Since all seven films included in this set have previously been reviewed separately, the following critique for 'The Tim Burton Collection' contains excerpts from those reviews with only slight edits when necessary.
Since all seven films included in this set have previously been reviewed separately, the following critique for 'The Tim Burton Collection' contains excerpts from those reviews with only slight edits when necessary.
Out of all the filmmakers out there, the one director who truly belongs in a class entirely of his own is the brilliantly twisted Tim Burton. His creative style is so peculiar and so unique that it really only takes mere moments to recognize that signature Burton trademark in practically any of his movies. He's the conductor of the curious, the maestro of the macabre, and with every new project you can almost bet that longtime collaborators Johnny Depp and/or composer Danny Elfman won't be too far behind. The dude is just plain weird to put it mildly, but there will never be another talent like him.
'The Tim Burton Collection' gathers seven notable films spanning roughly two decades of Burton's illustrious career. Since the set is produced by Warner Brothers, fan favorites like 'Edward Scissorhands,' 'Big Fish,' and 'Ed Wood' unfortunately aren't included. That said, the Warner titles included in this collection should surely still be enough to delight any diehard Burton fan. The films you'll find inside this set are 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure,' 'Beetlejuice,' 'Batman,' 'Batman Returns,' 'Mars Attacks!', 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' and 'Corpse Bride' -- all enclosed inside an attractive Blu-ray package for an affordable price.
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985) (4/5) - Reviewed by M. Enois Duarte
Hired primarily for his work on "Vincent" and "Frankenweenie," Tim Burton turned out to be the perfect director for the adaptation of the über-wackiness of The Pee-wee Herman Show. Brightly lit and full of obnoxious, circus-like color, it doesn't immediately strike you as the sort of material usually associated with the gothic filmmaker, but hidden deep within the comedy's flamboyant and dazzling display of richly-saturated primaries, we see bits and pieces of his darkly macabre quirkiness that would soon become commonplace in his follow-up films. Gaudy, strikingly unconventional and overall just plain silly, 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' is a freakishly funny kids flick mostly because Burton embraces the story's eccentrically gonzo edge and explores it to the fullest.
The movie was mostly born from the success of Paul Reubens portraying the weird man-child Pee-wee Herman on stage. The original show was very much adult-oriented with several in-your-face innuendoes — a twisted homage and adoration of 1950s children's television. With the help of close-friend Phil Hartman, he wrote a heavily tone-down version the average family could enjoy. Once Reubens received his own bicycle to ride around the Warner backlot and Burton was hired, Hartman and he rewrote the script into a crazy road movie where Pee-wee is a fully-developed personality. We're never told of his origins or history. Audiences simply accept he's a grown man who basically refused to grow up, developing an amusing obsession with 1950s memorabilia and inventions.
When his bicycle is mysteriously stolen while out shopping, Pee-wee is sent into a manic frenzy to retrieve his beloved and totally customized Schwinn DX. Deciding his friends were going to be of little help — except for the enamored Dottie (Elizabeth Daily) — Pee-wee hits the road like the true devil-may-care rebel he is. During his quest to find his missing bike, he's introduced to a wonderfully line-up of peculiar characters, like lonely-hearts Simone (Diane Salinger) and bad-tempered fugitive Mickey (Judd Omen). The adventure also has him bumping into a tough biker gang where Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson shows an interest in him, and Pee-wee interrupts a Twisted Sister music video. Most memorable, of course, is the hilarious Large Marge (Alice Nunn) segment and Pee-wee's dance to The Champs surfer tune "Tequila."
Along with Burton and Reubens making their big-screen debuts, Danny Elfman, frontman of the immensely popular and whimsical Oingo Boingo, makes a name for himself as film composer. For Boingo fans, undoubtedly, Elfman originally made his debut writing the score for his older brother's musical comedy, 'Forbidden Zone.' But in all honesty, that weirdly eclectic little flick featuring Fantasy Island star Hervé Villechaize didn't exactly open doors for the highly-talented musician the way 'Big Adventure' obviously did. Nevertheless, his brand of mischievous, carnival-like orchestration adds to the film's flight of the imagination exuberance.
In total, the three men make the perfect harmonized blend of outlandish escapism adults can laugh at along with the kiddies in the audience. We can even dare to go so far as to say the film was made for grown-ups to enjoy without having to excuse it as a guilty pleasure. There's an element to the story and Pee-Wee's characterization where we see a little of our own childhood behavior and attitude towards the world on display, the kind of immaturity we eventually grow out of. And it's made all the funnier in an adult who never gave up being a kid. Over the years, 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' has become a cult favorite of the 1980s, almost iconic in the minds of its fans because it somehow encapsulates the decade's more animated and high-spirited flare for life. That and it continues to deliver the laughs without disappointment.
