DVD MOVIE REVIEW: Batman: Year One

Wil Avitt
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Wow. To be honest, that pretty much sums it up. I'm sitting here writing this as the end credits are rolling, and I'm finding myself at a loss for all words except, wow. I'm so at a loss for words that I really don't even know how to begin this review. I'm at a loss for words, of course, because the movie was that good. Very seldom am I blown away by a movie, but blown away truly is an apt description of the feeling this movie left me with.

Batman: Year One is the latest in the Warner Premier/DC Universe line of direct-to-video PG-13 animated movies. They've all been good. I've never hated, or really even been disappointed by any of them. I've never been blown away by any of them either, until now. Frank Miller's Batman: Year One graphic novel was a milestone in the comic book industry, and it not only changed Batman, but also changed the comic book industry forever. It really was this arc, which was originally published as a four issue run in the main Batman title back in the 80's, that made comic book storytelling about the "graphic novel" format, as opposed to the single issue or occasional double issue storylines. Batman: Year One also brought a sophistication to comic book storytelling that, at the time, was unprecedented. Comic books are what they are today because of Frank Miller. Now, while this is a review of the movie based on the GN and not the GN itself, it is important to mention these things because the film, and it is a "film" not simply a "movie" and certainly not a "cartoon", really is the closest adaptation of a comic book story to an animated, or even live-action, film in... ever, really. Shot-for-shot, word-for-word, this IS Frank's Batman: Year One come to life. As is the usual intent of the DCU animated features, the original artwork, in this case illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, is evoked in the animation, but it seems to go a step further in this project. In All-Star Superman you can plainly see a Frank Quietly influence in the animation, but in Batman: Year One it really does look like Mazzucchelli's art moving and living and breathing right in front of you. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that they actually used the comic book panels as storyboards.

The character narration from the comic is kept, making the film have a very noir detective feel to it, which fits not only the Batman character but the story itself to a T. In fact, I'm very tempted to watch the film again in black and white, having turned the color down on my television, just to enhance the feel of the Bogartness of the movie. The voice acting is all superb. Usually I don't like the Batmans they use, apart from Kevin Conroy, because none of them (not Jeremy "Jesus" Sisto, not Bruce "Captain Pike" Greenwood and certainly not William Baldwin, who doesn't even deserve a cute nickname) can compare to the awesomeness Kevin Conroy brought to the role. Benjamin McKenzie does bring that same awesomeness and I truly hope this isn't the last we hear of him as the Dark Knight.

Nothing is held back in this adaptation. Everything you could hope to see from the comic book is brought to the screen. A prostitute Catwoman? Got that. Jim Gordon cheating on his wife and wrestling between loyalty and his own moral code and the new feelings he's developing for Officer Sarah Essen? Got that too. This is a very mature tale, and everything is put on the table. In fact, both in animation style and story content, this movie reminds me of the amazing Spawn animated series that ran for three 6 episode seasons on HBO back in the late 90's (without the gratuitous cartoon nudity and flagrant use of the F-bomb, of course). Bottom line is, Batman: Year One is a must-see animated movie event. Don't blow it off, thinking we've said everything we needed to say about Batman's origin in Batman Begins. While Chris Nolan's first outing in Gotham City is memorable, and derived heavily from the Year One GN, there's nothing like seeing Frank Miller's story brought to life in the way this movie does it. Batman: Year One is highly recommended by this blogger, and that ain't no bazinga.

As with all the DCU animated features, the extras on this disc are pretty good as well. We're treated to a featurette about how Denny O'Neil and later Frank Miller helped to bring Batman from the Adam West-style stories of the 60's to the Dark Knight we've come to appreciate and a panel with Denny O'neil, Dan DiDio and the current Batman writer, moderated by Michael Uslan. We also see the return of the DC Showcase animated shorts with the 15-minute "Catwoman" as well as two of Bruce Timm's Picks, "Catwalk" from Batman: TAS and "Cult of the Cat" from The New Batman Adventures. Best of all is a sneak peak at the next animated feature, Justice League: Doom, which was the last script written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie.

Late next year will see the first ever DC Universe animated movie in two parts with the adaptation of another of Frank Miller's seminal works in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. My only hope is that they do it the justice they did to Year One. OK, I have two hopes. The other is that they also adapt Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, because unlike a lot of folks, I really enjoyed that story and it would be a perfect companion piece to the Year One movie.

Will Conservatives Like This Movie?

That depends on what kind of a conservative you are. If you're my Grandma you might think it's a bit too violent and racey for a "cartoon", but if you're open to an amazing story told amazingly, which I think most of us here are, then you'll like it just fine. While it IS very adult and mature, it is still rated PG-13 so nothing is over the top or gratuitous. Seriously, use the book as a litmus test. If you like the book, you'll like the movie. It really is just one step beyond a motion comic.