Batman: Gotham Knight Blu-ray Review
Movies reviewSRP: £22.31
PictureWhen Lionsgate stormed the shores with their BDs for the two Avengers movies and Doctor Strange (all reviewed here as well), they revealed lovely bold colours and sharp imagery all right, but they were also blighted by rather overt colour banding - and, sadly, Warner's Gotham Knight's VC-1, 1.85:1 transfer is also prone to it, though to a much lesser degree. But this can still be an unsightly condition that can play havoc with some backgrounds. Primaries, however, are deep and luscious and the image is, predominantly, fantastic.
Whilst the stories all differ in animation style, for the most part, they all revel in glorious colour palettes. Occasionally, as in the first story, the image picks out certain hues and goes to town on them. For example, reds are wildly vibrant in “Have I Got A Story For You”, whilst the rest of the picture is slightly muted and faded. In this episode, the characters, themselves, can appear far less defined than their quite intricate backgrounds - but this is purely the intended design. “Crossfire” reveals exceptional blacks and truly gorgeous oranges and reds for muzzle-flashes, fires and explosions. These are also topped-off with searingly hot whites at their epicentres, making this one of the most aggressively vibrant tales. But the colour scheme for “Field Test” is simply awesome across the board. This one looks like Joel Schumacher had a hand in it, it is so full of garishly bright neon-thick colours - just check out that golfing sequence. But then there is the tear-inducingly beautiful “Working Through Pain” that has those gardens and woods that I mentioned and then that highly impressive sunset that goes from thick, organic crimson to heavenly pinkish-purple. And “Deadshot” manages to combine all these elements together, with tremendous blacks, entrancing greens and some of the most amazing red glows (from the lights of a convoy of police cars) that I have ever seen on an animated film. Just check out Gordon's protective police cortege as they sweep around the corners of Gotham streets, those swirling red lights bathing the screen to perfection. Edge enhancement is not a problem either and there appear to be little or no compression artefacts.
However, standing apart from all the other stories is the fourth instalment, which, on the face of it has one of the shoddiest looking images that I've seen on BD. “In Darkness Dwells” is absolutely horrible, folks. Now, at first I thought something had gone disastrously wrong with either my player for my screen, but flicking back and forth between the other stories and this one revealed that it was only this poor unfortunate section that suffered. Thus, it transpires that this is obviously how it was intended to look - which is utterly bewildering considering the makers would have known that their show was destined for the 1080p realm. Mired by noisy grain and possessed of red or green tinged halos around objects, this looks like the worst collection of transfer bugbears you can imagine. Well, almost. To me, this resembles a lousy duped TV transfer, and that can't be a good thing. I've also had it confirmed by others that it looks unsightly, so it isn't just me being overly picky, either. To all those who decried Zack Snyder's stylistic aesthetic for 300 - here's another one to get in a strop over. But this is how it is supposed to look, regardless.
Having seen the SD version of Gotham Knight, I can confirm that the BD version looks noticeably superior in almost every way. Detail is much clearer - the backgrounds, the buildings and the characters all that crucial bit more revealing - colours are deeper and more vivid and fast action seems to flow better and more smoothly. Overall, barring the design of “In Darkness Dwells”, Gotham Knight looks spectacular.
SoundJust Dolby Digital 5.1 this time around, folks. Considering that Lionsgate like to put lossless tracks on their animated offerings, this is something of a disappointment from Warner, particularly so when the surround usage is minimal and the overall design is rather lacklustre. Although Deadshot's sniper-fire is punchy and loud, the intense fire-fight from “Crossfire” is bombastic and relentless, the precision of the effects and excitement they generate are both underwhelming. Impacts during fight scenes lack the vigour to get you involved in the action despite being spread liberally across the front three channels. Explosions don't really possess much of that all-too necessary “oomph!” and the jet-pack swooshes and fly-bys in “Have I Got A Story For You” simply don't deliver any of the whiz-bang that such a sequence should have had in spades. The jet is nicely guttural and deep, however. The sub gets a little bit of action, but there is nothing here to disturb the neighbours.
I can't fault the dialogue or the score, though. Both come across with life, warmth and energy. Conroy's voice cuts through any amount of gunfire, swooping or fisticuffs and the music from Christopher Drake, Robert Kral and Kevin Manthei - who are all well-versed in scoring animated superheroics with Superman: Doomsday, the Hellboy animated films and Justice League: New Frontiers to their respective names - has some occasionally nice separation across the front, a full acoustic range and a fair degree of instrumental detail. Decent high ends produce some sharp effects too.
Perfunctory and clean, I still think that this track could have been better designed and I am actually struggling to find much in the way of detail to say about it.
