Batman - Gotham Knight
Directed By: Yasuhiro Aoki, Futoshi Higashide, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Toshiyuki Kubooka , Hiroshi Morioka, Shoujirou Nishimi
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Gary Dourdan, Anna Ortiz, David McCallum, Parminder Nagra, George Newbern, Corey Burton, Jim Meskimen
Batman: Gotham Knight is a teen and adult oriented direct to video film that takes six Batman stories from western writers and renders them via the efforts of six Japanese anime directors from three prominent studios. They all take place within the continuity of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman films (e.g James Gordon is a Lieutenant in the Gotham Police). There is no framing story tying them together, and only the last three episodes attempt to create a thread of light narrative, although not stylistic, continuity. Kevin Conroy provides the voice of Batman throughout.
"Have I Got a Story for You" Directed by Shoujirou Nishimi and written by Josh Olsen concerns a group of kids telling the story of Batman's battle with a super villain with widely varying perspectives on exactly what he looks like. This gives the animators the opportunity to stretch out with wildly stylized impressionistic character designs. This concept has been done before in comics and animation, and while this may not be the best take on such an approach, it is certainly a graphically interesting one.
"Crossfire", Directed by Futoshi Higashide and written by Greg Rucka, is told from the perspective of two Gotham cops serving on Lieutenant Gordon's crime-busting task force. Crispus Allen (Dourdan) does not like being the glorified taxi driver for criminals collared by a vigilante. Anna Ramirez (Ortiz) recognizes the improvements in Gotham since Batman's arrival. Both of them encounter him first hand when they find themselves in the middle of a gang war.
"Field Test", directed by Hiroshi Morioka and written by Jordan Goldberg, also involves mob conflicts in Gotham as Batman tries out a magnetic bullet-deflecting device invented by Lucius Fox with mixed results. This is the weakest short in terms of both story execution and design. It centers around a ridiculously implausble technology and fails to do justice to the germ of a good idea at its core about the line Batman is not willing to cross. Additionally, the character design work is all very "generic anime".
"In Darkness Dwells", directed by Yasuhiro Aoki and written by Batman Begins scribe David Goyer, has Batman taking on Killer Croc (Newbern) in the sewers of Gotham in a race against time before the Scarecrow (Burton) can kill or destroy the mind of one of the city's most prominent clerics. This segment has a lot of action and two prominent Batman villains, but not a particularly engaging story.
"Working Through Pain", directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka and written by Brian Azzarello, follows an injured Batman as he tries to get to a point where Alfred (McCallum) can reach him and attend to his wounds. While stumbling through streets and alleys, Batman flashes back to a time when he was trained by an Indian expert (Nagra) on how to increase his tolerance for pain. This does not add much to the western man schooled in eastern philosophy genre, let alone the Batman mythos.
The concluding segment named after its villain, "Deadshot", is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and written by Alan Burnett and will be the most satisfying for fans seeking a classic straightforward action packed Batman story. It touches on deeper themes involving Batman's relationship to firearms, but focuses most of its attention on the cat and mouse conflict between Batman and the sharp-shooting Deadshot (Meskimen).
Due to certain aesthetic choices by various animation teams, the image quality of this 1080p VC-1 encoded presentation (viewed on a 720p projector by me) varies from episode to episode. Grain levels vary and detail is sometimes purposely smeared for stylistic effect, particularly in the In Darkness Dwells segment. The opening Have I Got a Story for You episode has incredibly detailed backgrounds, but things are softened somewhat by a light fog-like filter that appears to have been applied to the overall image. This makes the video presentation quality difficult to assess, as it does not stand head and shoulders above some of the better upconverted standard definition presentations I have seen, but it is likely intended to be that way.
Audio is courtesy of an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track that surpasses most direct-to video fare in terms of active use of the full 5.1 channels, but does not employ the surrounds and LFE quite as aggressively as modern feature films in the action genre. As one would expect, the more action-oriented episodes are also the most active in terms of surround and LFE activity. No lossless audio track is provided, but fidelity sounded quite good, and I suspect that a high bit rate was used for the Dolby Digital track (My gear will not let me verify this). Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo alternate language tracks are provided in Spanish and German.
Note: The packaging indicates the presence of a Japanese 5.1 track as well as Japanese subtitles, and I was initially unable to access either of them. With a little guidance from forum member Martin Henry (see dicussion below), I discovered that the Japanese audio and subtitle tracks could, in fact, be accessed, but not from the English language menu screens or even via manually toggling through the tracks with my remote when the player is set to display English language menus. I had to go into my player's set-up screen and select Japanese menus, after which they became selectable. English SDH titles are also selectable from the Japanese menus.
All extras are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.
Commentary by DC Comics Senior Vice President Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy, and former Batman comic editor Dennis O'Neil. Noveck serves as a moderator, occasionally offering comments, but usually directing question to Conroy and O'Neil. Some comments are screen specific to the Gotham Knights feature while others are more general takes on the speaker's history with and perspective on the Batman character. The episodic nature of the program keeps the commentary from running out of gas as they "reboot" with each section with notes on the filmmakers involved.
