Batman: Under the Red Hood Blu-ray Review
Batman: Under the Red Hood comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the VC-1 codec and framed within a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is region free.
Starting with the good news first. The colours are bold, vivid and show no signs of bleeding, maintaining their hues with stability. This is a dark piece and many scenes take place in the shadows, as one would expect of a Batman tale, but primaries are still striking, most notably the red of The Red Hood's mask. Blacks hold true and are capable of inky depths whilst there is a surprisingly copious amount of fine detail animated and detectable within the shadows. Things are understandably two dimensional, but there are some nice stretching effects to the drawing that drags the eye into the frame and creates something of an illusional sense of depth. With the more complex CG backgrounds, traditionalistic protagonists and objects moving in the fore, many have come to accept an almost perceptible stepped effect to modern animation images (particularly when of a lower budget), but other than a few occasions when the palette seemed overly altered for the latter, this was not a problem.
Unfortunately not everything with regards the visuals is as rosy. The instances when the fore and background don't seem in the same tangible world primarily come about due to the presence of aliasing and banding. Jagged lines are most noticeable on the curves of faces in some of the finer line art (which to its credit generally stays well delineated and free from problems) and the slants of buildings and wires in the near to mid distance. Complex gradations in the vistas, particularly those of a lighter colour or mixing tones, sporadically show up bands and there are even some moments that it can creep onto more simplistic surfaces such as masks in close up. In addition, there are also a few instances of noise and basically this just adds up to the type of niggling blights Blu-ray viewers have come to expect from a disc crammed full of extras, and a lossless audio track, all squeezed onto a single layer BD. These by no means spoil the experience, and on a smaller screen are far less noticeable, but for those projecting the image it may just take the shine off and detract from all the good work the punchy and generally stable visuals provide.
The main track selling point here is an English DTS-HD Master Audio track, but there are also three standard Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks; German, Spanish (Castillian) and Portuguese. Obviously I opted for the lossless English track.
Unlike many of the previous instalments in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line which had vanilla DD mixes, the presence of a lossless track is a definite bonus. Right from the start it is apparent that bass will not be used sparingly, as it is blasted through all action sequences as well as drip fed through many scenes that arguably don't call for it. I never thought I'd watch an animated feature where I thought the LFE was somewhat overused, but this is perhaps it and the cumulative effect will either leave you grinning from ear to ear or turning your sub down a fraction as this proves to be a bombastic experience. Explosions hit hard thanks to these lower frequencies, but this also betrays the slightly simplistic nature of the mix. Crashing windows should utilise the higher frequencies and demonstrate directionality from the falling glass, rather than aim to shake the viewer, being a touch disproportional in ferocity of LFE in comparison to the levelling of entire buildings.
The bass also underpins Christopher Drake's score well, but again there is a lack of finesse that shows up the budget nature of the title. There is nothing wrong per se about the orchestration, but the slightly limited dynamic range holds the music back from truly soaring as one would hope it would when accompanying a Batman adventure. The mix is predominantly front heavy, with surrounds speakers being used very sparingly for anything approaching genuine discreet effects, instead they are brought in to bleed in the occasional touch of ambience but little else that creates a cohesive field of sound from front to back or side to side.
The centre is spot on though, with some fantastically warm and rich tones to the voices of the baritone comic book creations and some neat effects that blend seamlessly into the speech. This is an aggressive mix, but one that lacks a certain degree of finesse. It opts for typical cartoonish front heavy thrills and a powerful workout for your sub, which given the subject material certainly isn't a bad thing, but the more picky/snobbish viewer may find it a touch base (sorry, couldn't help it).
DC Showcase - Jonah Hex - 1080p - 11:53
A fantastic little short starring every comic fan's favourite disfigured cowboy. The art style is notably more anime than the main feature and it has a great voice cast including Thomas Jane, Linda Hamilton and Michael Rooker. Short but gritty and stylishly violent.
Robin: The story of Dick Grayson - 480p - 24:13
Various comic bods and people associated with the production talk about all things related to the original Boy Wonder. The visuals are the usual array of talking heads interspersed with shots of comic artwork but it's the discussion that's the most interesting here. From his creation and why this was a necessity, to the characters that inspired Bob Kane and Robin's distinctive costume, there is little that isn't covered. As ever, some commentators are more insightful than others and there is a touch of over intellectualising of what was basically pulp fare but that doesn't detract from a very interesting feature.
Robin's Requiem: The tale of Jason Todd - 480p - 20:58
A companion piece to the previous featurette that goes on to discuss the second Robin. It's nice to hear from the people involved with the decision making process at DC comics at the time and their thoughts about the killing off of a main character as in the intervening years there have been many stories that run at odds with each other.
A first look at Superman/Batman Apocalypse - 480p - 12:12
Less a look at, as there isn't really any footage, and more an explanation as to why this particular storyline, involving the origin of Supergirl, was chosen to be the ninth title in the DC Universe Animated Original Stories line. There are some sketches and comic artwork as well as a few thoughts on why it is a great narrative to bring to the screen.
Bonus episodes - 480p - 88:07
Four episodes taken from Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures series, hand picked by Bruce Timm himself. They comprise of Robin's Reckoning (Parts 1 and 2) which explores Dick Grayson's origins and his pursuit of his parents' killer, Mad Love which is a more comedic look at Harley Quinn's relationship with The Joker and finally The Laughing Fish, a typically madcap tale of The Joker's criminal high jinks. The episodes look a little the worse for wear, with print damage evident, and at 480p they were never going to be visually breathtaking, but they are certainly a nice addition for those who don't already own the various DVD boxsets and are simply dipping their toes into animated Batman material.
Trailers for Jonah Hex (480p - 1:12), The Lord of the Rings (animated) (480p - 1:20), Legend of the Guardians (480p - 2:22) and Superman: Doomsday (480p - 2:20). Strangely two “A first look at” featurettes are lumped into this category for trailers, these include Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (480p - 11:12) and Batman: Gotham Knight (480p - 10:09).
Unfortunately for those who are Mac aficionados, this is Windows Media compatible only.
This is a classic Batman tale brought to the screen in a manner that fans of the Bruce Timm animated series will feel instantly at home with. Those looking for more cutting edge animation may feel a little disappointed, particularly if they were hoping for more anime delights such as those found in Batman: Gotham Knight, but reproducing that experimental style was never the producers' intention. It is a solid story told with enough flair to keep both fans and newcomers' attentions.
The disc suffers from the problems all lower budget straight-to-video animations are plagued by, namely some unsightly aliasing and banding. The former is never significantly distracting (particularly on sub 60” screens) but the troubles that are found inherent in complex gradations may irk some when they arise, but this doesn't completely override the bold colours, lack of bleed and fine line detail that is apparent. The sound is bombastic and invigorating, if simplistic, but to expect too much from such fare would be churlish. The extras are not only the icing on the cake but arguably the best elements of the disc, as they prove to be both informative and entertaining. A solid disc that has a few transfer issues but counterbalances this with some excellent bonus material.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59
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