Beetlejuice (1988) (3.5/5) - Reviewed by Joshua Zyber
"I'm the ghost with the most, babe."
Beetlejuice, Beetle Juice, Betelgeuse. However you want to spell it, Tim Burton's 1988 haunted house comedy marked the director as a genuine auteur with a unique cinematic voice. Although his first feature film 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' was a box office hit in 1985, that movie was based on an existing comic character from creator and star Paul Reubens. His second film 'Beetlejuice' is a more purely Burtonian creation, with all the signature elements of his filmmaking style fully-formed and brought to life on screen.
Alec Baldwin (almost absurdly young and thin) and Geena Davis star as the Maintlands, a happy married couple living in a picture-perfect small town. Content to spend their vacation at home listening to calypso music, Barbara cleans the house while Adam tinkers with an elaborate scale model of their idyllic village. Yes, the Maintlands are basically nerds, blissfully in love and excited to spend the rest of their lives together. Unfortunately, they have no idea just how short those lives will be. A trip to town for supplies ends in disaster when the couple's car crashes through a bridge and falls into the river below. Both husband and wife are drowned. Despite this, they somehow wind up back home soon after, finding a "Handbook for the Recently Deceased" there waiting for them. No one else can see them now, and any attempt to leave the house plunges them into a surreal nightmare desert with giant freaky sandworms chasing after them. The Maintlands are ghosts, doomed to haunt their own house. It's not exactly what they expected from their vacation, but (aside from the whole death thing) frankly not all that different from what they'd planned.
And then the new owners arrive, obnoxious city folk with horrid taste who want to tear the house apart and remodel it into an art deco catastrophe. No, this just won't do. These people can't stay, not in the Maintlands' quaint and quiet little home. With instructions from the Handbook, Adam and Barbara pay a visit to the netherworld to seek help for their predicament. Thus they fall into the hands of Betelgeuse, a self-proclaimed "bio-exorcist" who promises to help these ghosts purge their house of the living, primarily by acting like an annoying jackass until neither the new family or the Maintlands can stand him anymore.
As a film, 'Beetlejuice' is distinguished from other supernatural comedies of the '80s (like 'Ghostbusters' or 'High Spirits') by Burton's incredibly inventive visual sensibilities and warped sense of humor. The movie is loaded with clever sight gags and bizarre production, costume, and makeup designs. The crazy underworld, depicted as an absurdist waiting room for an interminable bureaucracy, is still a hilarious highlight. Danny Elfman's circus-themed score is practically a character in itself. The Maintlands are sympathetic leads, and most of the humor holds up pretty well 20 years later. Really, the only thing that just doesn't work for me anymore is Michael Keaton's manic performance in the title role, which comes across as a forced attempt to mimic Robin Williams' schtick. Even so, that's a small complaint. 'Beetlejuice' is still infectious fun.
Batman (1989) (3/5) and Batman Returns (1992) (3.5/5) - Reviewed by Peter M. Bracke
This is for all you young readers out there, the ones who think the Batman big-screen adventures started with 2005's reboot 'Batman Begins.' Yes, there really was a Batman before Christian Bale (three of 'em in fact), and Batman movies before 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight' (four of those, not including 1966's ultra-campy 'Batman: The Movie'). Not that one couldn't be forgiven for forgetting, in the intervening twenty years since 1989's 'Batman,' that it was a huge blockbuster in its day, as well as the comparative success of its three follow-ups. That's because the original four 'Batman' films now feel surprisingly dated, and it's rather shocking what time has done to the Dark Knight's '80s and '90s big-screen output.
I will say that, with the exception of 1997's absolutely dismal 'Batman & Robin,' the remaining three Batman films -- 'Batman,' 'Batman Returns' and 'Batman Forever' -- still have their appealing aspects, and elements that hold up as iconic, cinematic comic book moments. But overall, the Batman films may now be more highly regarded for ushering in the comic book revival in general, rather than for their individual filmic accomplishments. Each movie is certainly a vision of its respective director, and thus intriguing to analyze for their thematic aims and ambitions. But taken as a complete movie quadrilogy? I dunno -- Batman feels a little anemic, and incongruent.
Let's begin with Tim Burton's original, very dark take on the Dark Knight. His choices were quite bold in their day -- Batman is no longer the silly superhero of the TV show, clad in purple spandex and a cheap, dime-store cape. Now he's encased in black rubber (kinda sexy), charged by a childhood obsession to avenge his dead parents (kinda edgy), and updated with all sorts of gadgets and one rad batmobile (kinda cool, still). Burton also pissed off many a fanboy with the casting of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, as well as the use of Prince songs on the soundtrack, and a general lack of reference for anything campy or too humorous.
