TV's iconic Dynamic Duo has been captured, along with a legion of abominable archenemies in a POW-erful numbered limited-edition collection. Featuring every original broadcast episode, a lineup of ever-popular guest stars like Julie Newmar and Cesar Romero, a complete episode guide and much more, and exploding with special features, bring home all the crime fighting action that won generations of fans.
The original 'Batman' series coming to Blu-ray (and DVD) has long been considered the 'holy grail' of home video releases. Not because of anything to do with its quality (although, let's be honest, it is campy fun), but because of all the legal issues that needed to be straightened out before it could come to the marketplace. While most older TV series just have music rights to deal with (no small matter in and of themselves), 'Batman's problems were much deeper than that. Not only was the series a 20th Century Fox production (with Warner Bros. now owning DC Comics and, hence, the rights to the Batman character), but the episodes themselves are peppered with appearances by a number of celebrities (many, if not most of them, now passed on) and even references to other TV series, all which needed to be legally cleared before any home video release could happen. In short, it's kind of a minor miracle this set ever saw the light of day. It's a bonus that it looks so great and is relatively (but not completely) free of any omissions, edits, or oversights.
Like many of you, my first exposure to 'Batman' was during its syndication run in the 1970s and not during its original airings between 1966 and 1968 (hey, I'm old, but I'm not that old). Also, like many of you, I was a child at the time, so I viewed 'Batman' as a straight drama, not picking up on its campiness, and certainly not picking up on all the double entendres and sexual innuendos that are literally peppered throughout almost every episode. Therefore, viewing 'Batman' now was a totally different experience than viewing it back when I was a kid. But you know what? It's still a hell of a lot of fun.
Perhaps it's because of how comic-book fans insist their superheroes be portrayed seriously on film and TV these days that makes re-watching 'Batman' now so enjoyable, but after a few decades of Tim Burton's darker vision of Batman, followed by Chris Nolan's even more serious version, the original 'Batman' series really feels like a breath of fresh air. It seems like we went through a phase in the 80s and 90s where this show was shunned as an example of how comic-book adaptations shouldn't be done, but I've got to be honest with you – compared with all the 'straight' versions of comic book heroes we've been bombarded with, 1966's 'Batman' suddenly feels fresh and original once again – probably similar to the feeling viewers had when the show first premiered.
Not only is 'Batman' a fun take on one of the most popular superheroes in the world, but this series now serves as a time capsule to some of the great actors (if not necessarily their greatest performances) of the late 1960s, most of which are long gone and many of which requested to be part of this show due to both the popularity of the series and the exposure it gave them (and, as pointed out in the bonus materials, something their children and grandchildren could actually watch them in). Of course, everyone remembers the popular villains played by Cesar Romero (The Joker), Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), and Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt (both as Catwoman), but let's not forget that greats such as Vincent Price (Egghead), Roddy McDowall (Bookworm), Art Carney (The Archer), Otto Preminger (Mr. Freeze), and Milton Berle (Louie, the Lilac) made appearances on 'Batman' as well.
While Warners has done a fine job of restoring these episodes for an HD presentation (see our Video section below), this 'Complete' series set isn't as complete as fans would hope or as the studio boasts. One episode, Season 2's 'Marsha, Scheme of Diamonds', is missing the final, approximately 1-minute long, ending scene in which a cooking class is being taught at the Wayne School of Home Economics. As of this writing, Warner Bros. had not made an official statement about the missing scene, nor any plans for a replacement disc. It's also important to note that shortly after this set's release, a number of die-hard fans claimed that the narrator's voice-over was missing in the first scene of the pilot and a brief segment involving John Astin as the Riddler (in the Season 2 episode 'A Riddling Controversy') was also missing, but it seems confirmed now that both those 'missing' bits only appeared in syndication and/or bootleg cuts of the episodes, and were not present in the original ABC airings.
Also mildly disappointing is the direction that Warners decided to take the bonus features in. While there's a good deal of content here and almost all of it is entertaining and watchable, there's not much (although there's some) in terms of unseen footage, deleted scenes, or other materials from the 'archives'. One can probably assume that additional legal hoops would have been necessary to obtain a lot of this stuff, which is why we don't get a whole lot of it here. But perhaps more unforgivable is that Warners decided not to use any of the surviving cast members or crew to record some episode commentaries. The closest we get is a bonus feature with Adam West in which he discusses his script notes for the two-part pilot. It would have been nice had the studio gotten West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, and some others to do commentary tracks. And where's Yvonne Craig (Batgirl)? She's completely missing from the extras (other than episode footage, of course), so it's unknown whether Warners never reached out to her or if she refused to participate.
So while this 'Batman' set isn't quite perfect, nor all it could have been, it's hard to get too upset considering how many hurdles needed to be taken to get this release out to the public, as well as how good the finished product looks. Whatever version of this release one ultimately decides to pick up, there's little doubt that this is a must-own for any fan of the Caped Crusader.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Depending on your fondness for collector cases and/or your availability of shelf space, this Blu-ray Limited Edition set (each is numbered, with 95,000 total having been produced) is either one of the nicest packaged sets of the year or just another bulky box you have to find space for. Measuring slightly over 11 ½ inches in width, 7 ¾ inches in height, and almost 3 ¼ inches in depth, the colorful box – made of sturdy cardboard and featuring a see-through window for the Batman Hot Wheels car included inside almost demands to be displayed rather than shelved away.
