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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: January 23, 2018 - Digital; February 6, 2018 - Blu-ray, DVD

Synopsis: Batman: Gotham By Gaslight takes place at the turn of the century as America’s continued industrial revolution is to be showcased at a World’s Fair hosted by Gotham City. But while the world prepares to witness the glittery glory of Gotham’s technological advances, there is a killer loose in the city’s darkest shadows. Preying on the city’s women, this killer is as precise as he is cruel. As Police Commissioner James Gordon tries to calm the fears of Gotham’s citizens regarding the butcher called Jack the Ripper, the masked vigilante Batman enacts his own detective work – with the help of confident, capable Selina Kyle – to stop the Ripper’s murderous spree. Witness a world in flames as the notorious serial killer’s controlled savagery meets the calculated stealth of the Dark Knight.

Acclaimed for his performance in Batman: Under The Red Hood, Bruce Greenwood (American Crime Story, Star Trek, iRobot) reprises his role as the voice of the Dark Knight in Batman: Gotham By Gaslight. Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter, Limitless) makes her DC Universe Movies debut as the voice of Selina Kyle. The voice cast also features Scott Patterson (Gilmore Girls, Justice League Unlimited) as James Gordon, Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Merlin) as Alfred Pennyworth, Yuri Lowenthal (Batman Unlimited, Young Justice) as Harvey Dent, John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) as Chief Bullock, William Salyers (Batman vs. Two-Face) as Hugo Strange, and Grey Griffin (DC Super Hero Girls) as Sister Leslie. The cast also includes notable voice actors Tara Strong, Bob Joles, David Forseth, Chris Cox, Lincoln Melcher and Kari Wuhrer.

Producer Sam Liu (Batman and Harley Quinn, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract) also directs Batman: Gotham By Gaslight from a script by Jim Krieg (Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox). Alan Burnett is co-producer. Executive Producers are Sam Register and Bruce Timm (Batman: The Killing Joke). Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan are executive producers.



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Batman: Gotham by Gaslight Feature Review
By James Harvey

Easily one of the top DC Universe Movie titles to date (and the best installment since the line relaunched with Justice League: War), Batman: Gotham by Gaslight sets the bar high for the video line, telling a brutal, tense story littered with compelling characters, legitimate dread and a killer reveal. While not exactly perfect, it's considerably amazing highs overcome any of the film's minor shortcomings. Yeah folks, it's that good! A gripping story and stirring performances propel this feature to the higher levels of the DC Universe Movie library.

To note, this review will be spoiler free. As much as I want to talk about the identity of the killer and how brilliant it is (and how it works so well in the context of the movie, the character and its relevance even today), that is something viewers need to discover on their own. Avoid all spoilers and experience it for yourself! It's Batman versus Jack the Ripper in the Victorian era at the turn of the century - that's all you need to know!

For those familiar with the Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, don't expect this movie to go the way you think it will, story-wise or art style. While the movie draws a fair chunk of material from both the original source material and its sequel, Master of the Future, it's pretty clear from the get-go that this film is going to be something all its own and, boy, does it ever become something special. As stellar as the source material is, even though the identity of the killer is fairly obvious from the get-go, this movie manages to surpass it in almost every respect. The characters, the story, the tone, all vastly outperform the source material. The film even deepens the actual mystery around Ripper’s identity and gives us more time in this utterly fascinating world.

While this film does handle some incredibly dark subject matter - and it does get incredibly dark and unnerving - it knows when to pull back and give the viewers a breather, and a lot of that is due to Batman: Gotham by Gaslight 's excellent pacing and use of tone. The film knows exactly when to pull back from the disturbing content, and instead offer up great character moments between the main cast. Whether it's banter between Batman and Alfred, or a quiet moments with Bruce and Selina (and the odd humorous situation they find themselves in), these moments absolutely save the movie from being crushingly bleak. And nothing in Batman: Gotham by Gaslight feels rushed or under-served. Characters and scenes get to breathe and play out. Conversations unroll at a natural pace, sounding more like actual dialogue than bullet points. The film’s pacing and character development also feels wholly different than from previous DC Universe Movie titles. While some of the exposition might come across heavy at times, especially in the opening act, it never feels clunky, but usually organic to the situation or discussion.

Writer Jim Krieg expertly uses our own assumptions against us in Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. We all expect certain characters to act a certain way, even within the confines of an Elseworlds story. However, Krieg upends that and, as a result, not only is nearly the whole cast - save for a small handful - under legitimate suspicion as the real identity of Jack the Ripper, but it results in a genuine surprise when the big reveal happens (one that I can't wait to look into closer upon future viewings). And the actual reveal? Nail-biting stuff. The scene itself takes a sudden, tense shift when you realize exactly what's happening and who the culprit is. It's such a smart, almost jarring turn that's just so effective. The dialogue that Krieg comes up with for that scene, and the character's motivations, is truly haunting and unnerving, helped by an excellent vocal performance by the actor portraying the killer which absolutely nails the delivery. It's seriously discomforting.