The result is an interesting blockbuster, but one now strangely inert. Though Burton's Gotham City is certainly large-scale (made before the era of CGI, this is purely a practical, real-sets-and-props construction), the photography is flat and the pacing sluggish. I never found the film to be alive with spark and wit, and Burton almost feels weighed down by the need to please longtime Batman fans at the expense of his own creative interests. Is Burton really intrigued by Bruce Wayne, his wounded child backstory and the more do-gooder interests of the character? It doesn't seem so.
Of course, 'Batman' may now be more remembered for the performance of Jack Nicholson as the Joker rather than Keaton's Batman (or Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale, for that matter, who essays the role competently but with little flair). Though considered a bravura turn at the time, twenty years on -- and stacked against Heath Ledger's now Oscar-winning, masterful portrayal -- Nicholson now seems as campy as one of the villains from the old TV show. He certainly instills 'Batman' with the majority of its fire and wit, but for me, it wasn't enough to alleviate Burton's otherwise leaden take on the material.
Perhaps I'm in the minority, but for my money 'Batman Returns' is easily the best of the four Batmans. Burton is back in the director's chair, and Keaton again dons the batsuit. But as he's publicly stated, Burton set out to make a better film that 'Batman,' and one that more reflected his decidedly twisted sensibilities on the character and the mythology. The result is an art film masquerading as a commercial blockbuster -- which may be why, perfectly respectable grosses aside, 'Batman Returns' disappointed some who expected something a bit more audience-friendly, accessible and... wholesome?
What works about 'Batman Returns' for me is that Burton finally embraces the freakdom of the character. Let's face it -- some rich dude who dresses up in black rubber and attempts to fight crime is likely as fractured as the villains he chases. In 'Batman Returns,' Burton delves deep into the psyche of Bruce Wayne/Batman, and finds two perfect foils for him to play off of. Though her casting would prove just as controversial as Keaton's, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman is vibrant and alive, a complex characterization of one thoroughly strange woman. Though there may be too much of Danny DeVito's Penguin in the movie, his disturbed childhood is the perfect representation of Batman's own id. All of these Freudian complications -- 'Batman Returns' is surprisingly, sexually charged -- play out in delightfully twisted ways.
Mars Attacks! (1996) (3.5/5) - Reviewed by M. Enois Duarte
After completing his love song to the man recognized as the world's worst director in 'Ed Wood,' Tim Burton set his sights on making a tribute to the worst movies from his youth with 'Mars Attacks!' One is for the creators; the other for their creations. With a large, all-star cast, the irreverent and visionary director of 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure,' 'Beetlejuice,' and 'Batman' aims at making a big-budgeted eulogy glorifying the terribleness of sci-fi B-movies from the past and uses forgotten, cult trading cards as the inspiration for accomplishing this. Mixing black, surreal humor with some political satire, the absurd comedy is a highly entertaining hodgepodge of wild nonsense. Unfortunately, part of its madcap ambition gets the best of the production and ends up as part of its drawback.
The entire opening sequence of 'Mars Attacks!' makes clear Burton's intentions, what he was aiming to achieve with this wacky sci-fi farce. While Danny Elfman's musical score channels the signature theremin-sounds of Dr. Samuel Hoffman, we see the surface of the red planet releasing thousands of hubcap-shaped flying saucers. The sights and sounds are taken directly from our collective memories of UFO sightings and the movie 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,' down to the way the discs spin and shoot lasers from a small satellite dish underneath. In fact, the director makes an obvious reference to the 1956 B-classic later on with the Washington Monument collapsing on a troupe of Boys Scouts. The rest of the film is a parade of endless movie nods and cultural jabs (if I'm not mistaken, this was one of the first to crack a "can we all get along" jokes).
The cast is clearly in on the joke, as many of the actors seem to savor their moment as stock characters. Michael J. Fox plays a funny self-absorbed TV journalist while Sarah Jessica Parker is his girlfriend, a fashionista talk-show host. Glenn Close is a snobby First Lady obsessed with the interior decorations of the White House, and Annette Bening is great as a wealthy Vegas wife with a more hippie liberal mindset. Jim Brown doesn't really do much as a former boxing champion except fight his way back home, but Martin Short is almost too good as the creepy, sex-crazed Press Secretary. Sadly, the cameos with Danny DeVito, Pam Grier, and Tom Jones are mostly forgettable. And I wonder if anyone explained to Luke Haas and Natalie Portman that they were making a comedy, because they look bored and uninterested through most of the movie.
Ultimately keeping the show alive are the three performances which serve as constant reminders that the movie is after all just a spoof. Pierce Brosnan ('The World is Not Enough,' 'The Thomas Crown Affair') fits terrifically in the role of the overly-confident egghead Professor Kessler, a standard figure of most all 1950s sci-fi B-features. Joining him in another established must for this sort of material is the fantastic Rod Steiger ('On the Waterfront,' 'The Pawnbroker') as the gung-ho and belligerent General Decker. He is utterly hilarious as a man always at the ready to deploy nuclear weapons and as a comical reminder to Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove.' The only thing to best them is the always lively and animated Jack Nicholson, taking on two completely opposite roles and delivering great entertainment while doing it.
