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Feature


The third animated feature released under the new line of DC straight-to-DVD movies, is Batman: Gotham Knight. Split into six individual short stories, some of the leading names in comic book superhero writing have teamed up with the giants of Japanese animation and brought us a visual spectacular in the world of Batman. Set somewhere between the end of Batman Begins and the forthcoming The Dark Knight movie, Gotham Knight takes a look at Gotham city and how Batman has affected it, as well as a few stories that focus on the Bat himself.

Batman Gotham Knight
Having been a huge fan of most of the DC animated projects over the years and an even bigger fan of the character of Batman for what seems like my entire life, I couldn’t wait to get my bat-mits on this little baby. The trailers and mini documentaries featured on previous DC animated features have been whetting my appetite for months and with Bat Fever at an all time high, what with The Dark Knight literally just around the corner, this was the perfect time to drop not only a Batman animated title on me, but a Batman animated title featuring the talents of some of the very best animators in the known universe. From the very first chapter, we see that the Japanese animators have been allowed to do what they do best with this. Oh, and just when you thought this was already a winner, Kevin Conroy, the one true voice of Batman is back for the project as well. Frankly I’m surprised I could wait as long as I have for this release. So, now I’ve seen it, how did it fare?

The first chapter, entitled, ‘Have I Got a Story for You’, is written by Academy Award nominatee, Josh Olson ( A History of Violence). It centres on a group of skater-kids who recount stories about their encounters with Batman and more so, their impression of him. This has been done before by the DC animation team within the episode, Legends of the Dark Knight, which features in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s (and incidentally is one of the extra features on this Blu-ray, so be sure to check it out). While this take on the idea isn’t as steeped in bat-history as the previous was, ‘Have I Got a Story for You’, is still a fantastic way of getting across how many different ways Batman could be perceived. Is he a demon shadow? A robot war machine? A man bat? It’s all laid out through the eyes of these children and when the real Batman turns up and rounds up the story beautifully, you get that sensation that this entire project could be something special.

Batman Gotham Knight
In Chapter two, entitled, ‘Crossfire’, written by Greg Rucka, two police officers from Lt. Gordon’s personally selected police unit, are escorting a prisoner to the new Arkham Asylum that seems to be the entire island which got cut off in Batman Begins. This once again focuses on the points of view on this new Batman who’s changed Gotham around. One cop defending him, the other accusing him of ‘just being a vigilante’. This leads up to a pretty spectacular show of Batman’s presence in a big ole’ gunfight that the cops get caught in the middle of.

Next up, is ‘Field Test’, by Jordan Goldberg, centred on Bruce Wayne—but a take on Bruce Wayne that has no real visual connection to any image I’ve seen before. His long hair and hip sunglasses just don’t sell Bruce at all and I found this version on Batman far too gadgety for its own good. It’s essentially about Bruce testing out some weapons that Lucius Fox has put together for him and learning a valuable lesson about controlling who gets hurt in his own personal crusade. It just comes off a little flat and despite one bit of fantastic dialogue from Conroy, it just didn’t do anything for me.

In Darkness Dwells, the Batman Begins co-screenwriter David Goyer takes Batman after Killer Croc and the Scarecrow, deep down in the sewers of Gotham. Now this one really pushes the visuals. The spanning shots of Gotham are fantastic and the deep shadowed character designs look great against the bright lights in the backgrounds. The image is intentionally grainy and distorted which creates quite a unique feel.  In fact, the Blu-ray picture almost seems to have the texture of a comic book in places and it was very impressive. This one is much more typical Batman. Action driven, loud and well put together, but I gotta admit, at this stage the short story feel to this whole affair was beginning to wear a little thin.

Batman Gotham Knight
In the penultimate chapter, ‘Working Through Pain’, Brian Azzarello goes for two time-frames. One showing Batman in a lot of pain, the other showing how an Indian woman showed him how to control and block out his pain. I really loved the artwork in this one, it was a little less flashy and the simple design of Batman was refreshing after the more extreme re-designs in previous chapters. The story is a simple one that could have been an element of a much larger story, it felt rounded and complete and a worthy edition to the Batman mythology.

So all that’s left is the final chapter, the Alan Burnet written ‘Deadshot’. Now this one was classic Batman Animated Series storytelling. A well set up villain, Batman tracking him down and an incredibly well orchestrated face-off aboard a moving train. This is Batman working on all of his strengths, the design is perfect, Conroy’s voice is used to fantastic effect and the overall style of it was very fitting in the Batman world, considering quite how classically anime it all is. Even the Bruce Wayne elements, which I consider quite weak in the majority of these shorts, are bang on the money in this one. I couldn’t help but walk away, wishing the entire seventy-six minutes of this Manga-fied project, was like this final chapter.

Video


I adore 2D animation, always have, always will, and in HD it’s astounding. I know a lot of people think that the new generation of 3D CGI animation is what HD was made for, but Gotham Knight more than proves that whacked-out theory wrong. Colours are solid, movement is smooth and everything just looks so clean. Now that might not be a good thing for regular TV animation, but when artwork this beautiful is able to look this good, it more than deserves the hype. Presented in 1080p the 1:85:1 ratio, Gotham has never looked so alive. From the opening chapter, the computer aided depth in the shot just blows you away and with those fantastic character designs moving around the bright, super sharp picture, you suddenly realise that a new standard has been set in DC’s animation range.

