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Series


Seth Green and Matthew Senreich’s Robot Chicken stop-motion sketch show seems to have run its course as a standalone series, despite the fact that it continues to air new episode on the Adult Swim network. The original concept revolved around a pop culture melting pot, where no specific nostalgia-laced geek property getting more attention than another. Popular superheroes and Star Trek characters regularly stood shoulder to shoulder with bygone obscurities like M.A.S.K. and Monchichi. Unfortunately, even at its best, Robot Chicken is a hit-and-miss affair and the skits based on the less well-known properties were more often shuffled into the ‘miss’ category. As a result, the most consistent Robot Chicken collections are designed to reference to a specific franchise. Star Wars in particular. Following the success of three Star Wars Specials (the last of which wasn’t too great), the Robot Chicken crew was asked to make a special episode revolving around DC Comics characters, mostly because parent company Warner Bros. owns DC and began an active push on Adult Swim’s parent company Cartoon Network (a push that included two shows, Green Lantern and Young Justice, being canceled just when they were getting good).

Robot Chicken DC Comics Special
The series had already spent plenty of time lampooning DC’s iconic properties and, for the most part, this extended episode falls into line with Robot Chicken’s better work. My favourites include a repeating bit called ‘Real Characters of the DC Universe’ where the more ridiculous characters (B’Dg the Green Lantern squirrel, Firestorm, Mister Banjo) are explored and a skit where DC’s four ice-themed super-villains (Captain Cold, Mr. Freeze, Icicle, and Chill Blade) try to steal the same priceless artefact. There’s a bit of joke recycling here and there, but the callbacks are usually made with a returning audience in mind, especially an on-going gag where Aquaman is driven to evil by superhero colleagues that don’t appreciate his special powers, which is an escalation of events seen in a season one skit called The Real World: Metropolis. The final superhero/supervillain battle is a good example of how far the animation staff has come since the show started as well. The only real problem with this episode is that it’s merely an episode. It’s very short, running only 22 minutes, which, I admit, is longer than the average 11-minute Robot Chicken episode, but still awfully short for a stand-alone Blu-ray/DVD release.

Robot Chicken DC Comics Special

Video


This marks the second Robot Chicken collection I’ve watched and reviewed in HD, though, this time, the 1.78:1 video (not 2.40:1 as listed on the box art – the second time Adult Swim has done such a thing) is actually 1080p, rather than 1080i mislabeled as 1080p. The effect is more or less the same as the Star Wars Episode III disc – it’s vibrant and relatively sharp, but, when compared to standard cartoons and live-action releases, appears a bit murky in terms of overall detail. The shortcomings are mostly related to the small scale of the show’s sets, which simply can’t feature as much fine texture as a non-miniature, computer-generated, or hand-drawn world. The teeny, tiny focus pulls do help give a stronger depth of field, though, and, despite some digital noise effects, the image is clear enough to reveal all the charming little imperfections in the puppets. The colour quality is strong too, with impressive pop and dynamic ranges, but there are some issues with banding effects throughout the finer background gradations. Edge haloes are minimal (usually the effect of a not so high-tech special effect, rather than digital compression) and blocking noise is not an issue.

Audio


The sound quality on Robot Chicken releases, both on Blu-ray and DVD, have always been sort of impressive, at least based on the low-budget sound design that makes up the series. This Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix features quite a bit of multi-channel enhancement, including directional effects, like flying characters zipping through frame, and bouncy sound effects (many of which have been taken from existing DC animation-related sources), but the depth of the mix is a little thin. Most of the sound is made up of simple, centered dialogue, the aforementioned directional effects (which aren’t exactly immersive or layered), and some warm, but relatively flatly represented music.

Robot Chicken DC Comics Special

Extras


The extras begin with a writer’s commentary featuring Geoff Johns, Tom Root, Zeb Wells, Mike Fasolo, Matt Beans, and Kevin Shinick. Then there’s an actor/producer commentary featuring Senreich, Green, Root, Abraham Benrubi, and Alfred Molina. These are busy tracks, but the second one is relatively informative. If those weren’t enough in-film content for you, there is also a ‘Chicken Nugget’ option, which allows the viewer to watch sketch-by-sketch video commentary by hitting ‘enter’ when an icon appears on screen. I’d prefer this was a PiP option, but there’s still some amusing and otherwise unexplored content here.

Up next is The Making of the RCDC Special (10:20, HD), a fast-paced look behind-the-scenes with writers Green, Doug Goldstein, Wells, Root, Johns, and Beans, editor Jenny McKibben, character fabricator Tennessee Reid Norton, production designer Huy Vu, set dresser Pia Dulu, model builders Teresa Pilar Huarte and Dave Waddle, model shop lead Roy Wood, director of photography Helder Sun, animation supervisor Alex Kramer, animators Dylan Markay and Matt Cranberry, and cast members Molina, Abraham Benrubi, Tara Strong, Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Breckin Meyer, and Alex Borstein. It features video of the voice cast recording, the writers writing, storyboard comparisons, and the technical staff doing their technical things. The other extras include RCDC’s Aquaman Origin Story (1:30, HD), a tour of DC Entertainment with Green, Johns, and Senreich (7:20, HD), Stoopid Alter Egos featuring the staff dressing up in costumes for a party (3:50,HD), outtakes (2:00, HD), 13 cut sketches (some of which are funnier than the ones that made the cut, 15:20, HD), and 5.2 Questions (2:10, HD).

Robot Chicken DC Comics Special

Overall


Robot Chicken’s DC special is definitely not among the stop-motion animation team’s most consistently funny achievements. It’s also pretty short for a standalone Blu-ray release, but it’s still plenty entertaining and will certainly please fans of the series – I’m just not sure about the DC comic’s fans that aren’t used to the show’s comedic stylings. This Blu-ray looks and sounds decent and features a solid collection of extras, including two audio commentaries, one branching video commentary, and a bevy of featurettes.

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


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