Sadly, for all its charisma and enthusiasm, 'Mars Attacks!' exhibits one minor discrepancy holding it back. The narrative is simply too self-aware, meaning that it never allows itself a moment of seriousness. In its attempt to mimic those films of the past, Burton forgets what makes them so special, which is a genuine desire to create a big sci-fi disaster flick in spite of a limited budget and the cheesy visual effects. The film is so intent and motivated on being a parody, practically announcing it every chance it gets, that a good deal of its enchantment and clever allusions are often lost in the alien encounter and nonstop CGI mayhem. Still, Burton's B-movie spoof has its moments of amusement, and it does sometimes feel like it belongs in a theater with buzzers under the seats and a little person in a big-headed alien costume running through the aisles.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) (3.5/5) - Reviewed by Peter M. Bracke
Though the work of many modern authors have been likened to that of Grimm's fairy tales, very few actually earn the comparison. Then there is Roald Dahl. The late author of such classics as 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' 'James and the Giant Peach,' 'The Witches' and 'Matilda,' it is irrefutable that this guy had one seriously demented imagination. I am sure I'm not the only person who, as a child, suffered more than one nightmare after reading Dahl's novels and short stories. Though ostensibly whimsical adventure tales, Dahl's work always read more like horror stories to me. Especially 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' With its demented Willy Wonka, his terrifying chocolate-coated lair and the gruesome fates meted out to the unsuspecting protagonists, this was no 'Bambi' -- it was the first pre-teen slasher movie.
By now, everyone knows the story. Little Charlie Bucket and his family are as poor as a church mouse. They live in a dilapitated shack on the edge of town, with little to look forward to beyond a loaf of bread for dinner. But a golden ticket is about to come into Charlie's life -- the mysterious Willy Wonka is holding the contest of a lifetime, the prize a guided tour of his fabled chocolate factory. Though there can be only five lucky winners, fate intervenes and Charlie joins four other decidedly less wholesome tots in what seems like a rousing adventure. But will they survive Wonka's most unique tests of courage and character, or perish in bizarre ways? And just what is the prize waiting for Charlie behind Wonka's candy cane-colored walls, anyway?
Since just about everyone has seen the original 1971 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' (it is an adolescent rite of passage up there with 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Showgirls'), watching Tim Burton's "reimagining" of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is like a 115-minute comparison test. There are few surprises -- we know what is in store for our little contestants, and it ain't pretty -- so our memories of the original come into constant conflict with Burton's glossier, decidedly more surreal vision of the material. That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but one thing that 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' isn't is fresh.
That said, Burton's changes to the material are numerous. Whereas 'Willy Wonka' was a musical (albeit one filled with black humor), it remained essentially lighthearted and fanciful. Burton's version feels less welcoming and far darker. He eliminates all the non-Oompa Loompa musical numbers, and hews far more closely to the book, which had an episodic structure with various flashbacks and narrative cul-de-sacs. The most significant addition he makes is to expand Willy Wonka's backstory. Burton has always been fascinated by the relationship of men with their fathers/mentors, and here Wonka gets a decidedly demented parental figure in the form of his dentist dad, Dr. Wonka (played by Christopher Lee). This shifts the film's primary thematic focus from Charlie to Wonka, which somewhat overstuffs the movie. (It also pays off poorly, as the film's ending is rather anticlimactic.) Ironically, the film achieves its greatest narrative tension out of our fear that Charlie's story is going to be swallowed whole by Burton's obsession with the neurotic Wonka.
Otherwise, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is largely successful in capturing the charm and wonderment of the original film while upgrading its technology for modern audiences. Visually, the film is magnificent. Technical credits across the board are top-notch, with production design impeccable, and the merging of practical and computer-generated effects virtually seamless. Burton's highly fantastical aesthetic sensibilities are, of course, an obvious match with Dahl's (I don't think anyone was surprised when it was announced that Burton would be tackling 'Charlie'), and he recreates some of the story's most well-known setpieces fabulously. The chocolate river, the squirrel attack, the Mike TeeVee laboratory -- these scenes are masterpieces of Hollywood movie magic. Perhaps they lack the chintzy charm of the original, but they are undeniably a sight to behold.
And let's not forget the film's greatest special effect, Johnny Depp. While Gene Wilder's portrayal of Wonka will always remain untouchable -- he was simultaneously charming, witty, scary and acerbic, but without seeming smug -- Depp does an intriguing take on the character that avoids parody. Depp, of course, is a very "quirky" actor -- and never predictable -- so his Wonka is something to see. To me it is not so much an interpretation of Michael Jackson (as some have speculated) as a bizarre channeling of one of those "cheesy used-car salesmen you see on local TV." His Wonka is, quite frankly, a total freak. Unpredictable and borderline unlikable, he takes the movie into territory the original never dared tread -- these kids seem genuinely terrified of Wonka, instead of fascinated. But even if Depp and Burton don't equal the appeal of 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' -- almost impossible, given how steeped in our collective consciousness the film is -- their 'Charlie' is certainly a trip worth taking twice.
