BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT DVD Review
Over the past seventy-odd years there have been countless Batman stories told. So many in fact that it's a flat-out miracle we're still not fed up with Bruce Wayne and his mental situation.
But strangely enough there are still several comic book series released each month, the television series was and is very successful, and, well...
...need I mention the movies?
With his two films "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight", Christopher Nolan proved that there is still value in flogging this particular horse. Apparently we can't get enough of being told the same story over and over again, provided somebody manages to put an interesting spin on the details, the designs or the viewpoint.
With this in mind Warner Brothers greenlit the "Batman: Gotham Knight" project. An anthology in six parts, it tells a story loosely taking place in the space between the two Nolan movies, and each part is made by a major Japanese animation studio. Just like five years ago when "The Animatrix" was made to whip the Matrix-fans into a frenzy prior to the cinema premiere of "The Matrix Reloaded".
The end result has now been released on DVD, and as usual with an anthology it's a bit of a mixed bag. There is no denying that some parts of it are brilliant, others... less so. The whole concept has some strikes against it from the start (for reasons I will explain), but If you're a rabid Batman fan you'd be crazy to skip this.
A longer review (with many pictures) follows after the break.
(Note: For this once I have sort-of sorted my screenshots.
I've put the six movie segments in the right order, from top to bottom, with red bars dividing the segments. So screenshot 1 to 4 are for the first segment, 5 and 6 are for the second, etcetera.)
Have I Got a Story For You:
Several skater kids have spotted Batman on the same day, and in the evening they tell each other their stories. Even though the youngsters have very different views on Batman, slowly but surely the real story emerges.
After a visit from Batman, commissioner Gordon decides to send two of his best detectives on an errand for the caped crusader. Both are reluctant and feel they have better things to do, as a gang war is about to explode on the streets of Gotham City.
When a satellite from Wayne Industries suddenly crashes, research on the wreckage provides Bruce with a revolutionary new gadget that he can't wait to test outside of his lab...
In Darkness Dwells:
A priest is kidnapped, dragged into the sewers by a monster. The Scarecrow seems to be involved so Batman investigates and goes deep underground.
Working Through Pain:
As a wounded Batman fights his way back out of the sewers, we learn who gave Bruce Wayne some lessons on how to deal with pain.
An assassin is about to do a hit in Gotham City and Batman tries to stop him.
When "The Animatrix" was released back in 2003, we all had been fantasizing about the world of the Matrix for four years already, and with two Matrix movies upcoming the fans were dying for every little snippet of information because so little was known, except for some tantalizing sketches..
Well, they didn't get just a snippet: "The Animatrix" was pretty damn spectacular when it came out. The first time an episode went on-line we were all stunned by the amount of effort that had been put into it. The quality was far better than expected, and it lifted the anticipation for the two Matrix films in a BIG way.
Five years onward, with a new Batman movie upcoming, Warners does the same thing again. "Batman: Gotham Knight" could for all intents and purposes be called "The Ani-bat-mix": It's a collection of separate segments, made by some of the best animation studios in Japan.
It's certainly an interesting idea but here is the thing: we already know so much about Batman that it's difficult to really make waves here. Well, unless the writers and studios involved would go into really controversial territory, which they were of course not allowed to do. Every single segment certainly has its merits, but then again so do all the episodes of "Batman: The Animated Series".
It's just that there are not many new things to tell about Bruce Wayne. This problem is even acknowledged in the commentary track, and in every segment the speakers give a list of earlier comics, cartoons and movies where the stories or ideas were used previously...
An effort was clearly made to negate this a bit though: no expense was spared on the writers, each and everyone of which are well-known in comicbook-, screenplay- or movie-land. People like Brian Azzarello (the terrific "100 Bullets" comic), Josh Olson ("A History of Violence") and David Goyer (the three "Blade" films). David also wrote the screenplay for the two new "Batman" film together with Christopher Nolan, so that's a very impressive line-up.
Still, there is only so much these talented people can do with this overexposed subject when they're only given 12 minutes each. And the story-arc which is supposed to tie the six segments together a bit is very flimsy, full of holes even.
Much of the value of watching this disc must therefore come from the artistry of the animation. Thankfully this is not an issue here, with some of the best animation houses in the world participating.
First amongst equals in the list has to be Studio 4°C, something of a ScreenAnarchy favorite by now. They deliver stellar work here, especially in the "Have I Got a Story For You" segment. Directed by Shoujirou Nishimi who previously worked on both "Mind Game" and "Tekkon Kinkreet", this short film gives "Batman: Gotham Knight" a hell of a start. It seems designed just to cram in as many beautifully detailed backgrounds as possible, and although the abstract character designs will not be to everyone's taste (just like in "Tekkon Kinkreet"), they are very well animated.
The other segment by Studio 4°C is "Working Through Pain", and while it's not as stunning or flashy as "Have I Got a Story For You" it's still very, VERY well done.
Studio 4°C was also the studio which surprised us five years ago with that first free online "Animatrix" segment, and they made three other segments of that movie as well. The title of their upcoming anthology "Genius Party" can be seen as applicable to themselves!
Another contributing studio is Madhouse, well known for Satoshi Kon's movies and the superb "Girl Who Leapt Through Time". Their first segment is David Goyer's own "In Darkness Dwells", which very much catches the look of the two Nolan movies. Madhouse also does "Deadshot", the last segment which features some of the best visuals of the whole disc. Incidentally, the "Deadshot" team also made the second free online "Animatrix" segment five years ago, and their style is easily recognizable. Just look at the chin they gave Bruce Wayne!
Studio BeeTrain of "MadLax" and "Tsubasa Chronicle" fame has the "Field Test" segment, a nice and flashy little number that calls attention to itself by seemingly taking place in another universe, with a very young Batman.
Last but not... well, actually, they ARE least.
The only segment I found disappointing was the one done by the Studio I normally admire the most: Production IG.
I don't know what happened, but in a project which can be accused of focusing on style over content, this segment doesn't seem to have either. It tells a straight and unremarkable story, and not a single shot stands out as a particularly interesting visual. Any episode of one of the animated series could go head-to-head with this one with a fair chance of winning.
You get six short Batman films that together do not quite form a coherent story, while as standalones they are all rather shallow.
Most of the segments are really well done though, my personal fave being the gorgeous "Have I Got a Story For You", which also has the audacity of being an anthology within an anthology. If you're a fan of either Madhouse or Studio 4°C, buy this. If you collect Batman stuff, buy this.
Everyone else might want to try a rental first.
About the DVD:
Oops, I bought the region 2 UK PAL.
Because while the other regions have a second disc with extras, region 2 UK only has the single disc. So I can't tell in this review what is on the second...
The movie itself gets a very fine treatment on the audio / video front. Some of these segments looked razorsharp, even on my PC when I was taking screenshots. One of the best Standard Definition images I have seen this year.
Audiowise you get to choose between English, German, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian and Polish soundtracks. No DTS (this is Warner Brothers after all...) but the English track is a very decent Dolby 5.1.
For extras, this single disc has an audio-commentary by DC Comics Senior Vice President Gregory Noveck, Kevin Conroy who did Batman's voice during the series and this movie, and former Batman editor Dennis O'Neil.
The three have a nice chat about Batman, but they focus on the character of Batman, which I think we all know by now. The writers also get a lot of attention, while the animators are only referenced. It's nice that Noveck says "these people are legends in their field" and we should all "seek out their other work", but of this other work only "Animatrix" is actually mentioned.
No makings-of whatsoever, which is a shame because I really liked the ones they had put on the "Animatrix" DVD.
All in all this is a disc with sadly lacking extras, but a very strong transfer.