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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Catwoman
Catwoman
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // January 18, 2005
List Price: $27.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 13, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

At this point in the game, being such an unwavering DC Comics geek plays against me while watching Catwoman, the latest round of ammunition proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that, up to Christopher Nolan's involvement in the Batman franchise and Bryan Singer's in Superman, Warner Brothers had absolutely no idea what to do with the rich pantheon of comics characters they own. While rival Marvel has been reaping copious amounts of box-office and critical kudos with their adaptations of Spider-Man, X-Men, and Blade (although faltering a bit with Hulk, which was ambitious if flawed, and the less said about the twin turd sandwiches Daredevil and The Punisher the better), Warner Brothers has been flopping like a fish on its belly while attempting to determine the best course of action with their characters. Anyone who witnessed their attempts to get a Superman movie off the ground can testify to this with all speed. Hell, just take a look at 1997's cinematic abortion Batman and Robin to get a good idea where Warner's head was at: all they needed was a somewhat recognizable property, big name stars to plant tuchas in seats, an enormous budget to overload the movie with sass, boom, and bah, and a director willing to kowtow to every idiotic demand the studio desired. The result? A $107-million grossing monstrosity – the lowest in the entire series – that violated and disemboweled the studio's most successful franchise. I don't know who got Dibney'ed more on that one: the franchise or the legions of Batman fans who sat in abject horror wondering whether or not they somehow slipped into Earth-2 or something where everyone involved in the movie industry seems to have the mental alacrity of tapioca pudding.

No wait, that's our Earth. Damn.

In all honesty, I doubt that anyone could have made a decent Catwoman movie. The character, who premiered in 1940 in the pages of Batman #1 as a costume-less character named "The Cat", has had a host of interpretations and visual styles since her introduction sixty-five years ago, but she has pretty much always been little more than a clever burglar and provider of much sexual frustration for the Dark Knight. Clad in skintight purple and grey, the character of Selina Kyle, former stewardess and/or prostitute (depending on who you ask), one of the most preeminent presences in Batman's rogues gallery, has become one of the most recognizable comic book icons, and certainly a source of horndog appreciation for lifeless comics geeks worldwide. Yet Catwoman as a character has always succeeded because of her supporting role in the Batman mythos. Sure, she's been the focus of several individual stories, and is even currently hosting her own solo series, but I found Selina Kyle to be a much more effective presence when she slinked out of the alleyways to provide some sort of thinly-veiled sexual frustration for Batman and then disappear with a teasing but affectionate come-hither laugh. Less is more, you know?

I suppose you could make a halfway enjoyable Catwoman film if you eschewed the entire Batman linkage and just focused on Selina Kyle, master thief, dealing with her fiendish compulsion to steal shiny, pretty things, yet unable to resist the "One Big Score". Somewhat cliché, I give you, but a film in the Italian Job or The Score mold might have actually worked. Instead, you end up with last year's Catwoman, a slick-looking bauble of kitsch and camp that, despite what you have heard or assumed, isn't the worst movie ever made. It's a bad movie, sure. It's thoroughly misguided from start to finish, and the head-shaking and eye-rolling will run fast and fierce throughout the movie's 100-minute running time. But Catwoman, for better or worse, certainly isn't a boring movie and while it is a failure it's far from the train wreck the negative buzz has painted it to be.