Corpse Bride (2005) (4/5) - Reviewed by Peter M. Bracke
Expectations were high when Tim Burton's 'Corpse Bride' hit theaters in the Fall of 2005. Coming almost a decade after 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' which in the intervening years had become one of the most beloved cult films of our generation, 'The Corpse Bride' had to do nothing less than match the quality and appeal of 'Christmas' or be seen as a disappointment. Unfortunately, though no letdown on the level of a 'James and the Giant Peach,' 'Corpse Bride' really didn't live up to all the anticipation, and after a quick run in theaters and a depressed $53 million domestic gross, it already seems to have been forgotten by most moviegoers.
Like all Tim Burton films, animated or not, 'Corpse Bride' tells the story of an outsider who, through a strange and magical adventure, will come out on the other side transformed. Our tale this time begins as we meet Victor Van Dort, who is engaged to be married but is suffering a very traumatic bout of cold feet. After butchering his lines at his wedding rehearsal, he is sent into the woods by his domineering family to practice his vows. Unfortunately, he performs them so perfectly in a mock ceremony that, when he places his ring on what looks like a twig on the ground, it turns out to be the hand of The Corpse Bride herself. Suddenly, Victor is already married -- even if she isn't quite of this world.
The muted reaction to 'The Corpse Bride' is quite the shame, because as one of the apparently three people who has not seen 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' I went in with absolutely no preconceived notions. I found 'Corpse Bride' to be an utterly charming, often delightful film, one that borrows from many different animation and narrative traditions. There is Burton's decidedly dark sensibilities, of course, plus utterly gorgeous traditional stop-motion photography and a surprisingly liberal dose of Disney-like magic, especially in the cast of supporting sidekick characters. There is also excellent voice work by Burton regular Johnny Depp as our intrepid hero Victor, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Corpse Bride, plus a terrific all-star supporting cast that includes Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney and Christopher Lee.
Also a highlight is Danny Elfman's score, which to my ears is one of the best he has composed for a film. Again, I can't say how the songs in 'Corpse Bride' stack up against 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' but in any case they are certainly superior to his disappointing tunes for 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' Numbers like 'Remains of the Day,' 'Moon Dance' and 'The Wedding Song' are truly memorable toe-tappers, and the lyrics are never less than cute and sly.
I suppose it will always be too much to ask of 'Corpse Bride' that it equal 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' which is now regarded as a modern classic. But taken on its own terms, it is hard to imagine anyone, regardless of age, not being delighted by the majority of this film. If nothing else, 'Corpse Bride' is a must-see if only for its incredible stop-motion animation, which is truly a sight to behold. As far as I'm concerned, Tim Burton has done it again.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers presents 'The Tim Burton Collection' currently as an Amazon exclusive. This set includes seven Blu-ray discs housed inside a cardboard digipack. The digipack folds open and on the inside it conveniently lists the special features found in the set, then each side opens again to reveal four inner plastic panels containing the discs. There are two discs per panel (except for one disc that is all by itself) in an arrangement where one disc overlaps the other. This makes getting at the bottom disc a bit tricky, but on the bright side all of the discs are held very securely once they are snapped into place. The discs themselves seem to be the same product from their previous individual Blu-ray releases, so those hoping to now find a lossless soundtrack on 'Corpse Bride' for example will likely be disappointed. However, the Blu-rays here all come with matching whimsical disc designs, rather than just reusing the old labels. At first I thought the new labels were all the same except for the film titles, but upon closer look they actually have little images appropriate for each movie.
Also included is a hardcover book containing introductions to the seven films presented here, along with movie details, behind-the-scenes photos, poster artwork, trivia, and more. The book is roughly digibook size and of very high quality with over sixty high-gloss, candy-colored pages. Both the digipack and book slide into a sturdy cardboard slipcover and the discs are reportedly region-free.
"I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel."
'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure' (3.5/5) - Pee-Wee rides his fantastical bike to Blu-ray with a great-looking AVC-encoded transfer that's every bit the loud, colorfully rambunctious comedy it's ever been. Immediately apparent when compared to the previous DVD release, the palette is saturated with richer, full-bodied primaries and fairly bold secondary hues, giving the movie a playful, jolly appeal. Contrast is comfortably bright with vibrant, crisp whites from beginning to end. Black levels are quite robust and opulent for a 26-year-old film with great, steady fluctuation in the grayscale. Visibility in the darker portions of the image and the few nighttime scenes remain strong throughout, although grain appears thicker and more evident during those same segments. Definition and resolution are a terrific improvement with more distinct detailing in the finer objects and textures.
