forward talking about the limitations placed on the city by the studio and how they wanted a more "toyetic" movie, a movie that would sell action figures. Beyond discussing the shortcomings of the film, the cast and crew go on to discuss their take on a less woeful Batman, casting choices, etc. While I may detest the movie itself, it's at least refreshing to know that the people involved knew it was a mistake. It really is nice to see Schumacher so apologetic.

Production Featurettes:

"Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin", "Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin", "Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes of Batman & Robin", "Frozen Freaks and Femmes Fatales: The Makeup of Batman & Robin" and "Freeze Frame: The Visual Effects of Batman & Robin"

Overall this is what I'd call a fantastic presentation of a mixed selection of films. The video doesn't really benefit from the transfer but the audio definitely receives a kick. With extra features that often run longer than the main features, it's hard to not recommend such a packed set.

"Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997" is on sale March 10, 2009 and is rated PG13. Action, Comic Book. Directed by Joel Schumacher, Tim Burton. Written by Bob Kane (characters), Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren, Daniel Waters, Akiva Goldsman, Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler. Starring Val Kilmer, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris ODonnell, Christopher Walken, Danny DeVito, George Clooney, Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Kim Basinger, Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones, Uma Thurman.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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