BR: Batman – Year One (2011)

December 6, 2011 | By

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Film: Very Good/ BR Transfer: Very Good/ BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Warner Home Video/ Region: All / Released: October 18, 2011

Genre: Animated / Batman / Comic Book

Synopsis: A new animated series based on Frank Miller’s prequel comic book series, introducing Batman, Catwoman, and Lt. James Gordon.

Special Features:  Disc 1 — Audio Commentary with Alan Burnett, Sam Liu, Mike Cavlin, and Andrea Romano / “Conversations with DC Comics: Featuring the 2011 Batman Creative Team” (39:27) / Chapter 1 of Batman: Year One Digital Comic sampler / “Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to His Roots” (23:25) / Bonus Short: “Catwoman” (14:50) / 2 bonus TV episodes: “Batman: The Animated Series: Catwalk” (21:16) + “the New Batman Adventures: Cult of the Cat” (21:21) / 3 Teasers: “Justice League: Doom” (10:17) + “All-Star Superman” (10:47) + “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights” (11:38) / Trailers / Disc 2 — DVD of “Batman: Year One” + Digital Copy

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Review:

The initial impression of Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray is kind of a ‘Is that all?’ given the feature content runs 64 mins., but this BR is packed with very weighty extras that shed a detailed background on the creation of Batman, his metamorphosis from crime fighter to monster fighter in the fifties (like, dinosaurs?), his reinvention through Frank Miller The Dark Knight series, and soon after as a series of prequel stories – Year One – where key characters are introduced as they converge in the crime-marinated city of Gotham.

In the new animated series, Bruce Wayne (Ben McKenzie) returns home after an absence, wanting revenge; Det. Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston) reluctantly moves to the city with a mandate to route out corrupt cops; and Selina Kyle (Eliza Dushku) becomes Catwoman out of outrage (and maybe boredom). Wayne stumbles but manages to figure out a way to make a difference, eradicating criminal elements in small steps, while Gordon struggles to do his job as an affair with Det. Sarah Essen (Katee Sackhoff) threatens his stable marriage. Gordon’s pregnant wife Barbara (Grey DeLisle) eventually becomes a target for mob boss Carmine Falcone (the inimitable Alex Rocco) and corrupt Commissioner Loeb (the equally inimitable Jon Polito).

The animation is overall pretty good, balancing several AfterEffects tricks with smooth action sequences, and there’s an obvious adult undercurrent which makes this version of Batman much darker, leaner, and meaner. For fans of the character, this premiere installment should be pleasing, if not amusing for the small details that evoke a very distinct 1980s: accurate blocky auto designs are everywhere, and during one chase scene the characters whiz past a VHS and Betamax video store. Christopher Drake’s score is fairly subdued, blending into the sound design but emerging with careful discretion, much in the way he handled segments of Batman: Gothic Knight (2008).

The BR’s extras are in partial character history lessons through the words and youthful enthusiasm of its multi-generation writers and filmmakers. There’s an engaging audio commentary with the series makers, and in “Conversations with DC Comics: Featuring the Batman Creative Team” writers Dennis O’Neil and Scott Snyder, DC Comics publisher Dan DiDio, and moderator Michael Uslan delve into a lot of history which ought to motivate newbies into exploring Batman’s historic evolution from his debut in Detective Comics in 1939.

Also included are 2 episodes of the nineties animated Batman series. In “Catwalk” (1995), Catwoman finds it hard to leave a life of crime, whereas in “Cult of the Cat” (1998) she must infiltrate a weird cat cult and save Batman from making a mess of things. The animation styles for the characters are very different between seasons, as Catwoman moves from a busty, eroticized crime babe to a more geometric rendering with hard diagonal lines. Transfer quality is variable at best, since the masters are taken from standard definition sources.

The new bonus short, “Catwoman,” is risqué and ranchy, and has our feline heroine doing a peeler dance in front of a smuggler before a lengthy chase sequence has her almost beaten to a pulp. Like Year One, the short has the same eighties cars with retro-sixties architecture (actually, quite evocative of the old Ralph Bakshi Spider-Man series), and the action sequences are inspired by elaborate film chases. Christopher Drake’s score is very bass heavy, and adds extra oomph to the raunchiness, although the short’s final twist feels tacked on.

Filling out the BR are a trio of promo / teaser pieces on related DC characters currently being readied for feature-length productions – Justice League: Doom, All-Star Superman, and The Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. The sneak peeks tend to show pencil tests interpolated with clips of voice actors in action, and interviews with series writers, directors, producers, and voice directors – most of whom were involved with Batman: Year One.

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Official Sites —  Composer Filmography

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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