Batman: Year One – DVD/Blu-ray Review
TITLE: Batman: Year One
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco
DIRECTORS: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
STUDIOS: Warner Premiere, Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment
RUN TIME: 64 min
PRICE: $24.98 (Blu-ray), $19.98 (DVD)
RELEASED: October 18, 2011
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Batman: Year One is one of the most faithful graphic novel adaptations I’ve ever seen, and that may be it’s main problem.
Based on the 1987 miniseries by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Batman: Year One chronicles Lieutenant James Gordan’s move from Chicago to Gotham City after an internal affairs scandal. In Gotham, the straight-laced Gordon meets a department of crooked cops from top to bottom, not to mention a city plagued by Carmine “The Roman” Falcone’s criminal empire. Meanwhile, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne returns to the city after a 12-year absence. And he’s got big plans that will change the city forever.
This movie works well as a companion to the book. It’s faithful to a T, with countless panels and lines of dialogue plucked directly from the page. But on it’s own it’s tragically weak and has very little life to it. It actually feels like the filmmakers were too faithful to the book, which I didn’t think was possible in a world where comic book movies are so relentlessly nagged for not sticking to the source material. It seems as if they were too afraid to embellish certain points and have their own ideas about how to convey this great story on film. Instead, they simply looked at what was on the page and said: “Let’s do that.” I respect that mindset greatly, but when the transition from page to film doesn’t go smoothly, the filmmakers need to step in and do something about it. That didn’t happen in Batman: Year One.
The film obviously looks at the side-by-side journeys of Batman and Jim Gordon as they start their respective missions in Gotham City. But the movie does much more justice to Gordon’s story than Batman’s. That’s a big problem when Batman is your title character. Granted, almost all of what we see on screen is as it was in the comics, but the two mediums convey things very differently. In comic books, sometimes all you need is single drawing to convey a gambit of emotions. On film, that has to come to life and be real. For instance, Year One looks at Bruce Wayne’s first night out in the Batman costume. He gets into it with a few burglars on a fire escape and nearly gets one of them killed, not to mention himself. In the book, Bruce’s desperation and relief are brilliantly conveyed in a shot where he’s simply sitting on his butt, his cape sprawled out around him. He’s dressed as this mythic demon figure, but he’s still clearly just a man. In the movie we get that same shot, but it doesn’t work because that’s practically all we get. The movie needed to take brilliant moments like that and expound upon them a bit for the sake of telling the story in a different medium. It didn’t, and the movie suffers greatly for it.
The casting choices certainly don’t help matters. Bryan Cranston does expectantly well as Gordon. Supporting cast members like Jon Polito (Commissioner Loeb) Katee Sackoff (Detective Essen), Liliana Mumy (Holly Robinson) also do nice jobs. But Ben McKenzie’s Bruce Wayne/Batman falls pretty short. It slowly grows on you as the film progresses, and he delivers certain lines quite well (there’s a line about “sharing his pain” that’s particularly strong), but in the grand scheme of things he’s just not right for the role. The same can be said of Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, though that’s much more evident in the accompanying Catwoman short film on the DVD/Blu-ray. Simply put, she sounds like she’s reading, and lacks that certain mix of sass and maturity that Catwoman needs. Alex Rocco’s Carmine Falcone also lacks depth or presence.
As for the Catwoman short written by Paul Dini, it sees the feline fatale go up against a gangster called Rough Cut. The action in this short is awesome, and it’s surprisingly sexual, with a decent amount of it taking place in strip club. But Dushku’s performance holds it back in terms of quality. She comes off like a girl trying to play a woman’s part. Still, the short is a strong selling point for a Catwoman feature down the road (to coincide with The Dark Knight Rises perhaps?).
At 64 minutes, Batman: Year One is about 10 minutes shorter than your average DCU flick. I can only assume those lost minutes went to Catwoman. To an extent that’s a shame, as this movie could have used a few more minutes to breathe some life into Batman.
I feel very little need to comment on the animation in this film. Bruce Timm and his crew always do an impeccable job making these movies look great. That’s never a concern of mine when I watch these films.
All in all, Batman: Year One is a pretty big letdown, considering the book helped change the entire industry. A sub-par cast and adaptation make this one of the most disappointing original movies DC has produced.
Front page image, image 1 and image 2 from beyondhollywood.com. Image 3 from critiques4geeks.com.