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BATMAN BEGINS: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
At the age of 8, Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis) who fears the bats in the caves under his family's mansion, witnesses the pointless murder of his loving, wealthy parents in a dark lane in gritty Gotham. Driven for years by a sense of guilt and need for revenge, the young adult Bruce (Christian Bale) intends to shoot his parents' killer but his attempt is foiled. Keen to experience the life and mindset of criminals, he sets out for the world beyond Gotham and ends up in the East - duly imprisoned as a criminal. He is released on the intervention of the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson) who takes him to the mountain HQ of the mystic master, Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) to be trained and indoctrinated into their secret league. But once trained, Wayne rejects their methods and escapes with the help of the family's long serving loyal butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), returning to Gotham where he combines his training with experimental defensive technology developed for his late father's empire by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). His childhood sweetheart (Katie Holmes) is ready for him, but Wayne himself is more ready to fight crime; he assumes the symbol of his fears, the bat, and sets about cleaning up Gotham City. It ain't easy.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Deconstructing a superhero has a risky downside: will it demystify the hero and so rob him of his magical (and maybe even commercial) powers to a large extent? Chris Nolan rushes in where angels fear to tread in Batman Begins, with a meticulous, almost obsessive attention to the detail of Bruce Wayne's assumption of the guise of a masked crusader for justice - as opposed to revenge, a lesson Bruce Wayne has to learn. Christian Bale, having skinnied down for The Machinist, beefs up for Batman and lends the character a harder, more anguished edge, a kind of noir sensibility.

In the very first featurette on the 2-disc Deluxe edition of the DVD, director and co-writer Christopher Nolan explains how he pitched to Warner Bros his idea of reshaping the superhero story in a most realistic fashion. And yet he wanted to work with someone who really knew the character as a comic creation. Hence David S. Goyer, who has wanted to write a Batman movie his whole life.

There is a wealth of other extras on Disc 2, but you'll have to figure out how to access them. (Clue: go through the comic synopsis of the film, which features some animated overlays and sound effects. In the end credits, you'll find a symbol ....)

The features explore the main elements of the film and the Batman character, including the new Batsuit and Batmobil, the fighting style, production design, shooting in Iceland and the climactic monorail chase sequence, showing it from the production side. Nolan's objectives are fully realized as we see how he has created a tangible reality for Batman - he's not a genuine superhero after all, just a well resourced and very resourceful one man army.

Full marks, in fact, for the innovative approach that reconstructs the Batman paraphernalia within a paramilitary framework that makes Batman's abilities and defences totally logical, pragmatic and reasonable. But is this what we want from our comic book hero?

Designed to its buck teeth and shot with the gravitas of a noir morality tale, the Batman Begins screenplay touches on existentialism and grapples with a heap of psychological issues in its quest to make Batman a credible and intelligent extension of a young heir to an industrial empire. Would it have been better to leave some of that to our own imagination? Am I asking too many questions?

Well, here are some more: is this part of a universal quest to discover what makes superheros tick as a way of searching for the human decency that is so rare in many of today's real heroes? Spiderman's beginnings, Superman's beginnings ... More to the point, what makes Liam Neeson's character tick and does it work as the flip side of Batman? Of course, The Scarecrow works because the simple symbolism of his ugly, shapeless, sackcloth mask versus Batman's sleek, cool, shaped, hard edge mask offers a take-away image. But does the Batman fan want this spelt out, or should we be less analytical?

If so, let's just enjoy the high concept scenario, the gadgets and the action; trouble is, the action (as in violence) is either shot in extreme close up or in dark, invisible wide shot. The face to face confrontations are too blurry to get any sense of what's happening and the sound effects are no help. The big set pieces, like the climactic train sequence at the end, give us no sense of context at all, despite the hyperventilating sound scape.

But sweeping all questions aside, Batman Begins does rekindle the franchise: it will be commercially possible to remake Batman stories with this persona and this set of psychological principles underpinning a new series of films. And that's because he has been rescued from the shallow end of the pool and given the same kind of mature emotional conflicts as the Toby Maguire-created Spider-man figure. Hell, if we can't have real heroes in this world, let's at least have some on screen, holding up the light of human decency, courage, loyalty and justice (as opposed to revenge).

Published October 27, 2005

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BATMAN BEGINS: DVD (M)
(US, 2005)

CAST: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson

PRODUCER: Larry J. Franco, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

SCRIPT: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan (Characters by Bob Krane)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Wally Pfister

EDITOR: Lee Smith

MUSIC: James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nathan Crowley

RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 16, 2005

PRESENTATION: Disc 1: 2.40:1 enhanced to16: 9 letterbox; Disc 2: variable transfer; DD 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: feature in English or German (subtitles in English, German, Arabix, Hebrew, Icelandic); trailer. Disc 2: The Journey Begins; Shaping Mind and Body; Gotham City Rises; Cape and Cowl; The Tumbler; Path to Discovery; Saving Gotham City; Genesis of the Bat; Confidential files; art gallery

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: October 19, 2005







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