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The Motion Picture Anthology

reviewed by Donald Melanson

November 08 , 2005 | Warner Bros. has packaged the first four Batman movies together in a brand new box set but it is really two very different series. The first two films, directed by Tim Burton, drew inspiration from the darkest of the comics and graphic novels. Joel Schumacher's two latter films, on the other hand, have more in common with the campy 60s TV series, except they're less fun.

Burton's films have some problems of their own — mainly screenplay ones — but they succeed in creating an inventive and visually rich world, filled with characters that seem to belong there. Batman Returns especially looks stunning, with a snow covered Gotham City crafted from even more impressive sets than the first film. Both films also benefit greatly from Michael Keaton, who was a controversial choice at the time but proved to be great for the role.

One thing I never understood is why Burton chose to shoot both movies in the standard 1.85:1 widescreen format instead of the wider scope aspect ratio. There's a Sergio Leone-style operatic quality to the Batman mythology that I think would have been greatly aided by the wider frame — but maybe that' s just me.

Unfortunately, the series went way downhill after Burton left and Schumacher stepped in. Batman Forever isn't a complete failure, and is moderately entertaining if you don't view it as a continuation of the Burton films. Batman & Robin, however, is just embarrassingly bad, and put an end to the series for eight years until Christopher Nolan took it back to its dark roots with Batman Begins.

Warner's snazzy looking box set is smartly priced at significantly less than the cost of the four individual DVDs. Each film gets the two-disc treatment, with director commentaries and loads of supplemental material, including extensive documentaries and various other short features (like the scrapped Robin storyboard sequence from the first movie). All four films also have great anamorphic transfers and both Dolby 5.1 and DTS surround sound.

Completists will probably gravitate towards the box set given its fairly low price, but for the rest of us, I'd recommend making your own box set of Batman, Batman Returns and Batman Beginsyou could also throw in the great animated series for good measure.

Donald Melanson is the editor-in-chief of Mindjack and a freelance writer for hire. In addition to Mindjack, his work has appeared in The Globe & Mail, Engadget, and MovieMaker Magazine.

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