Michael Scott

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Batman Begins

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Movie: :4.5stars:
Video: :3.5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :3.5stars:
Final Score: :4stars:



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Movie

After Joel Schumacher single handedly almost tanked the batman franchise with bat nipples, Alicia Silverstone and poor Arnold Schwarzenegger, most fans never thought that we would get a new rendition on DC’s largest banking superhero this fast. 1997 was only about 8 years before Christopher Nolan would get the reigns, but 20 years ago we didn’t have reboots within the span of a decade as the norm. So color quite a few people surprised and shocked when Nolan got handed the keys to the kingdom and comic book fans began to stir and get excited once more. Nolan was a man not known for explosive theatrics and most certainly was not going to adhere to the BDSM fetish ball style of comic book lunacy that Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher reveled in during the 90s. Instead he gave us one of the most grounded (and highly controversial) rendition of the caped crusader, and leveraged himself as one of the most highly respected superhero trilogies of all time (even though that controversial aspect of his directing style has put off quite a few long time Batman fans as well).

I’m going to be a bit of a rebel here. Everyone loved The Dark Knight better than Batman Begins, hailing it as the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise. A darker, grittier, and more mature film. Personally, I disagree. Batman Begins is the best of the franchise, with The Dark Knight taking a step down. While The Dark Knight was a fantastic crime drama, I personally feel that it was not nearly as good as a BATMAN film. Batman Begins is the perfect amount of Nolan realism with comic book trappings. It is dark, brooding, but also light and airy, with winks and nods to previous incarnations of bats, while creating a larger than life super villain that just WORKS. The entire film has that whole “superhero” vibe that Nolan scrubs out of the later films in favor overly dramatic and nihilistic scenarios where there is no “good” or “fun” anymore.

We are introduced to young Bruce Wayne through a series of flashbacks and fast forwards, allowing us to see the relationship with his father, as well as the ever popular demise of the Wayne parentage which fuels young Bruce to become something. It’s not until he’s an adult though, that we see just how far he’s fallen from the favor of those around him. Bruce (now played by Christian Bale) is bitter and angry that his father’s killer is getting freed from prison (even going so far as to contemplate and plan the murder of said man), only to be stopped by criminal mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) taking out the man before he can squeal on the underworld. Realizing that he will never understand the criminal world in his ivory tower, Bruce vanishes into the darkness of the world and BECOMES one (in a manner of speaking) in an effort to better understand him. There he comes in contact with a man named Ducard (Liam Neeson), who introduces him to the league of shadows, and Ras Al Ghul himself. Trained in secret, Bruce becomes a powerful man, but must choose to walk his own path when he can’t reconcile the violent nature of the league in their version of justice.
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Heading back to Gotham, Bruce finds the city in disarray. Cops are bought off at whim, Falcone still owns the whole place, and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) is helping Falcone smuggle drugs into the city at the behest of Ras Al Ghul himself. Instead of letting his city fall deeper and deeper into squalor, Bruce does the only thing he can think of. Use the vast resources of Wayne Enterprises to create an alternate personality that feeds off of his own fear of bats. A persona that can act outside of the law and bring justice to those who have been robbed of it for so long. He can become the Batman

Back in 2005, it was the time of the X-Men and Punisher and Daredevil, so Christopher Nolan was bound and determined to not replicate the overly cartoony nature of these popular films. Instead taking elements of Batman Year One and The Long Halloween and carefully blending them together in a more realistic and grounded way. The superhero nature of Batman can’t be denied, but Nolan made special effort to shy away from overly flashy batmobiles and rubber suits, instead using modern military tech gear and practical application machinery to create his most famous tools. Even Batman himself is more realistic. He suffers from broken ribs, bruises, and a body that can actually take a beating if you get past his armor. Something that was shockingly different at the time. Still, the use of high tech still is mixed with the fun and excitement of a man who can whisk about in the shadows and beat 15 men without breaking a sweat (or at least TOO MUCH of a sweat). Bale was just coming off of The Machinist when he was called to audition for the role, and at that time he was under 100 lbs almost and emaciated. Bale has always been known to “suffer” for his roles and put his body through the ringer, but he gained about 100 lbs in a year’s time (methinks there was some marina going in the pasta if you get my drift) and was actually told to LOSE 20 of those lbs as he was a hulking beast by that point. Just as he gives his body, Bale gave himself ALL to the role of Batman, and makes himself truly iconic here. I’ve always though that Keaton made the single best Batman to date, but a horrible Bruce Wayne (too much Mr. Mom in the way he looked outside of the suit), while Val Kilmer was an amazing Wayne, but a weak sauce Batman. Bale managed to create the best of both worlds, becoming an incredible Batman (with a bit of a sore throat) and an incredibly convincing Bruce Wayne in an Armani suit.

While I love Bale through and through for this film, the real scene stealer is Michael Caine. I had some seriously different images in my head when it comes to the iconic role of the dark knight’s butler, and Caine was NOT one of those images, so color me surprised when I find him to be the most compelling and realistic character in the whole movie. He’s aged at this point (not like in Gotham), but Caine emotes with his face and eyes so well that you literally get excited every time Alfred steps out. Katie Holmes was the weakest link as Rachel Dawes (and was much better cast with Maggie Gyllenhaal during the next film), but she does alright for herself, although I was always a little disappointed that Cillian Murphy’s incredible Scarecrow is given the back of the hand later on in the film (and in the franchise when he shows up again in The Dark Knight Rises). He was so charismatic and compelling that you almost feel slighted when Ras comes in to take the mantle of the big baddie later in the film.




