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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies



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#1 of 2 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

Ken_McAlinden

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Posted September 24 2009 - 12:59 AM

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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies


Directed By: Sam Liu


Voice Cast: Clancy Brown, Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, CCH Pounder, Xander Berkeley, John C. McGinley, Allison Mack, Jerry O'Connell, Robert Patrick


Studio: Warner Bros.

Year: 2009

Rated: PG-13

Film Length: 67 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Subtitles: English SDH, French

Release Date: September 29, 2009

The Film ****

In Superman/Batman: Public Enemies a global financial crisis has led to Americans turning to the "smartest person in the room" for their next President: reformed criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Brown). Superman (Daly) remains unconvinced of Luthor's rehabilitation, but grudgingly agrees to a meeting when a giant kryptonite meteor is discovered hurtling towards Earth. The meeting proves to be an ambush, and Superman is attacked by kryptonite powered android Metallo (McGinley). Narrowly escaping thanks to the intervention of Batman (Conroy), Superman finds himself the subject of a global manhunt and billion dollar bounty when President Luthor appears on television with a selectively edited videotape of the confrontation claiming that he has been driven mad by radiation and murdered Metallo. Superman and Batman strive to uncover Luthor's true motivations, clear Superman's name, and save the world from the meteor.  Their efforts are hampered by supervillains looking to collect the billion dollar bounty and superheroes loyal to the US government including Captain Atom (Berkeley), Powergirl (Mack), Hawkman (Patrick) and Captain Marvel (O'Connell).

As ridiculous as the above synopisis may sound (and there is an outrageous detail about a spacecraft near the film's climax that is so spectacularly ridiculous, that it would be "spoilery" to discuss) , this is actually one of the best in the recent series of direct to video DC Universe animated movies. The story, adapted from a six issue comic book series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness is fast moving with lots of action, but does a good job of setting up strong dramatic situations before launching its characters into the mayhem. Most of this conflict stems from the inherently divided loyalties and internal conflicts associated with Superman being at odds with the government he has always championed, which affects other characters as much as it does him. It also affords a fun opportunity to compare and contrast the approaches and attitudes of its title characters as Superman's fugitive status and animosity towards Luthor brings him closer to the suspicious outsider mind state that is normally Batman's purview.

Fans of the 1990s Batman and Superman DC Universe animated television series will be happy to hear the voice talents of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, and Clancy Brown as Batman, Superman, and Luthor. I believe the familiarity and appropriateness of the voice actors for the characters actually helped me to get over a bit of weirdness in their graphic design. In deference to the hyper-muscular style of comic artist Ed McGuinness, the characters are given a steroidal makeover in animation. This level of muscular detail could not be animated without tremendous effort, and the middle ground approach taken here sometimes makes the characters look like they are made out of a collection of rocks. That being said, the designs still work better than the Superman makeover from the Superman: Doomsday DTV that placed strange unexpressive lines on Superman's face.

In terms of adaptation, this is also the first entry in the series of DC Universe DTV films that does not feel like it is adding gratuitous material to ensure its PG-13 rating. As a matter of fact other than one rude appellation applied by Luthor to the Amanda Waller character, there is no profanity that I can recall. There is plenty of violence, and it generally looks like it hurts more than similar conflicts in previous animated television series, but there is not a lot of gratuitous blood. In other words, the filmmakers appear to have done what was necessary to adapt the book without thinking about the rating, which is the way it should be.

The Video *****

The video, which fills the entire 16:9 frame, is flawless. There are some pretty intense color fields in this animated film, and there was nary a hint of instability/compression issues in any of them. The animation was apparently finished in the digital domain as there is no trace of film grain. The only signs of artifacts occur when they are introduced intentionally such as when Batman and Superman are watching a televised press conference on a monitor in the Batcave that flickers/strobes. You would think Bruce Wayne could afford a better high-definition monitor. /img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif">

The Audio ****

Audio is provided courtesy of an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The absence of lossless audio is a bit puzzling considering that there are no alternate languages taking up disc space and that a number of the "extras" are superfluous and promotional in nature. Even with the space limitations of a BD-25, one would thing they had enough room for a lossless track for a 67 minute film. That being said, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is included does present a pleasingly dimensional and dynamic mix with acceptable fidelity. The mix is very active with items like rockets flying over one's shoulders in accordance with on-screen visual cues at numerous instances. The music score is also a step above most direct to video fare. In short, it sounds about as good as a Dolby Digital 5.1 track can.

