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Last year Warner Bros and DC released an adaptation of Frank Miller and Dave Mazzuchelli’s “Batman: Year One,” a piece that single handedly re-imagined both Gotham and its denizens in a new gritty, noir light. It helped give us the Batman we all know and love to this day. It’s influenced every take on the character and the world since then. But Miller’s first work on Batman and the city he protects is actually even more well known, that being “The Dark Knight Returns.” DC has rolled up their sleeves and dived first hand into this amazing adaptation. “TDKR Part1” is a must see for any Batman fan.
Where “Year One” influenced “Batman Begins” in terms of story, “TDKR” actually influenced “The Dark Knight Rises” quite a bit. For those not in the know here’s how it breaks down. A 55-year old Bruce Wayne has been retired for a decade and it’s taking lots of alcohol and will to keep the beast that is Batman at bay. The city has fallen into a period of chaos where random violence is the norm, and at the center of this is the vicious street gang known as the Mutants. But the glimmer of hope in the form of a cured Harvey Dent is snuffed out when he returns to his criminal ways, sparking aflame the return of the Dark Knight. The story, originally written in the 80’s is still as strong now, and in animated form it just pops, especially in Blu-Ray.
I love the book, and I love this movie. Sadly, some of the best lines are lost as they were Bruce/Batman’s internal monologue, but some of it has been changed to exposition and dialogue. However one scene in particular came off hauntingly beautiful, that of Bruce’s final decision to give in to the beast within. I literally just read that scene to a friend and then seeing it play out the way they did was spectacular. The choice to break this story up into two films was a welcomed one as a truncated version of this would not do it justice, so I’m happy to report this is as spot on an adaptation as we’ll ever see of a comic I think. This film is not for kids under 10 or so I would say, as it’s pretty brutal but what would you expect from Miller.
These movies are always about two things though and that’s the art and voice acting and both are done perfectly. First the art brilliantly captures Miller’s style while cleaning it up for animation. Whole panels and scenes are taken from the book and they look gorgeous. The voice acting as usual is spot on. Kevin Conroy is Batman of this generation I know, but others have done well in the part, here we get none other than Robocop himself Peter Weller voicing the part. His deep booming voice works in a way that’s very different than anyone before him save Michael Ironside (who voiced this version of Batman briefly in the classic “Batman: The Animated Series” episode “Legends of the Dark Knight”) because he doesn’t need the rasp or the growl in his voice. The almost non-chalant way he says some disturbing things, and the bass of his voice commands attention and respect and induces fear.
Commissioner Gordon is voiced by David Selby and though he takes some getting used to I came to like him in the role, as he definitely brought the fight to this aging veteran (Gordon is 70 in the film). Rounding out the cast is Michael McKean as Psychologist Dr. Wolper, and Ariel Winter as Carrie Kelly, the new Robin. Winter is pitch perfect and makes a character I was never actually fond of fun. In a brief cameo we get Michael Emerson voicing the Joker, and I so can’t wait to see him unleashed in part 2.
Special features have been the one weak point on the DC animated films and that trend unfortunately continues. On the rehashed and reused side of things is a Sneak Peek at a film that’s been out for a while “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies,” and for the life of me I don’t know why they keep putting the old sneak peeks on there. Also here is “Batman and Me: The Bob Kane Story” which I believe was on “Gotham Knights.” For new stuff the best of which is easily the preview of “TDKR Part 2” where we get a chance to see/hear the Joker and get a few plot points for the next installment. There’s also a featurette on Carrie Kelly “Her Name is Carrie, Her role is Robin,” and a digital comic of “TDKR’s” first chapter. The picture and sound quality on this Blu-Ray are great and it’s just another solid film from the DC Animated stable. So if you’re a fan of Batman, or the DC animated films there is absolutely no reason not to have this.
Jay Oliva (director) / Bob Goodman (screenplay), Frank Miller (comic book)
CAST: Peter Weller … Batman / Bruce Wayne (voice)
Ariel Winter … Robin / Carrie Kelley (voice)
David Selby … Commissioner Gordon (voice)
Wade Williams … Harvey Dent (voice)
Paget Brewster … Lana Lang (voice)
Michael Emerson … Joker (voice)
Michael Jackson … Alfred Pennyworth (voice)
Michael McKean … Dr. Bartholomew Wolper (voice)