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Batman: The Animated Series
Volume 1

review by Zach B.

 

 

Not Rated

Starring the voices of: Kevin Conroy, Bob Hastings, Clive Revill, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Robert Costanzo, Mark Hamill, Richard Moll, Ron Perlman, Paul Williams, Adrienne Barbeau

Running Time: 625 Minutes

 

Studio: Warner Bros.

Retail Price: $49.98

Features:
Disc 1: Audio Commentary with Producers Eric Rodomski and Bruce Timm on "On Leather Wings," The Dark Knight's First Night featurette
Disc 2: Audio Commentary with Producer Eric Rodomski, Producer Bruce Timm and Writer Paul Dini on "Heart Of Ice," Batman: The Legacy Continues Retrospective Featurette
Disc 3: Tour Of The Batcave
Disc 4: Previews

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Surround Stereo, French Dolby Surround Stereo, Spanish Dolby Surround Stereo, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Episode Selection, Four-Disc Set

Released: July 13th, 2004

 

 

Way back in 1992, "Batman: The Animated Series" premiered on Fox and in a mere instant, a successful TV series was born. Feeding off a similar, more darker tone of the Tim Burton "Batman" films and Frank Miller's graphic novels (and perfectly lined up to follow summer 1992's "Batman Returns"), this new incarnation of the legendary superhero captivated the imaginations of not only the kids, but adults as well. (Am I mistaken, but in an age before ridiculous TV ratings, didn't this show come with a warning before some or most episodes? And wasn't it aired a bit later on most affiliates, around 5 P.M.?) The show received many critical kudos (and recognition with an Emmy award and a few other nominations), and of course raked in quite a bit of cash with merchandise (action figures, its own comic series and who could forget the Konami Game Boy game?). And while the Batman movies ended up floundering with Joel Schumacher at the helm a few years later, the animated Batman helped begin not only a new franchise for Warner animation, but it also helped start their own Renaissance (too bad their animated film unit ended up getting amputated).

Under the watchful eyes of show runners Bruce Timm and Eric Rodomski (and of course writer Paul Dini, all three veterans of "Tiny Toon Adventures"), "Batman: The Animated Series" got it right from the start. Timm and Rodonski knew the character, knew the franchise and knew exactly how to present it and take it with an animated television series. Comparable to Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" films, this newly animated Batman wasn't all action. The show took its time to develop and flesh out, and even more importantly, understand its characters - be it main, supporting or reoccurring. Certainly the younger ones could enjoy Batman fighting, stopping trouble and avoid death a lot of times (which was always well done and entertaining). But for the older fans, the show had more of a psychological twist which they could really reach into and discover. Maybe some of this went over the heads of the kiddies, maybe some of it didn't. Nonetheless, the show was gripping - it often said a lot about morality, corruption, power and the complexity of human nature.

As most of us should know at this point, Bruce Wayne is Batman. An orphan after his parents were shot in the street when he was a child, good old Bruce decided to dedicate his life to the cause of justice. And thankfully he did, or who else would be able to stop such a deadly assortment of bad guys? The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, The Mad Hatter, Clayface, Catwoman... the list does go on a bit. Of course, through it all, we'd learn more about the origins of these evil-doers and their motives - not to mention some of Bruce Wayne's inner turmoil as well. And while they didn't directly stop crime, Wayne's loyal servant Alfred and Commissioner Gordon were usually there to help out.

Out of all the television series I have seen in my life thus far, "Batman: The Animated Series" is one of the select few I can appreciate (and really love) the most. It never jumped the shark (as they say in TV terms these days), as it really found an amazing approach to make it fresh and exciting. Not only did it expose the core of Bruce Wayne and his inner life, but it really established Gotham City as a place that was real. The scripts were never tiresome, repetitive or in the least bit boring and the action was well-put together. But even more impressive is how the series showed off the more human side of the characters - both good and bad, as if you could relate or at least feel for some of them. The dialogue was realistic, free-flowing and natural and the show was incredibly witty, or never afraid to be. That's not to say it was laugh-out-loud funny, but the sometimes playful quips of the characters were incredibly smart - almost as if these were lines from "Frasier." This is a show that set very large boundaries - piece by piece even - and filled these boundaries perfectly.

What the series was also known for besides its sleek, darker nature was the stylized animation (which of course, wonderfully fit in with the show's more heavy tone). The animation always flowed smoothly, and was always quite detailed - be it the character designs, the Batcave, hideouts or the streets of the metropolis that is Gotham City. The show definitely had a flawless look to it, all mainly covered in darkness to reflect some uncertainty and deadliness (it's pretty rare to find a lighter background on this show, let alone a light one.) Still, this blacker-than-black (for a cartoon at least) tone established the series, what it was and what it stood for.

Also not to be counted out is the series' voice acting - everybody did an outstanding job. Kevin Conroy was certainly a fine Bruce Wayne and Batman. Charming and more at ease as Wayne, if a bit suspicious at times, Conroy conveyed a more gruff and brooding tone as the Dark Knight. There were two great Alfreds (Clive Revill in the first three shows, who was then replaced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), and the work of Bob Hastings as Gordon and Robert Costanzo as a fellow law enforcer he butted heads with should be noted. The villain voices were fantastic to - Mark "Luke Skywalker" Hamill played a great Joker, Adrienne Barbeau was a very fine Catwoman while Ron Perlman, Michael Ansara, Richard Moll, Paul Williams and the late, great Roddy McDowall among others all stood out too. The voice casting on this series was top-notch.

