Saturday, 6 October 2012

Guest Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 [Blu-ray]

By Munir Abedrabbo


DC Entertainment has found a great niche in the home video market by producing animated films featuring their most famous and beloved characters. While their output has been hit (Batman: Under the Red Hood, Justice League: Doom) and miss (Batman: Year One), there is no denying that even their most uneven productions has something to offer to comic book, animation and film fans. This is a great way to see our favorite superheroes in new adventures or in adaptations of beloved graphic novels.

Batman is by far the most popular superhero of their annual output and of course DC and Bruce Timm’s team are always looking for ways to bring the caped crusader into new adventures. His latest is none other than an adaptation of Frank Miller’s iconic novel The Dark Knight Returns. For many comic book fans this is the holy grail of all graphic novels and the level of anticipation and apprehension for this film has been tremendous.

Having read and loved Miller’s novel, I wasn’t sure if this movie would do it justice (after all, Year One which was also adapted from a classic graphic novel, was a very uneven and ultimately disappointing experience) but I was impressed on what was produced for the screen by Timm and his group of animators. The film, while not as profound as the source material, successfully captures the mood, the characters and the action of Miller’s world in a mostly extraordinary way.

Batman has been gone for ten years. Gotham has succumbed to crime, and fear is the prevalent feeling of the entire population. An old Bruce Wayne has been living in the shadows with soon-to-be-retired Commissioner James Gordon and loyal butler Alfred as his only companions. His life has become dull and completely emotionless.  But, when a new gang called the Mutants and his barbaric leader start terrorizing Gotham and a supposedly reformed Harvey Dent returns to his old dark ways, Bruce brings Batman back to restore the order by any means necessary. In the process he will inspire a girl named Carrie who will become the new Robin.

The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 provides top-notch entertainment while remaining faithful to the original source. The movie shows us an older, darker Batman who has become completely disenchanted with what’s happening to his city. His view of the world is much darker and more pessimistic than in previous incarnations. This makes him a more ruthless vigilante than he was in his younger days.

Aside from presenting a more complex main character, the movie also provides spectacular action sequences and more violent battles than ever before. This movie may be animated but it’s not suitable for children.  The battles are extreme and the film does not shy away from blood and brutality.

The music, composed by DC regular Christopher Drake, is his best to date with a mixture of the 80s with a more modern approach that complements the movie very well. It’s even worth it listening to on its own.

A point of controversy with many fans has been the voice casting for the movie. Many have criticized Peter Weller as Batman. They claim his voice lacks an emotional angle and that he does not deliver the lines as strong as they should. While I consider Kevin Conroy the definitive Batman, I think Weller did a pretty good job and his deep voice gave the character a much more powerful presence. Ariel Winter is perfect as the enthusiastic Carrie and David Selby, while weak sometimes, is an adequate Gordon.

If I have one gripe with the film, it would be its brief runtime and how this makes some elements, that in the novel are important and resonant, feel rushed. One clear example is the Batman and Harvey Dent battle. In the novel, you can see Dent’s tragedy and feel Batman’s pain, as he is unable to help him. In the movie this is hinted at, but it never achieves the resonance that the novel conveys. However, I think the filmmakers were wise to divide the movie in two parts because, even with a brief runtime, there are many things that have time to breath and more time to create well-defined characters. The first part of the film adapts the first two books while Part 2 will adapt the last two (which are more action-packed and intense in every way).

Flaws and all, TDKR, Part 1 is a great film that offers quality entertainment and lays a strong foundation for what will be an epic conclusion. A lot of things are done right and this is definitely one of the best DC animated films to date.

Video & Audio

TDKR is a great looking BD. Detail and contrast are strong and colors are very well reproduced. There are no any annoying artifacts and, aside from some banding and mild noise from time to time, this one looks excellent.

Sound also comes in excellent fashion with a stable and clear 5.1 DTS-HD MA track. Directionality is very good, dialogue always comes strong and there are no artifacts or hiss to be heard.

The first image from The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2. Via Batman-News.

Bonus Material

Unfortunately, this is the most disappointing part of the release. You would expect that a film of this caliber would have tons of bonus material like making-of documentaries, audio commentaries, galleries and more. Instead, we get very short featurettes that, while informative, are not enough to satisfy any viewer.  Here’s the list of what’s included:
  • “Her name is Carrie… Her Role is Robin” is a featurette featuring analyzing the importance of Carrie and how it changed a lot of pre-conceived notions by becoming the first female Robin. It’s an informative and entertaining piece and shouldn’t be missed (12 minutes, HD).
  • “Batman and Me: A Devotion to Destiny, The Bob Kane Story” is the longest and best piece of the bonus features. Produced in 2008, it takes a look at the man behind the caped crusader with many friends, colleagues and archival interviews that provide an enriching view of the man behind Batman. It’s a must-see (38 minutes, SD).
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 Sneak Preview” is an exciting look at the concluding part of this epic movie. Using unfinished animation and interviews with cast and crew, this piece will make all fans anxious for its release. Coming in Winter 2013 (7 minutes, HD).
  • Batman: The Animated Series Episodes – Two Face part 1 & 2 are two excellent episodes of the classic animated series which I hope will soon find its way to BD (46 minutes, SD).
  •  The Dark Knight Returns Digital Comic” a very useless piece as it only features four pages of the iconic novel (HD).
  • Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Sneak Preview” is a promotional piece for an already released DC movie (8 minutes, SD).

Hopefully Part 2 will have more bonus material that will delve into the production of both films.

A DVD of the film is also included and an UltraViolet code to stream the film directly to your computer and other devices is also offered.

Closing Thoughts

The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 is an excellent and compelling adaptation of Miller’s classic novel. Not everything has been translated to the screen and its brief runtime sometimes isn’t beneficial to the story. But as a whole, the movie succeeds in bringing high quality entertainment while making everyone excited for the action-packed conclusion. The BD features near perfect video and audio, but disappoints in terms of bonus material. Anyhow, the whole set comes highly recommended and is a must buy for Batman, comic book and animation fans, who won’t be disappointed.

Technical Specs

Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
German: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH

25GB Blu-ray Disc
DVD copy
UV Digital Copy

Region Free

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Thanks to Munir for this great review, we look forward to sharing future reviews of his with you. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and thanks, as always, for visiting A113Animation!

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