Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: 'Batman: The Complete Television Series Blu-ray'

As you may have been able to tell from the bevy of Batman-centric reviews I've been posting here on Psychobabble this month, the Caped Crusader's 75th Anniversary has infected DC, WB, and other holders of Batman properties with a serious case of Batman fever lately. The crown jewel of all these wonderful toys is the release of William Dozier's brilliant live-action series on home video for the very first time. Why Batman: The Complete Television Series is only zapping into shops now is a complicated conundrum worthy of The Riddler, and it's been detailed elsewhere. So let's just skip ahead to how Warner Brothers did with this landmark blu-ray box.

Full disclosure, I have not watched every single one of the 120 episodes it contains. Doing so would mean this review wouldn't get posted until sometime in mid-2015. Based on the ones I've watched so far, the series looks better than it ever did and certainly better than its makers ever intended. You can count the bristles of Cesar Romero's mustache under all that Joker make up. Actually, everyone looks pretty heavily done up here with fake tans that probably registered as a healthy skin tone on crappy 1966 TVs. But obvious facade is a big part of "Batman's" humor, so it all works toward the show's grand joke. The primary-color palette pops like a bat-punch to the bat-face. Batman and Robin's capes look so silkily tactile you'd swear you could reach through the screen and snatch them off the dynamic duo.
One down note is that there is the occasional missing element, the most glaring of which are the absence of the tag at the end of the "Marsha's Scheme of Diamonds" episode and a brief shot of John Astin in "A Riddling Controversy". Most of the lost bits are bumpers announcing next week's villains that will probably only be lamented by the most hardcore batfans. (*Information about WB's disc replacement program can be found here)

We do get a nice array of extras, including a half-hour doc on Adam West that plays like a mini-"E! True Hollywood Story" ("Hanging with Batman"), a piece about tie-in merchandise with lots of toys and costumes to drool over ("Holy Memorabilia Batman"), a doc on the show's comic-book look and attitude ("Batmania Born"), odd sporadic video commentaries by West cut into the first two episodes of the series, a collection of dopey soundbites from cast and crew members of current TV shows ("Na Na Na Batman"), and a semi-celebrity fan roundtable discussion mediated by Kevin Smith. Funny, relaxed, and informative, that roundtable was my favorite of the lot. "Batmania Born" is the smartest retrospective of the bunch, though I wish the filmmaker hadn't invited that idiot Michael Uslan, who cited the Civil Rights movement as an example of the sixties "going wrong" in the "Batman: A Dynamic Legacy" featurette on the Batman: The Movie blu-ray and repeats his bullshit here.

Most of these extras are notable for the participation of Adam West and the absence of his co-stars aside from appearances by Burt Ward and Julie Newmar in "Batmania Born" and very briefly in "Na Na Na Batman". "Hanging with Batman" and "Holy Memorabilia Batman" are marred by a tone too earnest for tributes to a ridiculously fun series. You might want to hit the stop button before a collector starts singing a sappy piano ballad about his toys at the end of "Holy Memorabilia Batman". Unaffected by such matters are a sampling of vintage tidbits that include screen tests and a seven-minute pilot for a "Batgirl" series that didn't happen. Inclusion of the 1974 PSA about the federal equal pay law starring Yvonne Craig and Burt Ward (and an imposter Batman) would have been a really cool addition too. It's not here, but you can always just watch the bad quality version on YouTube.

Finally, we must make mention of the boffo limited edition packaging, which is more notable for a very cool, magnetically sealed box complete with Neal Hefti-theme-song playing button than any of the trinkets inside. The grooviest of these is probably the Hot Wheels Batmobile, but we also get a neat repro set of Topps' 1966 "Batman" trading cards. A wafer-thin hardcover book of color photos is less impressive, but when all is said and done, "Batman: The Complete Television Series" blu-ray is not one of the best home video releases of 2014 for the extras and swag. It's the gorgeously restored presentation of one of the best series of the sixties that makes this a must own. You might want to wait for the inevitably cheaper (though currently way overpriced, for some reason), standard packaging release to arrive before spending your bat dollars though.

Get 'Batman: The Complete Television Series' in a variety of forms here:
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