Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance
Running Time: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: June 23, 1989
4K/Blu-Ray Release Date: June 4, 2019 (Amazon.com)
The Dark Knight of Gotham City begins his war on crime with his first major enemy being the clownishly homicidal Joker. (from IMDb)
Batman 4K 2019 Release Intro
Before Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson (yup, that’s officially a thing now), before Batfleck, and even before Christopher Nolan’s stellar Christian Bale-led trilogy, there were four other Batman adventures that spawned from 1989 to 1997. To celebrate 85 years of the caped crusader, Warner Bros. is re-releasing all four films individually in a brand new 4K transfer with updated accompanying blu-ray discs. (The movies will also be releasing collectively in a set on September 17.)
I was just a kid when Michael Keaton’s Batman debuted. I still remember seeing it on the big screen… and being terrified. It wasn’t a kids movie by any stretch of the imagination, and that kind of set the darker tone for the films that would follow (even though the final in the series, Batman and Robin, was the most “kid-friendly” of the bunch, despite still being pretty creepy at times). Revisiting these films all these years later, it just shows me how far superhero movies have really come. After this year’s gigantic event film, Avengers: Endgame, or even Warner’s newest property, Shazam!, the quality is so much greater than what was produced in the late 80’s and 90’s (and this is coming from someone whose top 4 favorite movies of all time are out of the 80’s). For these Batman reviews, I’m going to give an overview of them as a movie and also in this new transfer quality, while giving my usual content breakdown at the end. The 4K discs didn’t have any special features on them beyond commentaries, but the regular Blu-Ray discs included in these sets do. Since the main feature of these releases are their new 4K transfers, I’m going to just focus on that aspect (and not the blu-ray bonus features).
1989’s Batman was something really special and different for its time. As a kid, I was definitely not ready for this film, especially with its dark and sadistic qualities that stemmed from its main villain, The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson. Keaton, who was best known for his comedic roles in the 80’s, was an interesting choice for Bruce Wayne/Batman, but he turned out to be great in both roles in and out of the cowl. Nicholson was brilliant as the creepy and maniacal foil for Batman, while director Tim Burton did a pretty good job world-building with the very unique, gothic Gotham City. The movie certainly feels dated three decades later, but of these four films, it’s by far the strongest one.
What surprised me by revisiting these movies is realizing that Batman is NOT the focus of these movies. Each film focuses heavily on developing the film’s central villain(s), with Batman kind of being that mysterious force that now has to combat the new threat (Batman Returns was most guilty of doing this). In most cases, it left me feeling cheated and wanting to see Batman as less one-dimensional and, ironically, cartoonish; many of the films just spent way too much time on what the villain was up to. (But more on that in my Batman Returns review.)
The content for Batman is rough, and it definitely terrified me as a kid. There was some language (including plenty of blasphemy), but the worst parts about the film were the shockingly gross or gruesome moments. The first comes when Joker ricochets a bullet off of Batman’s arm and it hits him in the face. We soon see what looks like very bloody enter/exit wounds on either side of his face just before he falls into a vat of chemicals. A scene soon after shows him in the plastic surgeon’s chair and it’s creepy and dramatic as we see him react to what we don’t see, but we do see very ugly and bloody instruments on a nearby table. Later, Joker uses a joy buzzer to literally fry a man to death (this especially terrified me as a kid), and he walks around the charred, smoking corpse, talking to it for an extended period of time. A scene soon after shows a creepy young woman with a Phantom of the Opera-style mask on her face, and it’s a dramatic moment as she removes it to reveal bubbly acid burns on her cheek. And finally, the end battle between Batman and Joker gets a bit bloody, especially when we see a pool of blood under Joker’s head after he falls to his death, and his eyes are wide open with a creepy grin on his face. A lot of this might not be too bad by today’s standards for a PG-13 superhero movie, but for me as a kid in the 80s, it was terrifying.
Now, I have to say the 4K transfer is quite good. Warner Bros. went back to the original negatives for these transfers and scanned them in at the highest resolution they could. Not every scene looks great, but I promise that you we’ve never seen 1989’s Batman this clear or vibrant before. If you’re a fan of the film, it’s worth getting this one, even if it’s a double-dip for you.
Of these four Batman films, this one is still the best, but I’m definitely partial to Nolan’s films since these (and even The LEGO Batman Movie). Also, while the disturbing content doesn’t affect me now like it did then, it’s still pretty intense, and I can’t recommend this film openly to viewers sensitive to dark, disturbing content. Still, this 4K release is the best you’ll ever see this particular Batman, and for already-fans, I definitely recommend it.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/1/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We see what looks like some hookers on the streets of Gotham as the camera pans through the streets; Knox sees Vicki’s legs behind a newspaper and says “hello, legs!” Then he says if she wants to take pictures of him nude, she’ll need a longer lens; After dinner, Vicki is drunk and she and Bruce kiss passionately a bit (which leads to her sleeping with him); The elevator opens to a man’s apartment and he says “Is that you, Sugar Bumps?”; It’s heavily suggested that Jack is cheating with Grissom’s wife or girlfriend; Later, Jack yells at Grissom for trying to have him killed “over a woman,” because of his affair; We see Vicki in bed with Bruce, sleeping; We see a large painting of a topless woman with ribbon covering any nudity; Vicki mentions regretting sleeping with Bruce; We see an abstract painting on the wall behind the Joker outside Vicki’s apartment that shows a topless woman; A Prince song says “Sex. It’s not that kind of party”; Vicki comes on to the Joker and kisses his arms sensually to distract him.
