Release Date(s)2005 (December 19, 2017)
Studio(s)Legendary Pictures/Syncopy (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
It’s been a long, dark time for Gotham City. Sagging under the burden of economic depression, the teeming metropolis is rife with corruption. The populace lives in fear, at the nearly complete mercy of the criminal underworld, and even the rich in Gotham are afraid to change this. Not since the billionaire industrialist Thomas Wayne and his wife were murdered, years ago, has anyone truly powerful been willing to give back to the city, to stand up for what’s right, and act as a champion for the working class.
Wayne’s son, Bruce (Christian Bale), was traumatized by the death of his parents. Twenty years later, he’s left college in disillusionment and wandered aimlessly through the seedy underworld, attempting to understand the events that shaped him. But it’s not until a mysterious patron, Ra’s Al Ghul, rescues him from his downward spiral that Bruce begins to find the answers he needs. Al Ghul’s major domo, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), shows him a better way, a way to fight Evil on its own terms. Armed with this knowledge, Bruce returns home to Gotham with a new calling... to protect the good citizens of his city and to strike fear into the hearts of those who would prey upon the weak.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is a better film than most fans of the character were expecting, a dark and atmospheric improvement upon the previous live-action films. The deconstruction of Bruce Wayne – and the build-up of Batman’s classic origin mythos – is entirely believable, and handled with respect and care. Christian Bale is quite good here, able to consistently convey the uneasy intensity and rage that lies just beneath Wayne’s controlled exterior. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman lend gravitas to the film as Wayne’s confidant Alfred and a Wayne Enterprises scientist who provides Bruce with his crime-fighting toys. It’s refreshing to see Gary Oldman playing a genuine good guy for a change, while Neeson and Rutger Hauer both contribute admirably here too. Better still, the film’s noirish mood, tone, and production design are pitch perfect.
Batman Begins isn’t a perfect film, however. It could easily be trimmed by fifteen or twenty minutes and you’d never miss them. While the casting is generally excellent, Katie Holmes brings nothing particularly unique to the part of Rachel Dawes, Bruce’s childhood friend turned Gotham Assistant District Attorney. And as good as the first half of the film is, the plot grows a bit too paint-by-numbers in the second half, with a late twist that’s entirely too predictable. Still, this film seldom feels as if it was shot on a soundstage, its stunt work is exceptional, and most of the car chase footage involving the Tumbler (aka the new Batmobile) was shot with real vehicles at full scale and genuinely high speeds, giving it an authenticity that similar scenes in previous superhero films have lacked. And the film’s final act sets up the future appearance of iconic villains like The Joker perfectly.
Batman Begins was shot on 35 mm film using Arriflex and Panavision cameras with anamorphic lenses. It was finished on film (with digital effects produced at 2K resolution). At Nolan’s direction, the film was scanned in 4K from the interpositive (possibly for its increased shadow detail retention), has been given a high dynamic range grade (in HDR10), and is presented on Ultra HD at the correct 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The resulting image is very good overall, if a bit uneven. There is a notable increase in detail and texturing over the previous Blu-ray editions, though Nolan has unfortunately chosen to apply noise reduction to reduce facial wrinkles in a number of shots. Fine detail is also impacted by the choice of scanning the interpositive rather than the original camera negative; the grain now has a soft and velvety appearance and the finest detail isn’t as crisp as it might otherwise be. Contrast is excellent though, with very deep shadows and bright highlights, and the film’s stylized color palette benefits well from HDR with somewhat greater nuance and saturation. But there remains an overall softness to this image that’s not quite up to expectations, either for a Nolan film or a state-of-the-art 4K UHD release.
Primary audio is included in a new English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix on the 4K disc that’s excellent on the whole, though is perhaps only a slight upgrade from the previous Blu-ray’s Dolby TrueHD presentation. It offers a big wide front soundstage, with excellent dialogue clarity up front, firm and muscular bass, smooth effects panning, and nice atmospherics. Any sequence involving the Tumbler, in particular, will rattle the walls with LFE. Zimmer’s score is rich and enveloping as ever. This is not quite a reference quality mix, but it’s still an excellent track. Additional audio options include French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, and Spanish.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the package also includes the previous 2-disc Blu-ray special edition. This starts with a movie disc (offering the film in 1080p HD) and ends with a second disc of bonus content that adds the following features (most of in the original SD of its production):
- The Dark Knight IMAX Prologue (HD – 6:36)
- MTV Movie Awards: Tankman Begins (5:12)
- The Journey Begins (14:16)
- Shaping Mind and Body (12:49)
- Gotham City Rises (12:49)
- Cape and Cowl (8:18)
- Batman: The Tumbler (13:40)
- Path to Discovery (14:13)
- Saving Gotham City (13:01)
- Genesis of the Bat (14:53)
- Reflections on Writing (1:57)
- Digital Batman (1:06)
- Batman Begins Stunts (2:30)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:13)
It’s good material for its day, offering a nice look behind-the-scenes on the making of the film. It should be noted, however, that the exclusive bonus content found on the bonus disc in Warner’s The Dark Knight Trilogy Blu-ray box set is not here (including The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of The Dark Knight Trilogy documentary and the Christopher Nolan and Richard Donner: A Conversation featurette). Note too that if you purchase this film by itself (but not if you buy it in the Nolan 4K Collection), it also comes with a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Batman Begins marked both a solid cinematic re-launch of the DC character and a fine start to Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Warner’s 4K Ultra HD release delivers the film looking and sounding its best (certainly better than ever before and exactly the way Nolan wants it to), though it’s still not quite up to the level of most other titles on this format image-wise. Even so, if you’re a fan and you can get it on sale – or in Warner’s Christopher Nolan 4K Collection – it’s well worth having on Ultra HD.
- Bill Hunt