‘Batman: Gotham Knight’ Review
As we await the gourmet meal that The Dark Knight promises to be, a worthwhile hors d’ouevre to truly whet your appetite is Batman: Gotham Knight — a DC Universe Animated Original Movie DVD arriving in stores July 8th.
As director Christopher Nolan prepared his audacious sequel to Batman Begins, someone got the great idea to unleash the crew who brought you the direct-to-DVD Animatrix (arguably superior to the Matrix sequels themselves) on the caped crusader. The result starts intriguing, than grows to become involving, then engrossing, and finally inspired and inspiring.
Three renowned anime studios (Madhouse, Production LG, and Studio 4°C) were given six short scripts – by comic and film scripters Brian Azzarello & Greg Rucka, Alan Burnett, Jordan Goldberg, David S. Goyer, and Josh Olson – and carte blanche (within budgetary reason). They assigned anime directors Yasuhiro Aoki, Futoshi Higashide, Toshiyuki Kubooka, Hiroshi Morioka, and Shojiro Nishimi one tale each, then sat back and savored.
The result is an eye- and mind-full. Although the cover copy says the stories are interlocking, they are actually held together by the power of Batman’s personality, psychology, and myth – making them a perfect set-up for the live action movie which appears ten days later. More accurately, the animated thrillers are cumulative – starting with character revelations and finally exploding into full-blown mini-action movies.
The widely divergent visualizations of the Batman in each segment may be initially disconcerting, but somebody was brilliant in putting the “Have I Got a Story For You” script first, since it portrays a bunch of skateboarders trying to impress each other with contradictory “eyewitness” encounters with the superhero – cleverly preparing you for each director’s subsequent interpretations.
The character realizations, however, have nothing on the studios’ views of Gotham, which rise cowl and cape above any previous animated Batman. The strikingly dramatic design extends to the story. Little wonder that this brutal, brooding, bloody film is the first of its kind to be rated PG-13.
Adding to its over-all effect are the Two-Disc Special Edition’s extras. The audio commentary with DC Sr. VP Gregory Noveck, renowned Batman writer/editor (and ComicMix contributor) Dennis O’Neil, and Batman’s voice actor Kevin Conroy is an actual pleasure. Many commentaries are slogs that are suffered out of respect for the film they are accompanying (I oughta know, having unsuspectingly recorded a few), but this one is smart, warm, informed, insightful, and unfailingly serves to enhance the experience.
The edition’s two docs are also above the norm. "A Mirror For the Bat" features Dark Knight experts spotlighting the Caped Crusader’s rogues’ gallery in terms illuminating how they reflect Batman’s personality. "Batman and Me" is a loving but warts-n-all biography of creator Bob Kane, revealing how the originator’s own demons informed and cemented his creation’s creative durability and longevity.
Penultimately, there’s four relevant episodes of Batman the Animated Series, and, finally, an “Exclusive Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Wonder Woman,” which will appear on DVD next Spring. Happily, the preview takes the form of another featurette, showing voice actors Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, and Virginia Madsen (among others) at work and as talking heads discussing the script. Unfortunately, the only art on view are from storyboards and animatics, but it’s clear from them that the company has returned to its limited, sketchy TV-style designs.
That slight disappointment brings up the only problem with the otherwise exceptional Batman: Gotham Knight — in that it may spoil you for future DC Universe animated “D-2-DVDs.” To paraphrase a WWI song; “how you goin’ to keep ‘em happy with TV-series-calibre design and animation after they’ve seen Gotham Knight?”
The DVD feature Batman: Gotham Knight is scheduled for release July 8.