Title: Batman: Year One
Format: Blu-ray+DVD+Digital Copy
Directed by: Sam Liu & Lauren Montgomery
Written by: Tab Murphy, based on a comic by Frank Miller
Starring: Benjamin McKenzie, Bryan Cranston, Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco, Jon Polito
Produced by: Lauren Montgomery, Alan Burnett
Studio: Warner Premiere, Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, Warner Home Video
Review by: Eric Stuckart
Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One was a groundbreaking comic for the Dark Knight for a number of reasons. First off, it helped to definitively usher in a new age for Batman, one that eschewed the flavor-of-the-week enemies and cartoonish nature that the Adam West television series had imparted onto the comics. And secondly, it brought a grittier, darker tone to a comic book series that badly needed a resurrection.
The fact that the book practically serves as a storyboard for DC Entertainment’s animated adaptation only shows how great the source material was in the first place. Telling the story of how both Bruce Wayne and good cop Jim Gordon have arrived in the crime-ridden Gotham City, it’s a great starting point for those not familiar with the story behind the cowl.
With only a few fat-trimming details altered (as well as a couple of bits that haven’t aged as well), it could be argued that this version of the book is unnecessary to those familiar with the comic miniseries, but I would have to disagree. The animation is top notch, and the voice acting is for the most part fitting for the roles of the characters, especially Bryan Cranston’s world-weary and weathered performance as Jim Gordon. The only low point of the whole presentation was Benjamin McKenzie’s take on Bruce Wayne/Batman. After years of us being spoiled by Kevin Conroy’s peerless voice acting over the years, no other actor else really holds a candle to him, and that’s a shame, but it doesn’t hurt the film in any major way.
All in all, Batman: Year One’s gothic, noirish style is held intact, and with a story as great as this is, it’s truly one of the must-have additions to any Batman fan’s collection, even moreso if he hasn’t read the original book. Once again, while it’s pretty much a note for note interpretation of the comic, that only made me love this movie even more. As an added benefit, this is the type of film that could convince some viewers to actually dig in and start reading comics. It’s that good.
Batman: Year One has plenty of cool features to offer for those willing to spring for the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. “Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to His Roots” is an interesting look at the history of the Caped Crusader and his redemption from what seemed like a possible end of the road back in the 1960s and ‘70s. It tells the story leading up to Frank Miller’s two noteworthy contributions to Batman, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, as well as Year One’s obvious inspiration for Batman Begins, arguably the first Batman film that really captured the true essence of the comics.
The other featurette, “Conversations with DC Comics,” is a candid and informative discussion between longtime comic writer/editor Denny O’Neil, comic writer Scott Snyder, DC Comics publisher Dan DiDio, and Michael Uslan, a film and video producer who has had credits on a number of the Batman films. The discussions pretty much cover what the character means to each of them, and what it was that initially drew them into the universe as a whole, and the great generational gap between the men gives a real sense of evolutionary depth to the character and series as a whole, and benefits from it.
The film also features a Catwoman short, which while better than the live action film adaptation featuring the character, doesn’t really do much for me. Written by Dan DiDio, its clunky dialogue and approach to the story really won’t do much to change the general population’s opinion that many have of her as being one of the many ‘sex sells’ character archetypes that has plagued the industry for years. Ultimately, the story’s heart is in the right place, but its short run time works against it, making it much too quick to really expand on any necessities such as character development or plot, which might actually have made the storyline a bit more passable.
There’s also a pair of old Catwoman-related Batman cartoons included on the release, “Catwalk,” from Batman: The Animated Series, and “Cult of the Cat,” from The New Batman Adventures. Both of these episodes are great in their own right and help to prove how ahead of its time the cartoons were, but there is one small problem. Proving to be a bit of a trend with DC’s animated releases, neither of the episodes were given any sort of working over to make them look a little better in HD, which kind of sucks because of the generally dark color schemes of the cartoons. That being said, they’re still great episodes, but look about as good as if one were to try and watch standard broadcast television on an HD TV, which is to say grainy and more than a bit on the blurry side.
Other than that, there’s the usual commentary and trailers, and sneak peeks for the upcoming Justice League: Doom animated feature that’s set to release later this month, as well as the recently released All Star Superman and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, pretty much rounding out one of the best all-around packages that DC’s put together in quite some time. A fitting tribute, in my opinion, to one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.
For more info, dccomics.com
Pads & Panels received a copy of the Blu-Ray from the studio for review purposes.