Batman: Year One
- Street Date:
- October 18th, 2011
- Reviewed by:
- Tom Landy
- Review Date: 1
- January 5th, 2012
- Movie Release Year:
- Warner Brothers
- 63 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated PG-13
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
By the mid-eighties, Frank Miller had already carved out quite a name for himself after single-handedly resuscitating Marvel's Daredevil from his deathbed, but it wasn't until 1986 that he really shook up the comic book industry when he went over to DC Comics to give another vigilante a gritty makeover with his trademark noir-ish style. The result was the highly-acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns -- a brave, bold tale set in a dystopian future that sees a fifty-something Batman coming out of retirement to lead one last ultra-violent crusade against crime.
A year later, Miller would join forces with artist David Mazzucchelli to tackle Batman's beginnings, stripping it down to its core elements and creating what many hail to be his greatest masterpiece of all-time. Originally appearing in Batman issues #404 to 407 and reprinted in numerous trade paperbacks and hardcovers (including The Complete Frank Miller Batman), Batman: Year One is the driving force behind Bruce Timm's award-winning 'Batman: The Animated Series,' Tim Burton's and Christopher Nolan's live-action films, and Warner's 12th DC Universe Original Animated Movie released directly on home video.
The tale opens with Bruce Wayne (voiced by Ben McKenzie of TV's 'Southland') returning home from abroad after spending the last twelve years of his life secretly preparing to avenge his parents' murder. Meanwhile, Chicago cop Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston, 'Breaking Bad') faces his own set of challenges when he transfers to Gotham only to find a city plagued by crime and corruption. As Gordon struggles with the darkness looming all around him, a mysterious figure will rise from the shadows and launch his reign of terror on the streets. When the lives of both men converge, a mutual respect for each other will eventually lead to a rather unique partnership -- one that will be instrumental in bringing order to a city lost in chaos.
'Batman: Year One' is dark, dreary, and arguably the best DCU animated movie yet. This time, producer Bruce Timm and his team wisely stick firmly to the source material, so much so that the only real consequence is a shorter runtime at just over an hour. The narrative is broken down into a series of key events, and the fragmented structure works in favor of addressing the pacing issues many of these movies seem to have. The action sequences flow with the story rather than overwhelm it, and none of them seem out of place or thrown in as filler. Most importantly, although Miller's story doesn't change much in terms of Batman's origin, it's the focus on Gordon's parallel arc (this is in fact his story just as much as it is Wayne's after all) that really gives 'Batman: Year One' depth and substance.
The animation design also does a great job retaining the grit and gloom of Mazzucchelli's original artwork, while a mostly solid voice cast helps bring the major players in the story to life. McKenzie is rather stiff in his animation debut as Bruce Wayne, especially during his voiceover narration in the opening scenes, but on a positive note he does seem to ease into the role a bit better as the movie progresses. Picking up the majority of the slack, though, is Cranston, who apparently turned down the role initially and changed his mind after being exposed to the quality level of Miller's storytelling. Although Cranston's part isn't very demanding, his contribution is so natural and spot on that he's hands-down the star of the show. The rest of the cast includes character actor Alex Rocco bringing a heap of mafioso flair to mob boss Carmine Falcone, Katee Sackoff ('Battlestar Galactica') as Detective Sarah Essen, and Eliza Dushku ('Dollhouse') lending a sultry voice to Selina Kyle -- better known as Catwoman. Dushku has a lot of fun here, and if you thought the vixen villainess was heavy into S&M before, just wait until get a load of her profession (hint: "world's oldest") in Miller's universe.
With the questionable performance of McKenzie aside, 'Batman: Year One' is a smart and faithful production that gets a lot more right than most of its animated direct-to-video brethren, making it a worthy addition to any Batman fan's collection. Let's hope that Frank Miller's 'The Dark Knight Returns' -- which supposedly is in the works for a late 2012 release by the way, is just as enjoyable and engaging.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Batman: Year One' arrives on a region free BD-50 Blu-ray alongside a second disc with a DVD/Digital Copy housed inside a standard blue keepcase. My screener also included a slick foil-embossed slipcover. There are pre-menu advertisements for 'Smallville: The Complete Series' on DVD as well as 'Green Lantern: The Animated Series' and a teen action show 'Aim High.' There is also an exclusive edition at Best Buy that includes a Catwoman figurine. A bit of an odd choice, but I guess Warner figured she'd sell better than Jim Gordon.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Batman: Year One' features a crisp 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 high-definition image (framed in 1.78:1 aspect ratio) that has a few minor nitpicks, but is otherwise a terrific looking presentation.
The original graphic novel consisted mainly of dark blues, drab browns, and endless blacks, and the animated adaptation replicates the muted tone rather well. The brightest and most colorful setting takes place in Gotham's East End, as the glowing neon signs from the tight-knit cluster of bars and strip clubs casts a murky purple haze over the slums. Computer animation is used sparingly and adds bit of a depth, while backgrounds have a considerable amount of texture and fine detail to them. The somber, snow-covered landscape of the Wayne family graveside in particular is very pleasing to the eye.
