As the quartet of ‘90s-era Batman films comes to Blu-ray, the biggest question mark – other than the one projected into the Gotham City skies in Batman Forever – is not about how they look in HD, but how they fare in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s dynamic duo, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
Answering the first question is easy: HD emphasizes the Stygian darkness of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, and amplifies the copious colour palette and deliberate excesses of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. The second question is more complex: to say that Batman looks dated – it’s 20 years old, after all – and that many of the effects look wobbly by today’s standards, especially in HD, is to take nothing away from Burton’s achievement, while even the late, great Heath Ledger’s indelible performance cannot diminish the sheer star power of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Yet Michael Keaton’s brooding Batman/Bruce Wayne is equally laudable, his psychological complexities matched only by those of The Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the sequel, which plumbs new depths of darkness.
In retrospect, the decision to go lighter – and, to borrow Schumacher’s word, more “toyetic”, seems a fair one: older Bat-fans had their fun – there’s a reason the first two are rated 15 – but what about Batman’s core audience? Why not have Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman go for broke, and throw Robin and Batgirl into the pantomime? Even the universally vilified Batman & Robin succeeds in its single aim: sheer, unapologetic entertainment, aimed squarely at little boys and girls – who, I might add, will eat it up, with a (Batman-branded) spoon.
EXTRAS: Each disc comes with director’s commentary, exhaustive featurettes, deleted scenes, and everything else a Bat-fan could wish for. The highlight, however, is the epic, six-part Shadows of the Bat documentary, spread across four discs, which rounds up everyone – yes, even Jack – as it explores the series, retrospectively and in thrilling detail.