Halle Berry plays Patience Phillips, a graphic artist for Hedare Cosmetics, run by the husband and wife team of George and Laurel Hedare (played by the Merovingian himself Lambert Wilson and Sharon Stone, respectively). In one of those conventions that filmmakers constantly seem to think will play out with audiences everywhere, we are expected to believe that Patience, a woman who displays a sweet, friendly personality and exhibits smoldering attractiveness and sexuality, lives a lonely, harangued, frustrated life. What have you. Anyway, while delivering her plans for an advertising campaign to a Hedare factory, Patience overhears a plot to flood the cosmetic market with beauty cream which, while purporting to keep you looking young forever, actually hosts a bevy of horrific side effects which will end up making women look like a Superfuzz-era Earnest Borgnine. Patience is soon discovered and killed... only to be brought to life by a mysterious grey tabby cat. Afterwards, she finds herself sleeping on a shelf, with catlike reflexes and abilities as well as strange cravings for sushi and tuna fish. But even more importantly, she is imbued with a new sense of confidence. She takes to the night, kicking all sorts of ass in black leather under the moniker of Catwoman, while as Patience she strikes up a relationship with Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), a hunky cop who seems to be spearheading the police's Catwoman investigations. Now Patience/Catwoman must balance her budding relationship with her emergence into the Catwoman role, while at the same time investigating the circumstances that resulted in her death.

OK. Obviously, the Catwoman of this film bears absolutely no relationship to the character that has graced comics, television, animation, and movies since 1940. To many, this is little more than absolute heresy, but I would have been willing to let it fly if it had resulted in a worthwhile movie (which it didn't.) Accordingly to industry figures, the latest issue of the Catwoman comic book sold 26,000 copies. Somewhere around eight million people saw Catwoman, the movie. If you were to simply cater to the comic book crowd, you'd end up with grosses that would make Thunderbirds seem like Titanic. Anyway, I'd have less of a problem with the changes if they didn't end up running with the entire "there have been dozens of Catwomen throughout the ages" angle, pushing the concept that Catwoman is in fact a mystical being who carries a mantle that has been passed down through millennia. It amps up the cheese factor considerably. The scene in which Midnight the magical, mystical feline breathes life into Patience's dead body is thoroughly, laughably bad.

Well now that they've alienated the comics faithful, you'd hope that Warner Brothers would pick up the slack by loading up the film with talented filmmakers. You'd hope. The script is chock full of obvious metaphors and campy one-liners, an obvious result of filmmaking by committee if there ever was one. Former visual effects supervisor and Vidocq director Pitof demonstrates his ability to shoot a great looking film, but Catwoman is entirely flash and dazzle over any substance of note whatsoever. When the film is moving it does so at a breakneck, stylish vibe, but any sense of scene and narrative flow is backburnered in favor of making the movie a sleek, hip-hop feast for the eyes and ears. Furthermore, the editing in this film makes Michael Bay look like Yasujiro Ozu. I don't think there's a single cut in this film that lasts for more than two, maybe three seconds. Even a simple scene of Patience waking up in bed will feature about seventeen different angles in a four-second time span. In other words, Catwoman is yet another hyper-kinetically edited movie custom-designed for audiences who cannot understand the concept of letting a movie breathe and develop on its own: "We don't have much of a story? Quick! Cut to that! And that! Whoo, we're cooking with gas now, baby!!"

Looking at the acting, Halle is fine as Patience, and certainly looks like a luscious screen goddess as Catwoman. Her line delivery, unfortunately, is pretty awful whenever she's in torn black leather showing ample amounts of skin and cleavage. She hams it up and vamps mercilessly, in effect turning what is allegedly supposed to be a metaphor for female empowerment into little more than a goofy masquerade party. As the main villain, Sharon Stone is decent. She acquits herself fairly well in the role in the sense that she takes a clichéd, thinly-written character and does the best she can with it. Alex Borstein, from Mad TV and Family Guy, plays Patience's best friend Sally and provides some of the film's spunk and sass, but it's less of a character and mostly some fairly minor comic relief. Bratt's Detective Lone is one-note and forgettable; he's a decent actor, but Bratt isn't doing anything too interesting here.

Overall, Catwoman aspires to be a slick, candy-coated carnival ride that espouses that virtues of female assertiveness but does little to distinguish itself as anything remotely worthwhile. The film, despite its many flaws, is actually pretty watchable and mildly entertaining at times, but it's mostly a loud, campy mess. Catwoman is not the ultimate bomb/flop/disaster; it plays more like a lesser, forgettable entry in the Jerry Bruckheimer oeuvre. Yet while watching it, I can't say I was ever bored or disinterested. That's more than I can say for Troy or Van Helsing. Not exactly the most distinguished of company, I grant you...

