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Batman: Year One 4K
Directed by directed by Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu and released by Warner Brothers in 2011, Batman: Year One adapts the four issue origin story written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli that run in issues 404 through 407 of the core Batman comic, published by DC Comics in 1987.
As the title suggests, the story of both the movie and the comic book that it is based on revolves around Bruce Wayne's earliest year fighting crime. After the death of his parents, Wayne (Ben McKenzie) leaves Gotham for twelve years to train, while back in Gotham James Gordon (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Barbara move to town. With Bruce back in town and ready to wage his war on the city's cowardly and superstitious criminal populace, Gordon wages a similar war against the obvious and rampant corruption in the Gotham City Police Department.
Despite his training, Wayne knows he isn't quite ready to put on a Bat-suit and get to work so he heads into the red light district where he gets into a fight with a man pimping a sixteen year old prostitute named Holly Robinson. A brawl breaks out, and it's here that Bruce meets a dominatrix named Selina Kyle (Eliza Dushku) for the first time. The cops show up and Bruce is shot and thrown into a squad car, but he breaks free and heads home where he tries his best to get his head on straight, his loyal butler Alfred (Jeff Bennett) there to aid to his wounds.
As Gordon climbs the ranks Bruce heads out as Batman for the very first time, seeing that his efforts are having an effect on the city and setting his sights on some high ranking mobsters, including one Carmine Falcone (Alex Rocco). Commissioner Gillian Loeb (Jon Polito) is not fond of Gotham's new vigilante and decides to use the full force of the G.C.P.D. to bring him in, Gordon doing his best to see that this happens while Assistant District Attorney Harvey Dent (Robin Atkin Downes) does what he can behind the scenes to protect Batman.
Going into any more detail here would be a disservice to anyone who hasn't seen the movie (or read the comic that it's based on, but the animated version of Batman: Year One gets a lot of things right, even if it isn't perfect. Mazzucchelli's artwork on the source material is so distinct and so instantly associated with the comics that inspired this movie that, even if it's clear that there was inspiration taken from his style, it never quite nails that unique look. There are times where it is almost shockingly accurate in how it brings very specific panels to life, but the line work is, quite understandably, just a bit too different to be perfect. On top of that, where narration can work wonders on the panel of a comic book, it can sometimes feel heavy handy and bog down an animated feature, and that does happen here.
Still, complaints aside, this generally does work quite well. The noirish feel of Miller's writing and Mazzucchelli's look do come through quite nicely, the very adult tone of the storytelling employed in the comic book translating nicely to this feature. The voice work is also very strong, with Bryan Cranston really standing out as Gordon and brings a lot of believable humanity and depth to the character that serves the story very well. Ben McKenzie also does a more than decent job as Bruce Wayne/Batman in this movie. Supporting work from Rocco, Dushku and Bennett is also appreciated.
Batman: Year One arrives on 4k UHD from Warner Brothers in an HVEC 2160p presentation that is upscaled but which still looks excellent, framed here in its original 1.78.1 aspect ratio. The HDR10 enhancement means that the colors here really pop and show great range. Compression is really strong, the movie is given a very healthy bit rate, and detail really does seem to be pretty maxed out here, at least based on the original elements. Black levels are perfect and shadow detail is excellent as well. There are no problems with any noticeable artifacts or crush, and the image is spotless throughout. Some minor banding is noticeable here and there and this doesn't quite reach the pinnacle of 4k super-detail, but it does look very good indeed all things considered.
The movie sounds quite good in English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. There are plenty of nice directional effects to pick up on, especially during the different fight scenes, and there's nice depth to the mix. Bass is strong and solid without bulldozing anything higher in the mix, while dialogue stays clean, clear and properly balanced. Subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish and both French language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Spanish language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo dubbed options are included as well.
There are no extras included on the UHD release but the accompanying Blu-ray disc does feature quite a bit of extra content, even if most of it is recycled from past editions of the movie. New to this release of Reinventing Gordon which is a twenty-two minute examination of how Jim Gordon's character has evolved over the years to play a more important part in the Batman universe, with Batman: Year One being a big part of why that happened. We get interviews here with creatives like Miller, Jim Lee and James Tynion IV (who just finished his arc on the main Batman comic earlier this month) as well as producer Michael Uslan that elaborate on the important of Gordon.
Also new to this release are previews for Batman: Soul Of The Dragon, Batman: The Long Halloween Part I and Batman: The Long Halloween Part II.
The rest of the extras are archival, starting with a commentary track from co-producer Alan Burnett, voice director Andrea Romano, DC Animation creative director Mike Carlin and co-director Sam Liu. It's an interesting listen as it gets into the nuts and bolts of adapting Miller and Mazzucchelli's original four issue run into an animated version while trying to remain as faithful as possible to the look and tone of the source material.
The archival featurettes include the twenty-three minute Heart Of Vengeance: Returning Batman To His Roots features interviews with the likes of Burnett and Carlin, the late, great Denny O'Neil, producer Michael Uslan, the late great Len Wein and a few others to talk about how Year One was part of the return to Batman's darker roots after the sixties Adam West show turned the character into camp. The thirty-nine minute Conversations With DC Comics: Featuring The 2011 Batman Creative Team is a roundtable talk with O'Neil, Uslan, DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio and writer Scott Snyder (who was writing the main Batman series for DC around this time) that goes over the impact of Miller's work, Batman's importance in the pop culture landscape, and the impact of the various filmed versions that have made their way to audiences over the years. DC Showcase Presents: Catwoman is a fifteen minute animated short that connects to the main storyline of Batman: Year One quite effectively.
In addition to the UHD and Blu-ray discs, this release also comes with an insert redeemable for a digital HD download of the movie as well as a foil embossed slipcover featuring what appears to be new, exclusive artwork.
The animated version of Batman: Year One is a satisfyingly faithful adaptation of one of the finest Batman stories ever told in comic book form, and while it can't quite capture the grit of Mazzucchelli's artwork completely, it does a very good job of trying. Warner Brother's UHD release of the film looks very good and sounds great as well. Throw in a nice selection of archival extras and a new worthwhile featurette and this disc comes up a winner. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.