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Early “Batman” films sweep in on 4K

Updated: Aug 14, 2019


Batman (1989) - 4K frame shots

(1) Director Tim Burton credits Michael Keaton's eyes as the determining factor into him getting the role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. (2) Jack Nicholson was perfect as Jack Napier/The Joker with his girlfriend Alicia Hunt played by former model Jerry Hall. (3) Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) start a romantic relationship. (4) It took two hour everyday to turn Nicholson's face into the Joker. (5) The Joker fires a shot at Batman's Batwing.



4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1989; PG-13 for violence and mild profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: “Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1992; PG-13 for brooding, dark violence; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: “Shadows of the Bat: Part 4”

4K frames shots courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

WARNER BROTHERS celebrates the Caped Crusader’s 80th anniversary by giving “Batman” (1989), “Batman Returns” (1992), “Batman Forever” (1995) and “Batman & Robin” (1997) complete 4K restorations.

Using the original camera negatives, each frame (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was scanned at the higher resolution for an expansive cinematic experience, adding HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning for robust contrast and a much wider spectrum of colors in reds, yellows, greens and blues. Shadows dominating the series are deep and black, without loss of detail, while highlights from the Batman spotlight are intensely bright. The additional resolution produces a major leap in clarity – especially in wide shots – and more obvious film grain. The early Batman has never looked better.

Audio has also received an upgrade, using Dolby’s all-encompassing Atmos soundtrack – defaulting to Dolby TrueHD for folks without height speakers – for an open and active experience from front to back for effects and music cues from Danny Elfman’s roaring orchestral theme song and score. Some fans are upset the original audio mix wasn’t included on “Batman.” An online petition drive was started with hopes Warner will include the track on future pressings. All four 4K discs and some streaming sites include a director’s commentary, with Tim Burton providing a number of inside stories for the first two films, and Joel Schumacher on “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.”

The enclosed Blu-rays used the new 4K master to provide a much-improved HD picture, while housing all of the previous bonus features. The most thorough extra is the 72-minute “Legends of the Dark Knight” that delivers a comprehensive history of Batman and Gotham.

Batman Returns (1992) - 4K frame shots

Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) receives the signal that Batman is needed in Gotham City.

Batman to the rescue.

The always-odd Christopher Walken as greedy businessman Max Shreck.

The wealthy Cobblepots enjoy a cocktail after they dumped their penguin-like baby Oswald into the sewers. The baby's basket lands at the feet of Emperor Penguins at the zoo.

33-years later Oswald Cobblepots is the half-human crime-thug Penguin played by the flamboyant Danny DeVito.

Max Shreck decides to lead the Penguin's campaign for Gotham City mayor, so he can build a new power plant.

Batman’s origin was conceived at the tail end of the 1930s when Bronx teenager Bob Kane (artist) began working at DC Comic as a gag cartoonist. Just after the launch of Superman, he was asked to create a complementary crime-fighter for Superman. Kane discovered a sketch of a man on a bat sled with huge wings in a book with drawings from inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci. “It was the first glider into space and looked like a bat,” says Kane. Right beside the artwork was a quote from da Vinci: “Your bird shall have no other wings but that of a bat.” That’s all Kane needed. “There it was for me: a Batman,” he says during the carryover documentary introduced on the original DVD release (2005).

Now most fans know that writer Bill Finger was Batman’s co-creator. According to the review at, he never received credit for his work until the Hulu documentary, “Batman & Bill.” It revealed Finger’s story, and also exposed systemic injustices in Golden Age and Silver Age comics publishing.

Kane said his additional influences included Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as Zorro. “At night he fought desperados in the old Spanish west with a mask. He came out of a cave with a dark horse, which I reinterpreted and made into a batmobile.” As a child, he dreamed of living in a castle with a butler, just like Bruce Wayne, Kane’s wife Elizabeth Sanders reveals.

The first Batman comic book sold at an audition in 2010 for over $1 million, with the story “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” in Detective Comics No. 27, written by Finger and drawn by Kane. It featured socialite Bruce Wayne, who turned into a nocturnal crime-fighter. Batman’s tragic origins were revealed three comics later, showing how his parents are gunned down in a Gotham City alley. “It’s operatic. Somebody on their knees, crying over their dead parents,” writer/artist Mike Mignola (“Hellboy”) says. Comic book fanatic/director Kevin Smith says, “Batman spent much of his life honing himself to physical, and psychological perfection.” Over the decades, the bat symbol became known around the globe, no matter the country or language.

“I thought the name was good. It’s a good name, Batman. When I saw the drawing of him, he looked like a very mysterious figure with that cape wrapped around him.” — Marvel creator Stan Lee

When “Batman” the movie hit theaters in 1989, Kane teased Stan Lee asking him, “Where’s Spiderman?” “There’s nothing I could say,” said Lee. Kane died years before “Spider-Man” became a box office success in 2002 starring Tobey Maguire as Brooklyn teen Peter Parker, beginning the cinematic birth of the Marvel Universal, which dominates today’s cinema.

