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Batman – The Dark Knight Returns: Parts 1 And 2

Part 1: Warner Bros. Animation (2012), Warner Home Video (September 25, 2012), 1 Blu-ray + 1 DVD, 76 mins, 1.78:1 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $24.98

Part 2: Warner Bros. (2013), Warner Home Video (January 29, 2013), 1 Blu-ray + 1 DVD, 76 mins, 1.78:1 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $24.98

Storyboard:

Retirement has not been easy for Bruce Wayne. So, when the forces of evil become more evident in Gotham City than ever, he decides the time is right for Batman to return. Then, with the Dark Knight and his new Robin gaining attention, The Joker and the US government both take notice, leading the Caped Crusaders into battles with both the Clown Prince Of Crime and Superman.

The Sweatbox Review:

When Frank Miller wrote and drew Batman – The Dark Knight in 1986, it helped to provoke a massive change in comic books. Along with Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Watchmen, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, along with a few other works, The Dark Knight changed forever how comics were viewed in America. It wasn’t just a bit of strong language in the stories, either; it was the themes that were explored, and the sophistication of the storytelling that got loads of media attention at that time. Now, over two decades later, the comics industry has been transformed, for better or worse. While some artists learned the right lessons about the success of those landmark books, others chose to simply focus their efforts on portraying ever-stronger violence. Nevertheless, The Dark Knight earned its place in history on the strength of its story and art.

The Dark Knight tale was briefly adapted as segment in an episode of The New Batman Adventures (1998’s Legends Of The Dark Knight), but now the story has truly been done justice in a two-part movie from Warner Premiere as part of the DC Universe Animated Movies line (now nearing 20 releases, believe it or not). Familiar names highlight the producers’ list, including Michael Uslan, Brice Timm, and Alan Burnett; and the voice cast features Peter Weller as the past-his-prime Bruce Wayne. The result is a film that is as spot-on an adaptation as anyone could hope for, and one of the best of these DC animated movies.

Just as in the graphic novel, the movie first finds Bruce Wayne behind the driver’s sat of a race car, dangerously pushing the vehicle past its limits. It’s unclear whether he has a death wish or is simply looking to recapture the sense of thrill that being Batman brought. Wayne retired Batman ten years previous; the story slowly unfolds a back-story of a government crackdown on vigilantism and the giving in of most of the super heroes. It is evident that Wayne has remained restless ever since, and his desire to return to the cape and cowl only increases as he watches the world descend into darkness. The United States and Soviet Union are having a showdown over Corto Maltese, society’s values are shifting away from righteousness, and Gotham City is being taken over by a violent street gang called The Mutants. Meanwhile, Wayne’s old friend Harvey Dent is about to be released from Arkham, supposedly rehabilitated by a combination of Wayne’s sponsorship and the efforts of a plastic surgeon and an idealistic pop psychiatrist.

As Batman takes to the streets again, the reaction to his presence is depicted by ongoing media interjections that somehow seem to flow more naturally with the story here than they did in the comic, where they kept halting the action. (I’d half-hoped that the animation people would get rid of all the media spots, but they do a great job of integrating them.) The citizens of Gotham have decidedly mixed views, and television commentators argue over the merits of vigilantism. One man who is decidedly on Batman’s side is his old friend Commissioner Gordon, who recognizes that the legend of Batman may be the one force big enough to rid his city of The Mutants and the rising tide of lawlessness.

Just as each of the four issues of the original comic functioned as separate chapters of an ongoing story, the events in the movie unfold in nearly identical fashion. In Part One, Batman must defeat The Mutants and also foil the plans of Dent’s possibly re-emerging Two-Face persona. Part Two sees Wayne lose his greatest ally as Gordon retires, but he also makes increasingly good use of Carrie Kelly, the teenage girl who has taken it upon herself to become the new Robin.

The whole story has a brutal tone, but nothing creates terror like The Joker, who himself is inspired to come out of retirement, actually emerging from a catatonic state after Batman’s return is covered by the media. This leads to the ultimate showdown between the two lifelong foes, and a fresh excuse for new Police Commissioner Ellen Yindel to hunt Batman down. As if that doesn’t make things tough enough on Batman, there are increasing cries for the US government to do something about him, as they had outlawed heroes-behind- masks years ago. The President finally sends in his best man, a certain fellow from Krypton, the only super hero left who is sanctioned by the government. Superman gets sidetracked by the Corto Maltese showdown, which itself reaches catastrophic heights, before he comes to Gotham to take Batman down. Of course, Batman is prepared for anything.

This is an epic that goes beyond the high stakes involved. It’s easy to see, even now, how this story made such an impact years ago. Batman takes on a mythic presence in Gotham City, but at the same time is depicted as aging, struggling, and certainly past his prime. His battle against his own mortality, absolutely willing himself to overcome his failings to be the hero his city needs (sound familiar?), makes him all the more heroic. At the same time, his methods are certainly more forceful than ever. He never kills, but he certainly puts a lot of people in the hospital with serious injuries. This version of Batman is almost vicious, responding to the escalating viciousness of his foes.

My only reservations about the film come from the source material, which is faithfully adapted. While I can buy into a version of an aging Batman who goes to more violent means to engage his adversaries, I have never cared for the depiction of Superman as a government stooge. Speaking of the government, having a president who is clearly Ronald Reagan always threatened to date this story, and that’s true now more than ever. (At least they re-named the talk show’s second banana, to take David Endochrine a step away from being David Letterman, although that is ironically less anachronistic than the Reagan casting.)

