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BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT

Review by Gordon Justesen

Voices: Kevin Conroy, Gary Dourdan, David McCallum, Parminder Nagra, Ana Ortiz
Directors: Various
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 76 Minutes
Release Date: July 8, 2008

“Can anyone here speak for the holy man?”

“I CAN!”

Film ***1/2

Several years ago, when The Matrix was about to reboot with its two sequels, we were offered a collection of animated shorts to satisfy our Matrix fix. This unique anthology, told mostly through the style of anime, was an intriguing spectacle called The Animatrix, and it’s been a while since another hit franchise offered something similar. With everyone eagerly awaiting The Dark Knight, fans of the legendary superhero are about to get the same level of satisfaction in the form of Batman: Gotham Knight.

It’s been quite some time since I, myself, saw Batman in any form of animated glory. In fact, I believe the last time I saw him in the animated world was the underrated and quite phenomenal movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. I would catch snippets of the animated series here and there, but never a full episode (though I do remember Bruce Wayne having the biggest chin I’d ever seen on any animated character).

So it goes without saying that Gotham Knight is both a unique and fantastic experience, and whether you’re hip to the animated aspect of the character or not, this is something Batman fans can’t afford to miss. It’s a work of many gifted visionaries, each of whom presents Batman in a different and unique way. It’s pretty much The Dark Knight’s own version of I’m Not There.

Bringing together talented writers and anime visionaries, Gotham Knight is essentially six animated shorts detailing different exploits of The Dark Knight himself. And being that each animated segment comes from a different style of writing and animation, each interpretation of Batman is different both in appearance and in character. Because Batman is one of my top favorite comic book characters of all time, seeing him presented from these multiple perspectives was most invigorating.

And although the six vignettes aren’t linked to one another, they serve collectively as a transition between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. All I can say is that if any hint of the villains in these shorts will be featured in The Dark Knight, we are in for something truly phenomenal. But in all honesty, I doubt that will be the case.

The first animated short is titled “Have I Got a Story For You”, which comes from writer Josh Olson, who created the graphic novel A History of Violence, and director Shojiro Nishimi. It tells of a group of kids who have each had an encounter with Batman in the same day. Through each kid’s recollection, we see Batman in multiple descriptions, as well as different appearances.

“Crossfire”, the following segment, comes from comic writer/novelist Greg Rucka and director Futoshi Higashide. This mainly follows the Gotham City police who, with the exception of one Jim Gordon, have never been trusting of Batman. But as a Russian mob force threatens to take over Gotham, the police must overcome their mistrust of The Dark Knight.

The third short is titled “Field Case”, written by Jordan Goldberg and directed by Hiroshi Morioka. In this segment, a much younger Bruce Wayne is working alongside weapons specialist Lucius Fox. Through a new piece of technology involving magnetic distortions, Bruce constructs a new bulletproof shield that takes care of all guns within a close range. It mainly deals with Batman’s views on guns and why he refuses to use them.

The fourth segment, “Darkness Dwells”, comes from Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer and director Yasuhiro Aoki. This brings Batman face to face, if only a little too briefly, with the ugly nemesis known as Killer Croc. And in case you were wondering what exactly happened to Scarecrow at the end of Batman Begins, this will provide the answer.

Award winning comic writer Brian Azzarello and director Toshiyuki Kubooka provide the fifth animated short, titled “Working Through Pain”. Here, we see Bruce Wayne in an early training period. He meets a mysterious Indian woman named Cassandra, who will help Bruce possess a series of techniques which will help him master both the physical and spiritual consequences of his actions as Batman.

We now come to our sixth and final short, and they truly did save the absolute best for last. “Deadshot” is the work of Emmy award winning writer Alan Burnett and director Jong-Sik Nam. Not only does this portion tie together all the threads from the previous animated shorts, but also it brings Batman face to face with a deadly assassin known as Deadshot. And all I can tell you is that this villain made such an impression on me, that I seriously hope he makes an appearance in a future Batman movie.

Though I’ve never really gotten into any sort of anime, other than maybe Speed Racer, it wasn’t difficult at all adjusting to seeing Batman in a new style. Besides, when you’ve got Kevin Conroy lending his voice to the character once again, you simply can’t go wrong, as Conroy still provides the best voice possible for the character. And though I wish the segments themselves could’ve been a bit longer, especially the last one, Batman: Gotham Knight is a terrific appetizer for Dark Knight fans everywhere until the movie event of the year arrives.

Video ***

As I mentioned, anime is an art form I really need to get adjusted to, especially in the DVD world. That being said, the anamorphic presentation from Warner is most satisfying overall. The animation does suffer slightly from occasional grain, but everything surrounding that looks borderline amazing. Color quality is especially noteworthy.

Audio ***1/2

The Dolby 5.1 mix provides a most solid sound mix to go along with the unique visuals. Everything from music to background noise to the nonstop action all blend tremendously well, making grand use of both side and rear channels. I even noticed a fine presence of bass in some of the big confrontations between Batman and numerous baddies. Dialogue delivery is top of the line all the way.

Features ***1/2

For starters, this 2-Disc Special Edition release from Warner boasts one of the best packaging slipcovers of recent memory. We get some really neat extras as well. On Disc One, we have a commentary with DC Comics Senior Vice President/Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, Former Batman Editor Dennis O'Neil and the voice of Batman himself, Kevin Conroy. There’s also a nice little sneak peek at an upcoming Wonder Woman animated movie, which will be hitting DVD in early 2009.

On Disc Two, we get two incredible documentaries. The first of which is titled “A Mirror For the Bat: The Evil Denizens of Gotham City”, which explores the various villains Batman faces in this anthology. The second documentary, “Batman and Me, A Devotion to Destiny: The Bob Kane Story”, is worth the price of the disc alone as it chronicles the very man behind the Batman foundation, and features interviews with the likes of Mark Hamill and Stan Lee. And rounding out the extras, we have four Bonus Episodes from the hugely popular Batman: The Animated Series. The shorts include, “Legends of the Dark Knight”, “Heart of Ice”, “Over the Edge” and “I Am the Night”.

Summary:

Batman: Gotham Knight is a terrific animated anthology that die hard fans, as well as those inferior to anime, will find absolutely mesmerizing. Both the animated shorts and the documentaries featured on the DVD make this a must have item for Dark Knight fans everywhere!

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