It marks the fifth big screen outing for the Caped Crusader, but Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins is a standalone adventure that takes a more psychological approach to the story of a man who likes to dress up as a bat and kick criminal butt. The square-jawed Christian Bale dons pointy ears for this "bold and brilliant" comicbook yarn that sent critics and moviegoers batty with delight.
In The Beginning
Nolan set out to "renew and reinvent" the Batman franchise as he explains in The Journey Begins - an in-depth look at development. Of course co-writer David S Goyer contributes to the discussion, explaining his vision of Batman's origin story while production designer Nathan Crowley took up residence in the back of Nolan's garage building models of Gotham City. Amusingly, even Warner Bros execs were required to attend meetings in the garage to maintain secrecy. Unfortunately it was a tight fit for Christian Bale who put on pounds after filming The Machinist and sent the costume department into a tizzy. "Bloody hell, Chris," they purportedly scoffed, "What are we doing here, Batman or Fatman?"
However Bale shows off an amazing ability to transform himself in Shaping Mind And Body, another surprisingly substantial featurette. We see him buffed up, training in the art of Keysi - a "dance like" combination of martial arts - and there's also video footage of rehearsals for the Bhutanese fight sequences. Although Bale performed many of his own stunts, he sadly wasn't allowed anywhere near the Batmobile. In The Tumbler, stunt driver George Cottle takes the custom-built mean machine through its paces on the Gotham set - footage that will leave gearheads salivating. Elsewhere there's a full behind-the-scenes breakdown of the climactic monorail chase sequence.
"New York on steroids," is how the director describes his vision of Gotham in a comprehensive look at production design. Beyond the back of Nolan's garage, Crowley built the entire city from scratch inside an airplane hangar. It's a "heightened reality" captured in loving detail down to the insidious steam rising from its manholes. We're also taken inside the real Wayne Manor in north London and the Bat Cave at Shepperton studios. Cape And Cowl is a detailed showcase for the costume (and prop) designers who punished Bale with a "hi-tech wetsuit" that would hug any poundage he failed to lose. The idea was to create something "organic" so he could "move like an animal". As the star himself notes, you couldn't pull the part off properly "unless you became a beast in that suit".
Path To Discovery goes on location to Iceland (doubling as the Himalayas) for a gruelling schedule of swordplay, hiking through blizzards and slipping precariously across icy cliffs. Most alarming of all, Liam Neeson and Bale recall hearing the ice crack beneath their feet as they battled each other on a slowly thawing lake. Note: It's never a good sign when the cameraman decides to shoot the scene sprawled on his belly and cinched by a rope...
Rounding out the bonus disc is Genesis Of The Bat, chronicling the various incarnations of Batman from the 80s onwards, a section of character files and a marketing design gallery. Disappointingly, Nolan doesn't offer commentary for the film although he does speak eloquently about his creative choices across all the featurettes. Key crew and supporting cast like Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman also get a fair amount of talk time. These interviews teamed with reams of behind-the-scenes footage add up to a hefty package that's definitely worth getting in a flap about.
The Batman Begins DVD is released in the UK on 21st October 2005