Batman Gotham Knight

Audio


The Dolby Digital 5.1 works very well, though it’s very much dialogue in the front, music in the back and rarely do they interact. The score is solid and powerful and the sound effects effective. I wouldn’t say there was anything that was particularly memorable on the sound front but it was obviously very thought-out by the production team and helps make these chapters work on both a Batman and anime basis.

Extras


As seems to be the case with all of these DC Universe animated titles, the features are a fantastic companion piece to the movie. With the Death of Superman, they turned an extremely flawed movie into a must-have purchase, as they took the time in the documentaries to give you a solid history of the comic events and provided one of the most rewarding set of features of the year. New Frontier also provided some insightful and detailed extras that sat snugly next to the much loved main feature. Gotham Knight, thankfully delivers the same amount of love and attention, though surprisingly, not really anything outside of the commentary that delves into the process of the actual movie.

The commentary, featuring DC Comics Senior Vice President Gregory Noveck, former Batman editor Dennis O’Neil and the voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy, is okay. They all give their opinions of the segments and you get some valuable insight from everyone involved. It’s all very laid back, and I’m not sure the more casual fans will really get much out of it, but for me seventy odd minutes watching a Batman movie with a group of people talking about Batman was a pretty solid way to spend my time. It wasn’t the best commentary I’ve ever heard, but there was plenty in there to make it worthwhile, plus, it’s the only way you’re gonna get any sort of information on the making of this unique project.

Batman Gotham Knight
First up there’s a great ‘Mirror of the Bat: The Evil Denizens of Gotham City’ (35:47) featurette focusing on Batman’s key villains, exploring how each of these characters relate to Batman and the roles they play in his crusade. The much respected DC writers and comic-world people are rich in detail and opinion. This is not a simple puff piece rolling down the roll call of villains, this really explores the view points of the people that have been involved with developing them over the years with plenty of Batman artwork to makes it visually interesting.

Then there’s the fantastic documentary about Batman creator, ‘Batman and Me, A Devotion of Destiny: The Bob Kane Story’ (38:25). This is an insightful and touching look at his life and how the man that created one of the most well-known characters in history lived his life. It’s packed full of photos, old TV interviews, radio interviews and personal accounts from friends and fans alike, including the always charming Stan Lee and the always great Mark Hamill. This was a joy to watch, not only was it done with a lot of love, but it was brilliant to see that a man whose creation has bought so much to so many people, lived a happy life and more so, was happy with what he’d done. So many of these stories end with people getting bitter over how their character had been abused or how they’d been screwed over and lived a terrible life, but Bob Kane embraced all there was about Batman and used the character’s fame to his advantage. Two things really stuck out for me here: first, the tale from Kane’s widow about his reaction to the queues for Burton’s [/i]Batman[/i] movie and second, a blinding photo of Keaton in full Bat-suit shaking hands with Kane, both with huge smiles on their faces. A thoroughly enjoyable documentary that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Batman Gotham Knight
As a nice addition are four Batman animated episodes (‘Heart of Ice’, ‘I am the Night’, ‘Legends of the Dark Knight’ and ‘Over the Edge’), selected by Bruce Timm. I’m a huge fan of the Batman Animated Series and it was nice to re-watch these episodes slightly up-scaled. They are presented in 4:3 standard definition and obviously haven’t been cleaned up, but it’s probably the best they’ve looked and each episode just made me wants to re-watch the old box-sets again.

Last on the list (which sadly isn’t The Dark Knight trailer in a full HD presentation (shame on you Warner Bros, you missed an obvious inclusion there) is Wonder Woman Sneak Peak (10:29). Here, you get a lot from the cast (Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina and Rosario Dawson no less) and crew, about what to expect, inter-cut with animated sketches, rather than a clear look of what the movie is going be like. I for one am very keen on seeing what they do with the much under-appreciated Wonder Woman. She’s a fantastic character who really began to shine in the Justice League Unlimited animated series and with everything I saw in this little presentation I am more than looking forward to it in Spring 2009.

Batman Gotham Knight

Overall


Batman: Gotham Knight shares a lot in common with The Animatrix. Both expand upon the main movie’s premise laid out before it and both use an exciting medium with which to do it. As with The Animatrix, some threads work better than others, but unlike The Animatrix, Gotham Knight in many ways, boxes itself in. For all the talk of broadening Batman’s horizons, this feels tied down, by being the joining volume between a two-movie set. Making it in any way connected to the all new Batman movie franchise must have limited the makers so damn much and frankly, it shows. For a start they barely get to tap the well of all that is great in the Batman franchise. A glimpse of Killer Croc and a nod at the Scarecrow is not enough. I wanted these artists to be unleashed on the entire Batman world.

As with most short story movies, not one segment has the ability to breathe within the structure. Each one focuses on a very small element, and frankly not one of them is an element that is all that interesting really. There’s nothing here that that really captured what I hoped this project would be, and despite having some fantastic visuals and admittedly some fantastic little moments, this just fell a little short for me.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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