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Blu-ray Review: BATMAN: YEAR ONE - The Definitive Dark Knight Origin

Frank Miller's graphic novel Batman: Year One has long been regarded as the best and most definitive origin story for Batman and this adaptation goes a long way in delivering the thrills you would expect from such rich source material.

Between next weeks release of Arkham City and the constant slew of set leaks from The Dark Knight Rises, the Batman franchise has been at the forefront of our minds of late but sadly Warner Animation's adaptation of Frank Miller's classic Batman: Year One has been criminally overlooked. I say sadly, because Year One is one of the best interpretations of the Dark Knight on film to date. Year One is the latest of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies, a series of straight to DVD/Blu-ray adaptations of popular graphic novels. Where as other titles have been hit and miss in the past, a clear advantage for Year One is how short the original publication is. Only consisting of four issues, Year One is shot and sweet, resulting in an almost direct translation to film. For those who have read the book, Year One is going to feel very familiar. The script has been taken word for word and the art style has been beautifully rendered in motion. Nothing has been added and from my memory (I'm not going to check, sorry) nothing has been left out but, I want to make my stance on this clear. I believe that was 100% the right decision. Miller's script was perfect and David Mazzucchelli's art work was a beautiful combination of classical and modern. A lot of the success of the film is down to the success of the book and credit where it's due, this is very much Miller and Mazzucchelli's work. That is not to say that the animators have not done fantastic work here. Very few American animations come close to the quality of Japanese Anime but Year One certainly holds its own. The now common use of combining CGI models with 2D animation is not overly used, only really being utilised to for vehicle animations and the effect is good rather than distracting. The traditional animation is where the film shines however, never relying on cheap still shots to fill time. The film is in constant, glorious motion. This is most noticeable during the fight sequences, which look stunning. The animation is super fluid and the choreography is awesome. There is a sequence where Batman fights a squad unit in an abandoned house (if it sounds familiar the scene was a big inspiration on both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and summons a swarm of bats as a distraction. The final moments of the scene were so exciting I got goose bumps. I wont go into details because it will spoil the effect. Needless to say, it is epic. Elsewhere the film looks great, taking the muted colours from the book and really fleshing them out with beautiful lighting effects. On the whole the voice work is good, though I would say that Ben McKenzie (The OC) wasn't amazing as Bruce Wayne. The dramatic early moments at Wayne manor seemed stifled and his Batman voice was underwhelmingly mediocre for the Caped Crusader. He does good fighting grunts though, which is something. Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle, Breaking Bad) is however, excellent as James Gordon but for me, the shining star was Eliza Dushku as Catwoman. She brings a strength to the role that is pitch perfect and there is not a hint of purring in sight, thank god! Eliza Dushku was my first choice to play Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and her performance here only goes to confirm my opinion. Elsewhere there are some recognisable voices (if you watch a lot of cartoons) and they are mostly fine. However, I am getting a little tired of Steve Blum popping up everywhere using the same voice for everything. I loved his work on Cowboy Bebop but it is too distinct and felt a little distracting. I'm being anal though. The score was a slight disappointment. It isn't bad but, it never takes flight and becomes what you expect from a Batman score. It would have been nice if the music built up and developed alongside Bruce Wayne until you finally ended up with something thematic. Still, it is certainly not poorly scored, always fitting with the tone of the scenes in a subtle and mostly understated way. Batman: Year One has long been regarded as the best and most definitive origin story for Batman. It chronicles his early outings, his mistakes and his triumphs. This adaptation goes a long way in delivering the thrills you would expect from the franchise while keeping the original tone intact. For those who know the book like the back of their hand, it will only really provide a novel distraction as there is little here that you cannot get from an afternoons reading. However, for those less familiar, Year One will provide you with one of the best film adaptations of the Dark Knight to date. Batman: Year One was released on Blu-ray and DVD in the U.S. on 18th of October. A UK release has yet to be confirmed.
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A video editor by trade and a lover of movies, games and manga.