As Dark Knight hype overtakes the free world this week, prepare yourself with a marathon of Batman lore on DVD with our viewing guide below — or, escape from Bat-mania by shacking up with DVDs to get you ready for Bat-alternatives Mamma Mia and Space Chimps.
If you’re a Batman fan, chances are you’ve already reserved your ticket for Friday’s The Dark Knight. (If you’re really an uber-fan, you might even have tickets to those 3am screenings.) In the meantime, turn your living room into a veritable Batcave with a marathon of our favorite Batman classics.
Batman: The Movie (1966, 80 percent on the Tomatometer)
Adam West is at full-camp best in this classic of ’60s superhero kitsch, based on the popular television series. And while West wasn’t the first on-screen Batman (Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery preceded him in 1943 and 1949, respectively), his remains one of the most iconic characterizations. Best of all, you get not one, not two, but four of the most evil supervillains in Gotham City lore: The Penguin, The Riddler, The Joker, and Lee Meriweather‘s slinky Catwoman.
Batman & Robin (1997, 12 percent)
Joel Schumacher‘s oft-ridiculed film should be enjoyed for what it is; a modern-day throwback to the inherent silliness of two grown men who don costumes to fight bad guys. Holy codpiece, Batman! In the very least, remembering Batman at his preposterous movie low (fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman as Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, two of the worst Bat-villains ever committed to celluloid) will make you really appreciate the sobering, grown-up reboot that Christopher Nolan gave the franchise years later.
The Two-Disc Special Edition DVD features more behind-the-scenes featurettes than you’ll probably want (or would ever watch), but also contains candid revelations from director Schumacher and his cast, who appear to have realized what they had wrought by the time they recorded these bonus materials. One word: Bat-nipples.
Batman – Gotham Knight (2008)
The recently-released animated anthology connects six stories that take place between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, told in different styles by writers like Josh Olson (History of Violence), Greg Rucka, and David S. Goyer. Each of the short stories are shot in their own unique styles, with a visual nod to the look and feel of Japanese anime; Batman himself is voiced by DC Animated Universe alum Kevin Conroy. But don’t dismiss this as animated kidstuff; there’s enough action and violence to warrant its PG-13 rating. Add to that over an hour of extra content, including a look at the life of Batman creator Bob Kane, and you’ve got a great way to supplement your viewing of Nolan’s reboot and its sequel.
Batman Begins (2005, 84 percent)
While our previous selections were more of a Batman variety-hour, this is the no-brainer, must-watch DVD to get you in the Dark Knight spirit. Christopher Nolan‘s 180-degree reboot gave back to Batman what he’d been missing for years: respect. Christian Bale‘s tormented turn as Bruce Wayne/Batman will be remembered as a career highlight for years to come. And while Nolan’s sequel is more of a crime flick than the origin story/character exploration that was Batman Begins, his vision of Gotham City, its people, and its brooding hero will remain much the same in The Dark Knight. As a capper to your Batman marathon, re-watch Begins to ease into the moody atmosphere and recall the state in which we leave Batman and all of Gotham.
Moviegoers looking for alternatives to The Dark Knight this week can have their own DVD marathons, too. Mamma Mia, adapted from the Broadway musical, sets a girl’s search for her real father to the tunes of Swedish supergroup ABBA; luckily for you, there’s plenty of Agnetha, Bjorn, Benni, and Anni-Frid to be found on DVD. Rock out to the 1977 concert doc ABBA: The Movie, watch Guy Pearce and Agent Smith sing “Mamma Mia”; in drag in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and see one woman’s sad-sack life transformed by the power of the pop quartet in Muriel’s Wedding.
If the idea of monkeys blasting off into the galaxy appeals to you, prep for Space Chimps with a more sobering look at the repercussions of NASA’s experiments with chimpanzees in Matthew Broderick‘s 1987 sci-fi flick, Project X. And since he’s carrying the movie as a lead chimp named Ham, get a taste of Saturday Night Live‘s Andy Samberg‘s goofy antics in last year’s stuntman comedy, Hot Rod.