Vulgarity/Language: 2 “S” words, 1 “G-d,” 1 “For G-d’s sake,” 2 “S.O.B,” 2 “J-sus,” 2 “Chr-st,” 1 “d*ck,” 7 “Oh my G-d,” 4 “h*ll,” 1 “Good L-rd,” 1 “b*stard,” 6 “cr*p”
Alcohol/Drugs: There is some drinking at a party; After dinner, Vicki is drunk and she and Bruce kiss passionately a bit; Grissom is seen drinking in his apartment when Jack comes to see him; We see Jack drinking;
Blood/Gore: Jack shoots Batman and it ricochets off his arm and hits Jack in the face. He covers his face, screaming. We then see his bloody cheeks as he falls over the rail. We see lots of blood on his face as he holds on for dear life. He eventually falls into the vat of chemicals below and we see his discolored hand sticking out of the chemicals and then sink down into it; We see bloody utensils and gauze on a surgical table next to Jack; There is some blood splattered on a nearby newspaper after a man is shot and killed; Joker uses a joy buzzer to literally fry a man to death, and he walks around the charred, smoking corpse, talking to it for an extended period of time; Joker stabs guy in the neck with a feather pen with a tiny bit of blood; A woman removes a half-face mask to reveal bubbled up scarring on her face; Knox accidentally falls into a pile of trash and has a little blood on his forehead; Batman has a bloody cut across his cheek; Joker spits out fake teeth with blood splattering out. He then has blood all over his mouth; Joker falls off the towering cathedral and we see him lying dead with a creepy smile on his face and blood on his head and under his head on the broken pavement underneath.
Violence: A man strikes another man on the back and threatens a woman; Some thugs shoot Batman and he falls over; Batman kicks the thug through a door and ropes the next guy by the ankle and dangles him off the side of the roof. Batman then throws him back onto the rooftop; Jack grabs a dirty cop in the face and pushes him backward; We see a Time magazine cover with a dead body on it; There’s a big shootout at a factory between the police and Jack and his thugs; Batman spears a thug and hangs him upside down by his coat, alive; Jack shoots the dirty cop from before, and he falls back against some steaming pipes; Jack shoots Batman and it ricochets off his arm and hits Jack in the face. He covers his face, screaming. We then see his bloody cheeks as he falls over the rail. We see lots of blood on his face as he holds on for dear life. He eventually falls into the vat of chemicals below and we see his discolored hand sticking out of the chemicals and then sink down into it; Jack frantically rips off the bandages around his head and smashes a mirror after looking at his reflection; Joker shoots Grissom multiple times, killing him; A woman faints when she sees Jack’s new appearance; Joker uses a joy buzzer to literally fry a man to death, and he walks around the charred, smoking corpse, talking to it for an extended period of time; Joker stabs guy in the neck with a feather pen with a tiny bit of blood, and then his mimes open fire on gangsters killing them. We then see news footage of dead bodies been carried away; Joker smashes a TV with a boxing glove; We see creepy photos of dead bodies laying around; An anchorwoman laughs hystetically and then falls over dead. We see a creepy smile on her face. We then see a commercial for Joker’s new product and there’s a dead man tied up in a chair. He then shows us another dead man tied up with a big creepy smile on his face; Gas fills an art gallery room and people fall over dead or passed out; We see more photos of dead bodies; A woman removes a half-face mask to reveal bubbled up scarring on her face, which disturbs Vicki; Vicki throws water in Joker’s face and he pretends that it melts him, but he just does it to spook her; We see a Batmobile car chase and the Batmobile crashes into some food stands; A thug shoots Batman at point-blank range and he falls over. They shoot at Vicki and Batman then fights back, punching a guy in the face and then punching another guy in the face, who then falls over in the trash. A guy with swords attacks Batman. Batman kicks him in the face and he falls over; Joker smashes Alicia’s mask, saying she killed herself; Bruce smashes stuff in Vicki’s apartment with a fireplace poker. Jack shoots him and Bruce slumps backward; After Jack leaves, Vicki opens a box he left her that has flowers pop out unexpectedly. She then faints; We see a flashback of gun shots and things like pearls falling to the ground as Bruce’s parents fall backward (it’s very dream-like); Thugs shoot at Batman. He drives through and blows up the chemical plant; Joker gasses a large crowd in Gotham and one of the victims throws himself on the windshield of Vicki’s car. A thug falls from a balloon into the top of a van; Knox accidentally falls into a pile of trash and has a little blood on his forehead; Joker shoots his righthand man; Batman shoots at Joker with his Batwing. Joker shoots back. The Batwing crashes, on fire, into the steps of the Gotham cathedral. We see Joker holding a gun on Vicki as he has her captive; Joker uses acid to cause the church bell to fall through the center of the church; A thug with knives in his boots jumps at Batman but he hits him in the crotch. A man jumps behind him and falls through the floor. A man with chains swings them at Batman. He throws Batman through chairs, and then he gets up and they fight. Batman hits the guy’s head into a bell and throws him down the shaft; Batman lunges at and beats up the Joker. Joker spits out fake teeth with blood splattering out. He then has blood all over his mouth; Joker falls off the top of the cathedral and then grabs onto Batman and Vicki. They hang off the side of the building as Joker laughs and kicks the side of the building. Batman ropes Joker’s ankle. He finally falls and we see him lying dead with a creepy smile on his face and blood on his head and under his head on the broken pavement underneath.