To piggyback off that, the voice work in this movie is top-notch across the board. Having Bruce Greenwood back as Batman is the smart choice. He a fan-favorite among fans to portray the Dark Knight (thanks to Young Justice and Batman: Under the Red Hood), and having that familiar goes along way in establishing the Bruce Wayne/Batman in this setting. Greenwood is able to portray warmth when talking to Selina Kyle and then, on a dime, can crank up the intimidation factor when he's facing down thugs. It's another great turn by him, and hopefully not the last. Jennifer Carpenter is a stellar choice to bring Catwoman to life, bringing the appropriate attitude and a touch of toughness to the role. She's nobody's fool and stands her ground, creating the perfect partner for Batman as they face off against a relentless brute. Carpenter also brings a fierce quality to the role, but also knows when to lay on the charm. It's a pitch perfect turn by the actress.

The rest of the voice cast absolutely delivers, too. Scott Patterson is pretty amazing as James Gordon, and John DiMaggio as Chief Bullock is inspired casting (something I'd like to see carried over to other animated features and series, actually). Yuri Lowenthal does an excellent job in bringing out the slimier aspects of Harvey Dent, and Anthony Head does a great turn as Alfred Pennyworth (also casting I'd like to see carried over to other projects). Kari Wuhrer is stellar as Barbara Gordon, despite her character's limited screentime. Wes Gleason has again brought together an excellent voice cast and is able to get solid work from everyone. Again, when the true identity of the Ripper is revealed, there's some legitimately amazing acting going on there.

Director Sam Liu continues to showcase his talent for adapt his style to the subject matter. Compare his work here to the likes of Teen Titans: The Judas Contract or even Batman and Harley Quinn. There are still moments where you can tell it's his handiwork - some of the staging, for example, especially during the Ripper conflicts, but he's almost more restrained. Fight scenes feel more grounded with the steady camera work and less flashy fisticuffs, giving them an air of brutal slug-fests for survival. Frederick Weidmann's score work is also top-notch here, and like Liu, shows off his ability to perfectly match the subject matter. Weidmann hits the notes you'd expect for a project based in the 19th Century, but is able to add some really heavy, robust moments when the action stirs up, and it all flows together nicely. Hopefully the score gets a digital (or physical) release, it deserves it.

There are a handful of things in Batman: Gotham by Gaslight that some fans might have issues with. First, this isn't a direct adaptation of the original graphic novel, and it makes some big changes that some viewers might not be overly fond of. Personally, I found this movie to have a much better story, one more fleshed out and housing a legitimate mystery. Secondly, as much as the film takes its time and allows itself to breathe, there are a few moments that play out a wee longer than they should. The slower, deliberate pace of the movie is great, but some scenes could still be tightened up. Lastly, the character design might be a bit too "cartoony" for some, especially with the dark subject matter. Personally, I find the character designs nicely balance out some of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight's darker moments, and it's also a welcome breathe of fresh air from the line's standard house style. The designs also help mask some of the film's limited animation quality, which pop up from time to time but don't really hinder the film's overall quality. That said, it would've been great to see Mike Mignola's art-style from the original graphic novel faithfully translated.

There is one little thing that Batman: Gotham by Gaslight does, to differentiate itself from other DC Universe Movie titles, that deserves to be pointed out. It's something I'm likely looking into way too much, but the film's use of opening credits is handled really nicely here. It’s a clever, old-fashioned touch that’s entirely appropriate here. Opening credits are not as common as they once were, with most movies flashing the studio logo and title card and then getting right to the action. Here, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight uses the opening credits to help introduce the film's set-up and premise. It's not an opening credit sequence divorced from the rest of the movie, such as Batman and Harley Quinn and Superman Doomsday or just a simple title card like other recent entries. The names of the film's main cast and crew roll out as we pan through scenes of 19th century Gotham, and it's a brilliant touch that helps both introduce to the world of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and what type of movie this is going to be. Like I said, probably overthinking that.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a gripping mystery set in Victorian-era Gotham City that, undoubtedly, will become a favorite among fans of DC animation. It's a great product of superb acting talent, a clever script and strong directing. Plus, it's great to see characters we all know in new, unique situations. Even the cameos by "the Robins" are a welcome inclusion that don't take away from the story Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is trying to tell. It's also a film that holds up in repeat viewings, especially specific story-beats leading up to the film's climax. It's a dark, gritty nail-biter that embraces the bloody, horrifying aspects of its story and will leave viewers chomping at the bit for more. Highly Recommended!

[ Continue on to the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight Blu-ray review ]

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