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</script></div>{/googleAds}With Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan puts a shiny new coat of rejuvenation on not only the Dark Knight himself, but also the entire Batman franchise. We should not be surprised at Nolan's success with this latest venture however, as his previous films, Memento and Insomnia, were both well directed, character-driven thrillers with human emotion and genuine sympathy at their centers. What he brought to those films is what the Batman franchise has needed for quite some time now - a fresh breath of well-rounded characters and a concentrated focus on the human side of the winged crime-fighter.

Ever since Burton's original Batman, the franchise has episodically turned into an absurd mockery of itself with ridiculously over-the-top production designs and unbelievable (even for a comic book) scenarios and characters. Nolan's Batman Begins is an intense, brooding, neo-noir character study that shows us a darker and grittier side to Bob Kane's creation.

Working with David S. Goyer's (Blade and Dark City) script, Nolan charts the transformation of a frightened and disillusioned Bruce Wayne into a legitimate superhero crime fighter. There's no real predominant villain such as The Joker or The Riddler, but a strong cast of supporting characters keeps the story interesting and believable despite its sometimes-meandering tendencies.

We meet Bruce Wayne languishing in a filthy Chinese jail where he is snatched up by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and trained in the martial arts before being admitted into the mysterious League of Shadows, an elite legion that fights crime throughout the world. Unable to completely buy into the League's program because of the heavy guilt and bitterness of the murder of his parents, Bruce decides to return to Gotham City to clean it up his own way.

At home in the Wayne Manor, he enlists the help of the family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), and an inventor (Morgan Freeman) who works for the family company. Together they create a crime-fighting persona based on Wayne's childhood fear of bats, whose goal is to clean up corruption in what's left of his father's city of dreams Gotham City.

One of the most entertaining aspects of watching Batman Begins is looking for the little classic Batman references left over from the original television series. Wayne and Alfred convert an abandoned well and adjacent rock quarry into the batcave, complete with, well, bats; a spectacular waterfall replaces the original chevron road barricade that hid the entrance to the batcave in the TV series; a gruesome silhouette of the projected bat signal lights the night sky, reminding us of a similarly haunting scene from Silence of the Lambs; and most of his bat-toys and deadly bat-weapons (including bat-shaped throwing stars and retractable rescue line) trace their origins back to Adam West's rendition from the 60s.

Batman Begins does have some liabilities that include muddied, confusing and sometimes downright unwatchable fight sequences that fail to mask Nolan's inexperience with action films, but still, Batman Begins rolls on effectively.

It seems filmmakers have finally realized that the success to creating an effective comic book-to-big screen transition comes from giving the audience a humanistic handle to grab onto. Well-developed characters and resonating plots go so much further than cold, emotionless special effects and shallow storylines. With the impending success of Batman Begins, we'll hopefully see more Spider-Man 2s and Sin Citys and fewer The Hulks and Daredevils.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Anamorphic Widescreen - 2.35:1

Subtitles: English; Spanish; French; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.

* Featurettes:
o Tankman Begins - From the MTV Movie Awards satire.
o Napoleon Dynamite - Special appearance from everyone's favorite geek.
o Interactive Comic Book - 14-page comic book enhanced with sound and animation with links to additional bonus material.
o Batman - The Journey Begins - 14-minute overview, including interviews, of how the movie was produced.
o Shaping Body and Mind - 13-minute exploration of the training needed for the amazing stunts.
o Gotham City Rises - 13-minute exploration of the film's sets, including Wayne Manor and the Bat Cave.
o The Cape and Cowl - 8-minute look at the sotume design
o Batman - The Tumbler - 14-minute examination of how the Bat Mobile was created
o Path to Discovery - 14-minute featurette that includes discussions of the originas of Batman.
o Saving Gotham City - 13-minute look at the climactic battle scene at the end of the film.
o Genesis of the Bat - 15-minute look at the conversion of the comic book to film translation
* Text Galleries: Confidential Files - 12 screens that provide further insight and explanation into Batman.
o Hardware
o Enemies
o Allies/Mentors
* Art/Photo Gallery: conceptual sketches and artwork as well as poster designs.
* Trailers: The original theatrical trailer for Batman Begins.

Number of discs: - 2 - Keepcase packaging.