The Extras ***

When the Special Features menu is accessed, the number of features looks impressive, but upon further inspection, a significant portion of them consist of featurettes that have appeared on previous animated DC Universe releases. All of the extras are presented in 16:9 enhanced SD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio unless otherwise indicated below:

A Test of Minds: Superman and Batman (19:01) is, at its core, one of those "Psychology of _________" featurettes with the addition of some history on the comic book pairings of Superman and Batman. It begins with a prologue addressing the earliest intersections of the Superman and Batman universes in the "World's Finest" comic books in the 1950s. It then begins to focus on the psychology of the characters, how they are related to their origin stories, and how they compare and contrast with each other. It continues on to elaborate on how these characteristics fit them into the larger DC Universe, and then turns back to the comics to talk about how Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" comic exploited the differences in their world views in a way that would influence all subsequent pairings of the characters in comics and animation. On camera interview comments are offered by Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Co-producer Alan Burnett, DC Senior VP Creative Affairs Greg Noveck, Author Danny Fingeroth, Psychoclogy of Superheroes Editor Robin S. Rosenberg, PhD., Author Kevin J. Anderson, and DC Senior VP Executive Editor Dan Didio. This featurette was mildly interesting, but I wish it had spent more time tracing the history of the comics than the psychology of the characters.

The somewhat awkwardly titled Dinner with DCU and Special Guest Kevin Conroy (55:59) is more or less just what it sounds like. Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy, Producer Bruce Timm, Voice Director Andrea Romano, and Noveck sit at a restaurant enjoying the latter part of a meal while discussing a wide ranging number of topics from their nearly two decades of collaboration while three or four cameras record the conversation. The conversation is allowed to flow freely, and while camera angles frequently change, the discussion itself only has a handful of edit points that break up the continuity. Topics discussed include the 1991 casting of Conroy as Batman (his first voiceover job for animation), the unique elements of Batman: The Animated Series, how Conroy's voice provided continuity through multiple iterations of Batman-themed animated series, the logistics of how they did the voice recording, humorous behind the scenes anecdotes, the widely varying levels of knowledge of the comics of the various creative people behind the series, feedback from fans, how the comics and animated series mutually influenced each other, the challenges of adjusting to the ensemble structure of the Justice League Animated series, voice casting for the DC Universe DTV movies, specific discussion of the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies production, the performances and styles of other voice actors, and the unique challenges associated with "post-dubbing" the Gotham Knight DTV segments.

First Look at "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths: (11:12) is a "behind the scenes" preview at the next planned DC Universe animated direct to video movie. It consists of a montage of talking head interviews, voice recording session footage, comic art, production art, and occasional bits of production animation. The movie is in the tradition of various "alternate universe" tales from DC comics which have been used over the years to create "evil" mirror versions of popular characters, to fold characters from other comic companies acquired by DC into their universe's continuity, to rationalize the co-existence of golden and silver age comics characters within the DC Universe, and to retroactively revise the thorny continuities of some of the longest running DC Universe characters. The story will be written by Dwayne McDuffie who has an excellent track record with comics and comic-themed animation projects (check out some of the "Justice League: Unlimited" episodes included as bonus features on this disc for evidence) and features James Woods as the voice of one of its primary villains. On camera comments are provided by Timm, McDuffie, Noveck, Director Lauren Montgomery, Romano, and members of the voice cast including William Baldwin (Batman), Mark Harmon (Superman), Chris Noth (Luthor), James Woods (Owlman), and Gina Torres (Superwoman).

Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event is a promo for the DC Comics event crossing over multiple comics that began last summer. The premise involves "Black Lanterns" which are reanimated dead beings, allowing for the return of several DC characters killed over the past few years of stories, albeit in somewhat zombified form. This promo/preview was previously included as an extra on the Green Lantern: First Flight DTV releases a few months back. Montages of comic art are mixed with on-camera interview comments from Didio and comic writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasini

The next four features offer behind the scenes looks at other DC Universe animated films, and have roughly the same structure as the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths preview discussed earlier. They have all appeared previously on other DC Universe animated DTV DVD and/or BD releases.

Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess (4:3 letterboxed - 10:26) includes on-camera comments from Levitz, Didio, Noveck, Timm, Montgomery, writer Michael Jelenic, and voice actors Keri Russell (Wonder Woman), Nathan Fillion (Steve Trevor), Alfred Molina ("Ares"), and Rosario Dawson (Artemis), and Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta)

Batman Gotham Knight: An Anime Revolution (4:3 letterboxed - 10:09) includes on-camera comments from Didio, Batman writer/editor Denny O'neil, Levitz, Noveck, Timm, and writer Josh Olsen.

From Graphic Novel to Original Animated Movie: "Justice League: The New Frontier" (10:45) includes on-camera comments from Levitz, Executive Producer Sander Schwartz, Writer/Artist Darwyn Cook, DC Editorial Art Director and Editor Mark Chiarello, Producer Mike Goguen, Didio, Noveck, Director David Bullock, Timm, Screenwriter Stan Berkowitz, Romano, and voice cast members Kyle McLachlan (Superman), Lucy Lawless (Wonder Woman), and David Boreanaz (Green Lantern)

"Green Lantern: First Flight" The Original Animated Movie Sneak Peek (10:12) features on-camera comments from Didio, Timm, Noveck, O'Neil, Writer Alan Burenett, Romano, Montgomery, and voice actors Christopher Meloni (Green Lantern), Victor Garner (Sinestro), Michael Madsen (Kilowog), and Tricia Helfer (Boodika)

Finally, the disc also includes four episodes from the Justice League Unlimited animated series and two episodes from the late 1990s Superman animated series. The Justice League Unlimted episodes are Question Authority, Flashpoint, Panic in the Sky, and Divided we Fall. They average about 23 minutes each and represent the culmination of a story arc in the series that had the US government coming into conflict with the Justice League in a way that somewhat parallels the events in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. The episodes are among the best from that series. A/V quality looks identical to the DVD release of Justice League Unlimted - Season One including suffering from some "jaggies" that are very noticeable with hand-drawn animation. The Superman animated series episodes are The Demon Reborn and Knight Time. Both are about 21 minutes, are presented in 4:3 full frame standard definition video, and feature story lines with Batman and Superman crossing over. In "The Demon Reborn", villain Ra's Al Ghul kidnaps Superman in an attempt to further extend his life, and Batman does his best to foil him. In "Knight Time", Superman masquerades as Batman at Robin's request while they both attempt to maintain order in Gotham while getting to the bottom of Batman's mysterious disappearance. These episodes also appear to be derived from the same masters as their earlier DVD releases and are generally softer in appearance than the Justice League Unlimited episodes with more noticeable video artifacts.

Packaging

The disc is packaged in a standard sized blu-ray case with holes in the hard case to reduce plastic use. The interior of the case has a paper insert with information about how to download a Windows Media digital copy of the film (presumably at a reduced price). The hard case is, in turn, placed inside a cardboard slipcover that duplicates the art on the exterior insert with the addition of foil enhancements that emanate lines of impact from Superman's fist.

Summary****

Superman/Batman teams up two of the comic world's most popular characters and is one of the stronger entries in the recent slate of DC Universe animated direct to video movies. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with flawless video quality and a strong, though not lossless, 5.1 audio track. Extras are pretty basic, all in standard definition, and include a lot of previously available material. The best new feature is an extended wide-ranging "dinner discussion" with some of the production team of the DC animated TV and DTV products and voice actor Kevin Conroy. The best repurposed features are six episodes from the Justice League Unlimited and Superman animated television series. The dearth of newly produced extras may possibly be related to the fact that the producers turned out two of these DTV animated movies in a period of just over two months.

Regards,


Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 2 OFFLINE   Jason_V

Jason_V

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Posted September 24 2009 - 02:33 AM

Thanks Ken!  It's great to hear the aspect of Wonder Woman I most disliked (gratuitous violence) isn't present here.  Action and violence is one thing, but when characters get beheaded, it feels over the top.