Banding and aliasing do show up in the movie, but both aren't as intrusive as on some of the other DTV animated features. The line art is generally sharp and smooth as well, having only a few brief moments of noticeable stepping. Blocking and artifacting are also kept to a minimum and noise is practically a non-issue. Ultimately, even though the picture certainly has room for improvement, this is still a quality transfer that should satisfy most viewers.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The default DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack included on 'Batman: Year One' is even better and easily ranks among Warner Animation's finer efforts.
Dialogue is presented cleanly and concisely through the front channels of the mix. Surrounds provide subtle ambience in the quieter scenes and deliver the goods in the action sequences. Panning effects such as barreling subways and speeding police cars seamlessly transition from one speaker to the next, while the screeches and flapping wings of thousands of bats fill every nook and cranny of the soundstage. A strong LFE presence enhances the power of gunshots and also boosts the intensity of the handful of explosions. The tension and excitement is ramped up further thanks to the pulse-pounding beats of Christopher Drake's impressive score.
The Blu-ray also includes additional Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in French, German, and Spanish, as well as optional English SDH, French, German SDH, and Spanish SDH subtitles.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The Blu-ray release of 'Batman: Year One' includes all of the supplements found on the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD. Most of the content here is presented in high-definition.
- DC Showcase: Catwoman (HD, 15 minutes) -- Back by popular demand, the DC Showcase series of animated shorts that mysteriously went MIA on the last two releases returns with this action-packed adventure written by Paul Dini. The tale has the feline femme fatale (reprised by Eliza Dushku) hunting down a criminal brute known as Rough Cut. At least I think that was the dude's name. Catwoman's S&M-style striptease kinda makes one forget such details. Anyway, if you have young children, this feature is probably not for them.
- Conversations with DC Comics (HD, 40 minutes) -- Batman producer Michael Uslan leads an informative roundtable-type chat about all things Batman with former DC writer/editor Denny O'Neil, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio and writer Scott Snyder. The quartet of comic book personalities share interesting anecdotes from their careers and discuss in great detail how Frank Miller's work has been so influential on others. Although the conversation itself is terrific for fans of comics, someone made the poor decision to include background music which gets old after a while and unfortunately diminishes the overall enjoyment of the feature a little.
- Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to His Roots (HD, 23 minutes) -- This featurette is even better, as Denny O'Neil, Dan DiDio, and a host of others present a fascinating examination of the caped crusader's history and evolution over the years since Bob Kane created the character in 1939.
- Sneak Peek at 'Justice League: Doom' (HD, 11 minutes) – A behind-the-scenes featurette for the upcoming DC Universe animated original movie that is based on 'The Justice League of America: Tower of Babel' storyline where Batman's contingency plan for taking down a rogue Justice League falls into the wrong hands. From what was shown it looks promising, especially with fan favorites Tim Daly (Superman), Kevin Conroy (Batman), and Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern) all returning for this project. Similar to prior sneak peeks found on DCU releases, the piece includes interviews with cast and crew, preliminary artwork, and other teasers for the new animated film.
- Sneak Peek at 'Green Lantern: Emerald Knights' (HD, 11 minutes) – A similar look at the animated anthology 'Green Lantern: Emerald Knights' now available on home video.
- Sneak Peek at 'All-Star Superman' (HD, 11 minutes) -- Another sneak peek this time for the previously released 'All-Star Superman' animated feature.
- Bruce Timm's Top Picks (SD, 45 minutes) – A purr-fect pair of bonus episodes ("Catwalk" from 'Batman: The Animated Series' and "Cult of the Cat" from 'The New Batman Adventures') personally selected for this release by Bruce Timm.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
This combo pack also comes with a few additional items that aren't included on the standard-definition versions. Therefore, the Blu-ray is definitely the definitive edition to owm for Batman fans.
- Audio Commentary – The main HD exclusive is a commentary track with co-producer Alan Burnett, co-director Sam Liu, DC Entertainment creative director Mike Carlin, and voice director Andrea Romano. This engaging discussion covers a variety of topics including (but not limited to): production elements, the animation, voice casting, and of course Frank Miller's original source material and how influential it has become over the years. While it's a solid track for sure, it still would have been nice if Miller was involved to share his thoughts about this adaptation of his work.
- Batman Virtual Comic (HD) – The first chapter of the original Miller/Mazzucchelli "Batman: Year One" is included in digital comic book form.
- DVD/Digital Copy – Finally, this edition comes with a standard-definition disc as well as a digital copy that may be only available for a limited time.
'Batman: Year One' is a taut, gritty, and extremely faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's groundbreaking masterpiece. Even twenty-five years later, this origin tale is still considered by many to be the greatest Batman story ever told. Warner's Blu-ray has solid video, an impressive lossless soundtrack, and a nice spread of supplemental features including a few high-def exclusives, making this release an easy recommendation for both Batman and animation fans alike.
- BD-50 Blu-ray Disc
- Region Free
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English SDH, French, Spanish SDH, German SDH
- Sneak Peek at Justice League: Doom, the next DC Universe Animated Original Movie
- DC Showcase Animated Original Short - "Catwoman"
- Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to His Roots
- Conversations with DC Comics
- Two bonus episodes from Batman: The Animated Series, handpicked by Bruce W. Timm
Exclusive HD Content
- Audio Commentary with Alan Burnett, Sam Liu, Mike Carlin and Andrea Romano
- "Batman: Year One, Chapter 1" Digital Comic Book
- DVD/Digital Copy
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