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"Batman Begins": Scarecrow Stole My Extras

In what may arguably be the best superhero film of 2005 (then again, with Fantastic Four being the only other real “superhero” movie, that’s not saying much), Batman Begins thrilled critics, wowed audiences and gave fans of the big, bad Bat what they wanted in a film. As it turns out, what the fans wanted was also what the critics and general audience wanted. Who knew?

With casting that would make Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst look wet behind the ears, Batman Begins is carried along by a few household names (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes) and a few not-so-well-known actors (Christian Bale, Gary Oldman) who actually play the lead characters. The cast was amazing in this film, and it only enhances the experience of the movie.

For those who aren’t familiar with the story, it’s just as the title suggests. Batman Begins starts out before Batman even exists (the dark knight doesn’t appear until halfway into the movie), with flashbacks to Bruce’s childhood as he’s training alongside the League of Shadows. Along the way we meet our villains, heroes and the love interest, who all help make this one of my favorite films of 2005.

For a more in-depth review, please refer to our June 16th review of Batman Begins.

DVD

With such a blockbuster movie, you’d expect a DVD with equal treatment. But while the most important part of the DVD (the presentation of the film itself) shines and some of the extras are interesting, a few omissions render this set a bit of a disappointment.

The video, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, is superb. There is some noticeable compression and ugly blocking when massive amounts of bats are on-screen, but you can only see that if you’re up on it. The 5.1 surround sounded great and you could definitely feel it with the explosions, music and punches. The first scene with Batman taking out Falcone’s thugs in the shipping dock sounded, simply put, awesome. Also a small note on those worried about a layer transition: it’s placed in one of the quieter scenes (after Bruce wakes up from the toxin) and is barely noticeable.

On the first disc is the movie, a teaser trailer and the MTV Awards “Tankman Begins” video. If you’ve seen “Tankman” before, you’ll no doubt have laughed at a few portions of it. The only downside is when you watch the actual movie again, you laugh at parts in the movie that aren’t funny, simply because of how they were portrayed in “Tankman.” I’m glad it’s there though; it’s a fun little bit.

Disc two is where the main group of special features resides. In all there are six featurettes, covering the very beginning of production to Batman’s current status in comic books. These featurettes total a mere hour and a half of footage and, laughably, some of that includes footage from the movie itself.

When you first insert the DVD, you’re taken through an “exclusive interactive comic book,” which allows you to highlight characters or objects (featurettes and easter eggs) or names in the thought or speech bubbles to be taken to the “Confidential Files” area. Honestly, unless you use your PC to look through these menus, I’d just hit the right side of the bat symbol, then highlight the paper icon to skip to a full listing of the featurettes. Only the easter eggs make the “comic book” worth a look.

“Batman—The Journey Begins” covers the progression of the movie from the drawing board to the gathering of the cast and crew. Most of this is footage of Nolan, Bale and Goyer, but it is really informative.

“Shaping Mind and Body” catalogs the progression and building of the bat-suit, showing a few sketches along the way. In addition, we see how they made the molds, what went into trimming them up to look nice and how Bale felt in the suit.

“Batman—The Tumbler” shows off the design of this incarnation’s big bulky Batmobile. Starting as a cobbled-together model kit from Nolan’s garage, the Tumbler had to be built as a vehicle that was actually able to do everything you saw in the movie. I hadn’t realized how much the Tumbler was capable of until watching this, so it definitely made me respect the tank a bit more.

“Gotham City Rises” goes through the process of developing the massive sets of Gotham City, the Batcave and Wayne Manor. Lots of interesting stuff to be had in here, especially when you are shown just how large the sets for Gotham City were; it truly is amazing how much went into the making of this movie, especially with the last Bat-film so, er, synonymous with failure.

“Saving Gotham City” delves into the CGI and miniature model development for the big finale. The actual train crash, garage and cars at the end are modeled in 1:6 scale, so it’s all much bigger than the usual tiny miniatures.

“Genesis of the Bat” goes into the past, present and future of Batman in DC Comics. We hear from the likes of fan-favorites Jim Lee, Denny O’Neil and a few of DC Comics higher-ups. I don’t want to downplay the influence of the comics on the film, but by the end the relentless praise grew more than a bit self-indulgent. And I won’t comment on the final suggestion, which involves how “awesome” the All-Star Batman and Robin comic from Jim Lee and Frank Miller will be.

After that, we’re out of featurettes to watch and left with some “Confidential Files” filled with facts and biographies of the characters, locations and other things related to the film. While they do contain some neat information, I honestly don’t know who WB thought would read these things-they seem like something you’d find on a DC Comics Kids Collection DVD, not a live-action Batman movie.

Surprisingly, the disc contains no more trailers or TV spots, despite the publicity blitz the film provoked. There is a cool art gallery, though, showing off all the U.S., international and concept posters. Let me just say that I thank whoever was in charge of ignoring some of those concept posters-they were downright hideous.

And that’s it for disc two. You may say “Hey, that sounds like a lot, why were you disappointed?” In a way, it is a lot; an hour and a half is certainly nothing to whine about, but there could have been so much more here. There was certainly room enough on the DVD left for a few more features and the lack of a commentary is inexcusable. The Ultimate Matrix Collection has shown what Warner can do, and I would’ve been happier if this release had kept the same level of quality as the Constantine: Deluxe Edition DVD in terms of special features. Perhaps if they invested more time into special features and less time on the lame “interactive comic book.”

There is one more good thing about the set: a free comic book is included, just as in Constantine. The 72-page book features reprints from “The Man Who Falls” by Denny O’Neil, “The Bat-Man” (the very first Batman story) by Bill Finger and the first chapter of “The Long Halloween” by Jeph Loeb. Hardcore fans will likely have read these already, but the opportunity to get a fresh new copy of the first Batman story and some of the best later art is nice.

If you enjoyed the film and plan on picking the DVD up on release day, then by all means pick up the two-disc deluxe set. It’s already the same price as the single-disc release on Amazon.com, so you honestly won’t be spending that much more. Plus you’ll get a comic and the entertaining, if short special features, as opposed to the barebones single-disc release.

That is unless you’re buying the full screen edition. And if so, why are you reading this?

All the various editions of Batman Begins will be in stores on Tuesday, October 18th, 2005.

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