The DVD

Video:

Catwoman is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing enjoyment. This is a sharp looking transfer, rich and vibrant and pulsing with life. If nothing else, Catwoman is a visually stunning film, and Pitof's sense of composition is wonderfully displayed on this disc. Colors are strong, with deep blacks and rich saturation levels. Contrasts are bright and strongly delineated, adding a greater sense of depth to the image. At times the picture looks a little bit harsh, almost overly digitized, but this is an aesthetic choice rather than a fault of the transfer. Image detail is mostly strong; some occasional softness is present but this is few and far in between. Overall this is a strong, extremely impressive transfer.

Audio:

The audio on this disc is just as impressive as the video. The mix is delivered a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with an optional 5.1 French soundtrack also included. This is a spacious, immersive mix, enveloping the listener with strong imaging and pinpoint directionality. Surrounds are used aggressively and effectively to highlight background and ambient noise as well as reinforce the various action scenes throughout the film. The movie sports a loud, throbbing hip-hop soundtrack, which is richly and powerfully delivered through ample and often utilization of LFE and rich dynamic range. Dialog is clear, crisp, and without harshness or distortion. The overall soundfield is smooth and balanced, while remaining loud, raucous, and engaging throughout.

Extras:

The Many Faces of Catwoman, a thirty-minute feature hosted by Eartha Kitt, is pretty much the most impressive and entertaining feature on this disc (it's easily a hundred times more interesting than the movie itself.) This documentary explores the history of the character of Catwoman, from comic books to movies to television and animation. Included in this feature are all three of the television Catwomen: Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, and Lee Meriweather, as well as Batman himself Adam West. We also hear from Adrienne Barbeau, who voiced Catwoman on Batman: The Animated Series, as well as a host of comic book professionals, including writer Jeph Loeb, artist Alex Ross, DC Comics Publisher Paul Levitz and editor Dan Didio. Cast and crew from the Catwoman movie are also heavily featured, including Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, and Sharon Stone, as well as some older interview footage featuring Tim Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer shot while promoting Batman Returns. This is a great featurette, and well worth your time.

The remaining features are pretty sparse. There is a thirteen-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, which plays as your basic EPK material. The stars explain the film, their roles, how much fun it was to make the movie, etc. It's OK but not something you'd want to watch more than once... if it all. Up next are six minutes of deleted scenes, including a pointless chase scene through a junkyard, a longer (but still tame) love scene between Halle Berry and Benjamin Bratt, and some implied girl-on-girl action between Catwoman and Laurel Hedare. Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer as well as some DVD-ROM weblinks.

Final Thoughts:

Catwoman is not a horrible movie, but it's pretty bad. Still, it's hard to loathe a movie that shows off so much of the lovely Ms. Berry's physique, and as mentioned before it's never boring and it's never uninteresting. Of course, it's never that good, either, even if it moves pretty quickly and looks great onscreen. The big action sequences are nothing you haven't seen a thousand times before. The sexually-charged basketball match between Berry and Bratt is little more than a hip-hop redress of the playground battle between Affleck and Garner in Daredevil... and is equally retarded. And if you're not quite sick of the sight of CGI characters leaping from building to building in death-defying derring-do, then you just might love various parts of Catwoman. Alas. Chalk this up as another comic book movie that fails to distinguish itself in any capable way, even if you find yourself watching it attentively throughout its running time.

I can't complain too much about the DVD, though. The presentation of the film is stunning, with both impressive video and audio. The extras are pretty sparse, but the "History of Catwoman" documentary is definitely worth a look. Consider Catwoman as a potential rental, with the strong knowledge that you're about to watch a slickly shot, visually dazzling, and kinetically-charged bad movie.

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