During Burton’s “Batman” commentary, he admits he was concerned Jack Nicholson was too perfect for the villainous Joker. “You expect Jack to be the Joker, and he goes beyond that. He’s so amazing that way,” says Burton. Nicholson made film history taking a percentage of the movies’ gross instead of his regular salary. It’s estimated he received over $60 million for his performance, which at the time was the single-movie record for an actor’s salary.

A member of the Red Triangle Circus Gang attacks Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), until Batman arrives and knocks out the assailant.

Selina Kyle was hurled out a window by her evil boss Max Shreck and surrounded by a pack of cats in the alleyway, including her own Miss Kitty.

Selina makes a homemade black vinyl catsuit and becomes the vigilante Catwoman.

Burton also recalls how the hairs on the back of his neck stood up when he remembers his first day shooting with actor Jack Palance, who played mob boss Carl Grissom. Palance was extremely intimidating asking the young director, “how many movies have you made?” “Batman” was Burton’s third movie after “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985) and “Beetlejuice” (1988). Palance replied, “I’ve made over a 100.”

The documentary also unravels the 10-year struggle to get “Batman” to the silver screen – from financing, numerous script rewrites, director selection, and the debate over who would play Batman. Michael Keaton’s eyes sold Burton, even though the two had just finished the comical “Bettlejuice” together. The producers were totally against Keaton, remembering the campy 1960s TV series and thinking he would be too clownish. The movie was filmed at London’s famed Pinewood Studios, where a dark and stylish Gotham City inspired by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” was built. “Batman” won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. Kim Basinger plays Vicki Vale, a photojournalist, and Bruce Wayne love interest.

“Batman” finished as the No. 1 domestic movie of 1989, beating out Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” for the top spot. “Batman” retains its die-hard fans, although the earlier films seem crude compared to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy – especially the highly praised “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.”

During the commentary for “Batman Returns,” Burton admits he had no interest in making a sequel or developing a franchise based on Kane’s Batman. “If it hadn’t been for “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns” wouldn’t have happened,” he says.

Burton and company didn’t play it safe rehashing the same look and style of the nightmare city three years later in “Batman Returns.” The production is much more like a Tim Burton film. It was moved from London to Hollywood, and used different writers, designers, actors, and artists, Burton says in “Shadows of the Bat.” Warner Brothers pushed for the Penguin since he’s considered Batman’s No. 2 villain. But, Burton and writer Sam Hamm wanted Catwoman, and wrote both into the storyline. “I was still intrigued by the other characters. Catwoman came to mind right away because, next to the Joker, that was my second favorite villain,” Burton says. The director always felt he could find the psychological profile of Batman, Catwoman, and the Joker, but wasn’t sure about the Penguin: “He’s just this guy with a cigarette and a top hat.” Burton and Hamm focused on the animal-people characters, using them to build a background for the Penguin. “It was fun to come up with the freak, the duality of somebody who’s been sort of wronged, and using that animal motif as a strong image,” Burton says.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough) at the Wayne manor during the Christmas season.

A crowd surrounds a manhole as The Penguin rises from the sewer.

The Red Triangle Circus Gang fire bombs a neighborhood business.

Batman confronts the gang.

In the second film, Gotham's biggest threat comes from half-human crime-thug Penguin played by the flamboyant Danny DeVito. Born with a beaklike nose and flipper hands, his parents dump the baby into the city sewers. Other villains include the always-odd Christopher Walken as greedy businessman Max Shreck, who plans to build a power plant to suck all of the energy from the city. Michelle Pfeiffer plays lonely secretary Selina Kyle, who takes on the attributes of her feline companions to become Catwoman after Shreck hurls her out a window.

“Batman Returns” received high marks from most critics during its day. After the success of Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, both “Batman” and “Batman Returns” fall within a few points of each other, scoring respectively 71 & 78 and 69/68. Burton says during a 2005 interview, some critics felt Batman wasn’t exactly the star, recalling how they said “in the first movie, the Joker stole the show, and in the second movie, he’s hardly in it.” Burton felt they missed the point: “This guy wants to remain as hidden as possible in the shadows.” Batman doesn’t reveal anything about himself.

Each of the 4K sets include a number of documentaries, featurettes, music videos, galleries, and trailers.

The first two “Batman” films are MUST HAVES for 4K collectors. The others are only for the Batman fanatic.

― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Batman Forever (1995) - 4K frame shots

(1) Val Kilmer replaces Michael Keaton as Batman. (2) Pat Hingle continues as Commissioner Gordon. (3 & 4) Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian. (5) Tom Lee Jones as Two-Face/DA Harvey Dent and Jim Carrey as The Riddler/Edward Nygma.


Batman & Robin (1997) - 4K frame shots

(1) Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Mr. Freeze. (2) After Alicia Silverstone's success in the teen comedy "Clueless" she's cast as Alfred's niece Barbara Wilson/Batgirl. (3) George Clooney becomes the third Bruce Wayne/Batman in the series replacing Val Kilmer. (4) Batman and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) (5) Uma Thurman as the hot Poison Ivy.



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