Only noticeable issues are age-related, such as softness or a significant change in quality during the poorly-lit sequences. But aside from that, Tim Burton's debut film looks excellent on high-definition video.
'Beetlejuice' (3.5/5) - As is the studio's standard practice, Warner has slightly opened the mattes from the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio to fill a 16:9 screen. The difference between the two ratios is negligible. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks pretty good for a modestly-budgeted movie from 1988. The film's photography is a little grainy, but not distractingly so. The image has strong colors and a pleasing amount of detail. In fact, the high resolution picture is almost too revealing of the dated blue screen special effects.
Contrasts appear a little tweaked for a movie of the era. There's a bit of black crush in some of the dark parts of the frame, but generally not enough to be concerned about. 'Beetlejuice' may not be the crystal clear eye candy spectacle that some viewers look for in every High-Def purchase, but the Blu-ray suits the movie well.
'Batman' (4/5) - Ironically, perhaps, the first (and some still say, best) of the Batman films has, comparatively, the weakest transfer. Certainly, the source looks great, with no obvious flaws and a smooth, film-like look. However, I've always found 'Batman' rather drab, and colors here don't ever pop. Black levels, while solid at the low end of the scale, look a bit too bright in the midrange for me, which flattens out depth somewhat. However, the image remains quite detailed and three-dimensional. 'Batman' doesn't pop as much as the other 'Batman' films, but make no mistake, this is still a very fine transfer.
'Batman Returns' (4.5/5) - My favorite film of the bunch boasts the best visual look of the bunch, too. I love the ripeness of 'Batman Returns' -- it looks much more colorful, rich and impactful than 'Batman.' Tim Burton lets his visual imagination run full blast in his second and last Batman film, and it shows. Blacks are inky and deep, colors vibrant and smooth, and aside from a slight black crush in the shadows, the image boasts great detail and depth. And like the other Batman film in this set, this is a slick encode, with no major artifacts and delightfully free of edge enhancement.
'Mars Attacks!' (3/5) - Tim Burton's wacky alien invasion makes contact on Blu-ray with a generally satisfying 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.40:1).
On many levels, this is a definite improvement, with many beautiful, highly-detailed scenes that can exemplify the benefits of the format. Alas, the problem is with an inconsistent transfer, which tends to interrupt the presentation's overall enjoyment. For every clearly visible fine detail and revealing facial complexion in close-up, there are moments of softness and some evidence of noise reduction. It doesn't completely ruin the video, but it can be distracting.
On a more positive note, contrast is crisp and comfortably bright, while blacks are deep and accurate, providing the picture with good depth and clarity. Although shadow delineation is by and large strong, there is one glaringly obvious instance of black crush at the one-hour mark when Martin Short's character first talks to the Martian Girl outside the White House. The color palette is vibrant and intentionally overly-saturated, especially in the primaries, to give the movie a wonderful cartoon, comic-book energy.
Taken as a whole, the movie looks quite good, but a few inconsistencies can potentially distract from enjoying the video presentation.
'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' (4/5) - From what I can tell, the Blu-ray appears to have the exact same transfer that was previously used for the HD DVD. If there are any differences, they are negligible. Here's what Peter had to say in his review:
'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' never looked that great on standard DVD. It was quite soft, fuzzy and spotty, so this release didn't have to do much to exceed it. Thankfully, this 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer doesn't even break a sweat trying, with a very attractive presentation that, though not perfect, is sure to tickle the fancy of Wonka fans everywhere.
Though the quality of the source material is the same -- indeed, I would be surprised if both the DVD and this release were not minted from the same master -- the upgrade to high-def is still noticeable. Most impressive is that colors are less noisy and plugged up. The film's many reds, purples and browns looked muddy and undefined on the standard-def release, but here hues are both more vibrant yet smoother. Though I still think they could have been toned down a tad to keep the transfer sharper and a bit more natural in appearance, the improvement is most appreciated.
Though black levels and contrast are about on par with the previous standard DVD release, detail is superior. There is far more depth to most scenes, especially the heavy CGI exteriors, which in standard def looked quite flat. The film's many expansive sets benefit from a far better apparent depth to the image, which helps to deliver the kind of three-dimensional image expected for such a recent film. However, I still was disappointed with the relatively weak shadow delineation. The fall-off to black is quite steep, and not helping matters are the ever-so-slightly oversaturated colors. Fleshtones also look fake and pasty -- most of the actors look like they are made of plastic, not flesh. I know the film's visual sensibilities are obviously skewed towards the artificial, but I still found it somewhat distracting. Otherwise, compression artifacts and posterization are not really a problem, though there is some noticeable (if not excessive) film grain throughout, which causes some solid areas of color to look rather jumpy.
