Wednesday, July 9, 2008

From the Archive: "Batman - Gotham Knight" 2-Disc Edition DVD Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original DVD Review of “Batman: Gotham Knight.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
“Batman: Gotham Knight”
DVD Review originally published July 9th, 2008

I’m starting to wonder if I’ve ever been so excited for a film as I am for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.  To stop people like me from bursting with anticipation, there’s a new animated anthology film out centering on the caped crusader, animated by some of Japan’s top animators, and you can only find it on DVD.  Is it a satisfying appetizer that can hold one over until The Dark Knight hits theaters?  Find out in my DVD review of Batman: Gotham Knight---Two-Disc Special Edition.


Gotham Knight has been hotly anticipated by fans for months now.  The movie is in the same vein as the 2003 film The Animatrix, which was a collection of short Anime films centered around the popular Matrix trilogy.  Gotham Knight is the same idea; six different American writers wrote six short films, which were animated by six very talented Japanese Anime directors.  This is, of course, a risky sort of project, and rests in a comfortable position far, far away from what we define as “mainstream.”  You can analyze this film on how it works as a whole, or how the individual shorts work. 

Surprisingly, they both work pretty damn well.

Gotham Knight has been heavily advertised as bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  This certainly isn’t true; it doesn’t seem to set up any plots for Dark Knight, and doesn’t answer any questions from Batman Begins.  This isn’t a complaint, just a note on the misguided marketing.  However, the film feels as though it happens in the universe Christopher Nolan established in Batman Begins, and continues some plot strands from that movie. 

The shorts themselves all utilize very different art forms, and each deal with a different element of Batman as a character.  Like Nolan’s take on Batman, this film favors introspectiveness rather than slam-bang action sequences.  There’s plenty of action, don’t get me wrong, but it’s subservient to character development, which can only be described as a good thing.

The shorts don’t form a coherent story that lasts through the 70-minute run time; they all deal with their own plots, but characters and various plot elements are present throughout the shorts.  Police Lieutenant Gordon is featured in many of the shorts, along with his two right-hand officers.  A struggle between the Russian and Italian Mafia is a plot point present in a few of the shorts, as is the Arkham Asylum breakout from the end of Batman Begins.  It’s these elements that tie the shorts together; instead of one continuous film broken into segments, the film works as individual segments which come together to give a fresh, unique perspective on the Dark Knight.

The first short, Have I Got A Story For You deals with a group teenage skateboarders recounting tales of encountering Batman on their way to the Skating rink.  This short, written by A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olsen, fully embraces an important element of Batman; the ability to translate the character in different ways.  Ultimately, Batman shows up and proves all the kids and their stories wrong.  It’s certainly a grand entrance and a great introduction to the film.  This short is quite good, and my only complaint is the animation style.  It’s just a tad too stylized for my tastes (the animation here is reminiscent of the anime scene in Kill Bill).

The next short is Crossfire, which tells a story about Gordon’s two new recruits, Anna Ramirez and Crispus Allen, who are transporting a prisoner to Arkham when they get caught in a battle between the Italians and Russians.  Allen continuously expresses his dislike for Batman, calling him a ‘vigilante.’  But when Batman shows us and saves them, he changes his tune.  This is the first time we see Batman fight in the movie, and it’s more or less epic.  While the first short introduced us to the concept of Batman, this short gives us a better look at him.  The film is obviously building up to something.

Field Test is an interesting tale about Bruce trying out some new equipment from Lucius Fox.  This has a great action scene at the end, which leads up to a nice character moment where Batman rejects the technology because it puts others in harm’s way. 

In Darkness Dwells is probably my favorite short in the whole film.  In it, Batman assists the police in tracking down a kidnapped Cardinal.  He faces Scarecrow again, as well as comic-book villain Night-Croc.  This is the first short that hurts from it’s twelve-minute run time.  While writer David S. Goyer packs an amazing amount of plot and mystery into these twelve minutes, it left me wanting a bit more.

Working Through Pain is a very character driven, introspective short in which Batman, injured while tracking a criminal, reminisces about a time before he returned to Gotham.  During this time, he trains with a mysterious woman named Cassandra who teaches him to work through his exterior and interior pain.  He learns to conquer his physical pain, but is ultimately sent away because Cassandra realizes he wants to use his mental pain for different purposes.  This short has a lot to say about the character, and the ending is simply brilliant.  It’s the least main-stream moment in the entire film, and I’m sure some won’t understand it.  For those who do, you’ll have to agree that it’s genius.

The final short is Deadshot, which, as you might have guessed, deals with the villainous sniper Deadshot, who has come to Gotham to kill Batman and Lieutenant Gordon.  This is probably my second favorite short, but I think the animation style is the best of the bunch.  The action in this short is incredible, and it too packs a good amount of plot into its twelve minutes.  Of all the shorts, this is the only one that really, truly needed another ten minutes or so.  The end result makes you feel shortchanged, and while the short is excellent, the run time stops it from being a masterpiece.

All six shorts work well individually, but as one film, they form something altogether excellent.  The various themes explored throughout the shorts work well as they are passed around to each writer and director.  The shorts are also arranged in an amazing order.  We start by hearing some kids talk about Batman, with only a fleeting glimpse of the Dark Knight.  Then we see Batman in action; next, we see him refining his technique.  After that, we follow a mission from beginning to end.  Next we take a look at the demons that make him do what he does, and Deadshot serves as the grand finale.

The same voice actors are used in all the shorts.  It’s very good across the board, but Kevin Conroy is the one to single out.  He voices Batman/Bruce Wayne.  Conroy is considered by many to be one of the best Batman actors; he voiced the character on the excellent animated series in the early nineties, and I’m sure many fans are excited to hear him again.  I’ve never heard him before, but from his first line of dialogue, the man just feels natural in the role.  I can’t think of another voice actor who could do a better job.

Across the board, the animation is just astounding.  It’s ridiculously detailed and while the animation is heavily stylized, you quickly forget you’re watching a cartoon.  If the content had sucked, the film would still be worth a watch for the art.  One thing that is interesting to note is that, as the film progresses, the film becomes less stylized and slowly turns into a version of Batman that is more recognizable.

Gotham Knight is certainly not for everyone.  If you don’t like anime, or if you like your Dark Knight in a certain way, than stay away from the film.  However, if you’re an anime fan and love different takes on Batman (like I do) than this is the film for you.  I like the movie the more I ponder it, and it’s definitely a great appetizer for the awe-inspiring epic that The Dark Knight is sure to be.  Gotham Knight pushes the envelope for what an animated Batman film can be, and I would love to see a sequel in the near future.

Film Rating: B+


For a direct-to-video feature, it is assumed that the video quality should be very good, if not stellar.  Sadly, the one element that this DVD somewhat falters on is the Video.  It’s not horrible by any means, but there are some flaws.  While colors are always solid and accurate, and detail is exquisite, contrast is muddy.  Gotham is a very dark city, but the blacks in the image are never very deep or dark.  There’s a grainy quality to the image in some sections, more prominently in the short In Darkness Dwells.  While some of this intended, it sometimes becomes distracting and is obviously a DVD flaw.  There are also various digital artifacts that appear on darker colors or edges of objects throughout the film that just shouldn’t be there.  Despite these flaws, the image is, overall, satisfying enough.

The audio is crisp and clear.  Music never overpowers, and dialogue is always clear.  Sound effects are strong, and the action scenes should be singled out for their descriptiveness.  The audio isn’t a home-run, as it lacks the kick many audio tracks on DVD’s do, but there’s really nothing wrong with it.  Despite some flaws, the A/V experience should please viewers.

Video Rating: 7/10
Audio Rating: 8/10


Gotham Knight is available on DVD in two versions; the standard one-disc version, and the Two-Disc Special Edition.  Normally, you wouldn’t expect a direct-to-video animated film to have a good slate of bonus features, but this two-disc set delivers in a big way.

The first disc (which is identical to the standard single-disc edition) features the film, along with an Audio Commentary by DC Comics Vice President Gregory Noveck, Former Batman Editor Dennis O’Neill, and Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman.  The commentary starts out slow, but builds steam as it goes along.  Noveck serves as an unofficial mediator, asking questions to the other two.  Conroy has the most interesting things to say, but he doesn’t start talking a lot until the third short.  O’Neill obviously knows a lot about Batman and is constantly interesting as well.  This is a great listen, though I would have also liked short-specific commentaries with the writers of each short.

The other bonus feature on Disc One is the Wonder Woman Sneak Peak (10:28), which serves as a preview and making-of for DC Universe’s next animated film.  There are interviews with the voice actors and creators, and anyone anticipating this animated film should really enjoy this bonus.

The real meat of the extras is found on Disc Two, which starts off with a documentary entitled A Mirror For The Bat (35:44).  This featurette explores the many villains of Gotham and the role they play in the Batman universe.  Comic book artists, writers from Gotham Knight and others chime in to share their opinions on the villains.  This is great viewing, but gets repetitive fast and could have shorter.

Batman and Me, a Devotion to Destiny: The Bob Kane Story (38:23) is a documentary about the creator of Batman, and is nothing short of fascinating.  Through interviews with everyone from Stan Lee to Mark Hamill, along with archive footage of Kane himself, this documentary explores the life of the man behind the Bat, from his early life to the creation of the Dark Knight.  This documentary alone nearly justifies the price of the set, and is essential viewing to anyone who calls themselves a Batman fan.

Finally, producer Bruce Timm presents his favorite four episodes of the landmark animated series from the early 90’s.  The episodes featured here are Legends of the Dark Knight (which is similar to the “Have I Got A Story For You” segment of Gothma Knight), Heart of Ice, Over the Edge, and I Am the Knight.  Many Batman fans consider this series the definitive adaptation of the Dark Knight, and while I’d never seen this series, watching just one episode made me see why.  Each episode is about 20 minutes, which gives you a solid 80 minutes of viewing.  To anyone who already owns the series on DVD, these episodes are probably worthless, but if you don’t, this is a great addition to the extras.

All together, you have almost three hours of great bonus features that examine Batman from a variety of angles.  My only complaint is the lack of content devoted to Gotham Knight itself.  There are no features about the production of the film, which would have been really cool to see.  Despite that, the bonus features on display make the 2-Disc set the obvious choice to buy.

Extras and Presentation Rating: 8.5/10    


Gotham Knight is an excellent anthology film, sure to whet your appetite for The Dark Knight.  The 2-Disc set is superb, boasting a nearly flawless slate of extras.  If you already own box sets of the original animated series, you’ll have to think hard about purchasing the 2-disc set, because half of the extras are bonus episodes from that series.  But if you don’t own any episodes of that series, than shelling out the extra 10 bucks for the 2-Disc set is a must.

Overall Rating (not an average): 9/10

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