Instead of having an inner case that slides out of the top or side of the box, the front of the box's cardboard opens into left and right flaps, and breaks right along the right border of the 'Batman' logo. The inside left of the box houses a hardcover 32-page color photo book titled 'The Adam West Scrapbook' along with a 30-page softcover episode guide for the series. Beneath the two books are the three seasons on Blu-ray, with each season inside their own fold-open digi-packs. The 13 Blu-rays are an odd mix of both 50GB dual-layer and 25GB single layer discs, with all but four of the discs being 50GB. The single-layer discs consist of Disc 3 and Disc 6 of Season 2; Disc 3 of Season 3; and the Special Features disc (which is located in the Season 3 digi-pack). Underneath the three digi-packs, one will find the insert containing the code for UltraViolet HD versions of the three seasons. The inside right of the box contains a felt holder for the pack of 44 trading cards and Hot Wheels batmobile that come with this set. Additionally, the right side of the box (on the outside) has a "Press Here!" logo that will play the end of the main 'Batman' theme when pressed.
None of the 13 discs on this set are front-loaded with any trailers, and each contains a standard Warners menu screen, with a still of Batman and Robin and selections running along the bottom of the screen.
In addition to the Limited Edition Blu-ray set described above, Warners is also offering a slightly different set, available only through www.batmanondvd.com. This set is not a limited edition (not numbered) and has different artwork for the box cover (although it appears the box is the same size as the limited edition one). This set does not contain the trading cards, the Hot Wheels vehicle, or 'The Adam West Scrapbook', but instead comes with DVD versions of 'Adam West Naked' and the 1966 'Batman' movie, along with a script for 'The Joker is Wild' and a letter from Adam West. The softcover episode guide is also included. The digi-packs and Blu-rays in this set are exactly the same as in the Blu-ray Limited Edition.
Just as this review was going to publication, Warners announced a Standard Edition Blu-ray release of the series, which features everything this Limited Edition does, minus the trading cards, batmobile, and Adam West scrapbook. Here, the three digi-packs and episode guide are housed inside a more standard-looking cardboard slipcase.
The Blu-rays in this set are region-free.
Shown in their original television full-frame aspect of 1.33:1 using an MPEG-4 AVC codec, the first thing viewers are going to notice about each episode is how rich and colorful they look. This, of course, is not only due to the fact that this marks the first time these shows have been transferred to 1080p, but also because the quality of both past TV airings and bootleg copies floating around over the years has been pretty poor. While most primetime shows were broadcasting in color by 1966, 'Batman' took full advantage of it, and probably resulted in a lot of families upgrading their TVs just to enjoy the program.
Not only does 'Batman' really show off its color palette in HD, but the detail here is pretty wonderful as well, to the point where one can notice the seams and minor flaws in some of the costuming as well as the cheaper aspects of some of the sets. However, the clearness of the image also shows off just how much production value and time went into many of the 'Batman' episodes (at the time, it was one of the most expensive shows on ABC). In addition to the detail, the contrast here is very well done and more or less consistent throughout. Black levels are also very solid. Grain is present in every shot ('Batman' was shot on 35mm film), but rarely obtrusive or to the point where it interferes with the clarity of sharpness of the image.
While the 'Batman' transfers of each episode look great, they are not free from flaws, despite the raves you may be reading in other reviews online. There are still semi-frequent instances of dirt and debris on the print. These are not so frequent or noticeable to interfere with one's enjoyment of the episodes, but they are there, although it appears a lot of effort has been made to clean the image up as much as possible. There are also occasional edits and/or cut-aways to different angles of the same scene in which both the image and color timing is just a bit off from what came before. 'Batman' also makes use of a lot of stock footage (particularly of the city) that is much rougher looking and grainier that the other parts of the episodes. Finally, there's also the occasional (and almost imperceptible) jittering of the image, although this usually occurs with outdoor establishing shots, rather than footage that takes place indoors on sets. However, despite the fact that Warners has crammed as many as a dozen episodes (each running roughly 25 minutes) onto some of the 50GB discs on this set, compression artifacts/noise isn't much of an issue at all, and viewers will be hard pressed to find any problems in this department (although my eye thought I caught a little noise buzzing around here and there in a few episodes, although it was honestly hard to tell if it might just be part of the film grain, given how prominent it is in some scenes).
Overall though, any flaws with the video quality are minor, and some are even expected given the age of the series. The bottom line here, though, is that 'Batman' looks better and brighter than it ever has before, and it's a real treat to see the series with this kind of clarity and color.
For whatever reason – most likely so they could squeeze as many episodes onto each disc as possible with minimal compression issues (read the our video section above) – Warners has decided to go with lossy 1.0 Dolby Digital mono tracks for each episode, rather than using lossless audio. I'm not sure there would have been that great of a difference, but the audio here, while clear and free of any evident hissing or popping, is just serviceable. No better or worse. As you might expect with a more limited mono track, the audio here isn't particularly dynamic, but it serves its purpose and, of course, is much better than what we've heard in TV reruns and on bootleg copies over the years, so it's a vast improvement on that.
In addition to the 1.0 Dolby Digital English track, Warners has also provided 1.0 Dolby Digital tracks in French, German, and Italian. One important note, however, is that French tracks aren't available for a number of Season 2 episodes, as well as all of Season 3. The Episode 2 episodes have an asterisk next to them in the menu selections, so viewers know which ones don't have a French track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Once considered 'unreleasaable' because of all the legal issues, this complete series set of the 'Batman' television series isn't quite perfect, but it's more than enough to please most Bat-fans out there, and make a few new ones in the process. The episodes convey a sense of fun that is completely missing from modern-day superhero storytelling, as well as plenty of nostalgia, considering all the 'name' actors that popped up during the series' three-year run. Whether you're a 'Batman' fanatic or just a collector of classic TV, this one is a Must-Own.