'Corpse Bride' (4.5/5) - As the first stop-motion animated film to hit a next-gen high-def format, certainly 'Corpse Bride' lives up to all the expectations. Another of Warner's initial Blu-ray titles produced after the studio recently switched from the MPEG-2 compression codec to VC-1, 'Corpse Bride' looks smashing, with a wonderfully detailed, three-dimensional picture that never fails to impress.
I suppose it goes without saying that 'Corpse Bride' is a dark film -- it does come from the mind of Tim Burton, after all. But dark doesn't mean grimy and depressing, and this 1.85:1 transfer is certainly nothing of the sort. The majority of the film's color palette is awash in deep purples and blues, as well as an array of grays, which this Blu-ray disc handles perfectly. Hues are always smooth, consistent and absolutely free of any noise or bleeding. Even the few more vibrant sequences which are splashed with bright reds, yellows and greens, such as Victor's first descent into the world of the Corpse Bride, boast excellent color stability.
Detail and depth are also master class. A noticeable improvement over the standard-def release, the finest details of the animation are clearly visible, from the fine etchings on picture frames to the flowing, intricate stitching of the Corpse Bride's bridal gown. I was also impressed by how three-dimensional the image appears. I don't recall a single shot ever looking anything less that eye-popping, and the transfer does not suffer from any inconsistencies in sharpness -- which is rather surprising for a stop-motion animated film, which often utilize CGI-assisted blurring and other trickery to help smooth out movement.
Finally, compression artifacts are also not an issue. To be honest, I've become a bit predisposed to them given some of the early Blu-ray releases, and just expect to see blockiness and noise as part of the package. But unless my eyes have suddenly failed me, 'Corpse Bride' looks nothing but clean and smooth on Blu-ray, and I was never distracted once by any apparent pixelization or posterization. This one is a definite winner for Blu-ray.
"Don't touch that squirrel's nuts!"
'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure' (3.5/5) - On the audio front, things are looking equally good with an entertaining DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that brings all the clownish delights to life.
All the action is keep in the fronts, which is expected of a stereo design, but imaging feels spacious and welcoming with excellent balance between the channels. Dialogue is precise and intelligible in the center of the screen, allowing for every childish, outrageous remark from Pee-wee perfectly audible and clear. Dynamic range shows terrific clarity and differentiation between the mids and highs so that listeners never miss a single detail of the film's eccentricity and absurd action. Low-frequencies effects are not wholly impressive, but do provide a bit of depth to the overall mix with some added punch for certain scenes requiring it. The rears are primarily reserved for lightly extending Danny Elfman's wonderful score, making the entire lossless presentation a memorable and satisfying experience to a fun, whimsical little film.
'Beetlejuice' (3/5) - Proving once again that technical specs alone are less important to determining quality than other aspects of a disc's mastering, the Blu-ray's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is merely adequate. Danny Elfman's musical score has bloated low end, muddy mid range, and dulled highs.
In other respects, dialogue is clear enough, the music has been spread to fill all the speakers in the room, and there are a few fun rear channel effects every now and again. The audio is definitely dated, but seems to improve as the movie goes along (or maybe I just got used to it). Don't get me wrong, this isn't a terrible soundtrack. Just don't go into it assuming that "lossless" encoding means that the audio couldn't be improved.
'Batman' (3.5/5) - Again, like the video, I found this is the weakest of the 'Batman Anthology' bunch. Aside from the Prince songs on the soundtrack -- which sound pretty spiffy and beefed, at least compared to the DVD -- there is not that much in the way of aggressive surrounds. I've always thought of 'Batman' a strange sonic experience, with much bland silence and a lack of active envelopment. Discrete sounds are decently overhauled for TrueHD, with some bursts of fun in the rear channels, but otherwise there isn't much here to revel in. Dynamics are solid, if not incredibly expansive -- the film's 1989 production date shows a bit in comparatively restrained low bass and a lack of truly spacious, full-bodied highs.
'Batman Returns' (3.5/5) - A slight step up from 'Batman,' here surrounds are somewhat more active. Also better is score bleed and ambiance, so there is more general immersiveness to be found in 'Batman Returns.' Low bass still doesn't crank, but it's a tad heftier than in 'Batman.' Dynamics and dialogue are about on par, and occasionally some of the lowest tones were hard to decipher, so I found myself longing to bump up volume at times. Still, some nitpicks aside, this is good stuff.
'Mars Attacks!' (3/5) - For the most part, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack makes for a highly entertaining and engaging listen. But like the picture, the lossless mix also lands to home theater with some distracting inconsistencies.
