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BATMAN: YEAR ONE
(***)

BATMAN: YEAR ONE DVD
Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Lauren Montgomery, Sam Liu
Written by:
Tab Murphy, based on the story by Frank Miller
Starring the Voices of:
Bryan Cranston, Benjamin McKenzie, Eliza Dushku,
Running time:
64 minutes
Released:
10/18/11-direct to dvd
Rated PG-13 for violence and some sexual material.
"Batman: Year One adapts Miller's tale with excellent animation and first-rate voice work from a talented cast, finding a nice balance between human moments and exciting action sequences."
Batman: Year One is a darker, grittier Batman than we've seen in the already dark-and-gritty DC Universe animated features. This is a film in which, among other things, the Dark Knight does battle in the middle of Gotham City's porn district, and some of the violence is fairly bloody.
The graphic novel, as they say, is always better but this full-length made-for-DVD animated adaptation of the Eighties comic does a decent job of representing the source material.

In the hoopla surrounding Frank (300, Sin City) Millerís influential Batman: The Dark Knight Returns comic Millerís own 1987 Batman: Year One graphic novel (or comic arc to be more accurate) is often forgotten, even though it was probably a bigger influence on Christopher Nolanís Batman Begins movie than Returns. For starters an action sequence in which Batman (Christian Bale) is trapped in an abandoned apartment building by trigger happy SWAT team members is taken almost verbatim from Millerís Year One - right down to Batman using a sonic gizmo to attract a swarm of bats!

Like the Nolan movies, Frank Millerís story is concerned with how Batman would work in the real world. Here the real world is more influenced by Taxi Driver and typical 1970s urban decay than the 1930s crime fiction noir that inspired the character originally. It is a tougher and grittier Batman, and although one has gotten used to Batman being tough and gritty over the past few decades it often easy to forget the self-aware irony of the ĎSixties TV show and the day-glo neon of the Joel Schumacher Batman movies (shudder).

Batman: Year One sticks closely to the original comic, right down to the multiple voice-over technique. The story of Batmanís first year as a masked vigilante is told from the perspective of a wet behind the ears Bruce Wayne still trying to figure out how to avenge the death of his parents (what does make a man dress up like a bat and go out and fight muggers?) and a younger Captain Gordon, newly arrived in Gotham City and finding it to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy Ė most of the crooks being corrupt cops!

As the title suggests, the story depicts the year that Bruce Wayne (voiced by Benjamin McKenzie) begins patrolling Gotham's streets in his bat costume. It is also the first year that honest cop Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston) spends on the city's police force. Both men face trials and tribulations: Batman takes on villains in a corrupt political system, while Gordon struggles to defend himself from fellow cops who want him to be as crooked as they are. Eliza Dushku provides the voice of Catwoman, who is borne from the dust that Batman and Gordon kick up in the city.

Miller's story has always been solid, because it adds a lot of character depth to this world. The movie version keeps that intact. We can see that Batman is an outlet for Bruce Wayne's anger toward those who killed his parents. Dressing up to nobly fight crime is his way of trying to right the world's wrongs. Gordon, meanwhile, has unbending values while on duty, yet carries on an illicit affair with a female cop on the side. His own double standard eats away at him. Batman: Year One adapts Miller's tale with excellent animation and first-rate voice work from a talented cast, finding a nice balance between human moments and exciting action sequences.

The only complaint I have is that, at just 64 minutes, it's awfully short. Some scenes last only a few seconds, delivering a crucial plot point and then moving on. I'd have liked to see a slightly longer take on the story. What's here is very good, and quite frankly, I wanted even more. Some of the other DC Animated Universe pictures have run about 80 or 85 minutes. Batman: Year One should have had that length. The substance of the story kind of demands a longer length. Several things feel rushed here.

That said, I still recommend Batman: Year One. It's a smart, well made, and suitably introspective Dark Knight/Jim Gordon adventure.

BATMAN: YEAR ONE  © 2011 Warner Home Video
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2011 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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