I’m a 90’s kid, through and through, and (obviously) a huge Batman fan, so the four original Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films are simply a part of me.
They’re so ingrained into my love and fandom for the character that it’s impossible for me to really critique them on any unbiased level at this point.
I like some of them (the Burton films) more than the others (the Schumacher films), but I’ve watched each film more times than I can count and—flaws and all—they’re among the most enjoyable pieces of Batman content there is.
My excitement isn’t limited to simply watching those films, either — every time there’s a new home video release for them, it feels like an event.
As a kid, I vividly remember burning through VHS tapes of Batman ‘89, and getting the 3-pack set called “The Ultimate Batman Collection” right around the time Batman & Robin came out.
Years later, the DVD releases were a big deal since that was the first time most of us could finally watch them in widescreen, and the excellent “Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology” box set that came out a few years after finally gave us all the commentaries and special features you could ask for.
Most recently, we got that same set in the Blu-Ray format, improving the picture and audio quality yet again.
And now, the Burton/Schumacher films have made the leap to the new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ay format.
This time around the picture quality is improved even further, thanks to new 4K transfers and HDR color. They also feature brand new Dolby Atmos audio tracks which make the films sound more immersive than ever before.
Individual releases of each film are out now, and if you’d rather have a box set of them all, you’ll need to wait until September 2019 (Best Buy will also have an exclusive Steelbook version of the box set).
There were a lot of complaints about the packaging for these individual releases due to the fact that WB has eschewed the poster art from the original films in favor of a homogenized design across all four films. In person, though…it’s not that bad. There’s a kind of multi-colored reflective sheen on the slipcovers that play off of the white backgrounds. The two aforementioned upcoming boxsets have different artwork, so if it’s really a big deal to you it might be worth waiting.
So, the big question is: are the films themselves worth the upgrade?
Simply put, YES.
The new 4K releases are easily the best way you can watch these films outside of the theater.
Out of all four films, Batman probably got the biggest upgrade. It’s the oldest of the bunch, so it had more room for improvement than the others. Although it has the most muted color palate of the bunch, the extra clarity that 4K — and more notably, the HDR — provides is in more distinguished separation between all of the different shades of gray, green, and brown you see across the sets and costumes. And although the world of Gotham is muted, the dark blacks and blues of Batman and the Batmobile and deep purple and stark white of The Joker have never looked better.
Surprisingly, the new Dolby Atmos audio stands out even more than the video for Batman ’89. The new track isn’t just an improvement over the existing audio mix; it’s an entirely new one optimized for this immersive new format.
There has been some online contention surrounding this as well, because new sound effects have been added, mostly to Batman’s gadgets or vehicles. Whether you’ll like this or not will come down to your personal taste (I don’t mind it myself), but for purists, the original audio mix is included.
Batman Returns has a sharp, sleek presentation that highlights the snow-covered reimagining of Gotham City and adds new depth and detail to Batman (and his redesigned Batsuit) as well as The Penguin and Catwoman.
Danny Elfman’s score in Returns is my favorite of the bunch, and the new Dolby Atmos track gives it the presence it deserves. The sound effects are no slouch, either — I’ve seen this film probably 100 times but I don’t remember the Batmobile sounding so loud and powerful!
The new visual direction that was seen in both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin gave us wilder Batmobiles (and Bat-hammers), more colorful villains, a bigger Gotham City, and—of course—neon.
As expected, all of these things translate to 4K quite well, with Forever looking the most improved of the Schumacher films compared to their Blu-Ray counterpart. They both look great though; the over-the-top sound effects and booming Elliot Goldenthal score sound great in Dolby Atmos.
It’s worth noting that there are no new special features that have been created for these releases, as the 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio are the star of the show. However, the director commentaries are included on the 4K discs (a rarity since some releases keep these things on the regular Blu-Ray only).
All of the previously released special features are included on the regular Blu-Ray disc included in each release. And more importantly, these regular Blu-rays have also been remastered, sourced from the new scans done for the 4K versions! In fact, all the screengrabs in this review were taken from the new Blu-Rays.
So if you’ve yet to upgrade to 4K, you can still get these new releases and enjoy an improvement in picture quality now, and still be future-proofed for when you do upgrade. The included digital copy is also in 4K on supporting equipment, so these sets really are as complete as you can get.
Overall, I’d recommend these 4K discs to anyone who’s looking to make the upgrade either now or in the future.
If you really only care about one or two of these films, go ahead and get the individual releases.
Or, if you’re a Bat-completionist and enjoy them all, I’d wait until the box set comes out in a few months.
These four films are the foundation and backbone of Batman on film as we know it, and these new releases are the perfect way to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Batman ’89 and the 80th Anniversary of our favorite character! – Ryan Hoss