A Mirror for the Bat: The Evil Denizens of Gotham City runs 35 minutes and 47 seconds and is presented in 16:9 enhanced standard definition video. This featurette focuses on the colorful villains in Batman's rogues gallery. After some general comments on the nature of Batman, his array of complimentary antagonists, and what makes a great villain, a specific rundown is given of some of the best known "Bat-tagonists" including their origins and history accompanied by clips of comic and animation renderings of the subjects under discussion. Specifically, it includes discussions of Deadshot, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Clayface, Mr. Freeze, The Scarecrow, The Riddler, Ra's Al Ghul, The Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, and the Joker. The final third of the featurette includes discussions of how the villains evolved over the decades as times and tastes changed, culminating in them becoming darker, more complex, and more understandable in later years. They also discuss how Batman cerebrally relates to his villains in a way that sets him apart from other superhero characters. Finally, they consider the concept of Batman as an outlaw hero. Participants include DC Comics SVP Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Screenwriter Brian Azzarello, Screenwriter Greg Rucka , DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz, DC Comics SVP and Executive Editor Dan Didio, Executive Producer Michael Uslan, Writer Dennis O'Neil, Writer/Producer Paul Dini, Writer/ Historian Andy Mangels, and Screenwriter Josh Olsen. The featurette does drag a bit and feels about twice as long as it needs to be due to the same points being made multiple times. The breakdown of Batman's rogues gallery is still pretty fun even if the next time I watch it, I will probably fast forward through a lot of it
Wonder Woman Preview runs ten minutes and 29 seconds and is presented in 4:3 video letterboxed to 16:9. This preview of the upcoming Wonder Woman direct to video release, which will apparently harken back to her classic origin story by William Moulton Marsden, offers up interviews with key creative talent involved with the production. We also get a few peeks at storyboards and other material. On camera interview participants include voice actors Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina, and Virginia Madsen. Additionally, we hear from Paul Levitz, Dan Didio, Gregory Noveck, Producer Bruce Timm, Director Lauren Montgomery, and Writer Michael Jelenic.
Batman and Me, a Devotion of Destiny: The Bob Kane Story runs 38 minutes and 25 seconds and is presented in 16:9 enhanced standard definition video. This is an excellent biographical featurette on the man who created Batman. After a brief introduction, it is arranged roughly chronologically covering his childhood as the son of a poor Jewish family from the Bronx, his supportive mother, his beginnings in cartooning including a stint with the Fleischer studio, the influences that lead to his creation of "Bat-Man" in 1939, the writing of Bill Finger, other comics he was working on at the same time as Batman, his uncharacteristically good Batman-related financial deals he arranged with the help of his father, his theatrical flair and propensity for exaggeration, the 1940s Batman serials, how his meeting of Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood inspired the creation of Vicki Vale, his womanizing, the 1960s TV show, his spirituality, his positive relationships with kids and other fans, how he met his wife, Elizabeth, and the 1989 Tim Burton Movie. On-camera interview participants include Batman and Me Co-Author Tom Andrae, Actor Mark Hamill, Widow Elizabeth Kane, Batman Artist Jerry Robinson, Paul Levitz, Producer Michael Uslan, Spider-Man Creator Stan Lee, Photographer/friend Jonathan Exley, and Friend Dr. Myron Shapiro. We also get considerable comments from Kane himself via archival interview audio and video clips.
Bonus Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series include four of the better episodes from the series which began in the early 1990s (two of which were technically part of the re-tooled New Batman Adventures series from the late 1990s), each running about 21 minutes and presented in 4:3 standard definition video. The episodes are, in fact, so good, that they outstrip the feature presentations on this disc. The fact that they have twice as much run-time to tell their story certainly helps, but they are simply better conceived stories that overcome their tight television budgets to enthrall and engage the viewer. The episodes are:
- Legends of the Dark Knight - Three kids recount their perspective on Batman, which are illustrated through animation in the classic comic book styles of Bob Kane/Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, and Frank Miller.
- Heart of Ice - A pathos-heavy episode pitting Batman against sympathetic super villain Mr. Freeze
- Over the Edge – In which Batman is on the run from a revenge-minded Commissioner Gordon after the death of Batgirl
- I Am the Night – A relatively contemplative mood piece in which Batman begins to doubt his personal mission after the observation of the anniversary of his parents' murder makes him late to a crime scene where Commissioner Gordon is injured.
The disc is packaged in a standard Blu-Ray case including an insert that is good for US$3.00 towards concessions at participating movie theaters. The contents are encoded on a single layer 25GB disc.
Batman: Gotham Knight is an East meets West experiment that is graphically interesting, but not always successful in part due to the lack of depth resulting from six episodic stories limited to twelve minutes and under. The relative lack of continuity between the shorts also prevents much dramatic momentum from building as the film progresses. It is presented on blu-ray disc with a transfer that accurately captures the highly stylized graphic approaches of its six directors, but does not always exploit the possibilities of the blu-ray high definition medium. It also comes with an above average lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Extras are highlighted by an outstanding biographical featurette on Batman creator Bob Kane, an interesting but overlong featurette on Batman's rogues gallery, an audio commentary from voice actor Kevin Conroy, former Batman editor Denny O'Neil and DC comics executive Gregory Noveck, four excellent episodes from the 1990s Batman animated television series, and a preview of the upcoming Wonder Woman direct to video feature.