Thank goodness that Warner saw fit to do this right, allowing the producers to create a 152-minute animated epic (over two seperate releases) that loses practically none of the punch of the original story. It’s difficult to think of anything significant that they missed, and they beautifully recreated almost all of my favourite moments from the book. One is always leery of the classics being adapted, but you can’t object when it’s done this well.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Part One
The first Blu-ray starts up with spots for H+: The Digital Series and DC Comics DVDs. Other Trailers, to be found from the menu, include those for the DCU Application, Thundercats, The Dark Knight Rises, and the comic book series-of-miniseries Before Watchmen. You can also watch a Sneak Peek For Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 2 (6:53).

Her Name Is Carrie… Her Role Is Robin (12:23) is a featurette that explores what it meant to introduce the first female Robin to the world in 1986, and how she actually carries on a legacy of other Bat-women. Such comics people as Grant Morrison pontificate on this, as well as those associated with the movie version. Another Blu-ray exclusive is the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Digital Comic, which really just gives a small taste of the source material. I recommend you buy the whole book.

Batman And Me: The Bob Kane Story (38:26) has been seen on disc before, but for those who don’t already have it, it’s a fine introduction to the legacy of Batman’s (co-)creator. The Bonus Cartoons chosen for this disc come from the Two-Face two-parter from Batman: The Animated Series.

(Note that the DVD included in the Combo Pack has only the Sneak Peek for Part 2, plus one for Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, along with a few trailers. It does not have the other bonuses.)

Part Two
The second BD starts up with the trailer for Man Of Steel, but it’s only the brief teaser. Lego Batman 2 also gets plugged. Menu-based trailers include those for Part 1 and The Hobbit. A Preview for Superman: Unbound, the next of the DCU animated movies, is also available.

The Blu-ray has another Digital Comic sampler from Miller’s graphic novel. Again, stick with the complete book.

Superman Vs. Batman: When Heroes Collide (9:24) has screenwriter Bob Goodman, numerous comic folk, and a PhD discuss the two characters and their history of conflict and friendship.

Some of the same guys talk about Batman’s greatest foe in The Joker: Laughing In The Face Of Death (14:05). How wonderful it was to see that they also got an interview with Joker co-creator Jerry Robinson before he passed away.

From Sketch To Screen: Exploring The Adaptation Process With Jay Oliva (43:30) comes off as an aborted audio commentary, but that’s fine. Scenes of Oliva at a microphone are interspersed with pre-production artwork, as he discusses adapting the Miller story to film. This is by far the best feature on the two discs.

The 3 Bonus Cartoons on this disc are the episodes The Last Laugh and The Man Who Killed Batman from Batman: TAS, and Battle Of The Super Heroes! from Batman: The Brave And The Bold.

The DVD that goes with the Combo Pack for Part 2 only includes Sneak Peeks for Part 1, the peek at Superman Unbound, plus the trailer for The Hobbit, as well as various DC Comics-related promos.

Case Study:

Each of these releases comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, with a disc on either side. The slipcovers are nicely embossed, with stunning painted images. I approve of Part 1’s image, whose lightning strike at least brings to mind Miller’s iconic cover to his first issue in 1986; but Part 2’s painting is way too generic, and suggests nothing that separates this movie from being anything other than just another Batman story.

The second disc in each set is a DVD that contains the movie in standard definition, plus a digital copy, whose code is on an insert in the case. The cover slip for Part 2 also has a coupon stuck on to save $5 off the price of both parts if bought at the same time.

Ink And Paint:

The picture naturally is crafted to fill a 16:9 TV set. I actually just upgraded to a projector this week, with a 92” screen, and I can say with confidence that the video for these films is wonderfully handled. What a joy to enjoy this epic on a big screen! Even with a nearly 8-foot screen, I noticed no flaws in the presentation. The picture is stable, with no banding or aliasing, and of course there is no reason for any physical artifacts to show in what is undoubtedly a direct digital transfer.

Scratch Tracks:

Warner has been hit-or-miss in terms of providing lossless audio on their DC animated movies, but they come through here with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Unfortunately, while it provides plenty of beautiful bass, the action was oddly front-centered. I would have loved to have heard more music (and effects) out of my rear speakers, as I really enjoyed Christopher Drake’s pulsing soundtrack. Still, it’s pretty good audio all-around, with a forcefulness that suits the material. I just would have liked more of my speakers to have gotten the chance to perform.

There are also subtitles in English, French, German, and both brands of Spanish, with Dolby Digital audio in the same non-English languages. (The DVDs included in the Combo Packs have additional language choices.)

Final Cut:

Watching the movie adaptation brought home, even more than my recent re-reading of the graphic novel, just how much the Christopher Nolan Batman films were inspired by The Dark Knight, particularly his closer, The Dark Knight Rises. I have to say, however, that the Miller classic and its animated adaptation trump Nolan’s overblown and poorly plotted denouement to his otherwise fine trilogy.

This two-part animated movie captures the brutal elegance of Miller’s iconic story, even if it only occasionally truly evokes his artwork (which was aided in the comic, I should add, by inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley). This is a story for the ages, that rare classic that has never lost its stature as not only a trendsetter but also a masterpiece in its own right. The second part gets the majority of the worthwhile bonus material, but considered as a package, this is simply a great set of discs from Warner. This one will be hard to top.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


MAIN FEATURE
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OVERALL DVD


MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
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OVERALL DVD


 

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