Brit action star Jason Statham (The Transporter) makes a solid career choice in this riveting, well-paced heist flick based on actual events. Toning down his proclivity for fast-paced action roles with an actual drama, Statham exercises his acting chops as the leader of a gang of robbers who stumble upon the scandalous secrets of London’s underworld — and, yes, he does get a few roundhouse kicks in to boot.
Here’s a DVD that extends your enjoyment of the film with only a handful of extra features. Director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail) is joined by actress Saffron Burrows and his composer, J. Peter Robinson, in a feature-length commentary that should be interesting to those curious about the real-life events that inspired the film. When the robbery occurred in 1971 London, a government-issued media blackout silenced news coverage, ostensibly to protect the scandalous young royal whose indiscretions may have been uncovered by the contents of stolen safety deposit boxes — a turn of events indeed stranger than fiction.
If our culture’s current So You Think You Can Be America’s Best Dancing With The Stars’ Crew obsession is any indication, we loves us some dancing. And if you know the names Comfort, Twitch, and Kherington, then here is a DVD that was made for you. In the sequel to 2006’s Step Up (the movie that bestowed upon womankind the gift that is Channing Tatum) first-time director Jon M. Chu gives America what they want: namely, another star-crossed romance with much, much more hipping and hopping. Where Step Up remained largely in the contemporary dance world (yawn), its sequel, introducing the impressive booty-shaking talents of Briana Evigan and Robert Hoffman, takes us where we really want to go: the streets!
In addition to deleted scenes and music videos, director Jon Chu takes you backstage on the very first day of his very first feature film, as well as rehearsals with the cast’s very talented dancers. In the disc’s best feature, watch America’s Best Dance Crew, the JabbaWockeez, in an amazing full dance scene that is only glimpsed in the film — it’s one of the best routines you’ll ever see. Just be prepared to hear a LOT of “Apple bottom jeans, boots with the furrrrr,” because Flo-Rida’s “Low” plays over and over throughout the DVD. .
Road trip, or train wreck? Martin Lawrence makes another journey into dumb hijinks territory as an overprotective dad taking his eager-to-leave-home daughter (Raven-Symone) on a cross-country trip to visit colleges. Note to Lawrence: When Donny Osmond is your co-star — and he gets bigger laughs then you — it’s time to reconsider your career choices.
Two featurettes (one with Raven-Symone and director Roger Kumble, the other with the two screenwriters) are probably two too many for this lame G-rated affair. A gag reel dominated by Donny Osmond outtakes might just be the best extra of the bunch.
Christina Ricci is back playing another quirky chick in Penelope, a modern-day fairytale about a high-society girl cursed with the snout of a pig. Can James McAvoy‘s roguish gambler cure her affliction…with love? Despite a solid supporting cast (Catherine O’Hara, actor-producer Reese Witherspoon), muddled directing by Mark Palansky and a script that turns out a notch below magical divided critics.
A spare DVD menu doesn’t say much for Summit Entertainment’s enthusiasm for the flick, although the disc does feature a tantalizing (and completely unrelated) sneak peek at the upcoming teen vampire flick, Twilight (based on the uber-popular novels by Stephanie Meyer).
The original 2004 Thai version scored well with critics (79%), but Hollywood hasn’t yet learned how to avoid making much crappier versions of Asian horror films. Behold, the latest tired remake to hit DVD: Shutter, starring Dawson’s Creek alum Joshua Jackson and Transformers hottie Rachael Taylor. You won’t find anything new here; rent the Thai version instead. Sometimes reading subtitles are worth the trouble.
You’ll find a three-minutes longer unrated cut (plus featurettes, deleted scenes, and commentary), which just might prove better than the theatrical PG-13 version. But probably not.
‘Til next week, happy viewing!