BLU-RAY REVIEW: BATMAN 4K ULTRA HD
Football, politics, and who was the greatest Batman - all the stuff of many heated dinner table conversations. I side with Christian Bale and Nolan’s vision of Batman.
Nolan grounded Batman like has never been done before, shedding much of the ‘campiness’ of previous incarnations and making the Dark Knight more believable than ever.
In all fairness, it’s been twenty or so years since I watched Tim Burton’s Batman, so I owed it to myself (and future dinner guests) to revisit the classic 1989 film to see how good the Michael Keaton Batman really was.
And, for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised.
Batman has stood the test of time, Gotham, as dark and broody as ever, Burton’s gothic twist perfectly complementing the dark city. Likewise, Michael Keaton is perfect as the Batman. Ironically, in light of how the Joker stole the show from Bale in The Dark Knight, Burton’s Joker is what let the film down.
Witnessing the murder of his parents as a child, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne turns vigilante in order to wage war on Gotham’s criminal element in the form of the Batman. In a twist of fate, Batman creates one of the greatest supervillains Gotham has ever seen in the form of the homicidal ‘Joker’.
After seizing control of Gotham’s criminal world, the Joker is just as determined to seek revenge against the costumed vigilante who created him along with the people of Gotham. With a host of weapons and gadgets at his disposal, Batman must stop the murderous clown before it’s too late.
Burton’s vision of Gotham is dark and grimy, his ever-familiar touch of the gothic easily recognisable. These elements come together to create a dark- broody environment, firmly in the realms of the surreal. It’s easy to see how Burton’s surreal Gotham paved the way for future directors.
Equally superb as Batman is Keaton, who brings just the right mix of quiet confidence and aloofness to the role. However, where the Joker was a show stealer in Nolan’s Dark Knight, in Burton’s Batman, he detracts from the dark tone which Burton worked so hard to create.
That’s not an admonishment of Jack Nicholson, who is outstanding, but rather the role he has to play. Where the rest of the film is decidedly dark, Burton’s vision of the Joker seems to share more with Cesar Romero’s Joker from the seventies series.
This campier version of the Joker is in stark contrast to the rest of the film, and a perfect example of a little goes a long way. Yes, Nicholson is excellent in the role, but I’ll take Nolan’s version of the Joker any day.
Batman 89 wasn’t enough to change my mind about who the best Batman is, but it certainly gave me a new understanding of why fans of the film and Keaton as Batman love the version. If you haven’t watched this version of Batman yet, you really should it’s a worthy addition to your movie collection.
Given its 35mm origins, it’s hardly surprising that the 4K remastered version has film-grain. Although grain is mostly a constant, it’s neither heavy nor distracting and on occasion, almost impossible to pick. Those who like their 4K transfers, crisp and surreal however may take exception.
The film’s colour palette is largely neutral, with darker scenes (of which there are many), appearing slightly cool in tone. Grim and gritty is the order of the day here, with colours dominated by black and greys, save for the occasional splash of colour.
When brighter colours are introduced, such as the green and purple of the Joker’s costume, they’re bright and bold and appear to have been remastered to the wider colour gamut of the UHD format. Regardless of the overall colour grading of the film, flesh tones remain neutral, erring ever so slightly towards over-saturated.
Resolution is excellent although there is the odd moment where the film appears decidedly softer. For example, the Joker’s initial appearance at Gotham’s 200th birthday looking more like a low-res youtube video. Fortunately, these instances are rare.
The increased resolution and HDR’s ability to open up darker scenes combine beautifully, allowing the viewer to revel in the detail that Burton’s Gotham has to offer. Specular highlights are few, until the latter part of the film, where they’re used for everything from explosions to spotlights.
Black levels are both superb and unfaltering, which along with the HDR and boost in resolution give the film a pleasing sense of dimensionality.
The 4K release of Batman is remastered in Dolby Atmos; however, it rarely takes advantage of the speakers at its disposal.
Instead, the soundtrack is front-heavy, although it does create a wide soundstage. When the surrounds and overheads do see some use, they’re used effectively for everything from the score to front - back pans. It’s just a pity that we don’t hear more from them.
While the film’s dynamics may not hold a candle to today’s summer blockbusters, they’re effective, particularly when the age of the film is taken into account.
Bass does get a look in, but mainly during the latter parts of the film, and don’t expect this one to give your sub(s) a workout.
While the volume levels were fine, I did find myself giving the volume control a small nudge which I often find is the case with older titles.
Likewise, the dialogue was clear and easy to discern for the entirety of the film’s run-time.
Given the lack of use of the surround and overhead speakers, this is not the most immersive soundtrack. I strongly suspect this was mostly the fault of the original soundtrack, rather than the remix. But neither is the soundtrack a flop; it’s an entirely serviceable home theatre soundtrack, but just don’t expect too much.
Sony VPL-VW270ES projector, Panasonic UDP-9000 4K Blu-ray player, Denon AVC-X8500H AV Receiver, VAF i91 front and centre speakers, VAF i90 rear speakers, Sonique in-ceiling speakers and dual VAF Veritas 10” custom subs (5.2.2 speaker configuration).
- Review Format: 4K Ultra HD
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Audio: Dolby Atmos
- Label: Roadshow
- Run Time: 126 Minutes
- Director: Tim Burton
- Genre: Action
- Available Formats: Blu-ray, DVD, Ultra HD
- Rating: PG
- Actors: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Billy Dee Williams, Jerry Hall, Michael Gough
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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