This Town Needs an Enema

Batman ‘89 is a movie caught between expectations of camp and genre maturity. It’s empty entertainment, a bizarre if heavenly beautiful studio feature unsure if whether the darkened corridors of Gotham can serve as dramatic filler. They don’t.

Looking back from 2019, Batman’s a nostalgia affectionate, with the depth of a Sunday weekly – just one strip. The pinstriped suits, the towering structures, the uninviting interiors, and the greed inherent in all of Gotham’s people brings this story together in a strangely advanced depression era. So too follow the values. Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale chases a story like ‘30s era Lois Lane, placing herself in danger as to require rescue.

Under Tim Burton’s direction, it’s a movie akin to a cartoon, sometimes hammy and directionless if masterfully marketed. One look at any shot in Batman, the result is breathlessness. Batman sells itself and lavishes itself in the moody splendor of a shadowy noir. No one forgets the Batmobile or the sight of Axis Chemical Factory, either. It’s a posh, glamorous world in the most unusual way, unknowingly the awkward stepping stone toward celebrating the comic book medium, and desperate to legitimize the concept.

… unknowingly the awkward stepping stone toward celebrating the comic book medium

To look at Michael Keaton’s Batman is to watch a purposeless character. He fights bad guys. He’s rich too. That’s a surface characterization, an idealization even, of a famous creation who punches his way through alleyways while moonlighting as a billionaire. Batman skirts the idea of why – of course, Bruce Wayne’s parents died at the hands of a street thug. There’s no layering though. Vale states some people don’t like Batman, but it’s a script unwilling to investigate the morality of vigilantism. To Batman, it just is. And when he kills, it’s just so.

In the finale, hero and villain stare one another down, as expected. Jack Nicholson’s hammy, kooky Joker laughs at a “bat in the belfry” pun, since the duo arrive in a church steeple for their duel. It’s a clever topper. Joker spends a chunk of Batman releasing noxious beauty products, stripping people of their vanity. Newscasters look more like people than make-up heavy porcelain dolls while in primetime.

That’s something – Batman ends in a church because it’s a story of hero worship. There’s comical irony involved. First, new anchors who portray themselves as elites, dying from their attempts to keep up appearances. Journalists weren’t the heroes. Joker spends $20 million trying to win the people’s favor; he gives them free money, then he poisons the gathered. Grim, heartless Gotham chose the next hero, then trades in for another mysterious figure who may or may not be someone of value. Gotham doesn’t know who Batman is. Turns out, no one really does walking out of this movie either.

Video

Warner issues each of the ‘80s/’90s Batman films at the same time, in both individual and box set configurations. Because, let’s face it, there is that one person who wants to buy Batman & Robin individually. Good for them.

Roger Pratt served as cinematographer on Batman, giving the feature a steamy, muted look that’s not particularly conducive to 4K UHD viewing. Often, detail lies behind smokey foregrounds or filtered close-ups. It’s imprecise by design.

However, Warner’s 4K scan brings out the best in this movie. Texture does shine, just when and how it wants to. Resolution jumps over previous home video releases. Pulling out the minutiae of Gotham allows for an appreciation of just how marvelous the visual effects and production were – and still are. The way steel is laid out, or how bricks haphazardly stack; those tiny touches resolve. The Joker make-up is a dazzler, and the rubbery texture of the Batsuit is nothing less than sublime.

Note this is not a movie of contrast either. Batman thrives and dwells in shadow. HDR then takes black levels to an enriching degree. Batman never looked this dense. But a handful of scenes invite any real light, clamping down on density, if not depth. By way of this master, picking up the stellar details of the effects isn’t an issue. Darkness doesn’t fall to crush.

If there’s a complaint about this disc, it will come by way of the color. Definite digital grading is applied, shifting scenes like the Axis Chemical fight to a contemporary wash of blue. Scenes in the newspaper offices pick up a total amber dusting. Some teal steps up too in spots. Not that these shifts change some primaries – Joker’s purple suit and green hair stick out from the monochrome backdrops. Also to clarify, Batman always carried those blue tones, but on UHD, the alterations feel distinctive if not damaging to tone.

Audio

With a touch of Dolby Atmos, Batman jumps into the modern era with a satisfying output. Danny Elfman’s score booms in the low-end, and those pure highs sound expansive (and expensive no doubt). Gotham soon comes alive with city level ambiance. Steam, cars, and chatter keep the soundstage full.

In action, positioning keeps things alive. During the Axis fight, bullets swing around, and punctured chemical vats splash their goop. It’s organic and natural, with no noted accentuation of the rears but some of this is not original audio, rather added for this remaster. The original audio is not an option either. Purists take note. Debris fields fall about, accurate and pleasing. A great example is the car pile-up as the truck’s materials begin falling out, dropping into the soundstage with premium care.

LFE support proves exemplary, emboldening the Batmobile’s thrusters, guns, and sending the church bell down with force. Batman doesn’t sound like anything from 1989. Careful restoration and upmixing keeps this one relevant.

Extras

Tim Burton’s solo commentary features on both the Blu-ray and UHD. The rest is Blu-ray only.

A promo about Bob Kane being on the set runs for two minutes. There’s a Batman history lesson tracking the character from inception to (almost) today, and with 40-minutes, has time to explore. Shadows of the Bat splits into three parts, a lengthy if sometimes padded making-of running 70-minutes. Beyond Batman looks at make-up, effects, and scoring, with 50-minutes to work with over six parts.

Separate featurettes for the heroes and villains of the cast combine for 20-minutes total. Blah stuff in there. Storyboards of a deleted sequence potentially introducing Robin make for a nice what-if. A stack of music videos with Prince and trailers send this disc away.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Batman
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman is an eccentric beauty, but the underside lacks purpose and substance to sustain a once immense marketing campaign.

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User Review
3.4 (5 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 56 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: