Batman: Gotham By Gaslight Blu-ray Review
Batman vs. The Ripper
DC Animated Studios' first foray into the Elseworlds series provides an arguably unnecessary variation on the classic Batman: Gotham by Gaslight tale.The Elseworlds comic line took common DC heroes out of their usual settings and placed them in alternative timelines and alternative worlds which breathed new life into their familiar adventures. The first ever story was the 1989 one-shot Gotham by Gaslight, which set Batman up in 1889, and essentially pits him against Jack the Ripper, only with a twist as to the identity of the villain. It worked like a dream, bringing forth the Sherlock Holmes side to Batman's detective persona, whilst the artwork by Hellboy artist Mike Mignola remains iconic to this day. DC's Animated run has dipped into plenty of classic comic stories with mixed success, excelling in their 2-part adaptation of Frank Miller's classic The Dark Knight Returns, but stumbling somewhat with what should have been a memorable The Killing Joke adaptation.Gotham by Gaslight unfortunately veers too much away from its source material - inexplicably - weaving in strands from the comic's sequel Master of the Future just to give it more explosions and ruining the superior twist of the original story with its own unnecessary reveal. In these respects it will infuriate the same people disappointed with The Killing Joke. Thankfully it is still an engaging tale in its own right, remaining pretty adult in nature (the murders are suitably slashy) and giving Bruce Greenwood's Batman an excellent companion in the form of Jennifer Carpenter's Selina Kyle. The interaction of these two almost makes up for the detours from the source story, with decent pacing and fiery action keeping you entertained, even if the ultimate twist is too far-fetched for this production's own good.
Picture QualityWarner's release of the DC Animated Batman: Gotham by Gaslight hits UK shores on a Region Free Blu-ray which boasts a solid if distinctly unexceptional 1080p/AVC-encoded High definition video presentation, framed in the production's original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen.
Technically it's solid, but it's an uninspired effort
Unfortunately there's only so much the HD presentation can do with some rather lacklustre animation choices, jettisoning Mignola's distinctive art designs in favour of more traditional artwork that fits better with the rest of the DC catalogue, but also providing distinctly uninspired and at times even amateurish renderings of the same. In-motion, the action impresses; the fiery explosions provide impressive bursts of colour set against the murky, moody cobble-street backdrop, and the hand-to-hand combat is fast and furious, combining more period-familiar boxing moves with a few more familiar martial arts techniques. But slower sequences reveal some less than impressive character animation, set against a slightly more intricate, but still repetitive backdrop which deserved more lavish attention to detail.
Being hard to distinguish between technical faults and limitations of the material, in some respects this video presentation is a very faithful rendition of its source, but given that animations are likely to be judged on line detail as much as anything else, it never even comes close to getting a high score. Technically, it's solid, but it's an uninspired effort.
Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is far more engaging, and has much better material to play with, lending the piece both an authentic period vibe and also modern sensibilities, complete with centre-stage presentation of the at times explosive effects.
A very good aural offering
As you would expect from an animation, dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array, delivered with clarity and coherence throughout, whilst the score affords the feature a perpetual sense of both mystery and urgency, playing across the surrounds, but hitting you front and centre when the action kicks into high gear. Courtesy of the incorporation of setpieces from the source novel's sequel, Master of the Future, we get some great action to bring the surrounds alive, as a burning airship crashes around the cityscape, whilst more up close and personal confrontations are replete with suitably painful cutthroat razor slashes and heavy body blows. Even the LFE channel gets to weigh in on the action, rounding out a very good, almost demo-worthy aural offering.
ExtrasThere's a solid selection of extra features on offer here, headlined by an Audio Commentary from Bruce Timm, Sam Liu and Jim Krieg, trying to explain some of their less welcome choices on this first Elseworlds adaptation, which is nicely complemented by the Making-of Featurette, Caped Fear: The First Elseworlds, which compares the source material with this adaptation.
A solid selection of extra features
We also get a couple of episodes from the DC vaults although they are less than stellar choices, with Batman: The Brave and the Bold an acquired taste at the best of times, providing the episode "Trials of the Demon" which is complemented by the more traditional DC Animated Series episode "Showdown", both of which feature Ra's Al Ghul. There are also a bunch of trailers for previous animated titles as well as previews for upcoming work, including Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, which certainly looks much better than the live action movie.
Blu-ray VerdictIf it wasn't for the existence of a far superior source graphic novel, DC Animated's first foray into Elseworlds might have proven a little more engaging, delivering a suitably grim and distinctly adult pitting of the Dark Knight against Jack the Ripper which boasts a strong female support and some decent action sequences (mainly taken from the source novel's sequel to beef up the action quota) but falls flat in its final reveal. They should have just done it by the book.
They should have just done it by the book
The Blu-ray release of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight provides solid video and very good audio as well as a decent selection of extra features, but those who were disappointed by some of the choices made for the adaptation of The Killing Joke may be similarly displeased here. Nevertheless it's a competently put-together animated production worth checking out to make up your own mind.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £12.99
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