I would never pretend to be a comic book aficionado. I never really spent time reading them as a kid. It's something I regret, but at the time I just wasn't interested in them. So, when I set about reviewing 'Batman Under the Red Hood,' the new direct-to-video title from the DC Universe and Warner Premiere I did a little research. This particular story begins with a scene from the popular, but controversial comic book Batman storyline "Death in the Family," in which we witness a deranged Joker beating a tied up Robin savagely with a crowbar. This is the first time you're really in store for a very PG-13 rated experience. This isn't for small children, that's for sure.
Flash forward, Gotham's criminals are being terrorized by a newcomer who calls himself The Red Hood. The scum of Gotham are given a choice by The Red Hood. Either pay him forty percent for protection… or die. The Black Mask on the other hand, is irate that someone is moving in on his organized crime enterprise. The Black Mask is another of the many reasons not to show this to young children, even if they're diehard Batman fans. It sure caught me by surprise, and I knew it was PG-13.
The artistic choices here resemble those of 'Batman the Animated Series.' Sharp angles dominate the picture, with Bruce Wayne's square jaw as one of the defining characteristics. The city is still very dark and brooding, and Gotham seems to be the only city in the world to still require the use of zeppelins.
Batman is faced with putting an end to this gang war because of his higher morals he's always lived by. As a kid I loved watching 'Batman the Animated Series.' I remember asking my dad why Batman never killed anyone, even people he really hated like the Joker. My dad responded, "Because Batman is better than them. He doesn't need to kill." The Red Hood on the other hand has no qualms about shooting people, which he does frequently during the movie. Batman on the other hand struggles with his inner demons of killing versus, putting in jail. I'm sure it must be a difficult situation, seeing as most of the people he puts away escape later on down the road in order to provide more storylines. A never ending cycle.
'Batman Under the Red Hood' is a gritty, adult-oriented feature film that covers a lot of ground in the Batman universe. We're introduced to numerous villains, and even get a glimpse of Nightwing (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris). Action it seems is non-stop here. Explosion after explosion, chase scene after chase scene. If I were to pick one fault of the movie it's that it tries to fit too much action in its miniscule runtime of 75 mintues. Even then we're still able to travel around in Bruce Wayne's mind as he reflects on his life and the choices that he made to get himself here. Were they good choices? He feels remorse for putting young Jason Todd (the second Robin) in such circumstances that he was captured by the Joker and tortured.
Batman has always lived in a sort of gray area of moral haziness. Being a vigilante is, afterall, against the law, but here he's confronted with his past, which will directly affect his future and the future of Gotham. 'Batman Under the Red Hood' is a thought-provoking entry in the Batman franchise. Hopefully there are more installments like this to follow.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
First thing to note is that this comes with a beautiful slip cover with some great looking artwork. If it weren't for the buggy 'Jonah Hex' advertisement for the short that's contained in the special features, this would be one of the best looking slip covers for anyone collecting them.
'Batman Under the Red Hood' is packed onto a 25GB disc, which may not be enough room for this film. Sure it's 75 minutes long, but after packing in everything from special features to the movie, this may be hindering the overall look of the film (see the banding issue in the video section).
Curiously, in the menu, a scene selection menu is nowhere to be found.
'Batman Under the Red Hood' comes to Blu-ray with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer which really pops, but it has one dreadful underlying flaw that keeps it from greatness. Let's talk about everything this transfer does right first. The colors of the detailed animation really come to life. From the deep blacks to the crimson red of the Red Hood's hood, the animation looks brilliant in high definition. Edges and lines are clean and striking. Everything up until this point is a top-notch transfer.
Now the bad. Banding is a persistent annoyance throughout the film. The opening title sequence is a non-stop banding party. The heavy banding becomes distracting at times, which may be caused from compressing everything onto a 25GB Blu-ray disc. There are other artifacts as well, like aliasing, which pops up every now and then, but not as frequently as that banding!
Boom! Pow! Bang! Explosion after explosion lends itself to a action heavy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix.
The LFE gets a great workout here. I'm not sure there's a scene without some sort of bass thumping from the sub. There are so many explosions, I lost count, and the LFE produces life-like rumbling booms with the best of them. Panning effects work out great too. Take for example Batman's airplane which zooms from one side of the screen to the other leaving a WHOOSH! sound in its wake. Other than panning effects though, the surround channels are oddly silent, with much of the focus up in the front. Dialogue is clearly defined, giving a great platform for some of the superb voice acting.
Surprisingly the special features for this disc are nothing to balk at. Some real depth and thought went into these. Plus, we're provided with some great looking episodes from The Animated Series that were greatly appreciated by this viewer.
'Batman Under the Red Hood,' is an animated Batman story for adults. It's gritty, and delves into the deep emotional histories of Batman and Robin. It takes pieces of Batman storylines from all over and compiles them into a thrilling 75 minutes. It's too bad the video was so problematic. The sound presentation rocks for the most part. The special features are perhaps the nicest surprise, giving us a wide array of Batman universe information and even a few episodes from the beloved 'Batman the Animated Series.' Overall, even with the suspect video presentation, this is recommended.