There's plenty of clarity detail filling the entire soundstage where most all discrete effects are located, creating a fairly expansive and wide soundfield. Dynamics can be quite broad and spacious in a few action sequences though it's nothing truly impressive. Other scenes tend to show a somewhat narrow imaging and movement is unconvincing. The low end seems robust as well in several sequences, but it more often than not feels a bit jumbled and booming rather than cleanly responsive and refine. Making matters worse is vocals not balanced well with the rest of the track as dialogue can be difficult to make out sometimes and is frequently drowned out by much of the action.
In the end, 'Mars Attacks!' comes to Blu-ray with average high-rez audio that requires some fiddling with the remote.
'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' (4.5/5) - Well, here's a nice surprise. Although the HD DVD only came with a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround mix, the Blu-ray actually gets a bit of an upgrade here with a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack.
The Blu-ray sound design is very impressive. Dialogue is crisply presented and intelligible, including the softer whispers in the movie. The rear channels are hard at work, too -- especially when we get to the hustle and bustle of the chocolate factory. The "Invention Room" has clanking and whizzing machinery in all corners, the trip down the chocolate river bubbles and splashes near the mouth of the waterfall, and a blend of other candy-coated sound effects spread far and wide wide to fill in the rest of the gaps. Danny Elfman's score is also rich and spacious, while LFE presence is deep and thoroughly engaging in this highly active soundtrack.
If I had to nitpick about anything with this soundtrack, a few words in the Oompa Loompa song lyrics still tend to get lost in the shuffle sometimes, although I don't think it's quite as frequent as before. But even with that considered, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is still the best sounding disc in 'The Tim Burton Collection.'
'Corpse Bride' (4/5) - Just as striking as the transfer is 'Corpse Bride's soundtrack. The sound design for the film is wonderful, with highly inventive instances of surround use that fully encompass the viewer. As presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX (encoded at 640kbps, the same bitrate as Dolby Digital-Plus on HD DVD), it sounds better than ever, easily trumping the more compressed Dolby Digital track on the standard-def DVD release. (Also note that if you have a Dolby Digital Surround EX decoder as part of your system, you can decode a matrixed center surround channel from the mix for an even more enveloping aural experience.)
What makes 'Corpse Bride' so effective here is that a very conscious decision was made to use the surrounds for more than tossed-away sound effects or meager score bleed. A full range and variety of sounds are directed to the rears, from full spoken dialogue to individual musical instruments to some percussive low bass "scary stingers." The result is a terrific sense of envelopment, with the full 360-degree soundfield always alive with sound. Technically, the track is just as good, with excellent dynamic range that is wide and spacious, and imaging between channels that sounds just about transparent. Crank up 'Corpse Bride' and you won't be disappointed.
"Where does he get those wonderful toys?"
Most of the movies in this set come with the same wealth of bonus features found on their individual release counterparts:
'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure' (2/5) - For this Blu-ray edition of 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure,' Warner Bros. offers the same assortment of supplements as the previous DVD releases.
'Beetlejuice' (1.5/5) - The Blu-ray carries over all of the bonus features from the comparable Deluxe Edition DVD. Unfortunately, they don't amount to much.
'Batman' (3.5/5) - As with the 'Batman Anthology,' all of these extras will also already be familiar to fans who purchased the previous DVD box set from a few years back -- Warner has produced no new content for the year 2009. Video is likewise not upgraded, with all materials in 480i/MPEG-2 only, and not even formatted for 16:9 screens. Still, this is a pretty informative special edition, especially if this is the first time you are picking up 'Batman' on disc.
'Batman Returns' (3.5/5) - Same deal here as with 'Batman.' There isn't anything new included here, just the same features that were included in the disc from the 'Batman Anthology' Blu-ray set.
'Mars Attacks!' (0/5) - For its (second) interstellar visit onto Blu-ray, 'Mars Attacks!' lands as a bare-bones release, forgetting to include the isolated score and trailers from its DVD counterpart.
'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' (3.5/5) - The Blu-ray of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' includes almost everything that was found on the previous HD DVD, with a few additional surprises.
'Corpse Bride' (3/5) - Containing all of the extras included on the standard-def release, this is a great package of goodies that is sure to please fans of the film.
As there is no audio commentary track included per se (see more below on that), it is up to the eight making-of featurettes to carry the disc's supplements. As always they can be a mixed bag with some redundant information here and there, and sometimes a narrow if focus on the technical, but all told it is a fairly comprehensive package.
Tim Burton movies aren't for everyone, but if you're a fan of his work then 'The Tim Burton Collection' might be right up your alley. Featuring seven of the director's Warner-produced films on Blu-ray (along with a gorgeous hardcover book of exceptional quality), the Amazon exclusive boxed set is certainly a terrific value for the price. Furthermore, the attractive package doesn't hog a whole lot of shelf space, either -- which is always a plus. Those who already own most of these movies will likely want to save their money, however... especially since the discs are basically just the same ones already out on the market.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.