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COVERAGE - ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Synopsis: Another night falls over Gotham City and with the darkness out crawls the crime and villainy from the shadows. The days of The Batman and other noble super heroes are but faded
memories; violence and despair are now the harbingers of our time. But one event will set a change into motion: when Harvey "Two-Face" Dent shuns a former
rehabilitated life for a descent into corruption, an aged and weathered Bruce Wayne dons the mark and cape once more. With a stellar voice cast headed
by Peter Weller, Ariel Winter and David Shelby, this gritty DC Comics legend comes to life with unforgettable battles, thrilling chases and the promise of a better
tomorrow for humanity, because there is nowhere for criminals to hide when the Dark Knight returns.
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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One Feature Review
By James Harvey
Following in the footsteps of Batman: Year One, the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line has produced a near-perfect adaptation of the acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns comic book classic. Covering the first half of the Frank Miller-written gem, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One covers the source material ins lavish detail, though some notable omissions and alterations may end up not sitting well with die-hard Batman fans. Still, weighing the pros and cons, this latest Batman-centric direct-to-video animated feature can easily be considered a success, though possibly not the slam dunk many were hoping for.
Diving head first, the creative team behind Batman: The Dark Knight, Part One has creative a beautifully handled animated take on the comic original. The designs are a streamlined take on the unforgettable work of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. A bit too shiny and glossy at times, itís probably the closet fans will ever get to see the pages of Millerís classic actually come to life. Moments from the comic book spring to animated life here, with those moments frozen in comic book form finding new life here on the small screen. And, honestly, they look really great. The animation, save for the odd misstep here and there, is pretty consistent. It looks excellent in all honesty.
And you canít beat the voice cast, either. While initial impressions were iffy, Peter Weller turns out to be an excellent choice for Bruce Wayne/Batman. The subtle changes he makes during the movie, from suffering through his bored retirement to the excitement of getting back in the game, is noticeable. Compare Weller's performance from the first moments to those last minutes Ė clear as day difference. Ariel Winter is perfectly cast as Carrie Kelly, clearly having a blast in the role. Michael McKean also deserves a nod for his turn as Dr. Wolper. While initially hesitant of the casting, he too is nicely suited to this role. And I could rattle on about other casting choices, but all hit the mark. Itís a great mix of new and old talent, established performances and those new to the stage. Once again, Andrea Romano is able to pull out some magnificent turns by this eclectic cast.
If you know the source material, youíll know this animated movie inside out. Clocking in at around 76 minutes, the movie nicely covers the first half of the The Dark Knight Returns story, breaking things off at one heckuva cliffhanger. The movie plays out pretty much beat for beat like the original comic, save for some curious dialogue omissions and slight changes. The lack of internal dialogue is greatly missed, especially given the depth it provides to Bruce Wayne. Itís understandable, though, given the sheer amount of narration and dialogue in the source comic. I imagine the film would be bursting wall to wall it was all left in. Lacking the internal dialogue also denies us a look into some of the complex characteristics and inner turmoil the characters offer. Granted, the animation does help get it across, particularly the directing and facial acting, some iconic dialogue is lost. And, like Batman Year One, there are some weird changes in dialogue. Minor words here and there are changed for no real noticeable reason. Unless youíve poured over the book page by page, thereís a good chance you wonít know the minor little changes, it just seems a little odd. However, there is at least one moment that fans will likely notice the change and proably not agree with. It just seems odd since some of the edgier dialogue and language is left in, but a random comment or designation is changed.
Another change is a little increase in action. Thereís no new set pieces, but the scenes you remember from the book are lengthened a little bit, sometimes heightened to add a few extra punches or a larger explosion. Everything is well animated and very bombastic. Batmanís duels with the Mutant Leader are excellently handled, hands down. His gradual reappearance on the scene is paced throughout the movie in an ever-increasing manner. It's not sudden, but organic. In fact, the movie works at such a natural pace, though faster than I was expecting. The runtime for the film flies by, but nothing ever feels rushed or awkward. Everything rolls gradually from scene to scene, with nothing getting short-changed. Given the cinematic nature of the original comic, it's no surprise that translated well to the animated adaptation. In fact, thanks to the drop of the internal dialogue, there are actually some really effective quiet moments.
Also worth noting is the score, by DC Universe Animated Original Movie mainstay Christopher Drake. It has more of a grander feel to it, almost as if this is his Batman-equivalent to his epic Wonder Woman score. Some time-period appropriate touches are added into the score, but the overall score just screams Ďepicí Ė it really does. Hats off to yet another successful score, Mr. Drake.
The film works for the most part, though it does seem a bit too polished at times. As nice as the film looks, it does lack a sense of grittiness about it. Sure, Gotham is looking like itís seen better days, but itís not...dirty enough. The sense of decay and violence feels more grungy and palpable in the original comic. Itís here, too, but it doesnít feel as desperate. The news anchors, whom drove the satirical and political subtext of the source material, donít have the same effect here either. Given the approach to the filmís dialogue, itís not a surprise since a lot of the internal narrative worked well with and against the news anchors. And while it is a bit of a shame to lose that satirical edge the original source material had, the film is able to work through that by presenting a more straight-forward take on everything, but including little dices of sly humor as to not overwhelm the filmís deadly serious approach. Some of the great sharp, satirical moments from the comic do actually translate well to the movie Ė such as a few humorous moments with the Mayor and his eventual replacement which are scarily bang-on to our present day politics Ė but that bite is lacking overall. No doubt this was a difficult task to balance, but director Jay Oliva and writer Bob Goodman are successful in finding compromises to make the story work on the screen, even if it means dropping some of the original book's key material.
We also need to take into account that while The Dark Knight Returns was a major game-changer for the character when it was originally published, the landscape has completely changed since then. The impact that comic had will never be as it was then, but the strong story still remains, and that is plenty evident here. It's s great story reinvisioned by some true animation craftsmen. Not everything will work, but it's obvious what we get here is likely the best animated take possible. It's not perfect, but it's a solid ride.
Itís an animated feature that Batman fans will undoubtedly be all over. The voice cast is excellent, the animation definitely nice, a stirring score, a solid script Ė it all comes together quite nicely. Yes, it slips in a couple places, as noted above, but itís a success overall. In comparing this to the previous Frank Miller animated adaptation Batman: Year One, this is definitely the superior beast. It can easily be considered the best Batman-focused DC Universe Animated Original Movie title, too. Comparing it to other animated Batman films outside the movie line, however? Well, a conversation for a different time. Still, fans will definitely get what they want out of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One. All things considered, this is an easy film to stamp as Recommended.
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