ExtrasThe commentary is pretty entertaining and contains plenty of character-based insight into this series of vignettes. It comes courtesy of DC Comics Senior Vice President Greg Noveck, Batman editor and writer Denny O'Neil and the voice of the animated Batman, himself, Kevin Conroy. Around moments of brevity when the trio poke fun at how Batman's cape manages to hang upwards even when he, himself, is hanging upside down and other humorous asides, the track can meander. It is never dull, but it is possibly down to O'Neil alone that we get some meat on its bones. He is the one who knows the history of the Bat and can delved a little deeper into his character and his pathos. Conroy often seems relegated to answering queries about how he voices the part and how they record it, although he, too, does try to probe the tragic mantle of the Bat.
What comes next is god-dust for Bat-fans, though. Batman And Me: A Devotion To Destiny is the Bob Kane story. The celebrated, late great creator of Batman has his life and times dissected in this pretty thorough and surprisingly frank 38-minute exposé, as told by his biographer Tom Andrae, his widow, the still attractive Elizabeth Kane, his original co-artist Jerry Robinson, popular voice of the Joker, Mark Hamill, the ubiquitous rival from Marvel, Stan Lee and a couple of DC head honchos. Filled with archive footage and stills of the man - some great TV interviews and some snippets of a radio broadcast, too - this is a wonderful documentary that doesn't shy away from revealing some of Kane's inadequacies and oddball antics. A confirmed womaniser and dreamer, Kane found the line between fact and fiction often quite blurred and it is known, rather charitably, that he likened himself to his own creation rather too obsessively at times. Though, despite the pseudo-heroic tales he made up about himself, I find it clever that he then reverted to being Bruce Wayne, the playboy, once he got a little too old to pretend to be the Bat. From very humble and impoverished beginnings to the final shining glory when he wept at the adulation of the crowds queuing up for Tim Burton's Batman, this tells of a remarkable life, the legacy of which will simply never die.
With a much less engrossing style comes A Mirror For The Bat: The Evil Denizens Of Gotham City, a 35-minute look at the villains who plague Gotham and harass, in particular, the Caped Crusader. Featuring the usual gamut of comic-book writers and artists and a sprinkling of DC company bosses, this colourful and entertaining documentary supplies psychological backgrounds and fun facts about Batman's Rogues Gallery. All the usual suspects are here - Joker, Riddler, Scarecrow, Penguin, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and Harley Quinn and a host of others - and the doc is delightfully illustrated with many comic strips, cover-art and clips from the various animated shows depicting highlights and confrontations, but there is really nothing new to be gleaned about any of them from this. Sweet, enthusiastic and certainly enough to pass the time, this has a generous running time, but, when you really boil it down, it is nothing more than filler.
Actually much better is a rather weighty sneak-peak at the new Wonder Woman animated movie which is scheduled to arrive next year. With many interviews with the creative team and the voice cast - including Doc Ock, himself, Alfred Molina, Keri Russell, who plays WW, Rosario Dawson and Nathan Fillion - and lots of background on the illustrious career of the Amazonian warrior-ess, this sets the scene for what will inevitably be another origin story and treats us to myriad conceptual artwork, cast performances and plot-points - but no actual footage from the film.
A nice extra is the inclusion of four classic episodes from the Batman Animated Series, selected by show creator Bruce Timm. These are “Heart Of Ice”, “I Am The Night”, “Legends Of The Dark Night” and “Over The Edge”. All are presented in SD 4:3 and, not cleaned-up for this release, look pretty poor when compared with the main attraction.
All together, this is a good solid set of extras that provide plenty of material to explore. Hats off must go to the Bob Kane documentary, though.
VerdictCapturing different angles of The Bat from slightly off-kilter viewpoints is always an intriguing notion. However, what this marriage of Western writers and esteemed anime production houses actually boils down to is an avant-garde and moody exercise in style over substance. Half of the stories here left me cold and unimpressed. The differing aesthetic choices make for a giddy and delightful selection of vistas and the look and feel of the episodes is certainly entrancing enough to keep you watching. But the stories themselves are often a little boring despite some initially intriguing hooks. Out of six tales, only three did I find that I actually enjoyed enough to want to watch again.
AV-wise, the disc has only slight problems. Colour banding can occasionally be apparent and the episode “In Darkness Dwells” is simply too horrible to look at - which is especially worrying as this is one of the three stories that are really worth seeing. Elsewhere, however, the picture is tremendous. The DD mix is sporadically entertaining - it may do nothing wrong but it doesn't actually do much of anything else either. However, the extras are fairly decent. Denny O'Neil provides the meat of the matter in the chat track and the documentary on Bob Kane is long overdue but worthwhile. Overall, Gotham Knight is more for the fans and certainly not a good entry point for those only casually acquainted with Batman.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.31
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