I don't know what else there really is to say about this excellent series, but hopefully what I said covers the important points and why the show was so great and important (at least to me). If you've never seen the show, even if you are not a comic book or superhero fan, you owe yourself to check out just how amazing it is - and you can now do it from the beginning in this first volume set. The first twenty-eight episodes of the show (in their original production order) are here (seven per disc), so whether you're a long time Batfan or you're not to familiar with this caped crusader, then get ready some quality storytelling on DVD.

 

Just as they were presented on TV back in the 1992 season, all twenty-eight episodes are presented in 1.33:1 full screen. The results are above decent, but personally, I was hoping for better. For one thing, the show's stark and dark look is ultimately well represented with strong blacks and fine shadow detail. Colors are very well saturated and look natural, and the animation is more fluid than ever. My main gripes come with how the source prints of the episode look - they are not often flattering to say the least. Dirt pieces, specks, blemishes and scratches come up rather often, and they certainly are nuisances. Grain is apparent sometimes, and contrast is kept up on the high side resulting in a lot of shimmering and noise. Sad to say, the episodes are not as well restored as they could be, but the show's main look does come off well for the most part and that is key. Hopefully the transfers will improve in future volumes.

 

Faring much better is the audio, as all the episodes feature Surround Stereo tracks in English, Spanish and French (subtitles are also in these languages, and there's also English closed captions). While they didn't really sound surround-ish to me, the tracks definitely are in stereo and have pretty strong stereo effects. Batman fighting against all sorts of arch-villains (and the villains doing their own evil deeds) do bring quite a few punches and power to the tracks, as these sound effects are action-filled and discrete. But there are more subtle moments on these tracks - the quiet hampering of footsteps, clocks ticking and the whispers of the night among other things. The show's excellent musical compositions sound fantastic too, and the dialogue is very clear and ultimately crisp. In short, these are very involving and to a degree, imaginative audio tracks.

 

Starting things off on the first disc is an Audio Commentary with Producers Eric Rodomski and Bruce Timm on the premiere episode "On Leather Wings." The two have a very friendly chat about the episode itself (who Timm has seen recently but Rodomski has not in several years), and the origin and nature of the series. They are very well spoken, intelligent and certainly are enthusiastic and passionate about their work. They offer praise, have a few laughs and really dive into what they wanted to establish with the series atmosphere and look. Timm does quite a bit of the talking, but Rodomski does chime in a bit. This is a must-listen if you like the show.

Also on disc one is the featurette The Dark Knight's First Night. A three minute introduction with Timm and Rodomski explain how the show fell into their hands originally (both were working on another great series, that being Warner's own "Tiny Toon Adventures"). The did a very impressive short pilot, a pencil test of which is spliced with their interviews and then show in its entirety (running about two minutes) after (however, the original audio track was lost and is replaced with the show's main theme). The video quality understandably is not amazing, but the animation is just as fantastic as featured in the show. Well worth viewing.

On the second disc we have another (and the last) Audio Commentary, this time with Producers Eric Rodomski, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini (for the episode "Heart Of Ice"). Like the first commentary, there is a wealth of information to behold here - from slight production mishaps to the show's overall development (and best of all, no real retreading of things said on the first commentary). Dini is quite lively here, and offers a great perspective on being a writer in general and for the show as he touches on developing the character of Mr. Freeze (Timm also goes into the development of Freeze as well). Rodomski is a bit quiet again here, but does manage a few comments as Timm and Dini often go back and forth with a slew of observations and comments. I enjoyed Dini's involvement here, and this commentary is also a must-listen.

There's another featurette on this disc too - Batman: The Legacy Continues (lasting about eighteen minutes). With the usual show clips and production stills, we have several interviews to watch which include the likes of comic writer Mark Waid, comic writer Geoff Johns, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Eric Rodomski, DC Comics editor Bob Schreck, vice president of editorial at DC Comics Dan Didio, producer Alan Burnett, author and comic historian Les Daniels, director Dan Riba, Kevin Conroy, voice caster/director Andrea Romano and Mark Hamil. Covered in this featurette is the show's animation, the producers approach to the character, why this approach made the show so successful, the voice acting and other characters featured on the show (got to love Harley Quinn). This is an excellent featurette, which really gives viewers quite a few reasons from different people what made the show so rich, different and compelling.

Disc three has a Tour Of The Batcave - which is mainly some slight text and stills featuring Batman, his utility belt, Bat-Vehicles and Alfred. There is some slight narration offering more detail, and the opportunity to see some of the topics in action (go Batmobile, go!). Fun and enjoyable for a time or two, but nothing really tremendous.

Rounding the set off are some previews for other animated TV shows from the DC universe available from Warner, and inside each set, is a free ticket to the Halle Berry disaster "Catwoman" (good through August 2004). Who can blame them for trying to get people into the theater to see the movie, even if it is for free?

 

I am incredibly thrilled that Warner has begun releasing "Batman: The Animated Series" in chronological order on DVD, especially after they began with a few "best-of" volumes a few years back (and apparently, plan to continue). The episodes look pretty decent, the sound quality is quite good and there are some pretty fine extras to boot. This series was an instant classic, and fans of the show or comic book freaks in general should be quite happy to have this set on their shelves. Bring on volume 2!