Rating:

Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements




Video: :3.5stars:
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Batman Begins was one of the first HD-DVD discs out there, and acted as one of the flagship titles while the Blu-ray got delayed a while. As is the case with many of Warner’s older titles, it was created using the VC-1 codec and compressed to fit on a 30 gig HD-DVD dual layer disc. The film has needed a re-release with more “oomph” for a while, but Warner has seen fit to just re-release the same VC-1 encoded Blu-ray with soft edges and mushy highlights for over a decade. Interestingly enough it took the 4K UHD release of Nolan’s works (in occurrence with Dunkirk it seems) to do get this done. The Blu-ray itself is given an AVC transfer and it actually shows some decent improvement over the old disc as a result. However, we’re here to see how it looks in 4K. Well, Batman Begins is not going to stand the test of time as a demo worthy disc, but it IS a goodly step up from the Blu-ray, especially the older one. Before I see the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth for not being reference, let me iterate that this is NOT a travesty or a huge disappointment as was the case with Terminator 2 in 4K. Nolan’s first film has always been a bit soft and hazy, even in theaters. It was heavily stylized with gold and yellow overtones that give the blacks a bit of a milky/hazy look and wash out shadow details with yellow tinge. There’s probably some elements of needing a new master (I’m assuming we’re still using the master made back in 2005 for the DVD and HD-DVD/Blu-ray releases) mixed in, but the heavy stylization is more to blame than anything.

All that to say, this is a nice uptick from the Blu-ray. There’s still that soft and stylized look to the film, but watch the closeups with Ducard and Bruce out on the ice planes, and look at Batman’s face during the closeups. The depth of the blacks of his body armor are deep and inky, while you can notice little nuances and facial details that I could never see before. Colors are bright and cleaner, with the HDR being most noticeable with the neon blues of the microwave emitter, or some of the more hallucinogenic effects of Scarecrow and his mayhem during the third act. The artifacting that I would notice from the old VC-1 encoded disc is long gone, with only minor bits of crush and milky black levels to mar the image. Overall the disc is a nice improvement over the Blu-ray, and while it won’t win awards for best looking demo disc, this is NOT something that should keep people from upgrading.





Audio: :4.5stars:
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It seems to be the same near reference quality mix that was on board the Blu-ray (just in DTS-HD MA this time) and it is a show stopper. The track is very very hot on the bass and loves to ram it in your face at every turn. Huge wallops of LFE reverberate around the room as Bruce opens doors in Tibet, or in Hans Zimmer’s iconic theme song (his Batman theme song is probably my favorite to date) as it pulsates all around the listener. Surrounds are used to great effect, such as when Bruce and Ras are fighting inside the monorail, or the softer elements as people mill around the Wayne Manor during his birthday part. Dialog is crisp and clean, with the only thing that really stands to muffle some voices being the rasp that Bruce Wayne puts on to disguise his voice when he’s the Batman. It’s a great sounding track, and was a reference track for MANY years on Blu-ray. The ONLY reason I put it as a 4.5/5 today is more due to the fact that it’s a bit TOO hot on the bass sometimes, and other more modern mixes have outclassed it slightly. Still an excellent track to listen to.





Extras: :3.5stars:
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The Dark Knight IMAX Prologue
• Behind The Story
- Tankman Begins
- The Journey Begins
- Shaping Mind and Body
- Gotham City Rises
- Cape and Cowl
- Batman-The Tumbler
- Path To Discovery
- Saving Gotham City
- Genesis of the Bat
- Additional Footage
• Reflections on Writing
• Digital Batman
• Batman Begins Stunts
• Theatrical Trailer







Final Score: :4stars:


I was initially worried about Nolan rebooting the Batman franchise, but Batman Begins still makes me giddy with delight even after 12 years. The film is just the right mix of somber and grounded with high flying superhero traits being carefully wrapped into the bigger picture. The 4K UHD is actually a solid upgrade over the SDR Blu-ray (despite the 3.5/5 rating) and is worth the upgrade in that right alone. The extras are all on the Blu-ray second disc, so no difference there, and the 5.1 mix is transferred across but with a boost to DTS-HD MA (which seems to yield no tangible benefits except for being the more “standard” audio format in today’s Blu-ray/4K world). It’s a great film, a solid uptick in video clarity, and definitely a must add to anyone’s collection.




Technical Specifications:

Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Bob Kane, David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 HEVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 140 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 19th, 2017








Recommendation: Must Buy

 

tripplej

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Thanks for the review. Love this movie! :)
 

Todd Anderson

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Phew... disappointing video score. With these 4k releases (and the price they carry), sure would like to see them make them all demo worthy!
 

Michael Scott

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Sadly Begins will never be demo status. It was filmed HEAVILY stylized and very soft. I've seen a native 35mm print and it looks exactly like this. It might clean up a BIT with a newer scan, but the softness and yellowish haze that is imbued from the color grading are part of how it will always look. Luckily all the artifacting and nasty artificial crush is gone from the Blu-ray. It definitely is a solid upgrade
 
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