Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Digital Video: Batman Year One

Batman Year One
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Pixels

The strength of Batman Year One, the animated adaptation of Frank Miller and David Mazuchelli's comic book storyline of the same name, is that it stays very close to its source material. Lines of dialogue and narration are taken straight from the comic, frame compositions directly reflect panel layouts, and even dates are adhered to closely (I know this even though it's been years since I read Batman: Year One because Batman's debut is on April 6th, my mom's birthday and also Jesus Christ's birthday, according to official Mormon doctrine--I always thought that was appropriate, in a bordering-on-sacrilegious way, growing up almost as faithful to Batman as I was to the Mormon faith). The film works because the narrative is great--great in ways I'd forgotten, like the way a large cast of characters works because each one is introduced slowly throughout the story, or the way Jim Gordon's relationship with his wife and his affair with Sarah Essen is presented completely devoid of melodrama, or the way Batman has to deal with details like setting up a spotlight and cutting the power in order to create a dramatic entrance.

As for the adaptation itself, the voice acting and music are well-done. I'm not crazy about the animation, at all. The opening sequence is of an airplane entering Gotham City, and both the plane and the city are very obviously computer-generated, devoid of any semblance of style or life. The same is true of later scenes involving cars, helicopters, and even the horde of bats descending on unsuspecting bystanders at the showdown between Batman and the Gotham City SWAT Team. I hate hate hate when traditional animation incorporates scenes that are so obviously CGI. I'm also not a fan of the art style in general, with lines a little too sharp and colors a little too bright to capture the subdued tone of Mazuchelli's and colorist Richmond Lewis's masterpiece.

I do like that the creators decided to make this a period piece rather than attempting to update it for the new millennium. It's not overtly a period piece, mind you, but there are little things like the car models and the fact that Gordon is in the hospital waiting room while his son is born, and even the music has a sort of 80s heavy metal vibe to it. And best of all, a video store that rents both VHS and Beta.

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