Batman: Year One (Blu-ray Review)15 Oct, 2011 By: John Latchem
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray
Rated 'PG-13' for violence and some sexual material.
Voices of Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco.
Anyone who hasn’t read the Batman: Year One comic book may still recognize a lot of familiar elements in this animated feature based upon it. Year One would prove hugely influential on the Christopher Nolan Batman films, and elements of it have seeped into some of the animated depictions of the character over the years.
Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli in 1987, Year One originally appeared in issues 404-407 of DC Comics’ regular Batman comic book in the wake of the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline that reset the timelines of most of the DC characters. Year One positioned Batman as the gritty protector of a corrupt Gotham, as young Bruce Wayne returns home on a crusade against the criminal underworld that murdered his parents when he was a child. It shows how he first built an alliance with the incorruptible Jim Gordon to clean up the city, and, in fact, Year One is as much Gordon’s story as it is Batman’s.
Batman has always been unique among the superheroes because his origin is much more complex and psychological than simply ascribing it to a single event, birthright or acquisition of a source of power. Witnessing the death of one’s parents at a young age would certainly be a life-changing experience, but it would take a peculiar set of circumstances to inspire that child to turn himself into a costumed crimefighter many years later. Year One is a crucial chapter in telling that epic story.
The Year One movie is basically a panel for panel re-creation of the comic book, with a few slight embellishments required by the transition from one medium to another. The dialogue is translated almost exactly, which just proves how cinematic Miller’s original script was.
The DC Universe line of direct-to-video animated films has developed a nice niche for adapting popular stories from the comics, and Year One is no exception. This is probably the grittiest of the DC Universe movies, and certainly one of the best. Here is a story that deals with prostitution, murder, adultery and graft, and the film shies away from none of it.
The visual style is very true to Mazzucchelli’s design, and yet clean and fresh. It’s a beautiful film to take in, as each scene looks like it jumps from the pages of a graphic novel. The producers have also made no attempt to modernize the story, keeping it firmly in the period in which it was written, as evidenced by a storefront advertising the rental of Betamax tapes. And yet it still feels contemporary and timeless.
The voice cast is excellent. Ben McKenzie makes for an effective Batman who still has a lot to learn, but the standout is Bryan Cranston, who is simply excellent as Gordon, perfectly capturing his dedication and frustration and setting just the right tone for the rest of the piece.
Eliza Dushku is a nice choice for Catwoman, but she gets more to do in a spinoff short film that is certainly not one for the kiddies. There is a reason these things are rated ‘PG-13.’
The other extras are outstanding. One featurette is a historical retrospective about the creation of the Year One comic and the origins of Batman. Another is an engrossing roundtable discussion featuring DC Comics writers and editors who have worked on the Batman books over the years. The commentary with some of the filmmakers is interesting as a behind-the-scenes anecdote, and a few of the pages of the comic are included digitally if viewers want to compare them with the film (assuming they don’t already have the original comics).